How instrumental is D'Banj to the rise of afrobeats?
Contemporary afrobeats was always going to become subject to western attention, but someone had to take the lead. Fortunately, D'Banj and Don Jazzy played their roles.
D’Banj was gearing up for his fourth studio album. While the album has since joined Dr Dre’s Detox in the abyss of wonderful 'unreleased content,' the song found a home in D'Banj's very aggressively flexible brand.
At the time, D'Banj could be associated with any positive 'do-all' superlative persona. He was the handsome entertainer extraordinaire and wonderful performer that made women drool. The song's title, 'Mr. Endowed' easily resonated with that brand and the song blew up.
Its video, which was ably shot by Sesan took matters to another level. In that video, D'Banj played magical Dr. 90210 as he basically turned a lady with a bucktooth into Kim Kardashian. We laughed about that moment, but it was then that I realized the subconscious power of feeding into a brand. We laughed, but it was subtle endorsement from us. It also drove the song's success.
Little did we realize what was going to happen next. In November, we caught whiff of D'Banj's possible collaboration with a American megastar. A few days later, Nigerian music blogs which were at the peak of their powers broke the news - Snoop Dogg will feature on a remix of D'Banj's 'Mr. Endowed.' Everybody went crazy.
On Don Jazzy, Pulse wrote in a previous article that, "With Don Jazzy at the epicentre of near-demonic sonic mastery, crafting some of the best beats Nigerian pop will ever see, he orchestrated the original ‘Mr Endowed.’ Nobody could have dreamed of what was to come. Rumours not only gained momentum, they birthed a healthy baby with dreamy eyes."
On the power of the song, the article reads, "Snoop Dogg, the American rap legend christened a first African nephew. His name was D’Banj. If being giddy represented cardio, many a Nigerian youth around and popping in 2011 would have been lean. And to make us mad, Don Jazzy went bonkers with the beat that included more dreamy strings and a celebratory choir effect.
"It was a remix to 'Mr Endowed.' It’s not always talked about, but this song represents one of D’Banj’s greatest ever performances - and he has many. He delivered in Yoruba and made Uncle Snoop drop bars on a classic Nigerian song."
Ladies and gentlemen, that video was clean as snow on a Russian winter morning. If rumours are to be believed, D'Banj released that song after he signed a deal with Kanye West's G.O.O.D Music.
2012 saw the release of ‘Oliver Twist’ by D’Banj. The song soared to No. 7 on the UK Top 40 - it was a miracle. It also got remixed by then-rapper-turned-serial-hitmaker, Pitbull.
On that journey, Pulse wrote in a previous article that, "In D’Banj’s video, Kanye West appeared as a confirmation of the Nigerian superstar’s signing to G.O.O.D Music. The only problem was that D’Banj never really had the talent to truly make his mark - he was an entertainer who was aided by a super-producer, Don Jazzy.
He left Nigeria behind to chase his dreams. Who can blame him? He had conquered Africa. A while after that, he split from Jazzy and the show ended - he couldn’t crack it and he was in free fall. The chickens came back to roost and he lost on both fronts."
How instrumental is D'Banj to the rise of afrobeats?
Those moments have passed. Even worse, they were fleeting. However, with what afrobeats has since become on a global scale, D'Banj was instrumental. In 2004, D'Banj was a UK returnee whose fame grew at a UK Independence day concert where he delivered a stellar performance.
After that, he came home and became an MTV European Music Award winning superstar. Then, he took rich African sounds with him and back to the UK.
African immigrants and their children in the UK showed passion - ‘afrobeats’ started getting mooted as a generic name for a diverse range of sounds with African dance percussion. Just before then, he signed to G.O.O.D Music. Then came Ice Prince who arguably became a face for afrobeats - albeit for a short time. At the time, he was arguably the most popular African act.
Since then, we have seen Wizkid, Davido, Tiwa Savage, Burna Boy, Yemi Alade and now, Rema become of intense interest from the UK and the west. Before them, D'Banj paved the way, he broke down barriers and took incredible risks. It might not have worked out, but he created a legacy and a blueprint.
He arguably even introduced the attraction of contemporary afro-pop to ignorant western observers. He paved the way and history will forever remember him.
Does that mean without D'Banj, afrobeats wouldn't have garnered attention?
No. Everybody has a role to play. If it wasn't D'Banj, it would have been someone else. Contemporary afrobeats was always going to become subject to western attention, but someone had to take the lead. Fortunately, D'Banj and Don Jazzy played their roles. D'Banj became a forerunner and Burna Boy is now reaping the benefits.
Sometimes, posterity is fair to those who take a chance. It doesn't mean that without them, good things wouldn't have happened. It just means that without a crystal ball, they took a chance and paved a way for others.
Make no mistake, African acts have always been attractive to western observers, capitalists and label heads. Like D'Banj, P Square who were even bigger acts at the time also had some monster collaborations, they just didn't really have the brand to truly conquer the UK and US.
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