Afrobeats to the world.
This vote of confidence in the crossover potential of Nigeria’s music industry has been a thing for some time now. An affirmation that music created in modest studios across the country can be enjoyed in spaces around the world.
It makes sense then, that in the year in which this prediction finally became a reality, Wizkid would be the tip of the comet launching Nigerian music across the stratosphere.
Exhibit 1. Essence, the inescapable duet with fast rising alternative singer, Tems that became the major soundtrack of the year. A highlight of Wizkid’s Made in Lagos album originally released in 2020, Essence, has now achieved the distinction of becoming the most successful Nigerian song ever released.
Produced in Lagos, Essence became the little song that could, taking on outsized life and sound tracking an optimistic re-emergence from COVID lockdowns. The song, packed with rhythm and longing also worked as a bridge between Wizkid and the new wave of alternative music spearheaded by a much younger generation of players.
On Spotify playlists, shazam searches and TikTok videos, Essence was the song on everyone’s mind. In an unprecedented move for Nigerian music, Essence eventually broke into the ever-elusive American Billboard charts, debuting at Number 82 on the Hot 100. From Alicia Keys to Kevin Hart, everyone wanted a piece of the action. The song soon caught the ears of certified hitmaker, Justin Bieber who was so in love, he decided to jump on a remix. A Justin Bieber co-sign meant that before long, Essence had zoomed into the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 chart earning Wizkid his first charting record as a lead artiste.
Wizkid is of course no stranger to the American music charts. He had assisted Drake back in 2016 as a featured artiste for the gigantic One Dance which finished the year as the fifth bestselling single. On the strength of the success of Essence, Wizkid put out the deluxe version of Made in Lagos which accommodated three new songs. When the nominees for the Grammys were announced, Wizkid was doubly represented with nominations in the Best Global Music Performance for Essence and Global Music Album for Made in Lagos: Deluxe
Even though Wizkid has achieved iconic status in Nigeria and large swaths of Africa, 2021 was the year the rest of the world woke up to him, and what a reckoning it was. As a pop star, Wizkid is cut from a different, perhaps old-fashioned type of cloth. Beyond his social media appearances, he makes little contact with the media choosing to let his music speak for him. Like his prescient debut album predicted, this superstar made history this year by becoming the first African artiste to sell out three shows in a row during his Made In Lagos tour at London’s famous O2 arena.
The success of Essence and Made in Lagos is certainly not mere happenstance, even though Wizkid’s laid back nature might make it seem so. With the Drake single, Wizkid began to test his international mettle putting out Sounds from the Other Side, his third album and major label debut since signing with RCA.
Even though the record failed both critically and commercially, with Wizkid experimenting with external sounds from the Caribbean mostly and beyond the familiarity of Nigerian pop, he was able to put a footprint in, while retracing his steps. He kept his home base secure with regular hits until he was ready for another global campaign, this time expanding his range with songs from home but polished to a shiny gloss.
It is a long way from the smooth faced kid who yelled Hola at Your Boy while signed to Banky W’s Empire Mates Entertainment outfit to the industry titan breaking down walls preventing the global penetration of Nigerian music. But the artiste born Ayodeji Ibrahim Balogun has worked his talent hard and smart to remain pop music’s MVP.
Wizkid is presently the most-streamed Nigerian artiste of all time on Spotify, with over 3.4 billion streams across all credits. This year, he also went on to win the MOBO Award for Best International Music, leaving the likes of Kanye West in his wake. Nigerian music recorded several wins this year with acts like Burna Boy, Ckay and Tiwa Savage pushing for major representation. But if there was one name that stood out, it was to be Wizkid.
This year pop music seemed more global and more decentralised than ever. Thanks to the power of the internet, the United States recording industry appears to be ceding some of its power in terms of determining who gets played or heard. Chances are opening up by the day and because of the magic of Wizkid, future stars can look to an example of what it is like to make music that is tethered to a culture and still be warmly received in other cultures.
For making sure that “afrobeats to the world” achieves its promise and becomes more than just a cliched catchphrase.
For providing leadership to a generation of players who no longer have to navigate their successes on their own terms.
For pushing himself away and beyond the call of duty.
For the talent that continues to give, and for a hand held out to support the next generation; Ayodeji ‘Wizkid’ Balogun is the Editor’s Pick for YNaija Person of the Year 2021.