Words by: Abdul-Jabbar Obiagwu
The saturation of the Afrobeat scene is an inevitability that many people have come to terms with. The variety of styles has made it impossible not to force further specialization. However, this is not to be confused with creating boxes to fit artists – that is a pointless exercise in today’s musical topography. However, recognizing the elements that make certain styles stand out is important to better enable us to curate soundscapes accordingly.
With that being said, here are IndustryMe’s picks for the 10 Afro-Pop/Afro-R&B artists you need to know about right now.
Leader of the Rebel Gang, Tems is a first in many ways for Nigeria as a whole. A real-life maverick whose existence is living proof that breaking from the norm is the only way to go. The singer/songwriter has no body of work to speak of, but that has not stopped her from garnering one of the most steadfast fan bases the country has ever seen. All from three self-produced singles – with no label push.
Her most recent effort finds her excelling on the Disclosure produced “Know Your Worth” with Afropop heavyweight Davido, and American pop sensation Khalid. Her potential seems unmatched and Tems promises to be one of the most engaging careers the continent will behold this year.
A Google search of Nigerian Pop/R&B songstress, Tolani, will only serve to highlight her family background when all you need to be focused on is her voice.
With only a few singles to her credit, she has cultivated the rapt attention of listeners in the UK and across Africa with her urban R&B sound. With soothing vocals over contemporary African instrumentation, she strikes an emotional chord and displays her multi-cultural background with every lyric and melody.
Yet to release a major body of work, she has stated that she is biding her time, perfecting her craft, and picking up complementary skills such as playing instruments and songwriting. 2019 saw her release three singles including a duet with Afrobeat stalwart, Reekado Banks.
20-year-old South African R&B/Soul sensation, Elaine, has one project to her name but has appeared on Apple Music’s radar with Nadeska. To achieve this as an independent artist from the continent is no small feat.
The singer has struggled with being acknowledged as a South African artist due to her sound being likened to a more traditionally American one, a likely symptom of frequent comparison with her US counterparts.
Elaine’s argument is that those elements are not what make her authentic, rather the fact that she is South African is what does. Her simple lyrics convey her persona effortlessly, her soft-spokenness lends itself to her verses and she claims to use songwriting to processes her emotions – which shines through on the seven-song EP abundantly.
Elhi’s story is a bright spot for many up and comers in a year rife with uncertainty. 23-year-old Lagos based Afrobeat singer got his big break after being featured on a song by Starboy affiliate DJ Tunez. In-house Starboy producer, Mutay (one-half of Legendury Beatz) met with him at a recording camp in Lagos and they put together a five-song EP throughout the course of the program.
The “Eu4ria” EP has since garnered critical acclaim and placed the singer on quite a few watch-lists. The effort finds Elhi coasting from one vibe to another and Mutay providing the cushion for him to do so fluently.
This also serves to highlight the masterclass of joint tapes that have made their way out of the continent in recent times. Industry heavyweights left and right have cosigned the budding artist since and the biggest one came from none other than Wizkid. The real-time rise has been exciting to witness and it is clear why fans and critics alike impatiently await his next effort.
Tipped to be one of the artists to look out for in 2020 by publications like Native Mag, Afro-Fusion artist Omah Lay first caught major attention with the release of his DJ Spinall assisted single earlier this year. Over 600,000 streams later, he announced his debut EP slated for May and delivered “Get Layd”.
His heritage is also very important to him as he very clearly states through the highlife and R&B influences heard throughout the project. On the highlight of the EP, “Bad Infulence”, we find Omah slightly unhinged, declaring the damage that has been inflicted on him and how much of it is his fault.
With brazen lyrics and raw honesty that is rarely seen in the genre, it is clear how well rounded he is. He has drawn similar comparisons to Burna Boy and has been said to be reminiscent of Wizkid in his early stages. The singer/songwriter/producer comes from Port_Harcourt, the oil-rich Southern Nigeria state that spawned Burna Boy and Duncan Mighty.
An artist that needs little introduction. Formerly known as Ms D, the Ivor Novello nominee has been responsible for multi-platinum selling records and chart-topping singles. Mostly by the power of her pen and in some cases, with her voice too. Going by a new moniker though, she is ready to penetrate a different scene nearly a decade later. The Afro R&B genre. Recording an album cut with Nigerian soul singer Adekunle Gold might have been just the push the singer/songwriter needed to begin the process.
The song “Down with You” opened her up to a relatively new audience and instantly established her as a vocalist to contend within Nigeria. Dyo has since gone on to release her debut EP “Dyologue” earlier this year. Rife with guitar and African percussion, strong harmonies, and fitting lyrics, standout single “Arena” has already received the remix treatment from frequent collaborator Adekunle Gold and promises to be a summer sleeper (provided we still have one).
Two years after first appearing on the scene, Oxlade can comfortably claim to be an established artist. The amount of groundwork involved makes it clear how different paths can provide the same outcome. First achieving mass attention after appearing alongside Blaqbonez on his single “Mamiwota” two years ago, he started to create his own buzz and fan base simultaneously. Singles with Melvitto, Afro Nation and DJ Tunez helped maintain his momentum and earlier this year he finally let go of his debut EP, “Oxygene”. Initially released to mixed reviews, the EP has nonetheless provided the standout single “Away”. An upbeat Afropop ballad, the song finds Oxlade serenading a love interest with dreams of a foreign place they have not yet explored.
However, the most emotionally evoking point in the project is found on the outro that features Moelogo, “Tables Turn”. His grandmother says a few prayers in his favor and the significance is resounding. Considering the fact that Oxlade is not a songwriter, it goes to show just how much of his genuineness he invokes on each record he makes.
Bad Boy Timz
Made popular through a series of online skits and freestyles, Bad Boy Timz was signed to the indigenous label, Anonymous Music, in his first year out.
He proceeded to put out an EP in 2019 and followed with a slew of hit singles namely “MJ” and “Complete Me” shortly after. The catchy Afrobeat hit “MJ” has garnered about half a million total streams and has shown no signs of slowing down. With predominantly traditional Afrobeat production, he succeeds at creating memorable moments on each record.
On his eponymous EP, his standout with Zlatan titled “Hustle” is a feel-good anthem fueled by upbeat percussion and strong jazz elements, channeling early high-life energy. Armed with the access to top-shelf producers, Timz has an impeccable sense for beat selection to perfectly complement his humorous sound.
Most people started to take notice of Buju after his breakout single “Spiritual”. However, his actual break came earlier, through a video that went viral with him singing on a boat. That was the snippet for his second major single “Commander”. The Afro-fusion artist might have the best use of the internet of any of the artists listed here. Going viral successfully not once, but twice. All completely organic. His single “Spiritual” went viral in the same breath as “Commander”.
He posted a video of a snippet and Zlatan Ibile took notice and hopped on the song, effectively opening up 2019 for Buju in so many ways. Burna Boy’s record label, Spaceship Entertainment eventually took notice of the budding act and signed him to a deal earlier this year. This coincided with him releasing the remix of another one of his singles, “Lenu”. Multiple multinational record labels had allegedly courted him before deciding on his current deal.
Emotive Afrobeat crooner instantly grabs your attention with his vocal texture and hyper-realistic lyrics. He interpolates satire to paint a picture of the Nigerian situation in a manner that is not exclusive but is understated. With relatable songwriting and contemporary Afrobeat production, Bella Shmurda’s style is unique, his use of Fuji and Yoruba folk elements create an incredible sonic blend that carries through on his latest project titled “High Tension”.
His breakout single “Vision 2020” was responsible for putting him on multiple stages last year in Lagos. The remix with Nigerian rap icon, Olamide, was a major cosign that set 2020 in motion for him. Strong storytelling is an important part of his skillset and it shines through on all his records. “Vision 2020” finds him tackling socio-political issues from a first-person perspective.
He constantly bares his soul throughout the EP, touching on credit card fraud in the same breath as his pregnant girlfriend. His high profile feature alongside Runtown and Darko Vibes shows that he is not scared of having a good time either. He displays a range and versatility very few of his peers can.