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The Old Guard Is Changing

When you think about the biggest records of 2019, images of superstars come up. There will be a Wizkid song in there, Davido’s omnipresence comes through, Burna Boy makes up the trinity, while Tiwa Savage’s vocals will always find a way to make the charts.

What we haven’t noticed are the artists who aren’t on the honours list this year. Phyno has huffed and puffed. But his romance in Eastern Nigeria is so strong, that his music is going niche. He is ‘unblowing’ himself at the centre, but consolidating his legendary status with his kingsmen. Tekno’s medical hiatus to recover his vocal ability is nearing an end. Olamide’s hit-making powers are far from waning, Mayorkun is on the pulse, Kizz Daniel is just behind the top 3 while Adekunle Gold keeps winning with his sound exploration.

What might not be obvious is how influential the newbies have been. Zlatan Ibile picked up the street quota from Slimcase, and has done brilliantly with it. He’s on ‘Killin Dem’, ‘Bayi Bayi’, owns ‘Shotan’, and a lot more. His story is crucial because he was never tipped to come this far. When you show up from his end of town, the odds against you making it this far is heavily against you. But Zlatan’s done it. He’s carried his art further via collaboration. And knowing how determined he is, there’s still more coming before the year is over.


The biggest record of the year so far is ‘Jealous,’ a saccharine single released by Fireboy DML. To give context on how unlikely it is that a guy named Fireboy DML would be one of the year’s revelations, his song was not released as a standout single. It was couched within the YBNL’s Mafia Family EP which dropped in December. Industry enthusiasts who listened to the project had marked that record for greatness. Four months later, it had caught a wave, received a video, and become a bonafide challenger for song of the year. DML’s follow-up ‘What if I Say’, is already penetrating.

Another unlikely hero is Joeboy. Affiliated to Mr Eazi’s Empawa incubator for artists, the singer who has been on the fringes for a while, and had knocked with some collaborations, got his big break with ‘Baby’. His record, a romantic number, seeking reassurance from his love interest currently sits as one of the standout records gaining traction across the continent. There is little known about his ability and skill, but the hope here is that his well never runs dry. We need more people like him.

The biggest unlikely story has to come from Mavin Records. Who would have thought that a kid from Benin, who looks like everyone’s handsome younger brother, and sounds like someone made a smoothie with Wizkid, Bollywood and Emo rap, would be the 2019’s revelation? But Rema did it. Armed with huge backing from Don Jazzy and D’Prince, Rema hs pulled off two EPs and seeded at least two records into prime time radio. ‘Dumebi’ is arguably the biggest song of 2019, dominating the air so fast, that Rema became an instant celebrity. His rise is meteoric, his demeanour grateful, and his stars appear aligned. That’s a blessing.

Rema, Zlatan, Fireboy DML, Joeboy are all newcomers. But they have staked a claim in 2019. It’s the first time we have had some many new acts offering the culture new sounds at the same time since 2015 when Don Jazzy introduced Reekado Banks, Korede Bello and Dija. And we know why that happened: The old guard is changing. New sounds are being introduced, the dominant pace of Nigeria’s pop music hangs in the balance and no one knows where the sound is headed. It’s a great time for the culture, but also one that places demands on artists. Evolve and keep your place, or stagnate and die a slow death to obscurity.

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