The music industry hasn’t seen a phenomenon like Olamide for the longest time.
After bursting into the music scene in 2011 with a hit single, Eni Duro preceding the debut album, Rapsodi, Olamide has remained in the public eye as a voice of the street.
Initially dismissed as a copycat of the musical stylings of Da Grin with his Yoruba infused rap, Olamide carved a niche for himself following the untimely death of Da Grin. His strategy was simple, taking the musical sub-genre of Yoruba rap,-of which Lord of Ajasa is credited as a pioneer,- and simplifying it beyond the level which Da Grin had previously made commercial. Olamide went on to pen lyrics that soared beyond tales of impending doom, and chose to unify people in the clubs, on the streets and in dance halls.
Olamide has been consistent. And prolific. When it comes to churning out hit after hit, no one does it better. Davido is reliable when he isn’t dipping into international waters, and Tekno is the boy du jour, but Olamide has maintained a five-year winning streak that is nothing short of phenomenal.
With an influence on pop music that tilts on the iconic scale, Olamide has gathered for himself, a loyal following of fans and fanatics who are ready and consistently willing to put themselves on the line for the Bariga born rapper.
There are those who will argue that for all his consistency, Olamide’s music has been gradually undergoing a dip in quality. And they may have a valid argument. At the end of the day, what all entertainers have is social capital and their continued relevance is what keeps the big bucks coming in. Everyone knows that. Olamide, definitely.
In an environment with a huge turnover result, this constant and consistent presence, sustained beyond the artiste’s sell-by date, is what keeps them in contention for the important endorsement deals and new business opportunities. And what is likely going to differentiate Olamide from say D’banj.
After a long creative fallow period punctuated by the release of tepid singles, former favourite D’banj only recently promised to drop a new solo album to widespread discontent. No longer the force he was, 10 years ago, D’banj is competing in an environment that has no idea what to do with him anymore. To rustle up bits of relevance, D’banj desperately needs a genuine hit, and a committed team of new generation followers. No chance of that happening soon.
It is early days yet but Olamide has built a working and sustainable model in YBNL. His high impact independent record label is responsible for churning out successful alumni: Lil Kesh and Adekunle Gold, two heartthrobs presently holding their own absent YBNL’s safety net. Even with his mentees doing so well on their own, unwavering attention has remained on Badoo as the undisputed king of the ring.
The most important ingredient for YBNL’s string of successes remains Olamide. His presence pushes the artists he chooses to work with it without exactly overshadowing them. Lil Kesh retains his identity, so does Mr Gold, as well as a fast rising Davolee.
Rather than operate as a traditional record label, YBNL is structured like an apprenticeship program in which someone gets signed, learns the trick of the trade and moves on to setup his own record label. It may work so well in conventional business and small time set ups, but the music industry presents a different kind of challenge.
With the humongous popularity generated from music, comes the endorsement deals. The volatility of the economy, problems with piracy and lack of proper distribution tend to diminish the earning capabilities of musicians and their record labels.
Endorsements, concerts, shows and festivals are regular income generating streams for top tier musicians, but these avenues can be quite sporadic, especially for artistes on the lower rungs of the food chain.
Festivals like the Glo Music Fest for instance, are usually curated primarily with musicians endorsed by, or affiliated with the network in mind. To mitigate some of these challenges, Olamide has created his own signature event, the Olamide Live in Concert (OLIC) which has held annually for four straight years now and has significantly outgrown its Eko Hotels venue (side note: The Eko Hotels Convention Centre is the country’s biggest and most prestigious events centre).
The sheer dedication to the quality of the work Olamide puts out at the concert, when it collides with the loyalty shown by his considerable fan base is super impressive to behold. In addition, Olamide has also been able to garner endorsement deals that can keep a fledgling Nigerian record label afloat .
His July, 2013 deal with Ciroc was widely reported to have smashed nationwide records that had existed up until then. In October of 2013, Olamide signed a deal with popular liquor brand, Guinness and later that year, inked a lucrative deal with mobile players, Etisalat (now 9Mobile). Most recently, he became an ambassador for Sterling Bank Plc. And no one’s forgetting his massive partnership with the Lagos State Government anytime soon.
Olamide’s journey from Id Cabasa’s Coded Tunes imprint to starting his own label did not come without its problems. In the end though, it worked out swimmingly.
With ID Cabasa, Olamide created hits that were to help shape his perception in the eyes of the Nigerian public. His initial sound was one that married highlife with trace elements of Fuji and a dressing of American hip hop. The result was simple. Olamide was a youthful Yoruba musician who, for older generations, played as a throwback to the days of open air parties and debauched bars overflowing with palm wine. For the younger Nigerian rap aficionados however, Olamide represented something different. This difference played out in the style and message, different than Da Grin and the other Yoruba guys.
Despite being playful, Olamide made music from his home, Ladilak in Bariga. Ladilak, like every other urban poor settlement visible across Nigerian states houses millions of stories characterised by deprivation and lack. This relatability makes Olamide’s stories stick.
For the kind of crowd that Olamide’s music panders to, the beats of the songs have to be catchy to make up for the occasional weak bar. In the beginning when Olamide almost exclusively worked with ID Cabasa, things were a lo more demanding. There needed to be a purposefulness to his lyrics and to his delivery. An upcoming artiste is allowed a very slim margin for error as the climate is unforgiving to musicians who fail to make an early impression.
Major Bangz, Pheelz and Young John are the producers who have crafted Olamide’s sound and turned it to fine steel. These beat makers know how to cater to the urgent Nigerian desire to dance the edge off. They have carefully helped weave his delivery so that nothing is lost in translation or overshadowed by the heavy base of their instrumentals.
Olamide began a robust collaboration with Phyno with 2012’s “Ghost Mode” and this union culminated in an album aptly titled 2 Kings released in 2015. 2 Kings received mixed reviews from music critics and the general consensus was that the album was not particularly directed at music purists. It was essentially two guys having fun in the studio and bouncing ideas off each other. Apart from the usual suspects, the album featured collaborations with producers and artistes such as Wizkid, Lil Kesh, Storm Rex and B.Banks.
There is a method to Olamide’s madness, to his music, and the way it keeps on growing wildly. It is in the subtlety of the message he embodies – the suffering he came through and how succeeding through adversity is achievable.
This may be universal truth, but coming from a figure like Olamide gives this message a lot more validity. It can be gleaned from the crassness of his lyrics – the fixation with the female backside and its potential for causing destruction, his misogynistic approach to sex. It is also in how he challenged the old order by calling out Don Jazzy, mindlessly making public a rift that was quite latent.
Most recently, the Olamide genius and the resilience of his spirit can be seen in the new single “Wo”. Having been on the short end of the hits wagon lately,- recent songs like the sentimental Letter to Milli have gotten airplay mostly on the strength of his brand alone,- Olamide was overdue for a comeback monster hit in the mould of “Bobo”.
Wo is a partnership with Young John. A surefire hit that goes back to classic newbie Olamide – a banging beat, incredible hook and repetitive patterns that will ensure familiarity.
Olamide crowdsourced the popularity by creating a dance competition. For over five weeks, Instagram and Twitter was littered with videos of people miming to the song. By the time the million naira cash prize was delivered to the winner, the damage had been done. The winner will eventually disappear into oblivion, but his brief cameo in the dance video will forever live on, as well as Olamide’s legacy.
Remember how Bobo became a thing? Wo is a fitting replacement. On Twitter, the song has since gone viral, placed over videos of footballers dancing and celebrating goals. Few entertainers can summon up this much influence.
All hail king Olamide. Master of the growth hack.
Oluwatosin Adeshokan is a freelance journalist and writer reporting stories about West Africa. He was previously the Culture Editor for YNaija. He tweets at @TheOluwatosin