Should we still care about collaborations with foreign music artists?

Ahead of his third studio album A Better Time due Friday, Davido released new single So Crazy along with a video shot in Los Angeles: a crowded swimming pool party scene because coronavirus is over. The Afrobeats-laden track features American rapper Lil Baby, whose presence doesn’t do much to lift it from its lethargy and overused themes of romance.

Perhaps we are all experiencing Davido fatigue. Fans of the singer have embraced the single with unquestioning loyalty, Afrobeats purists too, while also mounting attacks on those with dissenting opinions. Things can get contentious between fanbases trying to prop their artists as the best.

People like what they like. Lil Baby has also tweeted why he appeared on So Crazy. You guessed it: money.

The tweet above has been an unintentional bat-signal, one that has thrown music fans into a debate of who is the better artist between Davido and Lil Baby. So Crazy becomes yet another international score for Davido, who first cut his teeth with international features on 2015’s Fans Mi featuring American rap act Meek Mill.

More collaborations of that nature have followed, fully omnipresent in Davido’s catalogue and burnishing his profile as one of the continent’s biggest stars.

But what does an international collaboration mean for Nigerian artists today? And why should fans still care that these artists had to fork out huge money for an international guest verse or even an appearance? Back then, having an American artist on your song meant you wanted to ”blow,” and also for the clout and bragging rights. D’banj’s Oliver Twist with the Kanye West cameo was legitimately a moment in 2012, Chris Brown, Trey Songz and French Montana on Wizkid’s Shaba was one of 2016’s biggest songs, while Lily Allen in 2018 graced Burna Boy’s Heaven’s Gates with her oddball pop aura that crept into orientalism.

The popularity of Afrobeats is proving to be a turning point for the Nigerian music scene beyond the country’s shores, finding mascots in Davido, Burna Boy, Tiwa Savage, Wizkid and the rest. The world is reckoning with the sound, and Nigerian artists have seen their profiles grow immensely via the economics of streaming, YouTube views, tours, concerts etc.

Lately, however, there’s been some kind of stasis: collaborations with foreign acts no longer have that pixie-dust, mesmerizing quality they once had. Of course, these features still mean a lot to Nigerian fans, fuelling fandom rivalry and whatnot, but on a mass scale it seems to have lost it shine.

Perhaps the exception to this was Beyonce’s The Gift album that galvanized Africans and the diaspora towards Pan-Africanism. Perhaps foreign collaborations work when the external acts are indisputably god-tier. Afrobeats has brought a renewed sense of pride, an ego boost so that when Nigerian artists feature international stars, the narrative is usually that they are they are them a favour.

Davido’s A Better Time features international acts like Chris Brown, Nas, and Nicki Minaj, who can be heard in a song leaked online. Foreign collaborations aren’t objectively better, but they aren’t stopping soon as local artists continue to break into international markets.

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