In 2010, I was watching a documentary of St. Louis rapper, Nelly. While speaking about his diamond-selling debut album, 'Country Grammar,' he said something along the lines of, 'You have your whole life to make your debut album, that's why sophomore albums make artists nervous.'

On March 16, 2020, Kendrick Lamar's third album, To Pimp A Butterfly clocked five. While writing a commemorative piece, Travis 'Yoh' Phillips of DJBooth wrote that Good Kid.Maad City was the best debut album by any musician in the last 20 years. Then, it got me thinking about how special debut albums are and how they could define a career for better or worse.

For artists like Kendrick Lamar, Jay Z, Wizkid, TuFace Idibia and more, they broke the mould and had amazing career runs after their groundbreaking debuts. But for others like Sean Tizzle and Wande Coal, their debut albums became the zenith of their careers. Even though some of these acts release other albums, they could never top their debuts.

Usually, a groundbreaking debut is material to a great career. Some people break the trend, but it's hard to build a career after a week debut. In Nigerian music, that is harder to achieve. For that reason and to celebrate the power of debuts, Pulse Nigeria moves to document the top 10 Nigerian debut albums of the past 20 years.

Criteria: Album quality, impact, legacy and commercial success (added advantage)

10) Tony Tetuila - My Car

Tony Tetuila dropped something special in 2002. (Kennis Music)
Tony Tetuila dropped something special in 2002. (Kennis Music)

Year of release: 2002

Tracks/Duration: 8/35:33

Hits: Two ('My Car' and 'My Heart Go Jigi Jigi')

Label: Kennis Music

Features: Three - Pasto Guddy, Ruggedman, Crazy Kid

Genre: Afro-pop, Motswako, Reggae-pop

Producers: Omolulu

Thoughts: This album came after The Remedies had split up and in the middle of a beef with former bandmate, Eedris Abdulkareem. The same year, Abdulkareem had released two projects, PASS and the successful, Mr Lecturer. Pressure was on Tony Tetuila to deliver against the odds - he did.

Playing this album on my Wokkman cassette player on a family from Lagos to Akure, Ondo State in 2002 brought me to this realization.

9) Sean Tizzle - The Journey

Sean Tizzle released his debut album 'The Journey' in 2014 [iTunes SeanTizzle]
Sean Tizzle released his debut album 'The Journey' in 2014 [iTunes SeanTizzle]

Year of release: 2014

Tracks/Duration: 17 songs/01:12:56

Hits: Three ('Kilogbe,' 'Loke Loke,' 'Perfect Gentleman')

Label: Difference Entertainment

Features: Reminisce, Olamide, Tiwa Savage, KCee, Ice Prince, Naeto C

Producers: D'Tunes

Thoughts: A year prior to this album’s release, Sean Tizzle was named Next Rated Artist at the Headies. It was deemed an upset - Burna Boy was also on the list. As Sean Tizzle ran on stage for his memorable speech, Burna Boy stormed out of Oriental Hotels and never returned to the Headies - it was a pivotal moment.

At the time, Burna Boy had released his critically acclaimed album, L.I.F.E. A year later, Sean Tizzle released his debut album, The Journey. Ladies and gentlemen, that album blew minds. It was a 17-track album with no fillers - you couldn’t skip any song. By the time, Burna Boy was about to release his sophomore album, On A Spaceship - his hype had gone down.

The Journey went on to be named Best Pop/R&B Album at the 2014 Headies. Many saw it as a vindication for the upset of the previous year. Time has told another story, but The Journey represents the brilliance of D’Tunes in real time. He cooked, chopped and collaborated with a creative in prime confidence. The album was a moment.

- Culled from Pulse Nigeria

8) Asa - Asa (Asha)

Top debut albums Nigeria. (
Top debut albums Nigeria. (

Year of release: Nigeria (2007), US (2009-01-27) UK (2008-02-18)

Tracks/Duration: 11 songs • 47:07

Hits: Two ('Jailer' and 'Bibanke')

Label: Mercer St

Features: 0

Producers: TBA

Thoughts: When Asa launched, she was both a benefactor of time and was like a rose gold on a Hausa Horologist's stock - she stuck out like a sore thumb. Clutching guitars and looking like a glasses-wearing gypsy stuck in distant Yoruba lands, she graced ears with the might of her calming vocals

While she came at a time that was more open to other genres of music asides pop, Asa found a place in Nigerian hearts. In fact, Asa - her debut - is what 'wannabes' would use to prove they had range when they really had nothing. On impact, it was an album that had no business garnering a following, but it did.

In fact, 'Jailer' and 'Bibanke' were two common features of multimedia phones in the 2000s and the 2010s. You didn't have them and you had no taste in music. Okay, if you had foreign music, you'd have been fine sha.

7) Olu Maintain - Yahooze

Olu Maintain was the one we didn't see coming in 2007. (Kennis Music)
Olu Maintain was the one we didn't see coming in 2007. (Kennis Music)

Year of release: 2007

Tracks/Duration: 15 songs/59:14

Hits: 2 ('Yahooze' and 'Jedi Jedi')

Label: Kennis Music

Features:7- Kani, Lord of Ajasa, Krazy, LKT, Konga, Dee, Pasuma Wonder

Producers: Puffy Tee

Thoughts: As a group, Olu and Tolu released six albums in six years. They also had multiple hits that reverberated across the country. When Olu Maintain made a comeback as a solo act, a few Nigerians criticized him for leaving Tolu behind. The rumour and controversy didn't stop the album. Instead, the album got big because of the rumour.

While 'Yahooze,' -the song and the dance - spurred the album, people forget how material the 'One Million Dollar' and 'Hummer' gimmicks were. They connoted immense wealth and sold a lifestyle to Nigerians. While Olu as a rapper was not as good, he knew how to make music.

6) Timaya - True Story

This album art is still wild, but the music was amazing. (Danco Music)
This album art is still wild, but the music was amazing. (Danco Music)

Year of release: 2007

Tracks/Duration: 11 songs/34:02

Hits: 3 ('Timaya' 'Dem Mama' and 'Ogolomma')

Label: Danco Music International

Features: 3 - Menthol X, Tejang, Papiurhobo

Producers: K-Solo

Thoughts: In 2007, Timaya gave an interview where he said he said Alaba only gave him N700 thousand for this album. With that money, he bought a power bike and rented an apartment. While we can rumble on about what was fair or unfair, the marketer gave Timaya was he thought fair - the album just blew up after that.

Nonetheless, that didn't stop Timaya. He leveraged on that and built a successful career that has seen over five bodies of work since then. Moreover, the man who respects TuBaba more than a lot of things created a pathway for his South-South brethren into Lagos. He was the superstar that Sky B couldn't be.

We ascribe Wande Coal's debut Mushin To Mo'Hits the title of the progeny of contemporary Nigerian pop. That title might be true, but that pop sound was the refined version. The raw version of that sound was birthed by Timaya's debut, True Story. Yes, the album art was meant to connote the 'hard life' that bred Timaya, but the art is still terrible.

5) Phyno - No Guts, No Glory

'No Guts, No Glory' by Phyno. (Amazon)
'No Guts, No Glory' by Phyno. (Amazon)

Year of release: 2014

Tracks/Duration: 20 songs/01:16:53

Hits: 5 ('Alobam,' 'Man of The Year,' 'Parcel,' 'Ghost Mode,' 'O Set')

Label: Penthauze/Goretti Company

Features: 3 - P Square, Omawumi, Olamide, Efa, Runtown, Flavour,Ice Prince, MI Abaga, Timaya, Mr Raw Nwanne, iLLBliss

Producers: Major Banggz, Phyno, Wizzypro, JSTUNT

Thoughts: Before this album dropped, it disrupted the soundscape with its own brand of commercial rap. At helm of affairs was Major Banggz while Phyno was spat fire. If Nigeria will ever have its own brand of rap music, we have to go back to that sound or go a little forward to Young Jon’s serial madness on ‘Awon Goons Mi' and 'Cause Trouble.'

Phyno was the producer-turned-swashbuckiling Igbo-speaking rapper with an avant-garde appearance. On ‘Obago’ he rapped, “East coast n**a banging in the west” and it was a fact. ‘Ghost Mode,’ ‘Obago,’ ‘Parcel’ and ‘Kush Music’ were mega-hits before his album dropped. When the album dropped, ‘Alobam’ became a cultural moment.

Phyno was the cool kid with the cool fashion sense. ‘Alobam’ birthed merchandize and street culture. If MI Abaga visibly merged rap with pop music, Phyno blurred the lines. This was a proper rap album with hits, critical acclaim and awards. ‘Parcel’ was rightly named Best Rap Single at the 2014 single.

The only reason this album didn’t win Album of the Year was probably because Baddest Guy Ever Liveth was in the same category.

- Culled from Pulse Nigeria

4) Wizkid - Superstar

'Superstar' by 'Wizkid.' (Amazon)
'Superstar' by 'Wizkid.' (Amazon)

Year of release: 2011

Tracks/Duration: 17 songs/01:04:32

Hits: Every track - literally.

Label: EME

Features: 3 - Banky W, Wande Coal, Skales, D'Prince

Producers: E-Kelly, Masterkraft, Jay Sleek, Samklef, DJ Klem,

Thoughts: There’s nothing else to say about this album. It was the moment that launched a soon-to-be legendary career. Wizkid probably owns the biggest debut moment in recent Nigerian music. It was almost like he bewitched the Nigerian audience with his baby face and ‘jazzed’ his music. He didn’t, the music was just good.

Every song on this album was a hit - even the ones that were not released as a single. Before the album dropped, Wizkid made a non-archetypal pop song like ‘Holla At Your Boy’ become a continental hit. Then, he found his bearing on ‘Tease Me’ before he owned the mainstream with ‘Pakurumo.’

Producers like Samklef, DJ Klem and Jay Sleek found their bearing. Even an underrated song like ‘For Me’ became a moment that made everyone stand and appreciate. More importantly, the album has aged like fine wine. Everyone song feels like they were released yesterday.

Even though The Invasion by P Square swept its categories at the 2011 Headies, Superstar is a much better album that The Invasion and it posterity will be fairer on it.

- Culled from Pulse Nigeria

3) MI Abaga - Talk About It

MI Abaga - Talk About It. (Chocolate City)
MI Abaga - Talk About It. (Chocolate City)

Year of release: 2008

Tracks/Duration: 18 songs/01:04:15

Hits: 2 ('Safe' and 'Anoti')

Label: Chocolate City

Features: Jesse Jagz, Ice Prince, Gabriel, Pype, Leony, Djinee, Blaize, YQ, Wizkid, Eben, Lindsay, Uche

Producers: E-Kelly, Masterkraft, Jay Sleek, Samklef, DJ Klem,

Thoughts: What makes MI Abaga special? A lot of people tend to ask that question. Well, as former Senior Editor of Pulse Nigeria puts it, "The three greatest Nigerian rappers are Modenine, M.I, and Olamide. While Modenine is the bar for lyricism and Olamide is the greatest Nigerian rapper to impact pop culture, M.I has the strongest discography."

MI Abaga was an English-speaking Nigerian rapper who transcended realms into hits and pop culture relevance. He also won awards that pop stars were winning. This album was an important moment that proved to Nigerian rappers that you can do it if you understand how to work with sound.

Fun fact: Kraft produced 'Fast Money, Fast Cars.'

2) Wande Coal - Mushin To Mo'Hits

The artwork of 'Mushin 2 Mo' Hits' by Wande Coal (Mo' Hits Records)
The artwork of 'Mushin 2 Mo' Hits' by Wande Coal (Mo' Hits Records)
Mo' Hits Records

Year of release: March 12, 2009

Tracks/Duration: 16 songs/01:04:37

Hits: Everything - literally

Label: Mo'Hits Records

Features: 4 - D'Banj, D'Prince, Ikechukwu, K-Switch, Dr. Sid

Producers: Don Jazzy

Thoughts: When Mushin To Mo'Hits clocked 10 on May 12, 2019, former Senior Editor of Pulse Nigeria, Ayomide Tayo wrote, "There are only a few contemporary Nigerian albums that are as peerless and almost flawless as Wande Coal's solo seminal debut 'Mushin 2 ' Mo' Hits'.

Released in 2009 from the hit factory co-owned by D'banj and Don Jazzy, Wande Coal rewrote the game by concocting a new formula of crafting pop hits.

M2M is now a decade old, and yet it still resonates with the pop crazy music audience in Nigeria. It is not about nostalgia because the body of work still sounds fresh. The appreciation of M2M has to do with the genius, the author of the classic."

At this time, this writer wrote, "Not just that, 'Mushin To Mo’ Hits' regally positioned Wande Coal for the name he'd belatedly assume 8 years later, 'King Coal,' 'Mushin To Mo’ Hits' became the progeny of nearly contemporary Nigerian pop music.

Wande Coal is also the stylistic progeny of nearly all modern Nigerian pop artists... If Tubaba's 'Grass to Grace' album chronologically and creatively mirrored the rearranged diary of young Nigerian life, 'M2M' represents the aspiration of young Nigerians."

These are all facts.

1) Tuface - Face2Face

2Face Idibia - Face2Face. (Kennis Music)
2Face Idibia - Face2Face. (Kennis Music)

Year of release: 2004

Tracks/Duration: 16 songs/01:04:38

Hits: 3 ('Nfana Ibaga' 'African Queen' and 'Ole)

Label: Kennis Music

Features: 4 - HI Idibia, Blackface, Native, Seal

Producers: OJB Jezreel,

Thoughts: When Face2Face turned 14, former Pulse Nigeria Music Journalist, Ehis Ohunyon perfectly captured events pre-release of the album thus, "Prior to the release of the album, 2face Idibia was already an household name, but only as a member of the group Plantashun Boys which also had Blackface and Faze.

"After months of speculation, it was officially announced that the one who was christened as the Plantashun among the Boys according to Eedris Abdulkareem in Wackawickee Mcs, had jumped ship and was now sailing solo on the platform of Kennis Music, the label which was the biggest in the country at the time.

"This led to opinion pieces, polls and futuristic prophecies from both industry observers and critics as many predicted that this was a move that was doomed to end in failure."

The pressure pre-release was so immense that it's enough compliment that 2Face pulled it off. He didn't just pull it off, he created a blueprint for Nigerian pop. Alongside Timaya's True Story and Wande Coal's debut, Mushin To Mo'Hits, it is the third progeny of contemporary Nigerian pop.

While the album was mostly based off Hip-Hop and R&B elements with slight cuts of alternative, the alum represented the Hip-Hop orient of its time while foreseeing a future. It didn't quite pull it off, but it did enough to get itself into the conversation. More importantly, it foreshadowed what is arguably the greatest career in contemporary Nigeria music.

When it's all said and done, this album produced 'African Queen.' Nuff said.