Wizkid and Davido have deals with Sony, but for some of the young artists back home, the pressure to play at that level is dictating how they make music.
“I can’t create music anymore.”
Femi (not real name), a 23 year-old rapper told me as I sat with him in a studio in Lagos. He had been in this studio for the past two hours, with his producer X, who asked not to be named for this article.
Femi is working on a new song, which he hopes would receive massive acceptance and catapult the breakthrough. He had woken up that morning called X, and booked a studio session. But for the past two hours, he has been struggling with recording on the beat provided by X.
“I can’t record anything,” he repeated in frustration. “Ever since Wizkid’s new album came out, it’s like his success which is supposed to inspire me, has made me unable to create anything. Everything I make has to be dope enough. And it’s forcing me not to think clearly.”
Femi is referring to Wizkid’s latest project – “Sounds From The Other Side” – the highly anticipated global release from Wizkid which is available everywhere via Starboy/RCA Records/Sony Music International. The project features collaborations with Drake, Major Lazer, Chris Brown, Ty Dolla $ign, Trey Songz and Bucie, along with production by Sarz, Diplo, Picard Brothers, Spellz, DJ Mustard and more.
The project marks the first project released by a Nigerian pop star at that level, with a coordinated global release and press rounds. It debuted at number 2 on the Billboard World Album, and claimed the 107 position on the Hot 200 albums chart.
And while the general conversation surrounding the project and Sony’s involvement as a positive step for Nigerian music, little is known about the downsides of having such a tangible product of success. Wizkid’s new album and what it stands for is forcing many of Nigerians' young creative minds to remodel their sounds to fit in with global standards.
All the artists who spoke to me for this article pled that I change their names. Understandably so. No one would want to be associated with an article which exposes their vulnerability.
John, a singer based in Lagos, told me how the emergence of “Sounds From The Other Side” and the reality of its existence has made him begin to reconsider his music delivery and tweaking it to capture the market. “I don’t think we can reach that height by doing what we are doing. I have been listening to it, and looking for a way to add his style to mine. Maybe I will make something that big.”
In 2016, global giants Sony Music Entertainment swooped into Nigeria offering record deals to Wizkid and Davido, in a move to capture the African market via its biggest pop stars. Wizkid and Davido, at the prime of their careers were perfect candidates for the new venture. Both stars have signed on to RCA Records in the US, and have released their debut projects under the label.
Wizkid has also collaborated thrice with Drake, scored a Grammy nomination, and three Billboard awards. The first for a local pop star. This has effectively raised the ceiling for what true career success represents for Nigerian artists.
My colleague Segun Akande, who is a features writer for Pulse and a music enthusiasts confesses that there are many artists like Femi and John who are holding on to their new materials because of the notion that they have to incorporate elements from Wizkid’s creative formula to make records which would appeal at that level.
“Many of these don’t know that it isn’t the right way to go. I have also talked to a couple of my friends who make music, and they think the Wizkid way is the only way to go.” Segun says.
And just in case you are wondering, Femi did not conclude his recording on that day. He couldn’t completely deliver his best. The producer X, after multiple attempts at creating something to match Femi direction, packed up his PC and hard drives.
“I have to go back to my studio on the Island and create more beats with that Caribbean vibe. I will send them to him, and maybe he might get inspired.” He said.
But this might not necessarily be a bad thing, Kimani Moore, a talent manager who works with singer Odunsi The Engine, tells me. She believes that Wizkid’s success will inspire a change in the artistry of local acts, but in a positive way.
“I hope it does. It will change the way they see themselves, and make them understand that the journey isn’t for Nigeria and Africa alone. It is for the entire world. The movement has to be global.” She says.