Sleeper hits are a fundamental part of the music culture. They're durable and stand the test of time than other hits; they survive purely on love from the audience and by that, relatively escape the scrutiny and excess rotation off streaming from the audience - at least, till they reach the mainstream.
Thus, sometimes, the listener does not even have them on his playlist. Usually, they're driven by either a niche following or from DJs/radio personalities who are in tune with the culture.
What is a sleeper hit?
A sleeper hit is simply a song/film that lacks a grand launch or huge commercial push, but sustains itself over a long period of time and becomes a huge success.
A key sleeper 2018 hit that slowly spilled over to 2019 is Skibii's 'Sensima' which has since survived 6 months while an 'Able God' slowly has died off. While 'Sensima' could have had a commercial push, there's a reason it did really pop like'Able God' or 'Zanku (Legwork)' in the final months of 2018.
On October 16, 2018, Nigerian rap superstar, Olamide had signed an "afrolife" singer to his record label, YBNL just 24 hours after he signed Picazo Rhap and Yomi Blaize to the same label.
At the time, it barely made the news like the signing of Picazo Rhap or even Yomi Blaize. Picazo's signing trended on Twitter just like his 'Able God' freestyle just days earlier. An album was immediately planned.
Interestingly, when the 'YBNL Mafia Family' album dropped in the December 2018, "Jealous" was one of the least talked about songs. The songs that were pushed by YBNL team were 'Macaroni', 'Ika' and the already existent hits from Olamide, 'Poverty Die' and 'Motigbana.'
The other talked about potential hit was, 'Oke Suna,' which ended up not being pushed by the label.
But slowly, in the final days of 2018, a new potential hit started getting love from radio and DJs. In fact, whenever the song came up at parties or on radio, a lot of people who played the 'YBNL Mafia Family' album knew they had heard the song before, but they could seldom place it.
They had to be reminded of whence the song came. The song was Fireboy's 'Jealous.'
If Nigeria had a good charting structure, as at January or even February 2019, 'Jealous' would be somewhere on the Bubbling Under or Heatseekers chart. But slowly, people started singing the song randomly, still unable to place who the artist was or where the song came from - at least, I know a few people like that.
It also helps that the song has an infectious hook, aided by the well mixed Indian movie-esque rhythm that forms its hook. For one, its obvious that Fireboy is a really innovative artist that has probably not even scratched the surface of his artistry yet.
Of the much heralded YBNL 2.0 set that includes social media sensations that includes Yomi Blaize and Picazo Rhap, Fireboy has the most successful single yet and if he can build, he could eclipse them all - but, no pressure. He should take his time.
He has gone from the obscurity on his label class to the most successful act yet. Life has a way of playing tricks on us. But this one is surely welcome.
Radio and DJs are still influential
When a sleeper hit is a song, it is mostly sustained by radio rotation and DJ love. These factors ensure that these songs are etched in our memories that we get forced to search for them.
While radio has lost some of the stranglehold it once had on influencing the soundscape - say in the 90's - to the internet, it still retains some of that influence.
While the power is now shared, radio might not be able to singlehandedly mar a career anymore, but it sure can make a hit - in the case of Fireboy's 'Jealous,' a hit.
Does the success of 'Jealous' mean Fireboy will surely have a successful career? Definitely not, we're far from that. The song has done one thing though and that is make us aware of Fireboy's talent. From here, the halogen has shone on him. What he does next is up to him.
Good luck, Fireboy.