There’s been a long struggle for the title of the Nigerian music industry’s enfant terrible. It used to be an open race in the early to mid 2000’s, anybody’s game really, with veterans like Eedris Abdulkareem and upstarts like Sinzu and 9ice all vying for the spot. But sometime in 2015, the field narrowed to two people; Wizkid and Davido. And why not them, they already had a long standing rivalry that has escalated into physical altercations a few times, linked with a string of women, some of whom had children for them and seemed to draw trouble to themselves. For a while, international success seemed a strong enough draw for both artists to abandon their quest for infamy, but after mishaps marred Davido’s crossover into the US markets and Wizkid saw his creative vision hamstrung by American tastes, both returned to Nigeria to reconnect with their audiences and picked up their beef.
What finally put Davido out of the race was renewed success in Nigeria and a second chance at reordering his career. Davido took it with both hands, leaving the crown to Wizkid. In December 2017, Wizkid brought Davido on stage during his triumphant homecoming concert, effectively publicly quelling any rumours of rivalry between them. Davido reciprocated during his own concert 3 days later, uniting Nigerians across fandoms and creating one of the biggest pop culture moments in Nigerian history.
With the warring fandoms finally united, Wizkid’s fans could finally see that their Star Boy’s demons ran deeper than they’d imagined. In 2017, Wizkid had missed a record three international music festivals, most prominently the Wireless Festival in the UK and the JayZ run ‘Made In America festival in the US. At both Festivals, he had ready excuses, though these festivals are a huge deal in the industry, capable of making or breaking an artist. This didn’t seem to phase Wizkid much, after all he’d scored the mother of them all, two spots at the 2018 Coachella festival. With a whole year in advance to prepare and new music to thrill his audiences, this seemed like the perfect opportunity for Wizkid to redeem himself internationally.
Only problem was, that didn’t happen.
After somehow showing up for every invitation he had to perform in Nigeria, Wizkid didn’t show up for Coachella, citing visa issues for his team. He missed the first week, and towards the end of the second week, as more and more people reported sighting Wizkid in Lagos rather than Carlifornia, an informal campaign rose on Twitter, pressuring Wizkid to do Nigeria proud. He didn’t, not so much as an apology or a formal statement. For the tortured subjects of Wizkidlandia, a haphazard, badly spelled tweet seemed to suffice (he deleted the tweet after much backlash). The organizers of Coachella didn’t release a statement, but it was clear that they were highly displeased by his behaviour and Wizkid had earned himself a reputation in those circles. These white men and women weren’t going to invest their coins for Wizkid to join their musical lineups if he wasn’t trustworthy.
What do you when you sire an infant with your manager (showing you clearly do not separate business and pleasure) and a stank reputation that spans continents? You level the playing field. Wizkid’s leveller was the ‘AfroRepublik Festival‘. Headlining alongside Tiwa Savage and a slew of Nigerian acts, Starboy chose the most ambitious of venues, the 02 Arena (don’t mention the Royal Albert Hall, Wizzy’s been there and done that). A 20,000 capacity stadium arena seemed like the venue of his possible humiliation, especially as all signs seemed to suggest his label was not funding this little exercise but of course Sierra Leone’s prince of afro-pop was not fazed. Wizkid put out a call for tickets which sold out in record time, making him the first African to sell out the Arena, among musical greats like U2. He also became the first African to headline at the O2, which is notorious to sell out, even for homegrown British artists with mainstream fame. A smug Wizkid pranced across the stage, fueled rumours that he was romantically involved with collaborator Tiwa and introduced us to his infant song with his manager (who was conspicuously absent in most of his official photography for the festival).
Filling up the O2 shuts up ALL of Wizkid’s critics bar none. Few artists gain enough clout to fill a 20,000 floor, fewer even can do it a month after he was vilified for refusing to ‘put money’ in the pockets of Western affiliate marketing firms. Whether this is the start of a tour (Davido has quietly been on tour enjoy phenomenal success himself, his last concert in Suriname saw 10,000 fans fill the stage), an annual festival or a one-time concert, it is too soon to tell.
One thing however is clear, Wizkid might never be seen solely for who he is beyond any gimmicks, but he has shown clearly, he needs no one, not even a major label to sell out international stadiums. He plays bad all by himself.
Edwin Okolo is an author and journalist who has worked with YNaija, TheNativemag and the Naked Convos.