Today, July 14, 2018, marks the one-year anniversary of Wizkids ambitious third solo body of work Sounds From The Other Side.
In his fast-paced, chaotic career, SFTOS would be his most high stake solo project, an audacious attempt to announce himself properly on the American stage.
The album or EP as it was touted at the time would be his most ambitious work ever, aiming to crack the usually receptively cold American market.
As fate would have it, the frigid American music market had started flirting with sounds from the motherland. His bromance with international pop star/bad boy Chris Brown starting from 2012 would gradually ease Wizkid into the American market.
We can't also forget about the rapper Wale. The two acts would collaborate often resulting in 'Drop', a lusty urgent track put out in July 2013 and 'Murder' that featured in Wizkid's second solo effort.
With his profile steadily rising in North America, Wizkid told DJ Abrantee he recorded a new song with Chris Brown 'African Bad Girl' on Capital Xtra in late 2014. Wizzy revealed the song would be the first single off his next project. This would be the first announcement of a new album after his sophomore LP 'Ayo (Joy)' which earned mixed reviews.
In July 2015, his globe-trotting efforts would pay off big time. UK Grime star Skepta who is of Nigerian origin linked the biggest rapper in the world Drake to Wizkid's sensational single 'Ojuelegba'. Drake who had heard of Wizkid jumped on the remix. The song would be released on his Apple Music station OVO Sounds.
This singular move would take Wizkid's name from conservations between taste makers to the artificial thick lips of the Jenners/Kardashians in California, Los Angeles.
With his international wave on the rise, Wizkid rearranged his rollout plans, a move not familiar to his longtime fans. By September 2015, Wizkid characteristically announced that he had scrapped his third album after being inspired by 2face Idibia's legendary catalogue. To appease his fans he would put out a 10 track EP by October 2015.
That EP would not come out in October. From late 2015 to July 2017, Wizkid would continually tease his fans with high stake project. The recording of SFTOS started from 2014-2017. The principal architects would be Sarz (his frequent collaborator), Major Lazer, Picard Brothers, Dre Skull, Del B, Spellz, DJ Mustard, Twice as Nice and DJ Maphorisa.
To further concentrate on his album, Wizkid rented out an L.A mansion in March 2016. He and his cohorts, Legendury Beatz, Sarz and Efya would spend hours in the studio working on his big North American debut.
This was also the period he debuted his new nickname Pablo, most likely named after Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar. The HBO series 'Narcos' would introduce the narco-terrorist to millennials.
By March 2016, Wizkid would collaborate with Drake on a number of songs for his icy testimonial ode for the cold city of his childhood and upbringing Views. One of the lead singles for Views would be 'One Dance', a blend of Drake's R&B/pop vibe, British pop and Caribbean influenced background vocals delivered by Wizkid.
"I think I put up something on my Instagram and Drake heard it and was like 'yo dawg that sh*t sounds crazy. We need to do something for my album real quick" he told Ebro during his Beats 1 on Apple Music interview.
The collaboration would further push Wizkid into the music scene in North America. The song earned Wizkid a Grammy nod and an ASCAP recognition.
One of the other recordings from Wizkid and Drake's collaborations was a rough sketch song called 'Come Closer'.
The track would leak in February 2017 and it was initially called 'Hush Up The Silence'. Despite speculations that Drake wanted the song as a collaboration with him and his Jamaican buddy Popcaan, Wizkid would officially release the track as his featuring Drake on March 31, 2017.
Earlier on March 1, 2017, Billboard broke the news that Wizkid had signed "a multi-album worldwide deal with RCA Records/Sony Music International." The stars were aligning for Wizkid's official North America roll out.
"Just from having conversations with them. I really just wanted to go with people that understand my dreams and my vision. From the first meeting with , they just understood it.
"It wasn’t really about money or about numbers, it was just about getting the vision to where it should be. That’s why I did that with them and they’ve been amazing people out there. I couldn’t ask for nothing better" he told XXLMagazine in July 2017.
'Sweet Love' an oft-teased track that almost made it mystical was released by Wizkid on March 1, 2017.
On April 6, 2017, Wizkid would release the 'Come Closer' video sans the presence of 6 God. The mysterious no-show of Drake wasn't strong enough to deter the video to become a hit and a testament to the rising acceptance of African excellence and appreciation of melanin beauty. As of today, it has racked up an impressive 60 million views on YouTube.
"I took like 4 days to make that video," he told MTV Base in May of 2017. "I just want to DAPS and I was like 'yo I've got a crazy idea and this is how I want it.' I literally called the girls in the video."
The video and track itself were way better received than 'Daddy Yo' which had come out in December 2016 as a teaser of what was to come. Wizkid's use of reggaeton was questioned by some of his fans.
On June 29, 2017, Wizkid would unveil the artwork for his all or nothing project. The album cover wasn't well received and even Wizkid would poke fun at it. Still, this couldn't stop the momentum of SFTOS.
On July 14, 2017, Wizkid dropped the body of work that took him 3 years to record. Sounds From The Other Side was finally here.
The initial critical reactions of the project were good. Here are some of the reviews of SFTOS by international media;
Pitchfork - "WizKid is primed to carry Afrobeats to great heights" 7.4/10
Rolling Stone - "Wizkid’s Major Label Debut Is a Border-Blurring Dance Party" 3 out 5 stars
Okay Africa - "a true afro-fusion album, well-balanced between world-conquering ambitions and the culture whence it came."
Pulse Music Review described the body of work as "well-crafted, one-dimensional pop dance project that is all about vibes than actual substance."
Commercially in the United States, SFTOS sold 6,286 units in its first week. That’s broken down into 2,672 pure album purchase, 6,079 song downloads, 4,510,897 song streams. All of these made up the first week sales for Wizkid.
It also debuted at number 107 on the Billboard 200 chart. There is no information available on the latest number of copies SFTOS has moved.
A Year After
365 days after the release of Sounds From The Other Side, what is the body of work's impact? Did Wizkid achieve his desire to crack the North American market?
Numbers-wise Sounds From The Other Side did not make a commercial dent in America's massive music recording industry. Conservatively speaking the project should have done at least 50,000 units with a single going at least Gold. Yes, Come Closer has been certified Gold in Canada (40,000 Units) and Silver in UK (200,000 units) but the aim was to crack the US. 'Come Closer' has yet to move 500,000 units in America even with Drake on it.
"SFTOS was a DUD. It had zero impact in both Africa and the world in general and that makes no sense seeing as the guy is the 'hottest' with a huge following to back him up.
"Also, when you consider the fact that this album had all the creative and structural support that a Major label offers, it's more glaring that SFTOS FLOPPED! Drake, Major Lazer, Chris Brown, Ty Dolla Sign, Efya, Bucie, Trey Songz, Sarz, Del B, Spellz, Dre Skull, DJ Mustard, Major Lazer, and the Picard Brothers and yet...
"It's not a project that we're going to remember or celebrate. That's saying a lot" says Obinna Agwu, Talent Manager and A&R exec who was worked with M.I Abaga and Timi Dakolo.
Back home in Nigeria, Sounds From The Other Side was not activated. There was a free listening session for SFTOS in London sponsored by Beats by Dre. There was also an album release party in New York. Also, there were billboards in America promoting Wizkid's latest body of work. Lagos, Nigeria got little from the promo run.
With Wizkid also predominantly choosing a more Caribbean flavoured sound, many of his Nigerian fans felt that SFTOS wasn't for them. "I like Wizzy but that album was too much of Jamaican vibes. He should have done more Naija stuff for us his real fans" says, Yinka 20, who has been an ardent Wizkid fan since his first album.
"Its just a collaboration between my producers, and international producers and international artists. I am just blending my sound with theirs. That is sounds from my side and their sides and merging it to make good music" said Wizkid in an interview with MTV Base in 2017.
For him, the project was a mix of both worlds but for longtime fans, it wasn't.
Another SFTOS flaw is that there was no clear communication on what Sounds From The Other Side was, an album, EP or mixtape. Wizkid would use the last two terms interchangeably confusing fans and music lovers.
Also, the post-release marketing of SFTOS has been non-existent. While the album has a lot of strong singles in it, no single has been released since. The project has been laid dormant.
'Africa Bad Girl' that was christened as the first single by Wizkid never got released. Maybe we can blame this on Wizkid who has been a no-show in the United States for some time now, another puzzling factor on why Wizkid's North America agenda seems to have stalled.
However, we should not be in a hurry to give Wizkid's adventurous sojourn an F9 just yet. Sounds From The Other Side was an avenue to show the world what Africa could offer to the global sound.
Let's go back to June 2011, a sweltering summer not only for North America but Nigerian music as well. That month, music entertainer D'banj would do the unthinkable by signing to G.O.O.D Music owned by Hip-Hop's ego god Kanye West. This move would shake the foundation of Nigerian music.
Out of the array of new-gen superstars, D'banj had made the boldest move into North America. Out of his peers, he dared to seek a new frontier, the expansive and dominative American market.
Expectations were high for the Koko Master. With Don Jazzy having production credentials on the iconic Watch The Throne collabo album between JAY-Z and Ye, it seemed the time had come for Nigerian pop music to be on the world stage.
A year later D'banj would have a scene-stealing moment in the G.O.O.D Music posse cut 'Lamborghini Mercy'. Sadly, by the time the compilation album dropped, D'banj would have a paltry 23-second vocal contribution on the entire album.
D'banj's own compilation album D'Kings Men was more an effort of the entertainer trying to create his own imprint after the break up of Mo' Hits, than a G.O.O.D Music project. Apart from some forgettable contributions from Big Sean and Kanye West, D'Kings Men wasn't the project that would shatter the North American barrier for D'banj.
In 2016 both parties would part ways without an official solo body of work to show for it. A knee-jerk reaction would be to dismiss D'banj's efforts as a failure.
However, with a bird's eye view, you can see that D'banj clearly laid the way for younger Nigerian pop artists to make further inroads into North America. Wizkid said it himself that he grew up around D'banj especially during the Mo' Hits era.
Partly, we must avoid the temptation to slam Wizkid's SFTOS as a flop commercially without looking at the cultural aspect.
Bankulli, who has credited vocals on Watch The Throne and Kanye's experimental cult classic 'Yeezus' says Wizkid's last body of work is just beyond numbers.
"The album was a passport for African music," he tells Pulse. "As of now, Wizkid is the ambassador of African music" he further says.
"His album was a platform to show the world what African music could in terms of merging with the global sound. D'banj tried to do this earlier" explains Bankulli.
"Wizkid basically took the Fela sound and mixed it with Caribbean sounds. By doing that he showcased what Africa could offer" he says. Bankulli, however, admits that "the album was marketed in America but there was no activation in Nigeria and because of this Nigerians didn't really embrace it."
It's been 365 days since the release of the daring Sounds From The Other Side. Since then Wizkid has walked the runway of , sold out the Hammersmith Apollo and 02. Yes, these are UK stints but let's not forget he was also billed to perform at Coachella this year which he surprisingly didn't show up for. He also worked and gone on tour with trap god Future.
He might not be doing crazy numbers in the US but he has a steady profile. Also how many black acts outside of the United States has made a huge mark on sales in America's music industry? Maybe Sean Paul?
Like Wizkid told Channel 4 in 2017 "The U.S is catching up right now" and it might take a long time to embrace the sounds of Nigerian pop music.
Cracking the American market will never be easy for a non-white artist not born in North America. Yes, while Sounds From The Other Side wasn't a masterpiece or perfect with regards to marketing we should be aware that it has pushed the narrative of African music in North America forward.
"It’s a great thing happening with music. I’m excited to be a part of this generation of artists making music to impact the world...And for the artists and the producers and really everyone from the entertainment industry in Africa, this is the right time to leverage off of that. It’s a great thing" he told XXL Magazine.
SFTOS might have been a small step for Wizkid but it's a leap for African pop music. We now have to watch out for the next act who will take it further.