The Best Nigerian Songs of 2018
Featuring Burna Boy, Niniola, Wizkid, Odunsi, Olamide, Tiwa Savage, and many more.
Another year, another bounty for Nigerian pop music.
At the start of the year, Nigerian songs showed all indication of adopting the heaving rhythms of South Africa's gqom with the release of Patoranking's "Available" and Dbanj's "Issa Banger," but soon took one big swerve when the mesmerizing marimba of Wizkid & Starboy's "Soco" gained popularity and another swerve with the even smoother arrangements on "Fake Love," which also re-introduced the world to Duncan Mighty.
The long promise of "Alte Cruise" bore satisfying fruits with releases from Tomi Thomas, Tay Iwar, Odunsi and Lady Donli. And there's the unforgettable summer months of June and July which saw the country have the best jersey and best song at the World Cup—but with little to say about the footballing itself.
Read on for our selection of the 30 best Nigerian pop songs of 2018. Listed in no particular order.
Burna Boy "Ye"
Burna Boy has a proven gift for repurposing stylistic traits in an inimitable fashion. The buzzing Nigerian artist takes notes from Fela Kuti for "Ye"—in the intro's growled ad-libs and the borrowed hook from "Sorrow, Tears and Blood"—to which he adds his championing of more materialistic things, "what's it gon' be? G Wagon or the Bentley." "Ye," and Burna Boy's album Outside,confirmed the artist's genre-straddling genius. In a more serendipitous way, Kanye West's album title (Ye) unintentionally boosted "Ye" streams, which is something we were definitely here for.
Wizkid x Terri x Spotless x Ceeza Milli "Soco"
Chance meets genius on "Soco," which exemplifies Wizkid's continuing rich song-making form in lockstep with the waviest trend in Afropop. The bubble and bounce of Northboi's production is what is otherwise called "palm wine music" in the way it combines elegant piano, patient bass and unobtrusive drumming into a delightful beat whose sweet pockets are the receptacle for the perfect hook. Newcomers Ceeza Milli, Terri and Spotless turn out topnotch verses of their own whose cadence may take after Wizkid, but are no less impressive.
"Science Student" drew criticism for seeming to both glorify and denounce endemic drug use, but also gained pop culture notoriety when it was released in January. Using the time-tested tools of a call-and-response hook over heaving drums, Olamide deploys the growl and gravel in his voice to good effect, the slur and stank of his cadence emphasizing the haziness of a high. The song's music video opts for full theater with an extended dance sequence in the style of Michael Jackson's "Thriller."
A musical match made in heaven, the duo of Niniola and Sarz perfected Nigerian house music on "Maradona" and would seem to have repeated the same feat in "Bana." The song is another winning combination of Nigerian pop sensibilities, Yoruba and welcomed-raunchiness from Niniola with a busily elegant house beat by Sarz.
Odunsi, Zamir & Santi "Alté Cruise"
"Alte Cruise" crystallizes all that is portentous, progressive and pretentious about Nigeria's "alternative" movement. That new movement is fronted by musicians like Odunsi, Santi, and Zamir, but comprises other creative sorts whose aesthetic pursuits look like the simple rebuttal of all that is mainstream (afropop) and soulless (consumerism), but in fact, its commensalism at play with the "cool kids" dependent on top layer pop for its underground vitality. The sun-dappled and plaintive piano on "Alte Cruise" is emblematic of much of the music that has come from the scene. The accent on "alté" is a claim to refinement that would seem put on, but when pronounced, it recalls "authe", a pidgin abbreviation of "authentic," returning to the coinage "alte" any lost dignity.
Naira Marley x Olamide x Lil Kesh "Issa Goal"
It's hard to imagine a better-crafted crowd-pleaser of a song than "Issa Goal" as an anthem for the 2018 World Cup. The trio of Naira Marley, Olamide and Lil Kesh joyously captured the rush and fever of a goal using memorable one-liners—each one either hilarious or memorable and drawn from Nigerian & world football parlance. The video deepens the feeling with clips from Nigeria's Olympic gold at Atlanta '96, a glorious period in the country's sporting history.
Teni is one of the clear breakout stars of 2018. In "Case," she offers to slap a policeman and an agbero, and punch a judge for a lover's sake which is doubtlessly charming however inadvisable. But she will also "soak garri" and "chop indomie" with said lover which is, well, simply charming. In all, she sings with winning tenderness egged on by a horn section that does not outstay its welcome.
While it has become de rigueur for a Nigerian artist to make a Pon Pon song, Tekno has made it his core sound. In "Jogodo," he refines his blueprint for "Pana"—memorable, humorous and intentionally playful lyrics about big love overtures. This time, he borrows heavily from "Kpolongo" by Mad Melon & Mountain Black whose biggest single "Danfo Driver" was a nationwide hit. Tekno scores high for how cleverly he has combined the melodies and arrangements of the group's galala sound with today's pon pon craze into a perfectly enjoyable song.
Tiwa Savage x Duncan Mighty "Lova Lova"
Both assured singer-songwriters, this duet by Tiwa Savage and Duncan Mighty couldn't have been any less than decent but the song excels for several reasons: Savage's proven songwriting is helped with a topnotch verse by Mighty, in a year which he's dominated Nigerian pop. Here, he deploys a simple three-syllable rhyme scheme with winning humour that could come from old highlife song, "Girl my love na sure, no be dice," but it's given new relevance in a hashtag flow "this your love sweet - ofada rice." The muffled bridge by Ceeza Milli and Savage's proven star delivery only further boost the song.
Mr Real x Idowest x Kelvin Chuks x Obadice "Legbegbe"
"Legbegbe" is said to be inspired by a true life account of a film producer who was accused of stealing iPhones in a Lagos market in 2016. The product is the perfect populist pop culture reference which artist-producer, Mr Real, has fashioned into a well-judged hook in his deep melodious bass—a quality it shares with the production, anchored by heaving drums and capable verses by vocalists Idowest, Kelvin Chuks and rapper Obadice. Released in mid-2017, the song gained traction in quarters of Lagos and by December was a city-wide hit, and a good fit for the shaku dance in what is a mix of astute song-making and good fortune that would propel the song all through 2018.
Falz "This Is Nigeria"
Released 20 days after Childish Gambino's state of the nation address of American societal ills, Falz's interpretation is every bit as critical and laudable as a clear-eyed view of a country and its failings. Nigeria's moralizer-in-chief takes on rampart internet fraud, problematic prosperity gospel, President Buhari's careless comment on the country's "lazy youths," embezzled government funds and poor state of policing ("Police station dey close at 6, security reason oh") over woozy synths and trap production from Gambino and Ludovin's original track.
Davido x Duncan Mighty x Peruzzi "Aza"
Fresh DVM's thickened combination of viscous trap and rich highlife makes for a lavish listening experience that is made even more so by the four verses by three different artists—Davido, Duncan Mighty, and Peruzzi—whose well-written lyrics and committed singing would make for a clunky song if they were lesser performers.
Odunsi (The Engine) "Falling"
The revisionist R&B in Odunsi's debut album, rare., is not too different from that which was undertaken by Raphael Saadiq on "The Way I See It" and "Stone Rollin," but is much closer to cherry-picking from different eras as done by Bruno Mars on "24K Magic." "Falling", however, is strongly reminiscent of "afro-boogie," Nigeria's adoption of American disco and R&B from the' 80s, a good example of which is Steve Monite's "Only You" which was given new life by Frank Ocean in 2017.
Patoranking "Suh Different"
Few artists other than Patoranking best embody Nigeria's long adaptation of Jamaican dancehall, all of which can be found in the artist's precise annunciation of, "girler whine suh different oh," where the first word "girler" is Jamaican-accented while the emphasis on "oh" is positively Nigerian. Just as impressive is Patoranking's nimble use of his strong singing voice all over the staccato percussion of Mix Master Garzy's production.
D'banj x Slimcase x Mr Real "Issa Banger"
After last year's triumphant though under-praised comeback album in, King Don Come, D'banj kicked off 2018 with "Issa Banger," adapting the heady polyrhythms of South Africa's gqom onto a Nigeria street culture and language with real flair and sturdy support from Mr Real and Slimcase. The two featured artists match the Kokomaster in vocal and physical presence, their effervescence every bit as infectious as his, making even richer the propulsive percussion and gloomy base that characterizes a gqom beat. Issa schmanger!
DJ Spinall x Wizkid "Nowo"
Wizkid would seem to have carved out prime real estate over a narrow patch that does not exceed the perennial themes of adoration for women and the monied ways to court and impress them. Released in February, "Nowo" is one such example produced by Killertunes ( who made "Manya") who combines to good effect the contrast of a bass drum with the sharpness of snare kicks and the airiness of a roving piano to make a shaku-fitted song which politely asks an impolite question: "omoge shoma jogede."
Tay Iwar x Odunsi (The Engine) "Sugardaddy"
"Sugardaddy" is one of three songs that make up Tay Iwar's remarkably terse and yet satisfying 1997 EP, the anticipated follow-up to 2016's much-lauded Renecistia. The slow swing and bounce on "Sugardaddy" makes for an infectious trap beat which, even without a significant change to it, accommodates Odunsi's perfectly snug hook in Yoruba. The star of the show is undoubtedly Iwar who, as well as producing all the songs on 1997, continues to charm with his silky voice and exemplary song making.
Mr Eazi x Giggs "London Town"
Don't be fooled by the name, a tough-talking Mr Eazi convinces on "London Town," whose catchy and crowd-pleasing chorus is brilliantly contrasted by the growled verses and tough-talk, all because "man try to take Eazi for chiwawa." Who better than Hollowman Giggs to bring the right amount of bounce and menace to a song about male posturing over production whose laden bass synths are heightened with each clash of the cymbals.
Wande Coal x Juls "So Mi So"
The hollow made by thumping bass kick drums is busied with clacking clippers, twinkling guitar and clicking marimba, as well as the breezy saxophone which smoothes out the song. They are all well matched to Wande Coal's silky singing voice, which simultaneously roots the song in Afro-cuban jazz, R&B and afrobeats in this top notch production from Juls.
Olamide x Wizkid "Kana"
"Kana" is a marvel of songwriting devoid of the safety hooks of chorus, bridge and verses. Both artists weave melodic line after line, progressing each other's lyrics and cadence in a manner that would seem haphazard if unscrutinized, but is in fact a brilliant construction, sung with real feeling. Wizkid smooths and glides over MuTay's unshowy production while Olamide's tonal emphasis is as convincing as he's ever sounded.
2baba x Peruzzi "Amaka"
Along with Duncan Mighty, Peruzzi has carved out a sizable reputation in 2018, guesting on songs with gusto and charm, and a shared singing technique with 2Baba that simultaneously emphasizes outpour and restraint. Even more, and despite being a tale of disappointment, "Amaka" is a near-perfect distillation of a particular Nigerian experience, if only from a male perspective: "I don buy diesel [generator fuel to supplement power cut], I don buy shayo [alcoholic drinks] for yard, or "I don call my mama, tell am say you bam [beautiful, desirable]"
Sarz x WurlD "Trobul"
"Trobul" is the title track off producer Sarz and singer WurlD joint project. The two initially connect for the 2016 single, "Show You Off," which offered a proto-vision of "afro-inspired" music with the R&B discipline of a Motown singer. "I don't know how long I've been here, you were once a dream in my head," confesses Wurld to a lover who he's convinced of but whose love brings "plenty trouble." For the beat, Sarz combines a patient piano and the sun clave—a bedrock of African percussion the world over—to good effect. The excellent collaboration whets the appetite for the full project when it eventually drops.
ClassiQ has imposed a pop song structure on the sprawling nature of Hausa folk music in the most impressive fashion. He gives his voice a stank befitting a seasoned griot, singing and rapping with great flair and many a side-flex "da mun taka, ba TP / yanzu mu chicks ke daurawa akan DP" (roughly translating to "we used to trek, cos we didn't have TP [slang for 'transport fair'] / now we're the one girl's put on their DP"). The use of molo (xalam) and kalangu (hand held drums), the praising of friends and luminaries called kiraari, brings into modern Nigerian pop a musical tradition that is as ancient as it is widespread in west and central Africa.
M.I "Last Night I Had a Dream About A Hummingbird"
"You cannot build each other up, how can you build an economy?/how you think is how you are, it's just basic neurology" goes MI on the salient song off his most salient album, A Study on Self Worth:Yxng Dxnzl, which is heavily-aided by the ethereal beauty in Tay Iwar's singing.
Adekunle Gold "Ire"
"Ire" is the satisfying result of plaintive singing and lofty songwriting whose spirituality calls out strongly, as is expected from one of Nigeria's most philosophical singers, Adekunle Gold.
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