The criteria is simple; commercial success, impact, discography, critical acclaim, awards and international acclaim (as an added advantage).
Nigerian music has gone through motions in the last decade. The start of the decade witnessed one change of guard which ushered in Olamide, Wizkid, Davido and so forth.
10 years later, Nigerian music is witnessing yet another change of guard with Rema, Joeboy, Fireboy and so forth leading the charge. Like the last change of guard, only a few of them will last the mile, but the journey has begun.
We are not clairvoyant and we have not seen the future – we can only predict it. What we have seen and lived is the past decade. We have seen artists rise and cross borders. We have seen artists rise and fall. We have also seen artists rise and plateau. We have seen posters boys change like the color of bleached skin.
We have seen foreign sounds influence the Nigerian soundscape. We have seen ‘afrobeats’ become a faulty descriptive of white origin for African sounds. Like a pirate looting a royal ship on the high seas, we have seen African sounds and artists become the latest obsession/subject of western sonic pillage.
Afrobeats to the world’ has become a mantra just as Nigeria has become flagbearers for Africa in the diaspora. We have seen African dance routines come and go and we have seen white people do zanku. Times have changed; social media and the internet have made the world a global village.
But at the forefront of all that is the music. It is the vehicle which drives the interest, it is the conduit that interlinks all the phenomena of this branch of pop culture. Who creates the music? Artists.
Here comes the final instalment of the Phylix’s Blog Decade lists. This time, we celebrate the top 10 Nigerian artists who have made things happen. The criteria is simple; commercial success, impact, discography, critical acclaim, awards and international acclaim (as an added advantage).
10) YEMI ALADE
She is nicknamed ‘Mama Africa’ for afro-centrism and pan-African musical appeal. Her smash hit single, ‘Johnny’ has amassed more than 110 million views on YouTube. She is also the first African female act to amass one million subscribers on YouTube. However, on home soil, she is not appreciated and she doesn’t make music for us.
On the bright side, she was named Best African Female Artist at the in consecutive years at MTV Africa Music Awards. She also has four albums that have endeared her to the francophone and lusophone parts of Africa.
Nigerians don’t appreciate her, but her numbers are ridiculously impressive. She is ‘Mama Africa’ and since that Peak Talent Show in 2009, she has not slowed down. It took her a while, but she cracked it. She has her faults, but she is super.
“‘East coast n**** but I’m banging in the west…” Phyno rapped on ‘Obago (Man of The Year).’ But even he couldn’t have fathomed what was to come next. Before his debut album even dropped, it disrupted the soundscape with its own brand of commercial rap.
At helm of affairs was Major Banggz while Phyno was spat fire. If Nigeria will ever have its own brand of rap music, we have to go back to that sound or go a little forward to Young Jon’s serial madness on ‘Awon Goons Mi’ and ‘Cause Trouble.’
Phyno was the producer-turned-swashbuckiling Igbo-speaking rapper with an avant-garde appearance. ‘Ghost Mode,’ ‘Obago,’ ‘Parcel’ and ‘Kush Music’ were mega-hits before his album dropped. When the album dropped, ‘Alobam’ became a cultural moment.
Understanding that rap might not be sustainable, Phyno morphed into the modern day Oliver De Coq and crafted two smash hits from his debut album, Playmaker. His life transformed and so did his reps. At the 2014 Headies, ‘Parcel’ was named Best Rap Song. ‘Man of The Year’ did the same in 2013. He has sort of slowed down, but his seven-year run lands him on this list.
8) TIWA SAVAGE
Born in Nigeria, she grew up in the UK. She then spent part of her life in the US. While in America, she wrote songs for Fantasia Barrino, Mya and others. But then came back to Nigeria and grabbed the bull by the horns. She then rode and has continued riding. Her first two singles, ‘Kele Kele’ and ‘Love Me 3X’ dropped in 2010 and she never looked back.
A while later she signed to MAVIN Records and released her debut album, Once Upon A Time. She followed it with R.E.D in 2015 – both albums were critically acclaimed. The awards started raining and recognition started. The sold-out shows in western and European locations also followed. Then, the YouTube views spiked just as major international award recognition came in.
Around that time, she was affiliated with Roc Nation. In 2018, she was named the Best African Act at the MTV European Music Awards. In 2019, she then signed a major record deal with Universal Music Group. Just before that happened, she dropped the beautiful Sugarcane EP. She might not have the African audience of Yemi Alade, but she is bigger in Nigeria, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.
Gospel is the biggest and highest-selling genre of music in Nigeria. It is unmatched and it is untouched. Lamba is Lamba, but gospel music is the cream of the crop. Nigeria is a religious nation. The depths Lamba will never touch, gospel music has gotten there. More importantly, the biggest cross-over Nigerian song of the past 20 years is a gospel song.
The song belongs to Sinach and it is titled, ‘Way Maker.’ If it had an official release in the US, it will probably be a certified platinum-selling single. It gets performed everywhere across the world and even by Kanye West’s Sunday Service. A lot of foreigners don’t even realize a Nigerian made the song. In her career, she has released more than five albums.
For every show, Sinach will only reportedly move for $50,000. She might not have your pop appeal, but her musical success in her chosen field – a bigger platform than pop music – means she has achieved something bigger. For that, she has been Nigeria’s biggest female artist of the decade.
The turn of the decade coincided with the original Unstoppable album. It came in the thick of immense negative PR for then-2Face Idibia. He had to withstand the storm of being called “irresponsible” – he had just fathered his fifth child from three women. Some people also heavily criticized his stagecraft and the quality of his videos.
Inevitably, the album tanked. Even worse, its lead single, ‘Enter The Place’ was then banned by Nigerian Broadcasting Commission for unknown reasons. Thus, for a lot of reasons, Unstoppable (International Edition) was some sort of ‘comeback.’ 2baba made sure it wasn’t cheap – the album was priced at a whopping N2,000 when other albums sold for N100.
The album was named Album of the year at the 2011 Headies and Best International Act at the BET Awards. At the 2010 African Music Awards, 2baba was also named artist of the year as well as Best Male. In 2012, he released Away and Beyond,what could be his best album yet. His staying power is ridiculous with a hit every other year.
In 2017, he had a sleeper hit in ‘Holy Holy‘ and ‘Gaaga Shuffle.’ In 2018, he also had ‘Amaka‘ featuring Peruzzi.
5) BURNA BOY
In 2013, Burna Boy released his debut album, L.I.F.E. It had hits like ‘Like To Party’ and ‘Tonight.’ It also followed his 2010 and 2011 mixtapes. Now, he might be the African Giant and the face of afrobeats who recently performed on yet another syndicated late-night talk show, but he wasn’t always like this.
In 2013, he lost the Next Rated award to Sean Tizzle at the Headies. In 2015, Burna Boy released his sophomore album, On A Spaceship. It had bright spots, but it just couldn’t truly make a mark. Burna Boy’s talent was always recognized, but distractions and controversies were affecting his focus. He made the conversation about everything else, but the music.
In 2016, Burna Boy was embroiled in controversy and the music suffered. In 2017, he was quite and in 2018, he stole a march with news that he was the only feature on Fall Out Boy’s album, M A N I A. Boy, did he deliver. Seven days later, Burna Boy released his sixth studio project, Outside. It became an instant favourite. then signed a deal with Atlantic Records. His mom also took over his management while his sister took over his styling. His brand changed to heavy pan-African talk.
He was visibly happier. He also seemed to have a natural synergy with the music as his life became drama-free. Then, ‘Ye’ became an African obsession which spilled into the UK and then the US. Burna Boy didn’t stop – he released two more hits in ‘Gbona’ and ‘On The Low’ before capping off the year with ‘Killin Dem’ featuring Zlatan.
For the first time in his career, he had the Nigerian mainstream behind him and his life changed. On year-end lists by OkayPlayer and Passion Weiss, ‘Ye’ was named one of the songs of the year. Burna Boy locked everywhere down and everything he did worked in his favour. Wizkid still had a great year with great features, but he basically became an elder statesman.
Burna Boy’s story truly began with Outside. 2019 started in incredible fashion for Burna Boy and his Ls even became wins. ‘Killin Dem’ which features Zlatan ran Nigeria in the opening months of the year. Then, he released another relative hit in ‘Dangote.’
Around the close of first quarter 2019, he was named alongside Mr. Eazi as one of two Nigerian acts to perform at Coachella 2019. His African Giant Tour is doing great just as he has become the poster boy of Afrobeats.
4) P SQUARE
At the 2012 Headies, PSquare‘s Invasion was named Album of the Year. However, that was the least it deserved. At the time, P Square were undisputed as the biggest acts in Africa. They made strategic music with different markets in mind and matched the music with incredible performances.
On Invasion sat hits like ‘Onyinye,’ ‘Bunieya Enu,’‘Chop My Money’ and ‘Do As I Do.’ More importantly, ‘Beautiful Onyinye’ got a remix with the hottest rapper of that year, Rick Ross. But for Game Over, Invasion might be P Square’s best album. Sadly, it was from there that rumours of rift between the legendary duo started swirling.
Nonetheless, their legend is sealed. In some circles are arguments that ‘Onyinye’ started the culture of ‘wedding music’ in Nigeria.
Davido is the Nigerian artist everyone loves to hate. On one part, he is the one nobody expected to last this long, but he did. He did not only last long, he became a superstar with major awards, endorsements and a one-time poster boy of afrobeats. His life is a lesson on perseverance and hardwork. His only weakness is his discography.
His personal life has become subject to mainstream hunger and his professional life has birthed a successful record label. Off the back of his first major hit, ‘Dami Duro’ in 2010, Davido released his debut album, Omo Baba Olowo in 2012. The same year, Davido was also named Next Rated Act at the Headies.
In 2013, Davido came back with hits like, ‘Aye’ and major collaborations with Runtown, Uhuru and Mafikizolo. After a stellar two-year run during which he was untouchable, Wizkid slightly took a backseat to Davido.
In 2015, Davido’s foray into America started. He recorded ‘Fans Mi,’ a trap song with Meek Mill and he released his EP, Son of Mercy in 2016. In 2017, Davido went on his wildest run yet. Like he told Ebro Darden on Hot 97, New York, he left the US and came back to Nigeria. Tekno had owned 2016 in Nigerian music while everyone was away. According to Ebro Darden, ‘Pana’ was huge in New York, US.
After getting back, Davido’s first point of call was Tekno – a singer and producer. He produced ‘IF,’ the first of four Davido hits in 2017. The three other mega-hits were ‘FALL,’ ‘FIA’ and ‘Like Dat.’
Over the past 10 years, Olamide has been the most important figure in Nigerian Hip-Hop and arguably, Nigerian music – in Nigeria. He has been the flagbearer and head honcho who commands the Nigerian mainstream with tunes. He has created hits and stretched the boundaries of Hip-Hop in sound, style and delivery. He has won three album of the year awards at the Headies.
He has also been named artist of the year once. Every year since 2010, Olamide has had at least three hits to his name. He has not been able to successfully pivot into western markets like his peers, but in Nigeria, he has been peerless with nine albums released to his name – seven of those albums are solo.
Critical acclaim is not the problem and neither will awards. Earlier in the decade, he became a label owner. Since then, he has produced at least five highly successful acts in Nigerian music. Now that he is a veteran, he has become a king of hooks.
Due to poor branding, he has not been able to properly scale markets like his Nigerian peers and even fellow indigenous rapper, Sarkodie, but his Nigerian run is peerless.
Baba Bolu’ is a superstar amongst superstars. Ladies and gentlemen, the title to his debut album has proven prophetic. The man rides wings of a sonic eagles and the cloak of power that only music can birth. At the start of the decade, Wizkid had a peerless three-year run that everything he touched turned to raw gold – no cap.
The man even went into Sarz‘s studio for a freestyle which became a hit. One night as he was presumably coming back from a party, he freestyled from the shotgun seat of a car and it made Alaba playlists. His consistency over the past 10 years has met some dry spells, but the overall appraisal of his run arouses awe.
This run has been so immense that it makes his recent musical bloopers forgivable. In January 2010, he released his smash hit, ‘Holla At Your Boy’and became a budding superstar. Before then, he was the kid who defined MI Abaga‘s ‘Fast Money, Fast Cars‘ with a beautiful hook. In 2011, he was named Next Rated Artist at the Headies.
In 2012, he was named both Artist of the Year and Revelation of the Year. The run continued that people feared he would burn out, he didn’t. Inevitably, he bag to tire around the end of 2013 and most of 2014. Nonetheless, this era still birthed ‘Jaiye Jaiye’ and ‘On Top Of Your Matter.’
That same run also birthed his sophomore album, Ayo. In 2019, many people think that album is a flop. However, it might just be his most impactful album. a song titled, ‘Ojuelegba.’ It was every bit an ‘afrobeat’ song as any. The guitars went with the lo-fi folk instrumentation and brilliant deliveries.
Alicia Keys was seen dancing to it. It also coincided with America’s Fela-obsession. With ‘Ojuelegba,’ white capitalists and label chiefs probably thought ‘Fela is back.’ They probably even saw dollar bills every time Wizkid sang.
Then Skepta, who is a first-generation British-Nigerian was an opening act for Drake on his Jungle Tour. Off the back of Nothing Was The Same, Drake had seemingly given up on trying to get accepted by American Hip-Hop heads. Instead, he chose to become a mega-star.
Skepta played ‘Ojuelegba’ for the Canadian rapper who was on a fast-lane to become the biggest artist in the world. He liked it and rapped on the song. From there, Wizkid went nuclear. Some of the songs that Nigerians didn’t like from the Ayo album were fan-favourites on Wizkid’s tours of the UK. Even Sone Aluko tweeted about ‘In My Bed.’
In 2016. Wizkid rode on a high. He had just scored a global chart-topper titled, ‘One Dance’ and it spent more than 11 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts.
He kept working and might of western capitalism was with him. He went on media rounds and became a poster boy. Then, he released Sounds From The Other Side. He also featured Drake on the Sarz produced, ‘Come Closer.’
2017 and 2018 saw Wizkid have an incredible run of features in the US and the UK. 2017 was weak for him in Nigeria, but he had some hits in 2018. He has been very quiet in 2019, but he still sold out the O2 Arena.