Once upon a time, he was a pint-sized lad growing up in Surulere, Lagos. The only son of his mother, he’s one of the few Nigerians who found their paths earlier on.
From a studio rat, he battled through doubt and intense scrutiny to get to where he is. As he revealed on ‘Lagos To Kampala’ by Runtown, a certain “Solo” even made those comments to his face.
But as he grew and became Yung Prince, he started garnering notoriety in certain niche circles. His lyrics tenor vocals were an attraction as much as his boy-ish, no beard good looks which still endures in 2020 - at 30 and after three kids.
During an MTVBase show that highlighted the ‘Leaders of The New School’ in 2010, legendary Nigerian rapper, Sasha made an interesting remark about Wizkid.
“His main strength is that everybody probably loves him from the first moment they see him. So I can imagine how attractive he must be to his generation,” she said. “He’s like one of those kids you want to buy ice cream for and just say ‘sit down there and enjoy.’ Other times, he looks like this grown man. But whatever it is, he has a great future ahead of him.”
Sasha was just one of many people who predicted the same future for Wizkid. Three years before Sasha made those comments, Wizkid had graced and aced MI Abaga’s ‘Fast Money, Fast Cars.’
Produced by Kraftmatiks, ‘Fast Money, Fast Cars’ was meant to have a fired up DaGrin on it, but that never quite happened. Instead, Wizkid made it and the rest is history. On that track, the first glimpses of superstardom of a Surulere boy who Niyola took to Banky W in the 200s was seen.
At EME, Nigeria unconsciously witnessed the raw brilliance of branding for a young artist - something that was barely seen outside Mo’Hits in those days. He went from the teenage boy next door on ‘Holla At Your Boy’ to the good boy with bad boy traces on ‘Tease Me.’
In between those songs, he went from the High School to an empty strip club. He also traded his snapback and skinny jeans for a jacket. By the next phase, he went straight into the street with, ‘Don’t Dull’ and its intense thudding drums. Osagie Osarenz also started managing him.
But through it all, he wore Ojuelegba-Surulere on his chest like a ‘Superman emblem’ and on his back like an armour.
‘No Lele,’ the most eclectically introduced Wizkid song came with the words, “Ojuelegba Shita, ask my sister. My music travel no visa…” Even with the confidence to declare that his music travels without a visa, he never forgot his roots.
As discussed on A Music In Time Podcast by OG Journalists, Osagie Alonge and Ayomide Tayo on a commemorative episode for Wizkid’s Superstar, a listening party for the album was held in a packed Eko Hotels and Suites. But little did anyone in attendance realize that the album they were there to celebrate was going to be a classic.
The 17-track album is a stargaze into the mind of a young man filled with ambition, pressure to succeed, oft-mega confidence and powerful zeal.
Looking back, Superstar is one of the four horsemen albums that created the template for modern Nigerian pop music. The other three are; Gongo Aso by 9ice, True Story by Timaya and Mushin To Mo’hits by Wande Coal.
Around that time, Wizkid went on a peerless three-year run where he killed everything in sight. He also earned his stripes as Nigeria’s major ingredient to a hit record. Everything he touched got torched; even loosies like ‘Sisi Nene’ and Sarz’s ‘Beat of Life’ were hits.
As he celebrated his first album, he also celebrated the birth of his first son, Boluwatife with Sola Ogudugu.
A video of him freestyling in the shotgun seat of a vehicle became pertinent to Blackberry phones of many-a-Nigerian youth. By 2012, He was also named Next Rated Act for the 2011 Headies.
In that form, he also aced his appearances on the EME album, Empire Mates State of Mind and one of those amazing performances is the timeless Shizzi-produced record, ‘Body.’ In fact, word on the street says Davido was in the studio when Wizkid recorded ‘Body’ in one take.
But by 2012 and the larger part of 2013, his peers like Olamide and Davido had mounted their own challenge. A certain Burna Boy and Tiwa Savage were some way off those three at the time though. It was also in those days that what we now know as Wizkid FC gathered forces.
Despite the competition in 2013, Wizkid released the smash hit, ‘Jaiye Jaiye.' 'Show You The Money' also became a hit after an unassuming start. Those songs were lead singles off his sophomore album, Ayo - his final album on EME. Speaking with Robert Bruce on Capital Xtra in 2019, Wizkid said he left EME as a broke person and had to work his way back up.
At the time, ‘Ayo’ generated mixed reviews from critics and listeners alike. It lacked the cohesion and quality A&R behind ‘Superstar.’ Its approach was more radical and tailored to acceptable sounds than the shades of pseudo-originality that birthed ‘Superstar.’ But over the coming years, ‘Ayo’ became bigger than anybody could have imagined.
It’s still not a classic by any means, but listening to it, one’s nostalgia might be excused for manifesting as heavy endorsement of the album. The reason is simple; ‘Superstar’ might be the classic, but ‘Ayo’ is arguably Wizkid’s most important body of work yet. The songs found a way to grow on listeners.
Random songs like ‘In My Bed,’ ‘Joy,’ ‘Mummy Mi’ and more became hits. More importantly, the album led the wave of crossover music from Wizkid’s 2010 generation. With ‘Ayo,’ Wizkid toured and gained acceptance across Europe - especially.
This was because Europe received African music better due to greater first/second generation African presence. The album also had the Afrobeat classic ode to, ‘Ojuelegba.’ It was every bit an ‘Afrobeat’ song as any. The guitars went with the lo-fi folk instrumentation and brilliant deliveries.
Alicia Keys was seen dancing to it. It also coincided with America’s Fela-obsession. Beyonce and Swizz Beatz had admitted to channeling him. Several broadway shows on abami eda’s life also got greenlit. With ‘Ojuelegba,’ white capitalists and label chiefs probably thought ‘Fela is back.’ They probably even saw dollar bills every time Wizkid sang.
Then Skepta, who is a first-generation British-Nigerian was an opening act for Drake on his Jungle Tour. Off the back of Nothing Was The Same, Drake had seemingly given up on trying to get accepted by American Hip-Hop heads. Instead, he chose to become a mega-star.
Skepta played ‘Ojuelegba’ for the Canadian rapper who was on a fast-lane to become the biggest artist in the world. He liked it and rapped on the song. From there, Wizkid went nuclear. Some of the songs that Nigerians didn’t like from the Ayo album were fan-favourites on Wizkid’s tours of the UK. Even Sone Aluko tweeted about ‘In My Bed.’
On radio tours and in interviews, Wizkid would clearly repeat the cliche, ‘Africa to the world…’ While he also said, “One Love” - a brainchild of Tuface Idibia, it was ‘Africa to the world’ that morphed into something special.
On the home front, acts like Kizz Daniel, Falz, Tekno, Sean Tizzle and Simi started gaining heat just as Wizkid and Davido searched for foreign success.
Sounds From The Other Side
It’s May 2016. Wizkid is riding on a high. He had just scored a global chart-topper titled, ‘One Dance.’ It spent more than 11 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. Ghanaians tried to tell us that his part was passive, but we didn’t care. Starboy had a feature on a record-breaking song - that’s what matters.
In a bid to sustain that buzz, he released a song titled, ‘Shabba’ featuring Chris Brown, French Montana and Trey Songz. Let’s just say the song didn’t perform as expected by even the greatest enthusiasts.
He kept working and the might of western capitalism seemed to be with him. He went on media rounds and became a poster boy. Then in 2017, he released Sounds From The Other Side - which flirted with the idea of an ‘EP’ despite being 14 tracks long.
Some liked album because it transcended the Nigerian sonic template. However, the album was also a fundamental confusion. It was meant to make Wizkid sound like an African artist going outside, but it ended up making him sound like Caribbean artist.
In hindsight, a lot of that could probably be blamed on RCA’s ignorance of what was required and Wizkid’s powerlessness to control the might of people who wielded the legality of a binding contract against him.
He was a victim of a time and system that wasn't quite ready to accept an African artist as it is today - even though we’re still some way off. His type of talent also seemed an issue for that American market.
His sonic palette and range were not expansive enough, but that was only a tertiary issue to the more fundamental problem of acceptance.
Nonetheless, Sounds From The Other Side charted in the Billboard 200 for one week before falling out. Looking back, that spell negatively impacted Wizkid as he hasn’t quite remained the same since - despite the steady increase in his fan base.
The same year, he had his third child, Zion with Jada Pollock became more of a recluse and seeming aloof person. He granted lesser interviews, spent little time on social media and just basically kept to himself - at least, to the public’s perception. He also handled things more discreetly.
He admitted a lot of these things during his October 11, 2020 interview with The Beat 103.6 FM, London. He even admits that he has grown a dislike for going to clubs.
But by this time, his greatness as the zenith of his generation was also sealed. All he needed was sustenance and that came the following year.
The turn of the year saw a creatively invigorated Wizkid. In January, he released ‘Soco’ under his label’s name and signed Terri. Singles like ‘Bad Energy’ with Skepta and ‘Fake Love’ with Duncan Mighty followed.
While ‘Master Groove’ and ‘Fever’ looked headed for ‘off radar movement,’ a Tiwa Savage cameo on the ‘Fever’ video broke the internet and propelled the song.
It was also around this time that Wizkid focused that lo-fi, parts-bashment, parts-Afro-pop, parts-Afro-Swing sound that heavily soundtracked his career. His music reflected a certain nonchalance and lack of effort. It was almost like he wanted to make music, but had to deal with an unwanted distraction that was hindering his mental state.
He told DJ Semtex about Made In Lagos, but that never quite happened. He also went off Twitter for over six months at the start of 2019. His comeback singles, ‘Joro’ and ‘Ghetto Love’ split opinions over a lack of effort, monotony and bad songwriting. He then capped the year off with the terrible EP, Soundman Vol. 1.
But since then, he has since become an artist of RCA UK - not US anymore - and looks happier and more willing to get into certain conversations he avoided after 2016. He became more active on social media and did more interviews. He is calmer and his sons made appearances in his video for ‘Smile’ featuring H.E.R.
Made In Lagos is finally here. The boy who grew up in Surulere-Ojuelegba axis - somewhere in between the island and mainland Lagos - is back. He is also moving like an elderstatesman.
Within the space of two weeks at the start of October, he told The Beat 103.6 FM, London and RED TV that, "My generation is just scratching the surface. The next generation is coming to smash it..."
He is comfortable in his own skin enough to acknowledge that he might not reap the fruits of 'Afrobeats to the world.' He is also comfortable enough to directly inspire the next generation. It's heartwarming to watch.
See you at the review…