Why Rema is The Culture Icon for 2023

by Chude Jideonwo

It is impossible not to be inspired by Nigeria’s Afrobeats generation. 

To be sure, they have risen on the courage and chutzpah of a previous generation – 2face, Psquare, Freestyle (now Mista Styles), Sasha, Ruggedman, the Remedies, Bouqui and others who often go unsung – but they deserve the credits for seizing the moment, casting out convention, and leaning in. 

But in a sky full of sparkling stars like everyone’s fav Davido, the iconoclastic Burna Boy and the fearless Wizkid, I believe it is the younger sibling Divine ‘Rema’ Ikubor, that fully captures where the moment has come, its limitless potential, and its range of possibilities. 

People often think Nigerian creatives and especially its Afrobeats clan need to be a certain way: gregarious, combative, other-focused. People think they have to surround themselves with activity, and keep churning ‘content’. People expect them to stoke rivalries, rile up their base, and thump their chests. 

In all of this, there is Rema: silent, focused, ferocious. 

I remember watching a raft of his interviews one weekday morning two years ago and thinking: This is the one who will remain, who will outlast, who will be unforgettable. 

The number one and two reasons for his success of course are both talent and hard work. But talent is not scarce in Nigeria, and on average we work very hard. 

The deeper reason for his success? I think it is a sense of inner-directedness that doesn’t refer to anyone but himself. Rema is certain about who he is, what he is capable of and how far he can go. 

His rise, as far as can be seen, is not driven by fear, panic, competition. It is driven by a deep understanding that he has a unique contribution to the world, only he can make that contribution and there is no need to pay attention to what anyone else is doing in making that contribution. 

It might seem strange to make this analogy, but it isn’t if you’ve actually paid attention to him: he is what the spiritual teacher Deepak Chopra 3 decades ago called ‘self-referential’. 

That’s extremely strange because Rema is resolutely Gen Z. And, without judgement, it’s a generation convinced it must constantly be seen, constantly be heard, and that hustle and grind is the only game that matters. Of course, the origins of this energy come from millennials – so no one should climb a high horse too quickly. 

But it is remarkable that Rema has eschewed all of that, to succeed in his own way, to listen to his own voice, to pay attention to his own spirit, and to dance to his own tune – all the way beyond 1 billion streams. 

He is an icon, and almost inevitably will end up a legend. Because, you see, even Grammy-award winning stars come and go, raves end, trends expire, but legends? Those who have their eyes on the eternal? Who who see beyond the fickle here and now? They are the ones that end up truly mattering. 

Rema teaches us that it never goes out of style for one to know one’s self, to be one’s self fully and to walk one’s own path, however lonely.

In this way, he is a voice – beyond the music – crying in the wilderness; a prophet speaking softly to his generation and to the age: Calm down. 

One can only hope, in a time of great spiritual, emotional and mental health crises, that the people listen. 

*Jideonwo is the award winning host of the viral talk show #WithChude, and the award winning director of the film ‘Awaiting Trial’. His extensive media holdings include leading companies in marketing, television, digital media and consulting – and he has served on the boards of Microsoft 4Afrika, the Oando Foundation and The Initiative for Equal Rights.  

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