Featuring Burna Boy, Rema, Tiwa Savage, Zlatan, Mr Eazi, Wizkid, Teni, Davido, Lady Donli and many more.
2019 was another huge year for Nigerian music.
Zlatan's presence was ubiquitous and powered by the zeal for zanku, a dance which is now de rigueur. Rema led the charge for a group of young breakthrough artists that include Fireboy DML and Joeboy. They all represent an exciting crop of talents that point the way forward for Nigerian pop.
Burna Boy's new dominance, built around his excellent African Giant album, delivered on his rare talents, while the long wait for Davido's sophomore album, A Good Time, paid off in satisfying fashion. Simi's Omo Charlie Champagne Vol. 1 announced her departure from her longterm label. Tiwa Savage also made a highly-discussed move from Mavin Records to Universal Music Group. Meanwhile, Yemi Alade exuded female strength with her latest record, Woman of Steel.
Not to be left out, Wizkid sated demands for his fourth album with a new collaborative EP following a year of stellar features that included his presence on Beyoncé's Lion King: The Gift, an album which also boasts Tekno, Mr Eazi and Tiwa Savage. Mr Eazi also notably launched his emPawa initiative to help fund Africa's promising up-and-coming artists.
Asa returned in a formidable form with Lucid, while buzzing artists like Tay Iwar, Santi, and Lady Donli all shared notable releases. Lastly, the beef between Vector and M.I climaxed and sparked a resurgence of Nigerian rap releases from Phyno to Ycee, PsychoYP and more.
Read on for the best Nigerian songs of 2019. Listed in no particular order. —Sabo Kpade
Zlatan 'Zanku (Leg Work)'
Zlatan ordained himself the originator of the zanku craze in January with the release of "Zanku (Leg Work)," which phased out shaku as 2019's new dance craze. The specific origin of the name is uncertain but the dance itself, says the artist, is one he noticed while visiting The Shrine in Lagos. Zlatan was sensible to capitalize on the attention the dance was getting by naming his single after it, as well as his 17-song debut album, Zanku. —SK
A large part of Santi's charm is what he shrouds in metaphors and mystery. "Sparky" runs through strong imagery ("bon chiga with a darkie") layered with unexpected references like "sexy punkie rider," which could be a nod to Sean Paul. The Nigerian artist delivers all of this in a mumbled-patois that draws the listener in to his hazy world. —SK
"There's no actual box I belong to" said Rema in a recent interview with OkayAfrica, " I create different types of sounds. I'm led by my spirit to create." These sounds range from trap, afrohouse, R&B, and the near-perfect "Soco"-style beat heard on "Dumebi." Produced by Ozedikus, the song perfectly presents the musical brain showcased across Rema's three EPs—Rema, Freestyle and Bad Commando—which all have the brilliance of being both promising and fully formed. —SK
Burna Boy 'Anybody'
African Giant saw Burna Boy deliver several addictive shades of his signature afro-fusion sound by blending influences from afrobeat, dancehall, hip-hop, RnB and more. It's nearly impossible to pick just one (or two) tracks to highlight from the album for this list, but we're going with "Anybody." The Rexxie-produced song follows Burna as he sends a message to his naysayers over smooth saxophone riffs and rhythmic percussion. As the second track on African Giant, it conveyed the album's energy perfectly. The song was also Burna's choice when performing on big stages like The Tonight Show, where he could be seen delivering the zanku and several "gbeses" for U.S. TV audiences. —OKA
Lady Donli 'Corner' feat. VanJess & The Cavemen
"Corner" is a tale of an unfaithful lover that cleverly layers soulful harmonies over a rich highlife arrangement. Rather than present a simple throwback, Lady Donli brilliantly retools highlife in her debut album, Enjoy Your Life, which is packed with similar mercurial turns. —SK
Tiwa Savage '49-99'
This pulsating single sees Tiwa Savage referencing Fela Kuti's famous "49 sitting, 99 standing" line from his 1978 song "Shuffering and Shmiling." Throughout "49-99," Tiwa sings about the pursuit of money in her home country, offering commentary on widespread poverty."'49-99' is a term coined from the hard life many Nigerians go through," she explained. "A transit bus serves as a case study. It ought to have only 49 seated passengers, however due to poor economic conditions, we often have nearly twice that number of passengers standing (99)." —OKA
Olamide, Wizkid, Id Cabasa 'Totori'
Producer Id Cabasa scored a massive hit with the help of Nigerian stars Wizkid and Olamide, who once again prove themselves a potent combination following "Kana" and other collaborative hits. "Totori" is a head-nodder that's sure to get stuck in your head. —OKA
Tems 'Try Me'
"Wanna lock me away? I'm winning. You wanna add to my pain? I'm shining," belts Tems on "Try Me," a feminist ballad that's equally powerful as a stance against any kind of oppression: physical, mental or existential. "Try Me" is the breakout single by the newcomer, whose other high notes of 2019 include her single "Looku Looku" and a feature on Lady Donli's Enjoy Your Life. —SK
Kizz Daniel 'Fvck You'
"Fvck You" is a marvel of a song about a spurned love: "Na you the cheat na me the beg / make una check ogbanje / shebi na me the find sisi yellow." The repetition of the offensive song title has real bite and could've easily been tasteless if done by another singer. But it's well presented here by Kizz Daniel's supreme delivery, which spawned endless covers as part of the #FvckYouChallenge from the likes of Tiwa Savage, Falz, Sarkodie and others. —SK
Odunsi (The Engine) 'Wetin Dey'
Odunsi (The Engine), one of the leading artists coming out of Nigeria's new wave, came through with a surprise drop of the hip-hop-leaning "Wetin Dey" alongside the hazier "Better Days." "Wetin Dey" samples a classic tune from Nigerian underground rap pioneers Ruff Rugged & Raw. "I wanted to express the youth in Lagos going out and having fun," Odunsi has mentioned. "I was inspired by the Will Smith 'Summertime' video." —OKA
Reekado Banks 'Rora'
Reekado Banks returned after a quiet period with "Rora," his first single of 2019 and the lead track from his upcoming album. "Rora" (translated from Yoruba as 'Take It Easy') offers a highly-addictive production built on mid-tempo beat work, highlife influences, and playful lyrics aimed at a love interest. The song, produced by Tuzi and Altims, "is really chill, it relaxes you," Reekado Banks told OkayAfrica. "The message is quite playful and sexual (laughs)." —OKA
Beyoncé, Wizkid, Saint Jhn 'Brown Skin Girl' feat. Blue Ivy Carter
The global impact of Beyoncé, Wizkid, and Saint Jhn's single "Brown Skin Girl" is irrefutable. From Lupita Nyong'o to the adorable Dream Catchers' viral video, it's clear that this song, and more especially its lyrics, affirms and continues to affirm brown skin girls in every corner of the world. From its minimal afro-fusion inspired beat to Wizkid's outstanding lead verse, this was a major moment that showcased just how far Nigerian music is going. —OKA
Burna Boy 'Killin Dem' feat. Zlatan
"Killin Dem" sees Burna Boy and Zlatan going in over some highly-infectious beat work produced by Kel P. The song is a straight-up banger that seamlessly blends Zlatan's energetic 'zanku' style with Burna Boy's afro-fusion. While the single dropped in early 2019, it later was included as one of the many standouts in Burna's African Giant album. —OKA
A psalm for good fortunes inspired by Nigerian jùjú music legend Ebenezer Obey is tastefully crafted here by Simi and the production duo Legendury Beatz. "Ayo" was the third single from the singer's standout album, Omo Charlie Champagne, Vol.1, released in March. —SK
Davido 'Risky' feat. Popcaan
Davido initially dropped "Risky" as a taste from his long-awaited album A Good Time. The single sees the Nigerian heavyweight connecting with Jamaican star Popcaan as they both go in over afrofusion-meets-dancehall production. It was produced by DMW's in-house beatmaker Speroach Beatz. The track notably features Davido doing a cheeky flip of his own freestyle he did on Shade 45 earlier this year, which was made fun of across social media. "What you all laughed at !! You will dance to !! " Davido posted on Twitter. —OKA
Naira Marley x Zlatan 'Am I A Yahoo Boy'
The beat here is a delight and, while Naira Marley is a strong individual presence, tag-teaming with Zlatan adds even more gusto. "Am I A Yahoo Boy" is a song that both disavows internet fraud and heartily embraces it. It led Marley and his cohorts to be arraigned before Nigerian courts. Periods of incarceration and continuing legal cases at the hands of the Nigerian Economic and Financial Crimes Commission continue to contribute to the rising profile of the newcomer. —SK
Yemi Alade 'Shake' feat. Duncan Mighty
The slink and bounce of twin guitars introduce "Shake," a fine duet between Yemi Alade and Duncan Mighty. The track, which is one the the highlights from Alade's Woman of Steel album, follows the two big Nigerian names as they connect seamlessly in a song filled with sexual overtures. —SK
Mr Eazi, J Balvin, Bad Bunny 'Como Un Bebé'
'Como Un Bebé,' featured on Latin superstars J Balvin and Bad Bunny's collaborative album Oasis, was built on Nigerian framework. The beat, produced by Nigerian duo Legendury Beatz, is an ear-catching blend of a dancehall bass line and afro-fusion percussion, over which Mr Eazi delivers the song's best verse. "Como Un Bebé" is an exciting example of the many musical conversations between West Africa and South America that we could be seeing in 2020. —OKA
Teni 'Power Rangers'
Teni continued her ascension in 2019 with the release of her Billionaire EP and standout loose singles. "Power Rangers" was produced by JasSynths, the man behind her previous smash hit "Case." Her strongest single of the year, the track follows Teni as she sings about how much she cares for her man. —OKA
Adekunle Gold 'Kelegbe Megbe (Know Your Level)'
Adekunle Gold's "Kelegbe Megbe ("Know Your Level") is as spirited as it is absolutely beautiful. The mellow high-life track, which was produced by Sess, showcases some clear Fela Kuti influences. Its accompanying music video, directed by Clarence Peters, shifts between shots of Adekunle Gold and his performers in both couture and quirky clothing. It's a stunning visual that feels like a high fashion photo-shoot in motion. —OKA