The evolution and state of album roll-outs in contemporary Nigerian music

One incredibly successful roll-out in contemporary Nigerian music was the roll-out of Yinka Ayefele’s debut album, Bitter Experience.

Adekunle Gold's transformation was part of an incredible roll-out for his album. (EMI)

The streaming era has abridged everything in the music business. It hasn’t just affected production and distribution, it’s also affected strategy from the point of an artist.

In 2020, Pulse Nigeria interviewed veteran rapper Reminisce and he said that he took nearly a year off releasing music to study streaming, strategy and roll-out. The same year, Pulse Nigeria also did an article about the rise of strategy over the fundamentals of good music.

Everything has to be well-thought out because there is usually an oversaturation of content released weekly to a microwave generation with the attention span of a Nigerian electricity. Artists want to stand out, grab attention and retain it through good music that appeals to an audience.

But then, two questions must be answered;

  1. Are roll-outs really working in Nigerian music? 
  2. Do roll-outs even matter at all? 

On February 5, 2021, Dan Runcie, founder of Trapital hosted an interesting conversation with Ernest Wilkins of Office Hours.

During the conversation, Wilkins brilliantly defined a great roll-out as, “The successful roll-out is a narrative. I think the best artists have created specific characters that you identify with… [It has] to be a narrative that people can understand, but more importantly, that they can identify with. Hits are hits, but if you can endure a narrative and a sense of a story or the sense of a linear path, that’s what separates an album dropping from a proper roll-out…

Wilkins also notes that a genuine roll-out comes with an artist/label taking some form of risk and they must involve an active moment.

Thus, a roll-out must precede the album and sustain the album. In essence, a hit is a hit and singles are important, but ultimately, a single is a build-up and artwork release is an announcement, those factors are different from a roll-out. At best, they can be a peripheral part of a roll-out if they aid the narrative.

For example, when 2Chainz wanted to release his album, Pretty Girls Love Trap Music, he built a house, painted it pink and made sure there were activities going on inside the house till the album dropped. When the album dropped, the narrative endured with an Ariana Grande feature. Today, that house is a part of the Trap Museum in Atlanta, Georgia.

However, singles can sometimes create the narrative for an album roll-out. When the Banky W-led EME wanted to unlock Wizkid as an artist, the roll-out intentionally or unintentionally started from the singles released; one appealed to a teen audience, one to rebrand him for an older audience, the third to the streets and the fourth to the Lagos party scene - it worked.

Wizkid was the young boy that came for everybody and became a Superstar..

Sometimes, these things can be abridged little strategy around music releases is a roll-out when it's not exactly the case. An example of this is Phyno.

When Phyno rebranded from a producer into a fierce Igbo-speaking rapper in 2010, he came out with a mohawk and a scary, yet unrepentant Hip-Hop look which set him apart. He then had a singles run that led directly into his album.

The rebrand wasn’t exactly created for the album - the rebrand happened in 2011 and the album dropped in 2014. The rebrand was created for Phyno as an artist but it worked for his album. After the album dropped, ‘Alobam’ sustained the ‘very Hip-Hop’ branding of Phyno.

Other times, buzz and anticipation get passed off as impeccable roll-out as was the case of MI2 by MI Abaga - that’s not exactly the case. As a matter of fact, LAMBAugust had a better roll-out than MI2; it created a narrative of friendliness, brotherhood and succession, and was the foundation for two successful cyphers.

Ultimately, it’s either a roll-out or it’s not and it’s either great or it’s not really a roll-out, it’s just buzz. Equally, the narrative of a roll-out must be sustained by the album, or it’s still not a roll-out. Since the perception of what is a roll-out and what isn't is skewered in Nigeria, the place of a roll-out is then called into question.

In the past, some roll-outs have worked, albeit to varying degrees of success. One incredibly successful roll-out in contemporary Nigerian music was the roll-out of Yinka Ayefele’s debut album, Bitter Experience. While these people didn’t necessarily realize they were ‘rolling out’ an album, that’s what they achieved.

They took a risk of placing an entire onus on a ‘Bitter Experience,’ creating music off it and won big. It gathered buzz that his sophomore album, Sweet Experience rode on to become a classic.

Before ‘Bitter Experience’ dropped, Ayefele's team created a media buzz and a narrative around radio personality's an accident and his need to survive - it worked.

Faze’s solo debut album, Which Level - popularly called Faze Alone was another impeccably rolled out album.

Coming off the back of the split from Plantashun Boiz and Tuface’s successful debut album, Westside Music crafted an impeccable image for Faze. He was the broken one, left alone by his friends who then had to make something of himself. His debut solo single which chronicled the breakup of his group was titled ‘Faze Alone.’

His name was also changed to Faze Alone for the purpose of that album. In the video for ‘Faze Alone,’ Faze acted like a conflicted, broken man and the song shot up the charts. The run was so powerful that most still don’t realize that the album is actually titled, ‘Which Level’ not ‘Faze Alone.’

Olu Maintain’s opulence-based branding for his debut solo album, Yahooze could be seen by some as a great album roll-out, but most of the work was already done by the eponymous lead single, which became a smash hit and Olu’s obsession with creating music about opulence and hedonism.

Looking back, one cannot definitively say Kennis Music really orchestrated a great roll-out, but they helped Maintain amplify his opulence-based music with videos that aided his brand. Naeto C’s debut album, You Know My P had a well-executed roll-out that was aided by Naeto C’s brand and knack for churning out pop culture gems.

The entire narrative of a ‘cool kid’ was sustained by Naeto’s album cuts. In a country that hated the rich for simply being rich, that was a risky move that paid off.

Like the aforementioned instance of Wizkid’s Superstar, Olamide’s Baddest Guy Ever Liveth was an incredible roll-out that created a buzz at every step. His iconic gun man pose album cover stands the test of time and he embodied his underdog-to-king brand throughout the classic album.

But since the turn of the digital era, an album roll-out has become more imperative than ever. Due to its importance, we have seen some impressively crafted but ultimately incoherent album roll-outs in recent years.

Everybody wants to create that narrative because they know their albums need it, so they end up forcing a narrative that’s at loggerheads with their album.

Wizkid’s branding for Made In Lagos was super-impressive. As a father of three, the video for ‘Smile’ placed him in a different stead. While his growth showed on the album and he repeatedly referenced his children and larger family, the ‘Lagos’ angle of the album was passive, at best.

The same thing goes for albums by Tiwa Savage and Simi.

One incredible album roll-out since the dawn of Nigeria’s streaming era has been African Giant by Burna Boy. His team turned an ugly Coachella faux-pas into a pan-African movement that Burna Boy reiterated during his interview run before the album dropped.

While the singles preceding the album were either love-themed or street culture-themed, the album itself was largely political. That roll-out has since become Burna Boy’s brand.

The other is Adekunle Gold’s total sonic and aesthetic rebrand, and his intimate performance roll-out for the album, Afro Pop Vol. 1. The intimate performance is highly reminiscent of J.Cole’s roll-out for 2014 Forest Hills Drive.

However, one will not be wrong to argue that like Phyno in 2011, Adekunle Gold’s total sonic and aesthetic rebrand is about Adekunle Gold as a person and a brand, not exactly about his critically-acclaimed third studio album.

The foregoing suggests that Nigerian artists have had more misses than hits on the roll-out front. It also suggests that Nigerians don’t exactly understand the concept of roll-outs or they craft roll-outs on attractive ideas that are at loggerheads with the album.

More importantly, a lot of things that we refer as 'roll-out' are just announcements, promotion and buzz.

And honestly, we might just stick to that. Roll-outs make sense, but not when the market doesn’t really care for what it represents. As much as the streaming era dictates that artists need some grab the listener’s attention with something before the music, announcements, promotion and buzz can achieve that - for both mainstream and niche artists with a dedicated fan base.

As noted by Ernest Wilkins, a roll-out has to involve some form of risk and it must be an active narrative that sustains an album. Thus, it might need to be elaborate and that might not be reasonable for Nigerian artists. Most of that roll-out will have to be internet based and Facebook has Nigeria’s largest pool of users - 23% of Nigeria uses the platform.

In the context of things, that’s not exactly anything. Streaming is also the primary means of direct income generation for an album. Since a roll-out is a ‘go big or go home’ situation, it might not make financial sense.

Thus, Nigerian artists might have to get creative. And to be honest, some people will be pardoned for feeling like roll-outs don't matter anyways. ‘African Giant’ had a far better, far greater roll-out than Twice As Tall by Burna Boy. In fact, ‘Twice As Tall’ might look like it had a rollout, but it really did not.

Yet, ‘Twice As Tall’ charted in more countries, remains the highest charting Nigerian album on the Billboard 200 and had a ludicrous amount of streams.

While context suggests Burna Boy has grown exponentially between both albums and that ‘Twice As Tall’ was released in the middle of a pandemic that kept everyone at home to consume media content, it also suggests that a roll-out isn’t exactly a do or die affair for Nigerian artists.

But then, you have a Meji The Rapper, who did an all-out roll out for his debut EP, The One. He included merch, visual announcements, plugins, package delivery to industry people and more. Building on his song, ‘Overkill’ of WeTalkSound’s LOFN 3, the roll-out took him from A to B-. His followers also increased on Twitter and Instagram.

Roll-outs will never go out of styles. They might not make sense, but it's better to attempt a roll-out than to simply release an album off the back of Instagram promo.


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