2021 was the year of recovery.
Sometimes it seemed like music was all we had to get us through the most trying times of the year. From long awaited debut records to cross-generational statements, these were the best of the best.
10. Wondaland- Teni
Teni’s debut album did not pack quite the sucker punch that her stellar run of debut singles did, but that is not to say there isn’t good stuff to be found in Wondaland. The record clocks in at a tidy 49 minutes wrapping up before things begin to sour.
With tracks like For You (with Davido), Hustle and Wonda Why, Wondaland maps out a convincing portrait of the lovable prankster not just as artist but as human being.
9: Esan and Harmattan & Winter- Brymo
This double record was the first time in close to a decade that cracks were beginning to show in Brymo’s well-polished act, but Brymo at his potential weakest could run rings around half of the starting bench of today’s splashiest pop stars.
9 feels like Brymo’s stream of consciousness ramblings half the time but the writing, production and earnestness with which he sells it makes the record quite the experience.
8. Somewhere between Beauty & Magic- Joeboy
Joeboy’s debut album is perhaps the typical afropop record, whatever that means these days. Housing some of the typical features; bright melodies, slinky rhythms, and a predilection for partying and good times, the record makes for a pretty competent debut.
Joeboy now a certified hitmaker, stays on the optimistic end for the most part, singing about romance, love or marriage. Try resisting that.
7. 19 & Dangerous- Ayra Starr
The rollout of the debut album by Mavin records newest and freshest superstar was slick, much in the same way that the nineteen- year-old Ayra Starr presents.
19 & Dangerous shouldn’t work as much as it does but Starr is a surprising grounding presence on a record that could easily have been packed with pop fluff. With catchy tunes like Cast and Bloody Samaritan, Ayra Starr does some provocation, declaring herself the voice of the TikTok generation.
6. Back in Office- Mayorkun
Back in Office is a cheeky nod and a continuation of Mayorkun’s 2018 debut record, The Mayor of Lagos. While the debut album was pretty uneven boasting little beside a couple of outsize hit singles, Back in Office is more coherent and works better as a body of work.
On this merry go round, Mayorkun is better able to reconcile his hitmaking bonafides with more legitimate ambitions of having a respected career as a recording artist. He seems to be on the right track.
5. Something to Live For- Phyno
Phyno can trade bars with the best of them, but he can also sing and make melodious highlife tunes that beckon to the dance floor. Who says he has to choose when he does all of them with style and sophistication?
With his fourth solo studio album, the artist born Chibuike Nelson Azubuike is in stellar if unrestrained form continuing his progressive attempts to make sure that hip hop meets highlife. The blend is indeed intoxicating.
4. Love & Highlife-The Cavemen
The Cavemen’s Love & Highlife is easily the most improved upon project of the year with the artistry and musicianship on display demonstrating significant leaps from their debut album Roots.
The Okorie brothers continue to trade in nostalgia and the influence of highlife heroes past but they also show a willingness to move the tradition forward with their own unique blend of groovy, digestible polyphonic rhythms.
3. Sex Over Love- Blaqbonez
The self-crowned best rapper in Africa’s renowned mischief- and extreme horniness- powers his long in the works debut studio record.
Perhaps the most interesting wordsmith currently working today, Blaqbonez comes at Sex Over Love like a man with plenty to prove, to the ladies who ever doubted his virility but also to anyone who ever dismissed his talents.
The record is vibrant and hosts a range of diverse sounds that point to the current state of the game. But Blaqbonez’s talent is never in doubt.
2. Made in Lagos: Deluxe Edition- Wizkid
Made in Lagos in its original iteration made an appearance on our End of Year Charts last year but the crossover success of the Deluxe version of the record demands a revisit.
The improved album houses the chart-topping Justin Bieber remix of Essence but it also adds on inescapable tunes like Mood (with Buju) and feel good tunes like Anoti and Steady and has connected with the culture in ways that the original did not.
- Legacy+- Femi Kuti and Made Kuti
Afrobeats may be up and thriving, but Afrobeat as imagined by Fela Kuti with its intoxicating mix of funk, highlife and jazz will always be king.
With the joint album, Legacy+, Fela’s son and heir, Femi passes the baton to his own first son, Made. Femi’s half, Stop the Hate is energetic, bitter with trademark angry guitars splattering the record.
Made’s half For(e)awrd is more subtle, modern and thoroughly exiting. Both discs play off against the other demonstrating that the future of afrobeat is alive and well.
Wilfred Okiche is a medic, reader, writer, journalist, culture critic, and occasional ruffler of feathers. One of the most influential critics working in the Nigerian culture space, his writing has appeared extensively in platforms like YNaija.com and 360nobs.com. Okiche has provided editorial assistance to the UK Guardian and has had his work published in African Arguments, Africa is a Country and South Africa’s City Press. He has received trainings and acquired experience in multimedia and online journalism. He also appears on the culture television show, Africana Literati. He has participated at critic programs in Lagos, Durban and Rotterdam.