When he’s on campus, Oluwafemi Popoola, a first-year graduate student studying pharmacy, just goes by Femi. But during breaks, he doubles as Frank Pierce, a Sony-signed DJ-producer on the rise.
“In my sophomore year of high school, my friend first introduced me to dance music,” he said. “I’m like, ‘Oh God, this stuff is so amazing, I want to make this.’ So, I decided to make a project around it. It needed a name and, concurrently, our high school does this thing where everyone has a senior name. I could never find a nickname for Femi. My friend picked his to be Zach Morris because he didn’t have one either, so I was just going to pick one, Frank Pierce, because it has my initials.”
Ever since his was a kid, Popoola has had a love for music. He is a classically trained pianist and also plays the guitar, bass, drums and saxophone.
“Musicality has always been a huge part of who I am,” he said. “Whether it’s understanding how other instruments work — I know how to properly blow a trumpet. I don’t use it, but it’s something I like to have as a part of me. I just like being musical.”
When he’s working on music, Popoola said he assumes the persona of Frank Pierce.
“That way, it puts everything in focus,” he said. “I try to think of everything that I do, social media, music, personality-wise— is what I’m doing enhancing Frank Pierce as an entity, as a product?”
This plays into the interesting duality of Popoola, the student, and Frank, the artist. To him, they feed off each other, his education and his art.
“I approach school as an art and music as a science,” Popoola said. “In science, a lot of it is didactic, there’s a lot of learning, you need to understand stuff, so you must find creative ways to learn things. I try to engage my creative side that likes to do things. While on the art side, everyone wants to be expressive, but the good stuff is tactical. I’m talking about word choice, diction, syllable count.”
When it comes to managing the two sides of his life, Popoola said there is no balance.
“There isn’t a sweet spot,” he said. “You hope it works. Sometimes I put off a deadline to a record to study, and sometimes I put off prepping for a paper to work on a track and hope that I’ll have enough time. Basically, I use all my breaks to write my new content and when the semester hits, I’m in school mode. During that time, we polish and release the records.”
A quick look at Frank Pierce’s Spotify page will show you that since 2015, he’s amassed over half a million monthly listeners. His 2017 single, “Vibe” featuring Famba and Emily Bonabon, gained over 20 million plays in a little under a year. However, Frank Pierce isn’t Popoola’s only musical endeavor; he’s also a part of the musical duo, JUSCOVA.
“JUSCOVA is a joint project between me and my friend Samuel Vespone,” Popoola said. “It is a more urban/pop influenced project than ‘Frank Pierce.’ We started working together freshman year and we sort of clicked. We were in a session and after the session, I remember saying to myself ‘Yo … this guy could get me a Grammy.’”
Popoola said his biggest musical influences are fellow DJs such as Calvin Harris, Avicii, David Guetta and Zedd. In addition to DJing, Popoola is also a songwriter. He said he strives to be like Drake and superproducer Max Martin, who’s worked with Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, Ariana Grande, The Weeknd and more.
Digging into his Nigerian roots, Popoola wants to incorporate the Afro sound into his work.
“I want to make music my mom can dance to,” he said. “Coming from such a vibrant and lively culture, it kind of felt weird for me to [make music] and not do something that could impact my culture.”
Next up for Popoola: finals. Soon after, Frank Pierce will be hitting the stage and releasing some singles for the summer. Don’t be surprised if you frequently hear the name Frank Pierce in the near future