But all that has changed this year, now it’s the album market.
Despite being an album market, the year also produced an incredible amount of quality albums. 2017 might have been good for albums in Nigeria, but it has nothing on 2020. Arguably, not since 2009-2010 has Nigeria seen this ridiculous level of quality album releases – that includes EPs.
Partly inspired by the idleness afforded by the COVID-19 lockdown and the allure of generating numbers of music streaming, Nigerian artists got to work and consistently produced one quality album after another. While the market did seem saturated at different points, the MVPs of Nigerian music in 2020 are Nigerian artists.
Kudos to you guys for putting in the work and ensuring that we went back into being an album market in 2020. But sadly, we can only pick 10 of these albums on Pulse Nigeria’s list.
Here is the criteria for the picks;
- Year in review: December 2019 – November 30, 2020
- EPs with at least 5 tracks and at least 14 minutes long are considered albums because of reasons we have previously stated.
- Quality – the major criteria.
- Impact and commercial success – advantage.
Quality albums that deserve to be on the list but have been dropped for one reason or the other, after intense conversations in the Pulse Nigeria HQ.
Tems – For Broken Ears
The Cavemen – ROOTS
Ignis Brothers – Cost of Our Lives
Paybac – CULT!
MI Abaga and AQ – The Live Report
Basketmouth – Yabasi
Without ado, here is Pulse Nigeria’s list of the top 10 Nigerian albums of 2020;
10) AQ – God’s Engineering
AQ featuring Oxlade – Feel Am. (Cordless)
AQ has been Nigeria’s most relatable rap story in the last 10 years. At the start of the last decade, he released his debut album, Past, Present and Future to mixed acceptance from the industry due to his divisive personality. Nonetheless, he sold 5,000 copies of the album.
By the end of the decade, he was named Lyricist on The Roll at the 2019 Headies. God’s Engineering is yet another impressive album from AQ who keeps improving in his veteran days. When lists of the greatest Nigerian rappers are being made, AQ’s name will definitely be considered by fair, informed curators.
With a title inspired by a Jay Z line, God’s Engineering is billed to be AQ’s last album. On it, he got honest with vivid truths on its opener, ‘Intro-vert,’ highlighted his greatest on ‘NEPA,’ spoke about women on ‘Zodiac Sign’ and discussed his careers on ‘No Pensions.’ He then went more surgical on ‘Men Slept, Jesus Wept.’
The album also got a nomination for Best Rap Album at the 2020 Headies.
9) Simi – Restless II
Simi releases 6-track EP, ‘Restless II.’ (Platoon)
In terms of quality, Restless II is one of the best bodies of work that Nigeria has seen in 2020. After the release of her third album, Omo Charlie Champagne which slightly sailed under the radar, Simi came back with something more resonant.
After opening 2020 as one of Nigeria’s most dominant artists with two smash hits, ‘Know You’ with LadiPoe and ‘Duduke,’ Nigeria’s heartthrob of 2020, she backed it up with a project which the young Nigerian can relate with. Conceptually, it tells the story of a mistimed love affair, which suffers from bad communication and ego.
The story stems from a friends with benefits situation.
Cover art of Wizkids 14 track studio album Made In Lagosb [Premium Times]
After lots of postponements and teasers, Nigerian superstar and young OG, Wizkid finally released Made In Lagos. Due to the uncertainty around Wizkid pre-release, the album was Wizkid’s most important body of work since he launched onto the scene as Banky W’s protege.
When the album dropped, it was still slightly polarizing – in part due to rival stan venom, but the album is by far Wizkid’s most cohesive body of work. In fact, it’s Nigeria’s most sonically cohesive album of 2020. Wizkid’s age, journey and standing in life are central to the album’s creation.
It excelled on features, gave fans anthems and signalled Wizkid’s extended run of superstardom. In many ways, ‘Made In Lagos’ is to Wizkid what ‘Unstoppable: International Edition’ is to 2baba.
7) Adekunle Gold – Afro-pop Vol. 1
‘Afro Pop Vol. 1’ is Adekunle Gold’s best album yet. (EMI)
Adekunle Gold was coming off the back of About 30, a polarizing album. In fact, he was getting feedback that his previous style wasn’t exactly sustainable. Not that he cared, but his evolution was already in the locker, he just needed the appropriate time to unleash it.
The culmination of this phase of Adekunle Gold’s evolution came is ‘Afro pop Vol. 1.’ The album isn’t exactly topically cohesive, but it created an experience in futuristic Afro-pop music, by borrowing from different elements of classic Afro-pop and merging them with Electronic chops.
The result are eclectic songs like ‘Okay’ and ‘AG Baby,’ which are some of Nigeria’s most sonically experiential songs of 2020. In hindsight, this album should have been titled AG Baby, not ‘Afro pop Vol. 1.’
6.) Omah Lay – Get Layd
Omah Lay – Get Layd. (Twitter/Omah_Lay)
At the start of 2020, Omah Lay was simply a Port Harcourt transplant with his debut EP on a Soundcloud private link. When he released ‘You,’ he started gaining buzz and then the lockdown hit.
While everybody was panicking and reeling from the effects of adapting to limited mobility, radio and streaming platforms latched onto Omah Lay’s music with promotion.
What followed was a focus on the positives of his debut EP, Get Layd. As a body of work, ‘Get Layd’ isn’t the most exceptional body of work out there.
However, it’s good enough and it’s impact is even greater. What would 2020 be without Omah Lay? Nothing. Before the year was over, ‘Get Layd’ clocked up more than 150 million streams across all platforms and birthed a sequel, What Have We Done.
5.) Fireboy – Apollo
Fireboy DML – Apollo. [YBNL]
First off, Laughter, Tears and Goosebumps was still going strong when Fireboy decided to release Apollo. Arguments will rage on about the timing of ‘Apollo,’ but there is no doubt that it’s a quality album. Once you get past the uncertain opening few tracks, the album comes alive after its fifth track.
With it, Fireboy’s maturity as an artist shone through. It was also a well-hatched project which projects the density of Fireboy’s brand. The album then sealed Fireboy’s position as a genuine star of African music as he avoided a sophomore slump, which many feared.
Off the album and thanks to EMPIRE, ‘Champion’ was used as a soundtrack to Bayern Munich’s treble celebrations on YouTube. The album still doesn’t have a definitive hit record, but it’s numbers have been ludicrous.
4.) Olamide – Carpe Diem
Olamide features Fireboy, Omah Lay and more on new 10th solo album, ‘Carpe Diem.’ (YBNL/EMPIRE)
In January 2020, Olamide released 999 EP, which wasn’t a good body of work. When he announced his deal with label services company, EMPIRE, he announced new albums for both him and Fireboy.
He released ‘Eru’ and ‘Green Light’ and then another album, Carpe Diem. While the album was released during an uncertain patch for the Nigerian legend, he swiftly destroyed any doubts after people listened to the immensely curated, well-sequenced and properly produced album.
An OG of Nigerian media called it “The Lagos Nawa’ that worked.” On it, Olamide is laid back as he creates by his own rules. His lines are substantial and his topics are resonant. He is both open and honest about sensitive topics. His cosign also went some way for rookies like Bella Shmurda and Bad Boy Timz.
At the end of the year, ‘Loading’ looks set to be a smash hit.
3.) Chike – Boo of The Booless
Chike marks Valentine’s Day with debut album, ‘Boo of The Booless.’ (Twitter/Ogagus)
After years in the talent show circuit and an ill-fated spell of terrible utilization by Universal Music Group, Chike got into his bag as an independent artist. Brother to Syemca, he tapped Nigerian A&R and PR Exec, Ogaga Sakpaide to A&R the album.
At the listening party for the album, Chike boxed his way onto the stage as shock value and an exercise of his vocal chords. With questionable artwork, Chike and his team engaged anti-marketing with their choice for album title, Boo of The Booless.
What followed was an effortless resonance with the Nigerian audience as Chike racked up millions of streams with no backing. In terms of actual quality, only Brymo’s stupendous album, Yellow surpasses ‘Boo of The Booless.’ Chike’s songwriting is also as impeccable as his amazing vocals.
The result is an album that could become a classic.
2.) Brymo – Yellow
Brymo releases seventh studio album, ‘Yellow.’ (Twitter/BrymOlawale)
In terms of overall album quality and listening experience, Yellow is Nigeria’s best album of 2020. In fact, it might just be Brymo’s best album yet, surpassing Merchants, Dealers and Slaves – which many believe to be his magnus opus.
Since the turn of the last decade, Brymo has churned out one quality album after another. In terms of bodies of work, Brymo will be considered one of Nigeria’s greatest artists ever, by the time he retires. But on Yellow, Brymo produces music that one cannot quality.
It was a mind-blowing experience, carried by the purity of music production conjured by MikkyMe Joses. The three-part study of love, society and self is delivered in conceptual English, Pidgin and Yoruba. ‘Yellow’ sees Brymo get in his element as his delivery gets scary. In fact, it gets to a level where one questions Brymo’s humanity.
The music is so eclectic, yet so visibly easy for Brymo. It feels like he’d been warming up for this moment all his life and when the opportunity presents itself, Brymo absolutely immolates the moments with timeless music. There is no doubt in this writer’s mind that this album will be considered a classic.
On songs like ‘Ozymandias’ and ‘A Feedu Faana,’ it feels like Brymo is flying in the hair with no engineered aid. Nobody should be allowed to write that well. It was a travesty that he didn’t get a songwriter of the year nomination at the 2020 Headies.
1) Burna Boy – Twice As Tall
Burna Boy releases new album, ‘Twice As Tall.’ (Instagram/BurnaBoy)
Like Brymo, Burna Boy has a cult of personality that many people sometimes perceive as problematic. The difference between Yellow and Twice As Tall is the impact that Burna Boy has been able to garner. After African Giant, ‘Twice As Tall’ was a Grammy move.
Many – including this writer – got scared that Burna Boy might be forcing the issue at the expense of quality music. However, the Nigerian superstar responded in scary fashion – with yet another quality album for the ages. In fact, that was his third quality body of work in succession and that put him in some elite class of artists.
In terms of personality reflection, ‘Twice As Tall’ is peerless. Burna Boy fought, he won with quality music and now, one hopes he gets his Grammy dream.
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