Obama’s Boys: Nigerian Music Reconquers Africa in 2019
The year 2019 was a big year for Nigerian music. Burna Boy in August appeared on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. And in December, he was listed along with Remyboy, on President Obama’sBest-Of 2019Playlist. This consolidates a 5-6-year trend that has seen Nigeria unleashing a new wave of music talents on Africa and the world. We have branded some of the most talented of the new wave, The Boys from Nigeria – Burna Boy, Fireboy, Joeboy and Remyboy (Rema)– all with unique paths to stardom. Their individually unique mix of sweet melodies coupled with club-bangers have taken these boys to the top of both Nigerian charts and other top charts on the continent. Solidifying their names as international acts with releases such as Jealous (Fireboy), Baby (Joeboy), Dumebi and Ironman (Rema), these new Nigerian artists have continued to distinguish Nigerian music as the leading sounds in Africa as they win the hearts of many fans.
We will take a look at the journeys the Boys have been on so far and the great work they are producing in the industry. We have omitted Burna Boy because we have previously written a story, 2019: The Year of The Burna, about him.
AdedamolaAdefolahan, popularly known as Fireboy DML began performing as part of his local church choir in Abeokuta, Ogun State. In October 2018, he was signed by Nigerian hip hop recording artist, Olamide, into his YBNL label.The youngster, aged 23, sings afro-beat with a blend of country and soul music. His first hit Jealous was released later that year in the label’s album titled YBNL Mafia Family. Jealousis considered as a love-themed ballad that tells the story of love addiction and possessiveness in a relationship. It infuses African harmonies with aspects of country and soul – he personally refers to his sound as “Afro-Life”. It was instantly a fan favourite and has continued to attract a lot of attention since then.
In describing his style to music, Fireboy DMLhas said “I like to write my songs from a more relatable approach” “They are everyday topics, but I approach them from emotional angles. That’s why it stands out.” He acknowledges the American singer Jon Bellion, the English musician Passenger and the Nigerian pop star Wande Coal as key contemporary influences — the first two for the “honesty in their lyrics,” Fireboy says, and the latter for his “pristine vocals and the soul in his melody.”
With the release of his debut album Laughter, Tears & Goosebumps, Fireboy DML has already earned comparisons to more established artistes, such as Adekunle Gold and Maleek Berry.He believes the entire experience so far has been surreal and is optimistic about the future saying “all of this growth is unexpected … but I am loving it, and I am on a good run. Let’s see what happens.”
His debut album carefully commands amixture of emotions which do indeed bring laughter, tears and goosebumps. He portrays himself as a romantic boy capable of articulating thoughts and feelings that touch the heart in a song like King as well as bringing the heat in a song like Vibration. He is a proven songwriter with releases of good music such as What If I Say which continues to win the hearts of many whilst also topping various charts in Africa.
Fireboy’s debut album is daring as it is a solo album. We see new artistes typically feature guest appearances on their first major projects, but Fireboy has been able to produce a successful album with no guests, no doubt through the guidance of his mentor – Olamide, one of the best in the industry. The 13-track album is a vibe of good feelings and present the Afro-Life crooner as a hybrid of Wande Coal and Adekunle Gold. His fans find his love songs charming and not overly cheesy.
Fireboy is sure of the viability of his style in an industry that pits him against equally new sounds as those of his contemporaries such asJoeboy and Rema.
In 2017, Joseph Akinfenwa-Donus, aka Joeboy,posted an Instagram video of himself covering Ed Sheeran’s Shape of You. His friend sent it to popular Nigerian singer Mr Eazi, who immediately contacted Joeboythrough his DMs on Instagram,offering assistancein breaking into the industry.
In 2018, Mr Eazi created a talent incubator for emerging African artists called emPawa Africa– a company providing marketing, distribution, publishing, label and management services to upcoming artists in Africa. #emPawa100, which is a funding and mentorship program, was also launched and he encouraged Joeboy, the 22 year old, to sign up. “Joeboy embodies my vision for emPawa,” says Mr Eazi. “He’s an African creative entrepreneur, hands-on and looking to enhance his music.”
Following Mr Eazi’s advice, he become one out of 10,000 applicants from 14 countries. He received a $300,000 grant which is to enable new generation of African artists find mainstream success. Joeboy used his $3,000 to shoot his Faaji music video; within a month, he became one of 10 acts selected for a mentorship boot camp in South Africa, and one of two artists given an additional $50,000 in funding.
Joeboy has always been surrounded by music. Growing up in a musical family, his father played the keyboard at church, his brother played the guitar, and his sister sang in the choir, but he did not participate at all. Eventually, he began singing on social media before he was discovered. He says that music must have seeped into him subconsciously.
In March 2019, Joeboy catapulted to fame with the release of the catchy love song Baby, which reached the Top 10 of Apple Music’s charts in Nigeria, Uganda and Kenya. By November, Joeboy released his first EP, Love & Light, which was intended to spread “light and positivity” to the world – a mission Joeboy holds dear to himself. It features Mayorkun in Don’t Call Me Back, which has quickly become a hit song in recent weeks. Follow-up track Beginning, which Beats 1 host, Ebro, featured in his Discovered segment, Hit No. 1 on Apple Music in Nigeria and Uganda. Both tracks are still in the Top 10 in Uganda, Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria.
Making the BBC list of Top 5 African music stars to look out for, Joeboy continues to gain attention and recognition with his love song Baby which has had 18 million views in nine months on YouTube. Joeboy has already performed in the UK and he will be touring Europe and the United States in 2020. In an interview with OkayAfrica, he expressed his desire in becoming one of the biggest exports out of Nigeria and a worldwide sensation, conquering the hearts of Africans first. Beyond the fame however, he hopes his music will impact lives positively in some way.
REMYBOY – REMA
Divine Ikubor, aka Rema, is a new-age Nigerian singer and rapper. In 2019, he signed a record deal with Jonzing World, a subsidiary of Mavin Records. He rose to fame with the release of his hit song Dumebi. This was soon followed by another hit song Iron Man, which featured on Barack Obama’s 2019 summer playlist.19-year-old rapper and singer, Rema,combines trap and Afrobeats to create a new fusion of sound that truly represents and emulates the style of the modern Nigerian youth.
Rema grew up in Benin City. He had to grow up quickly to find means of helping his mother following the death of his father when he was only 8 years old, and the death of his brother in 2015. This changed the way he approached society in general, from his walk to his talk – these experiences have helped him shape himself in a unique way to make it in society. He fell in love with music at his church where he started a rap group with some friends from church. In 2018, Rema randomly released a freestyle to Nigerian superstar D’Prince’s Gucci Gang on social media. This got himDPrince’sattention. Soon after, he was flown to Lagos to record. D’Princereferred his music to Mavin Records, founded by his brother Don Jazzy, and signed Rema onto their label. Rema could not be more excited that arguably the biggest record label in the country desired to sign him.
Rema is firstly a rapper – this is his favourite genre of music. He has howeverfound a unique way of blending it so seamlessly with afro-beats – the biggest genre in Nigeria. He stays true to himself by doing what he wants and creating music in a style that pleases him and his rapidly increasing number of fans. In March, he released his debut self-titled EP on Mavin, marking a new era for the label, and perhaps for Nigerian pop music at large. It features four distinct tracks that introduce the country to his uniquespin on Afropop.
From the eccentric melodies of Iron Man, to the heart-aching trap on Why, the slow grooves of Corny, and Dumebi, Remabroke into both the U.S. and the UK music arena.
Upon its release, the EP spent more than a month at No. 1 on Nigeria’s Apple Music charts. Some liken his light voice to that of Nigerian pop sensation WizKid, while others disliked his non-traditional spin on Afropop. In an interview with Rising, Rema says “my sound is for the young people of my generation and the older people who want to feel young again. I really want to take the Nigerian flag over all the world.” He is also cautious about his lifestyle choices as he is aware that the Nigerian youth are looking to him as an example. He has refrained from smoking, drinking and an excessive or wild lifestyle in order to inspire the kids of the next generation to chase their passions wholeheartedly and it is possible to succeed with that. With hopes of taking his sound global, Rema plans to make make Nigeria even more familiar with trap music.He also wishes to encourage young teenagers not to abandon their sound in order to succeed.
Rema received the award for the Video of the Year at the sixth annual AFRIMMA Awards in Dallas with his hit singleDumebi. At the Nigerian music awards ceremony, the Headies, Rema also received the award for Next Rated artiste, typically given to the country’s most promising act. Rema has released three EPs so far — Rema, Freestyle EP, and Bad Commando — all featuring illustrations of floating objects and UFOs which represents his thinking outside the box. On the recent single Lady, Rema maintains his melodic sound over an up-tempo beat by Altims — an accomplished Nigerian producer and DJ who’s worked with national stars Tiwa Savage, D’Prince, and Korede Bello.
Ozedikus, in-house producer for Nigerian pop powerhouse Mavin Records who produced both Dumebi and IronMan says that “He has melodies he just brings out from nowhere”. He praises the young teenager by saying “Rema knows how to bring the best out of every beat. Sometimes, he’ll ask me to leave it halfway done and work on it unfinished. He’s every producer’s dream. He just makes work easy.”
Being rooted in church and a Christian background, Rema attributes his inspiration and ideas to the Holy Spirit. In his interview with Fader, Rema revealed that he believes his gift is being guided by God saying, “This is a gift of guidance. You know where you’re going when you see the signs.”To achieve all this success in less than a year must really take somedivine inspiration.
Across the board, it is evident that the Boys are aggressively but simultaneously seemingly effortlessly taking the Nigerian and African music stage my storm. They are unapologetic about their unique sound and are carefully carving out their place in history. The sky is only the beginning for the boys who are set to go even further in the coming decade. From what has been produced so far, it is fair to say we can expect even greater bodies of work from these upcoming artists who are like the Olamide, Davido and Wizkid of their time. Africa, and the world at large will be looking to see what next they have in store.