How Ini Cash amassed over 500k followers trying to have fun while settling in America

Dennis Da-ala Mirilla
How Ini Cash amassed half a million followers trying to settle into America

Before the pandemic, even long before young Nigerians started fleeing the country in droves, giving birth to the japa movement, Inioluwa Owotade, more popularly known as Ini Cash, had moved to the US in 2015. But when he did, he had a hard time settling in and one of the major barriers to that was his African accent.

“I had just moved from Nigeria to America and I was having a hard time settling in and I didn’t have that many friends back then,” Inioluwa told Technext in an exclusive interview. “I was just an immigrant and relation to Americans could be tricky. It’s like, they understand your accent, but they don’t want you to speak in that accent. And me, I just don’t know how to do that sprsprspr,” he said.

In those days, settling in was even harder and being African in a country like America was not the best experience. Unfounded claims about Africa and Africans were just being challenged by the new African diaspora, who with their children, had become citizens and occupied new positions at the highest level of the American media and entertainment apparatus.

“Now it’s cool to be African. It might be easier to settle in. People know more about Africa; the music, the lifestyle and everything. I even got lucky because it was at that time that everything was taking off. Before then it was like ‘African booty scratcher,'” he added.

But he had found the internet, like the rest of the world, and he would use it to build a community of more than half of a million users across TikTok and Instagram and start to go by the moniker Ini Cash.

“The internet was like a space where you could share whatever. It was like a way to relate with my people back home, and share experiences, but in a funny way,” he said.

His type of content (which he describes as “definitely makes people happy”) is hard to box. There are the dance videos, the short social commentary video and then the ones of him wearing a silk hair bonnet, and the ones of him wearing a facemask munching mostly on chicken wings, (to which he says he wants people to know he doesn’t eat that much).

Ini Cash’s path to fame

But he started from very humble beginnings. “I use to borrow my friend’s phone back then. He had an iPhone and I didn’t. And I will just use his because of the higher quality camera,” he said.

Then Mavin Records, the label owned by Don Jazzy, dropped one of their usual group songs, All Is In Order. Seating in his tiny apartment in the US, he developed what was then going to be one of many relatable contents that did just like others before it. For instance, the video which first brought him to relative notoriety was of him asking out loud why people went to parties and decided to just stand and not dance. He was mistaken.

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“I was just like flexing and I had cash. It probably was my rent money. But you know, I was just flexing and being happy. And Don Jazzy reposted the video. From then, it was like a viral moment,” he said.

What had just been fun and games, a way to relate with his people back home seemed to have dovetailed into something else, something bigger. “I was honestly just having fun on the internet, like I didn’t know you could actually do this for a living, especially like back then,” he said.

When someone reached out after the Don Jazzy moment and said he would like to pay him for sponsored content, he was startled so much that he didn’t negotiate a price. He said to the man at the time “Bros, anything you have, just give me.”

Because this was something that I was going for free. I was just happy and I told my mom and my guys that we would leave this hood straight up. I was just like ‘This is just mad.” These days, he shares unreleased songs from the like of Adekunle Gold with his followers.

But his comedy hasn’t been without backlash. You see Ini Cash is not necessarily in the business of pulling punches. Some of his content has been attacked for perpetuating tired stereotypes about women, and others insensitive to religious devotees.

On social media, he has pondered about everything from why the Amapiano dance doesn’t have more moves, why people on vacation at the beachfront hotels of Miami don’t cover their bodies to what the conversation between the biblical god and his son Jesus to save humanity must have been like.

“I think it’s comedy man. There may be extreme ones, but it can still be funny. It’s just jokes. It’s the internet. Relax. I like to be true to myself. obviously, there is a line you don’t cross and most people don’t cross that line. But people are sensitive nowadays and this will just rob them off some time of way” Ini Cash said.

But of late, the criticism is getting to him even if just a bit. Sometimes he shares his content with his friends to scrub off parts that could come off as insensitive to some of his followers. But he contends that some of the people who lay siege to call out his disrespect are not necessarily to “holiest” themselves.

“Most of the time, it’s not like they are the holiest and they just come and they are like ‘You can’t be saying this.’ The people that get it will get it. Not everybody has to get it,” he said.

How the MCing started

Over time he has added MCing to his in-person offering. On occasion, he will post clips of his in-person event, filled with a crowd of West African diasporans going wild and he drops banter after banter about the problems with the world in a comedic way.

My mom use to be like an alaga (female MCs that anchor Yoruba traditional weddings) that’s where I got it from,” he said. “One of my friend’s brothers did an event, and I was like ‘I can do what these guys are doing. I can relate to these people, controlling the crowd basically.’ So I started begging people, ‘Let me do this. Let me do that. You don’t have to pay me.’ Then there was this school that booked me. They asked if I can do it. We said yes.”

The gig went on to become what the youths will describe with fire emojis and then add it slaps. “Everybody loved it. And it was just compliment after compliment, keeping the vibe going,” he said.

Even though he had been in the game for a while, he still sees so many opportunities and new ways of being creative for himself on the internet and in person. Right now he says his focus is “investing more in myself. Putting myself out there. Hosting more gigs. Being a Nigerian.”

How Ini Cash amassed half a million followers trying to settle into America

Rapid Fire Questions with Ini Cash

What does Ini Cash do for fun:
Sleeping, hiking, camping, cycling. White people stuff, but I don’t care

What doesn’t Ini Cash do for fun:
Eating. As much as people think that I do, I don’t eat that much

What is Ini Cash currently watching:
Ted Lasso

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