In Nigeria, record labels are a necessary evil. Artists find a way to demonize labels after they exit their contracts, but the place of a label will never be truly jettisoned. Nigeria is a third-world country where poverty is the order of the day for most people. That’s why labels must be celebrated.
They are not holy, but nobody is holy in business - contracts must be honoured and money must be made. Some labels have performed on greater scales than others - some of these labels have also defined eras and created legacy that the sands of time will always reflect.
Without further ado, here are seven of the greatest Nigerian record labels since ‘99;
Run: 1990 - 2015
Estimated number of albums: 75
Notable artists: 90% of the major movers in Nigerian music between 1995 and 2005
At some point, Kennis Music was benefiting from the greatest controversies in history. Kennis Music signed The Remedies in the 90’s. When the group broke up and Tony Tetuila released his Paul Play-produced debut album, he was signed to Kennis Music.
When Eedris Abdulkareem released his consecutive 2002 albums, P.A.S.S and Mr Lecturer, he was in the thick of a beef with Tetuila. That beef had inspired those two albums. That year, Tetuila had also released his sophomore album, My Car.
On the title track, he trolled and dissed Eedris Abdulkareem. All the while, they were on the same label - Kennis Music.
The same thing happened with Blackface and Tuface Idibia. The ministry expanded into other acts including, Rasqie, Azadus Marvelous Benji, Maintain, Olu Maintain, Paul Play and so forth. In the late 2000s, the label then signed Blackface’s producer, Kelly Handsome while Abdulkareem made a comeback.
At some point in Nigeria, if Nigeria had a new star, you thought they were signed to Kennis. The last album released on the label was a Joe-EL Amadi album in 2015.
Founded by Kenny ‘Keke’ Ogungbe in the 90s, Dayo Adeneye came to be known as one of the duo behind the label. From radio, Kennis Music became minds behind a television station.
Till this day, no Nigerian label has Kennis Music's catalogue of over 75 albums. What a label.
Run: 1991 - 2013
Estimated number of albums: 30+
Notable artists: Arguably Nigeria’s most influential record label between 2004 and 2008
At some point, Storm Records had all of Jazzman Olofin, Sasha, Naeto C, Ikechukwu, GT The Guitarman, 2Shotz, General Pype, Darey Art Alade, Banky W and more were all the label at one point. By the time ‘Eko Ile’ dropped and it had just about everybody else, Nigeria had to accept the weird flex of that posse cut for what it was.
At the maiden MTV African Music Awards in 2008, Storm Records went home with three awards. The label also had a wild diversity of talent.
Run: 2011 -
Estimated number of albums: 16
Notable artists: Olamide, Lil Kesh, Adekunle Gold, Fireboy
When Coded Tunes became a record label, Olamide was one of the three first set of artists signed to the label alongside Kayefi and Seriki. But Olamide’s stay with Coded Tunes only lasted for his debut album, Rapsodi.
In 2011, his sophomore album, YBNL was released on his own record label, Yahoo Boy No Laptop - later simply known as YBNL Nation. By so doing, he became the first in his generation to float a label. Interestingly, he also founded what was going to be one of Nigeria’s most successful label runs ever.
YBNL has created more than eight successful careers in the Nigerian music industry. It has also cemented Olamide as an amazing talent spotter, A&R, talent developer, nurturer and executive. Producers like Pheelz and Young Jonn have also gone on to have amazing careers after being affiliated with the label.
When everyone thought Olamide was done in 2018, he made all of Picazo Rhap, Limerick, Yomi Blaize, Lyta and Fireboy DML affiliated to the label. As Yomi Blaize rapped on ‘Juju, Guns and Roses’ to highlight what people thought of Olamide at the time, “ Olorun lo mo’bi ti Baddo ti ma n ri awon omode yi…”
In English, that captured all our sentiments. We all asked, “Where does Olamide get all these kids?’ While most of those youngsters have since left YBNL, Fireboy is currently one of Nigeria’s most bankable artists by any metric.
The only thing this label ever did wrong was miss that moment for a compilation album when Adekunle Gold, Lil Kesh, Viktoh, Chinko Ekun and more called YBNL ‘home.’
Run: 2004 - 2012
Estimated number of albums: 16
Notable artists: D'Banj, Wande Coal, D'Prince, Dr. Sid
When Don Jazzy appeared on D’Banj’s Instagram Live session for D’Banj’s 40th birthday earlier on during the lockdown, it led to a rush for every younger Gen Xer and older millennial.
It was a rehashing of our dearest growth moments that housed some of our fondest memories. Together, Don Jazzy and D’Banj left their sit in the US to come seek investment from D’Banj’s mother to float a label in Nigeria.
D’Banj, who had been affiliated with JJC/419 squad also had a spell of being close to Durella. At the Independence Day Concert in 2004, D’Banj thrilled a UK audience and the label never stopped moving - it became a dynasty. Within one year of D’Banj’s reign, he won an MTV European Music Award.
At the height of Mo’Hits, that label didn’t just underline power, it underlined modern superstardom. It went on to sign Dr. Sid, D’Prince, Wande Coal and Kay Switch. Three of those artists went on to become superstars and even KaySwitch had amazing moments. Their collaborative album, Curriculum Vitae could also be deemed a classic.
While a part of the label went on to become MAVIN Records - which is currently Nigeria’s leading record label by brand equity and corporate influence - the story of Mo’Hits Records is still associated with what could have been.
Run: 2006 - 2012
Estimated number of albums: 25+
Notable artists: MI Abaga, Ice Prince, Jesse Jagz
In 2006, Chocolate City signed Jeremiah Gyang as its first artist with earnings from Audu Maikori’s monthly income as a Lawyer. What began as a nightclub, then a creative hub hit the goldmine when it allowed a certain MI Abaga sign on without an advance in 2007. He also came with his brothers, Jesse Jagz and Ice Prince.
Later, they were joined by Brymo and established the ‘Choc Boiz’ collective that was the envy of all and cynosure of all eyes in Nigerian music circa late-2010s. They merged the swagger of Hip-Hop with the grand delivery of Afro-pop and created a successful template that everybody wanted to jump up.
MI Abaga went on to release eight bodies of work on the label before his exit in 2019. The label then had a 2.0 version that included MILLI, Ruby Gyang, Pryse, Victoria Kimani, Loose Kaynon and more. Then came the 3.0 version that had CKay, Koker and Dice Ailes. 4.0 brought AQ, a reborn Loose Kaynon and Blaqbonez with their 100 Crowns army.
In 2019, the label also signed a deal with Warner Music.
Run: 2003 -
Estimated no. of albums: 6+
Notable artists: Olamide, 9ice
Until 2009, Coded Tunes was never really a record label. It was more like a collective of creatives - mostly rappers. That collective also house another collective called YabTown Squad - from which a certain Reminisce emanated. But still, Coded Tunes is credited with quality albums from Lord of Ajasa, 9ice and ID Cabasa himself.
As a producer, ID Cabasa is one of Nigeria’s greatest music producers ever. When 2Phat and ID Cabasa turned Coded Tunes into a label, they signed Olamide, Kayefi and Seriki after 9ice exited in acrimony for Alapomeji Records.
Even though the label later tried to work with phenom, Kida Kudz, it never quite worked out and the label slowly disintegrated.
Run: 2012 -
Estimated No. of albums: 10+
Notable artists: Tiwa Savage, Don Jazzy, Rema
MAVIN was the Don Jazzy part that survived the Mo’Hits collapse. Immediately, he signed Tiwa Savage and the group released a collaborative album. As this article is being written, MAVIN is Nigeria’s leading record label by brand equity and corporate influence.
The label also witnessed a more jovial and open Don Jazzy who had broken free of his DJ Tee-imposed ‘Don of little words’ persona. The hits came and so did the albums and controversy. MAVIN 2.0 brought Korede Bello, Reekado Banks, Di’Ja and more. The current MAVIN is home to Rema, Crayon and more.
Earlier in the year, MAVIN announced a deal with US-based licensing company, Syncfloor.