The 15 Best Nigerian Songs of the Year So Far
The best from Nigeria in 2018 (so far) featuring Wizkid, Tiwa Savage, Olamide, Odunsi, Yemi Alade, Davido and more.
The emergence of the shaku dance craze has coincided with the proliferation of South Africa's gqom in Nigerian pop which we
examined here back in March. Another sound, inspired by the "Soco Beat" (Wizkid) is gaining popularity: the work of producer Northboi. It has spawned impressive copies among which are "Pull Up" by Reekado Banks, "Askamaya" by Teni and "Tiwa's Vibe" by Tiwa Savage and "Overload" by Mr Eazi.
Our selections for the year include surefire by big name artists ( Davido, Yemi Alade) but also those who are influential in the so-called "alternative movement" (Odunsi, Santi), a few wildcard inclusions which bucked any pre-existing trends (Burna Boy).
Read on for our picks of the Best Nigerian Songs Of The Year So Far, listed in no particular order.
Wizkid x Ceeza Milli x Spotless x Terri "Soco"
Chance meets genius on "Soco" which exemplifies Wizkid's continuing rich form in song-making—which is in locked in step with the waviest trends 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 unintrusive drumming into a delightful beat whose sweet pockets are the receptacle for what is the perfect hook. New comers Ceeza Milli, Terri and Spotless turn out topnotch verses of their own whose cadence may take after Wizkid, but are no less impressive.
Olamide "Science Student"
For seeming to both glorify and denounce endemic drug use, "Science Student" drew opprobrium but also gained pop culture notoriety when it was released in January. Using the time-tested tools of a call and response hooks over heaving drums, Olamide deploys the growl and gravel in his voice to good effect, the slur and stank of his cadence emphasising the haziness of a high. In the video, director Unlimited LA opts for full theater with an extended dance sequence a la "Thriller" by Michael Jackson.
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. Such a hopelessly consumerist product is the perfect populist pop culture reference which artist-producer,
Mr Real, has fashioned into a well-judged hook. His deep melodious bass—a quality it shares with the production -is anchored by heaving drums and capable verses by vocalists Idowest, Kelvin Chuks and rapper Obadice.
Initially released in mid-2017, the song gained traction in quarters of Lagos and by December was a city-wide hit. It was a good fit for the shaku dance in what is a mix of astute song-making and good fortune that would propel the track all through 2018.
Olamide x Lil Kesh x Naira Marley "Issa Goal"
It's hard to imagine another well-crafted, crowd pleaser of a song that will better "Issa Goal" as an anthem for the Russia 2018 World Cup. The trio have joyously captured the rush and fever of a goal using memorable one-liners. Each one is humourous, memorable, and drawn from Nigerian or 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 which the Super Eagles will want to repeat this June.
Yemi Alade "Bum Bum"
Taken from Yemi Alade's third studio album, "Bum Bum," is comfortably perched between dancehall and galala on account of its plonking dembow percussion and throbbing bass lines. It's a production as solid as any in the genre, over which Yemi Alade comfortably darts from the clarity of structured R&B; to stank in mumble-sing.
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 nation and its failings. Nigeria's moraliser-in-chief takes on rampant internet fraud, problematic prosperity gospel, President Buhari's careless comment on the country's "lazy youths," embezzled government funds, poor state of policing ("Police station dey close at 6, security reason oh") and much more. It's all tied together by production whose woozy synths and trap leanings are the joint work of Gambino and Ludovin, his long time collaborator.
More than any one artist, Niniola done a brilliant job of indigenising South African house music in the Nigeria music consciousness, frequently combining the sturdiness of Yoruba and the flair of Nigerian pidgin slang. "Magun" in Yoruba means "don't touch", a punishing delight she offers to a lover ("only foreplay is allowed for you"), a restriction that may intrigue said lover as will capitulation. The remix with South Africa's Busiswa deepens the cultural exchange and is given real zest by a jittery electric guitar and treated vocals but also by a commanding vocal performance by Busiswa.
While it has become de rigueur for a Nigerian artist to make a Pon Pon song, Tekno has made it his core sound track after track, refining his blueprint for "Pana"—memorable, humorous and intentionally playful lyrics about big love overtures—as he has on "Jogodo." This time he borrowed 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.
Burna Boy x Lily Allen "Heaven's Gate"
Fashionably out of step with any fashion in afropop, "Heaven's Gate" is the lead single off Burna Boy's 6th full length release, Outside, released in January, featuring English singer Lily Allen in revitalised form. Allen is a perfect, though unlikely, foil for Burna Boy who gives a stellar vocal performance that determinedly traces the jangle and zigzag of the guitar-led beat. The gravel and growl in Burna Boy's bass compliments the sweet and shrill in Lily Allen's falsetto, whether when intertwining or pulling from it, all which distracts from the song's lyrics about hardman posturing.
Wizkid x Spinall "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 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."
Tiwa Savage x Reminisce x Slimcase x DJ Enimoney "Diet"
Sarz' elegant production work on "Diet" is the happy marrying of South African house with Nigerian sensibilities, but a problematic one as it would seem to promote the use of codeine which has caused an addiction epidemic among some Nigerian youths. The gruff charm in Slimcase's voice and Reminisce's topnotch rap verse is matched by Tiwa Savage's own sung verse continuing her knack for tasteful sexual innuendos ("protein diet" anyone?) in her winning and honeyed singing voice.
Santi x Odunsi x Zamir "Alte Cruise"
"Alte Cruise" crystallises all that is portentous, progressive and, yes, a bit pretentious about Nigeria's "alternative" movement which is fronted by the musicians, but comprises of other creative sorts whose aesthetic pursuits would look like the simple rebuttal of all that is mainstream (afropop) and soulless (consumerism), but is in fact 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 and on individual projects by the trio of Odunsi, Zamir and Santi. The accent on "alte" 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.
Dbanj x Slimcase x Mr Real "Issa Banger"
After last year's triumphant though under-praised comeback album in King Don Come, Dbanj 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, who 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 characterises a gqom beat. Issa schmanger!
Simi "Gone For Good"
The naturalism in Simi's song-making and aesthetic choices has a real charm and accumulative power for simply being earnest and devoid of sensationalism. "Gone For Good" is about a former lover whose return has rekindled in her a set of mixed emotions yet to find any resolve. She writes with mental acuity about a lover who, even in his absence, is able to manipulate his hold over her ("cause you knew all along i was doing okay without you"). The orchestral grandness of Oscar Heman-Ackah's production is led by a somber piano for the first third after which a swell of violins is joined by bass drums, afoxe and gongs making for a charged crescendo of feelings and a satisfying end that will easily suggest emotional closure.
Never one for small measures, Davido's ode to the new love in his life, Chioma Arvil, came with the news that he'd also purchased a Porsche for her with "Assurance" as a number plate. What will win some over is just how earnestly Davido sings the winsome lyrics, and what may in fact make the song the new lover boy anthem.