Self-Love in the Time of Corona: Modi Oyewole

Photography by Emily Berkey.
Conversations with creatives on finding oneself through self-love while in the midst of a global pandemic.
Words and photography by Emily Berkey.

Los Angeles is a city for the dream chasers and the creatives who hustle to make ends meet. When the pandemic hit the city nearly a year ago and caused everything to shut down, life for most people came to an abrupt halt. Without the comfort of robust social lives and busy work schedules, artists were faced with sudden stillness. However, within that stillness came inevitable reflection, and it became the perfect time for major shifts in lifestyle. 

We met with three Los Angeles-based creatives, Daniel Crook, Enkrypt Los Angeles and Modi Oyewole to talk about their personal tragedies and journeys in taking care of themselves in the midst of a global health emergency. Our conversations on self-love and learnings of identity explore the details of human beings finding their way, and themselves, in uncertain times.

May these conversations serve as reminders that you are not alone on your journey. 

It’s safe to say that Modi Oyewole is a multi-talented human. He’s the co-founder of Trillectro music festival, founder of “HEATING UP!” creative agency and has led an incredible career working with major companies like Nike, Red Bull, Sony and Capitol Records, where he’s currently working as the Senior Director of Marketing. Though Modi has led an incredible career, helped artists break into the industry and has thrown countless live events, at the root of it all, he’s an entrepreneur with a deep passion for connecting people. 

When Los Angeles shut down due to the pandemic, Modi’s ever-busy schedule came to an unprecedented halt. We met with Modi in his downtown Los Angeles apartment to talk about how he’s prioritized self-care, finding self-discipline, the jolting realizations that came from the recent death of his best friend and business partner, Quinn Coleman, and how he’s shifted from being in the club to hiking with friends. 

Photography by Emily Berkey.

Tell me about what you do to fill your cup.

At the beginning of quarantine, my life was weird. I quit my job in February to focus on live events, DJing, building my personal brand and to focus on the creative agency I started. Then I got my dog, Metro, and then the next week, everything shut down because of COVID. I was like, Damn, I quit my job, I can’t make money doing what I know how to do, because live events shut down indefinitely. It forced me to think about what else I enjoy doing. 

I’m pretty introverted. Because people see me in the live event space, they think that’s what I’m always on. I love quarantine. Honestly, that was the best time for me because I was able to get to know me and focus on me. The first thing I did was start working out–I’d run in the streets. They were so empty, it looked like I Am Legend. I started with a mile, then it was five, and then at some point, I was doing like eight or nine mile runs a few times a week. I was stuck in the house and didn’t have anything else to do. I didn’t have a boss. I didn’t have anything, you know, I also didn’t have income. I also started thinking, instead of ordering Postmates all the time, I should start cooking. I never really cooked, so this was a great time to look up a recipe and make it, and do it a bunch of times throughout the week to perfect it. So now, if I want to make some Chinese oxtail, I’m gonna find out how to do it. I have the time,  the bandwidth and the headspace. 

It sounds like quarantine allowed you to make space for yourself. 

Yeah. I know this isn’t unique, but I do a lot of shit–from DJing, promoting, throwing music festivals, having a 9 to 5 and having a social life, and working on passion projects. I would give my energy to so many people, and quarantine allowed me to say “no” so much easier. To be frank, it was perfect. I didn’t know it, but I needed to slow down. Personally, I think it allowed me to realize that I don’t really like doing all that stuff. This has allowed me time to look in the mirror and to take stock of what’s going on. 

Photography by Emily Berkey.

Did you notice any shifts within you when you started running and cooking more, and looking at yourself in the mirror?

It built in discipline. I’ve never really had strong discipline. When my back is against the wall, that’s when I become the best version of me. When we threw our first festival, I didn’t have a job and I had the bandwidth, headspace and drive to make it successful. But when you work a 9-to-5, and you’re comfortable, you have these “golden handcuffs” as they call them, and you’re making enough money to just live your life how you want to live; there’s no real drive.

I think the easiest way for me to be successful is to have a regimen–a structured schedule. I used that knowledge to structure my days. I would wake up, make breakfast and stretch. During that time, I also watched a lot of TV, listened to a lot of music and wrote a lot of ideas down. I also watched The Sopranos in its entirety and that was super fire. I’d always wanted to watch it, but never got to it. 

Once I created that structure, it became easier for me to move. As an entrepreneur, I’d always wished I had more structure and discipline, and quarantine forced me to have that. Discipline is a great thing–it makes you have to find the energy within yourself to get shit done. 

You ended up getting a job though, right? 

I got a job offer in April and because of contract stuff, I didn’t start until July. Before COVID-19 hit, I intended to go fully independent and travel and do things I wanted to do, but it was a bit of a relief to have a job to keep the income coming in and to continue learning. I landed at a really good place.

You’ve shared that you were actually going to go work with your longtime business partner and best friend. But then, sometime this summer, he died. How are you dealing with your personal, intimate grief during a time when you can’t  physically be with other people? 

I remember at the funeral…Quinn was loved by so many different people, yet only 50 people could attend the service. Everyone was spaced out and no one could hug each other. It was the weirdest thing. I remember just chuckling and being like, This can’t even be real. This is how my man’s about to go out? I’d never really lost anybody like that in my life, so it was new. Regardless of whether or not it happened in quarantine, the whole concept of losing somebody that you thought was going to be there forever was just odd. When things get weird for me, I actually enjoy being by myself. There were plenty of people that supported me, and I appreciated it a lot. When Quinn passed in August, I started taking more time for me. I said, “Look, you don’t have to answer texts, you don’t have to communicate if you’re not in the right headspace to.” People were asking how I felt and how I was doing, and I’d just be transparent with people and let them know I wasn’t doing so good. It’s easier for me to be really blunt with folks about how I feel. A lot of times, people give you fluff answers. I was protecting my energy. That’s the biggest thing.

Honoring yourself and your energy.

Yeah, for sure.

It sounds like the routines and tools you developed at the beginning of quarantine helped you later on. I know you’ve been going on a lot of hikes with close friends lately.

Yeah. We can’t gather everyone inside these days, so I started bringing people out to go hike or bike, where we’re being active and getting a workout in. Before, I was throwing and promoting live events. Now, I’m promoting the hike. It’s all about connecting people and community. I never really liked the club. I remember nights I used to cry outside of the club, because I was like, I hate being a promoter. To me, the hikes and bike rides are a better, more fulfilling real interaction, instead of it being like, based on darker energies where you’re only connecting with people in the club, and it’s dark and you’re yelling in order to have a conversation. 

Where everyone has their costume on.

Yeah, where you’re not really you.

Photography by Emily Berkey.

In what ways has your relationship with yourself evolved this year?

I’m doing more self-care, generally speaking. Being consistent with washing my face, taking care of my body, working out with a trainer, eating out less and cooking more. I think I’m becoming better about staying connected to those I care about. One thing I’ve been doing recently is writing out all the [names of] folks that I don’t want to lose connection with. In this day and age, you follow like 3,500 people on social media, and it’s not like the algorithms are going to show you people based on how connected you feel with them. So for me, it’s about spending time to tap in with the folks that are important to me to tell them I’m thinking about them. 

You know, I called one of my closest friends growing up yesterday. I hadn’t talked to him in a very long time. He’d been reaching out, but I just wasn’t in a place to chat. We have nearly 20 years of friendship–not a lot of people have 20 years of friendship with folks. I’m so grateful to have people that I’ve known since the sandbox. Another homie hit me the other day with his wife and showed me their positive pregnancy test. Connecting with my close friends is at the top of my mind because life is short. We don’t have that much time and you have to let people know they mean what they mean to you while you can.

What do you wish younger Modi knew about self-love?

That it’s probably the most fulfilling thing. When I was working, I was always trying to grind and be the best and make this statement and do this and that. But I also think it’s important to worry about your well-being more so than anything else, because I’d like to be here for a long time. Take care of yourself physically and mentally and I think it’ll pay off in the end. I’m only 34, so I don’t know what the future looks like, but I do see a lot of my peers changing the way they move because they’re thinking about the long-term instead of what’s happening immediately in front of you. I think I’m doing a pretty good job. I’m not mad at when I started to realize that it was important to take care of myself, but it would have been dope if I could have noticed it before, and not just because the world stopped.


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