It’s been an eventful year in Nigerian music. For the first time in 10 years, we are genuinely witnessing a change of guard - the old guard is finally slowing down after an amazing 10-year run.
A new guard was ushered in and ‘afrobeats to the world’ took performance-enhancing drugs. Beyonce released a predominantly afrobeats album in The Lion King: The Gift. The old guard fought its way back after the chilling events of the first-half of 2019. Burna Boy and Mr. Eazi took on western, British and even LatinX opportunities.
Rap music also crowned new kings. Naira Marley and Zlatan properly announced their entrance as superstars for the year. The music scene is still changing, but the dust has finally settled. We are separating the chaff from the wheat. This brings us to the hottest Nigerian artists of 2019.
The year in review is between December 1, 2018 and November 31, 2019.
To close her stellar 2018, Teni released the smash hit, ‘Uyo Meyo.’ The song resonated with Nigerians at home and abroad. People didn’t totally understand her Ondo accent, but they got the entire gist of the song - gratitude and celebration amidst a stream of emotions. The song won big at Headies 2019.
Then, the ‘summer’ began for her. Her single, ‘Sugar Mummy’ was a necessary risk that was not well-received. ‘Power Rangers’ was a good song that only performed reasonably. But as the year closed out, she released her 6-track EP, Billionaire.
It wasn’t a spectacular listen, but its title track has become one of the most popular songs of second half of 2019. At the 2019 Headies, Teni also won three awards.
After a very quiet opening half of 2019, he featured on ‘Low’ by Larry Gaaga. Made In Lagos was planned, but it has still not dropped. Two singles dropped in ‘Joro’ and 'Ghetto Love,’ they did great numbers but their ‘hit’ status is very debatable.
Nonetheless, he is still Wizkid. He still sold out the O2 Arena in the UK. At the event, nearly all Nigerian artists turned up for him. As the year closed out, Wizkid released an EP, Soundman Vol. 1. It’s quality was very questionable, but the EP will serve its purpose.
The greatest underdog story in recent Nigerian music. When Olamide announced YBNL Mafia Family album in December 2018, Fireboy was the most unheralded of the bunch. The world was looking at Picazo Rhap, Yomi Blaize and Lyta who have all since moved on from YBNL Nation.
In fact, Limerick had more reps than Fireboy. But then, Fireboy had been putting in the work, He was in a songwriting academy and had been releasing viral videos with Oxlade. His song, ‘Jealous’ became the biggest song from YBNL Mafia Family.
His follow-up singles, ‘What If I Say’ and ‘King’ were mildly successful, but he has since stolen a march on Rema and Joeboy with a well-received, critically acclaimed and successful album, Laughter, Tears and Goosebumps. The album has produced detty december soundtrack, ‘Scatter’ and looks set to produce more anthems.
At the start of 2019, ‘nobody’ knew Joeboy. But as month climbed month, the master purveyor of visualizer storytelling became a star. First, his smash hit single, ‘Baby’ slowly crept up on Nigerians with its bass-heavy melodies and catchy hook.
Then, the Killertunes-produced, ‘The Beginning’ was another success. He didn’t stop there as he then released ‘Don’t Call Me Back’ featuring Mayorkun - it was another success. He rounded out the year with Love & Light EP - it produced another successful single, ‘All For You.’
The ‘anointed one’ had been with MAVIN/Jonzing for a minute, but he only backed up the expectation with his 4-track Rema EP in May 2019. The EP contained four fan-favourites and cult anthems. But ‘Dumebi’ was one of the biggest songs of 2019 - its success is unparalleled.
He followed it up with Rema Freestyles EP which flexed his documented versatility. It was a healthy dose of emo rap, soundcloud rap, sung-rap and trap. It contained the wonderful, ‘Trap Out The Submarine.’ A few months later, Rema released another 4-track EP titled, Bad Commando.
It contains two successful songs, ‘Bad Commando’ and ‘Lady.’ Since then, he has been on a sojourn of the US/Europe, positioning himself and immersing himself into cultures. He also made an appearance on Colors.
He’s been one of the most visible Nigerian artists of 2019 and he’s definitely the most talked about artist of his generation. He looks like he will be Nigeria’s first genuine cross-over star in America.
Davido was slightly quiet in the opening months of 2019. But since the year hit its halfway point, he has doubled in virality and impact. First, his single, ‘Blow My Mind’ is one of the biggest Nigerian songs of 2019 by any argument. ‘Risky’ is slowly making its way into ‘hit’ conversation and his album, A Good Time was well-received - maybe even underrated.
Let’s be guided, Zlatan and Naira Marley are rappers - this content is for an article which could be a spin-off to this list. He capped off 2018 with a monstrous verse on Burna Boy’s ‘Killin Dem’ and claimed ownership of Nigeria’s current viral dance craze. As 2019 climbed month on month, he became the go-to-guy for ‘street cred’ in Nigerian music.
He delivered for acts like Tiwa Savage, DJ Cuppy, Naira Marley and other acts - even Buju. As the year wound down, he struggled for his hits, but had a street anthem in IVD’s ‘Bolanle.’ His album ZANKU was terrible, but his notoriety in Nigerian music throughout the year lands him on this list.
When he was arrested alongside Naira Marley, Rahman Jago and Guccy Branch, it was national news. ‘4 Days In Okotie Eboh,’ his freestyle upon release went viral on social media.
Falz is the man who hacked it. The UK-trained lawyer raps like a local Yoruba man with his alter ego, Brother Taju from Ilawe-Ekiti. The man merges Hip-Hop endorsement and Shepeteri appeal. He creates rap in his lingo, accent and with his style. In that regard, he merges humour with substance and his definition of bars. People want to listen to him and his music sells itself.
While he is not the top dog in any demography, he is loved by all. When Pulse spoke with rapper, Teeto Ceemos earlier in the year, he named Falz as one of the best rappers in Nigeria - he was right.
At the 2019 Headies, Moral Instruction was named Album of the Year. One line on his single, 'Talk' caused an uproar for days on end.
Falz appropriately sampled the music of the late Fela Kuti to address the ills of contemporary Nigeria. While most of his peers are lost in abstract bars and excessive glorification of street decadence, Falz has proven that he is above his peers by blending humour with ingenuity and conscious lyrics.
No wonder he is a darling of corporate Nigeria. Aside from that, the man went on a J. Cole-esque quest to kill one feature after another in 2019. While his singles since Moral Instruction have failed to track it, he joined BOJ and Ajebutter22 for the excellent Make E No Cause Fight 2.
On the album, Falz and Ajebutter told the most impeccable stories in the most impressive ways albeit with unorthodox styles. If rap will ever have a foothold in Nigeria, rappers like Falz, Ajebutter and Naira Marley will be important.
2. Naira Marley
Ladies and gentlemen, this might be an unpopular choice but what is a good list without a forward -thinking choice.
Coming off the high of ‘Issa Goal’ in the World Cup year, Naira Marley entered 2019 slowly until... his comments about internet fraud gained him more notoriety than fame. Channeling the controversy around him, Naira Marley blessed his cult fan base ‘Marlians’ with the witty ‘Am I A Yahoo Boy’.
No one should mistake Naira Marley for a 'lyricist' in the real sense of the word,, but his witty wordplay and smooth rhymes have helped establish him as a street rapper who has embraced the ugly underbelly of street life in Lagos.
While in incarceration, Naira Marley dropped the raunchy tune ‘Opotoyi,’ proving that he can weave his slurry, seemingly drugged out voice and flow over a Zanku beat again and again. Using his infamous status to pen undeniable bangers, Marley has become a household name. His controversial single, 'Soapy' is Nigeria’s song of the year.
Naira Marley is not for the purists, he is for the streets. His controversial and explicitly worded songs, 'Am I a Yahoo Boy?' and 'Opotoyi' hit more than one million views in one week and two weeks respectively.
‘Pxta’ was an incredible single with a powerful run, but ‘Mafo’ ran the streets. On December 17, 2019, he released his EP, Lord of Lamba (LOL) he is a strong contender for Nigeria’s artist of the year and MarlianFest will turn Lagos inside out. The man is in his element, creating substantial rap by his own rules. He is not a rapper? That’s your problem, but we cannot all be ignorant.
1. Burna Boy
The most keenly contested spot was for No. 1. Within eight months, Naira Marley has catapulted himself into the conversation. However, Burna Boy’s spot is undisputed. He held it down in Nigeria, held it down on the global stage and in the numbers game.
First, he closed out 2018 with the smash hit, ‘Killin Dem; featuring Zlatan. He moved into the new year with ‘Dangote’ and then released ‘Anybody.’ ‘Pull Up,’ ‘Another Story’ and ‘Gum Body’ are bubbling under songs at best, but Burna Boy released the Nigerian album of 2019 in African Giant.
Earlier in the year, he performed at the two Coachella weekends. He had a spotlight moment with YouTube, he went on the biggest American press run that any Nigerian artist has ever seen, he has featured on nearly all the biggest American publications and has appeared on three late-night American shows - Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel and Trevor Noah.
Asides that, he has featured on chart-topping UK singles by Stormzy, Mahalia, Jorja Smith and Santan Dave. On The Lion King: The Gift album, he was the only featured act who had an individual song. His African Giant Tour dates have equally been raucous. Even his mother, has now become a talked-about pop culture references as a ‘Mum-ager.’
A few weeks ago, YouTube and Spotify have named him the most-streamed Nigerian artist. In fact, he was the only Nigerian artist on Spotify 100. He has been named on viral playlists by Barack Obama and Jay Z, but most importantly, he ended the year with a Grammy nomination.
That came just after his appearance on NPR Tiny Desk.