Over the past decade, Nigeria’s dominance in the arts has been on a steady rise. Today, Nigeria’s influence is simply undeniable. Look around you: more and more people are talking or trying to talk pidgin.
Having made lists of the best American rappers, the best French rappers and the best Cameroonian urban artists, I’ve been champing at the bit to rank the best Nigerian pop artists. As usual, this ranking is entirely subjective. I did not use statistics to establish this list. I based myself mainly on my feelings and I put a particular emphasis on the artists who are shining right now. One other thing: I avoided including the deceased, so don’t come and bother me because your favourite legend is not in the list. Abeg!
Basically, I tried to provide an answer to the following situation: If I met an alien who confessed that he/she would like to discover Nigerian music, what are the ten names that I would recommend to him?
Today, I present to you, exclusively, the list I sent to Beyoncé when she told me that she was looking for the best Nigerian talent for her album The Lion King: The Gift 😜😜😜. Enjoy!
Patoranking is probably the least known artist on this list, but his talent is boundless. Unlike most of his peers, this former rat poison salesman is rather discreet and lets the music speak for him. His first album God over Everything was a masterpiece. I haven’t had time to listen to his second album (Wilmer) yet, but I’m sure it will live up to my expectations.
The YBLN Nation boss, the only rapper on this list, has been trucking for many years. He has managed to adapt to the new era and has succeeded at what few rappers are able to do: stay at the top in a continent where the audience prefers singers to rappers. Olamide’s popularity keeps on rising, and if the trend continues, he may be at the top of this ranking in the coming years.
Last year, Tekno had taken a break because of health concerns. Apparently, everything is better now since he seems to be back in the game. Good for him!
Tekno is a polyvalent artist: he sings, dances and makes beats. Let’s not forget that he was the one who revived Davido’s career when it was in the doldrums. Remember when the Son of Mercy EP flopped, who allowed Davido to get his career back on track? Tekno! Together, they worked on several songs, including “If“. With 87 million views on YouTube, “If” is one of Davido’s most popular songs.
- Maleek Berry
When I’m driving at night, I listen to Maleek Berry, because I know that his music will perk me up and keep me awake. I am actually convinced that his songs have saved my life several times.
One might feel that his stats don’t warrant his place on this list, but I have included him because his music has simply thrilled me over the past years. His two EPs Last Daze of Summer and First Daze of Winter were released a few years ago, but I still listen to them religiously.
- Tiwa Savage
Tiwa Savage has the knack of frustrating me. I always feel like she’s in the news for the wrong reasons. When she’s not involved in a petty beef (with a Yemi Alade or a Victoria Kimani), it is her love and sex life that is sparking social media debates. And she doesn’t seem to mind the gossip. On the contrary! She’s the one fanning the flames. (Wizkid’s “Fever” video is but one of many instances.)
Now that she has signed with a new record label, I hope that Tiwa Savage will finally put her all into the music instead of feeding the rumor mill. She is extremely talented, but that gets overshadowed by all the unsavory side matters. And it’s such as shame!
- Yemi Alade
The recent remix she put out with Rick Ross is so awful that I almost disqualified her. However, that would have been unfair. Yemi Alade is not only talented, but she is also a hard worker. In an industry that is mainly dominated by men, she has managed to make her mark without the help of a Don Jazzy or a Banky W. Yemi has built her career on her own.
Everything she owns today, she got it through blood, sweat and tears. She may not be the most popular artist in Nigeria, but the rest of Africa loves her. Why? It’s very simple: Yemi Alade doesn’t hesitate to open up to other cultures. When she does a song with Sauti Sol, she sings in Swahili. When she is featured on a Charlotte Dipanda number, she sings in Duala and French. These small things, which may seem insignificant, have endeared her to her African fans.
After “Johnny” launched her, the critics were quick to brand her a one-hit wonder. It’s been over five years and Yemi Alade is still churning hits. Respect!
- Mr Eazi
When Runtown’s “Mad Over You” was the biggest song out, Mr Eazi put out an infamous tweet that drew the wrath his fellow Nigerians.
Basically, asserting that present-day Nigerian music was indebted to the musical innovations from Ghana (rightly so) was a hard pill to swallow for his compatriots. In spite of a contentious relationship, Eazi remains one of the topmost artists in his country. The haters will do what they do best, but they still have to acknowledge his talent. Zagadat!
Davido is not a rapper. Davido is not the Nigerian singer who has the most beautiful voice, but he is surely the one who has the most hits. Since his burst on the scene, he’s been making us dance. Certainly, he had a slow period, just after he signed with Sony Music. His EP Son of Mercy was a monumental flop, but he didn’t let it keep him down and bounced back quite quickly and spectacularly.
I’m glad to see that he’s back on top. I just hope he’s improved his stage performances. A few years ago, I had the misfortune to attend one of his concerts in Nairobi, and I was extremely disappointed.
The King of Surulere should have been at the top of this ranking, but his performances over the past few years have left me wanting. Wizkid is super talented, and that’s probably why I hold him to a higher standard. Every time he releases a song, I want it to be at par with the likes of “Jaiye Jaiye” or “Ojuelegba”. When that isn’t the case, I am bitterly disappointed. My expectations are probably too high.
- Burna Boy
Burna has been my favorite Nigerian artist for some time now; had I done this list a couple of years ago, I wouldn’t have dared to put him in pole position given the few arguments at my disposal to justify such a decision. Now that Burna Boy has won a BET Award and is the only artist to have a solo song on Beyoncé’s new album, I can finally come out of the closet and say what I’ve had long held in my heart: Burna Boy is the best Nigerian artist!
Oluwa Burna has been at this for years. Of course, he had already achieved success thanks to hits like “Soke“, but it was the song “Ye” that really got him global recognition. The funny thing is that this success was largely accidental. In 2018, fans were looking to listen to Kanye West’s new album Ye and came across Burna’s song by chance. It was love at first listen! They fell in love with the song, and propelled the Port Harcourt singer to the top.
The funny thing about it is that “Ye” is not even Burna Boy’s best song. If you’re not familiar, take the time to discover him. This guy’s a genius!
What about you? What do you think of that? Do you agree with me? Give me your top 10 in the comments section.
The original opinion piece can be found on ‘Un lion parmi les hommes‘