To match their efforts, streaming platforms are making inroads into the country and needed figures across the ecosystem are taking shape to solve structural problems.
But amidst it all, there was music – great music. Music that made mothers get off their sets, that made women fall in love, that made grown men cry, that mended broken hearts, served as accomplice for spliff moments, soundtracked protests and set clubs on fire.
Some artists have been more consistent than others while others added bodies of work to cement their place. With streaming platforms still unable to boast of a combined two million subscribers in a country of 200 million, we can’t rely on streaming numbers for this list.
These are Pulse Nigeria’s picks for the hottest Nigerian artists of 2020.
Here is our criteria;
- Year in review: December 2019 – November 30, 2020
- Artists who consistently produced heat on singles.
- Commercial success
- Albums are an advantage
Without ado, here is Pulse Nigeria’s list of the top 10 Nigerian artists of 2020;
10.) Tiwa Savage
Notable releases: Koroba, Dangerous Love
Nigerian music star Tiwa Savage [Instagram/TiwaSavage]
After a lukewarm 2019, Tiwa Savage entered 2020 with ‘Dangerous Love’ as a tone-setter. She then followed it up with ‘Koroba’ and then ‘Temptation’ featuring Sam Smith. Her album, Celia followed and then, a video for the politically-charged ‘Ole’ featuring Naira Marley. She was also nominated for a MOBO Award, MTV Africa Music Awards and a couple of Headies.
2021 should be interesting for ‘Mummy Jam Jam.’
Notable releases: Beamer (Bad Boy), Ginger Me, Woman
Unlike 2019, Rema didn’t release any body of work in 2020. However, he started 2020 with a double release of ‘Alien’ and ‘Beamer (Bad Boy)’ with Rvssian. He also featured on Manny Norte’s single, ‘4 Am,’ got a ‘Dumebi (Remix)’ with Becky G topped TikTok’s charts of the top Nigerian songs in Q2 2020.
He then released a double header in ‘Ginger Me’ and ‘Woman,’ with both songs piercing through the Nigerian mainstream. His growing power was felt during the ‘date’ he tried to organize amongst his biggest fans. His Twitter rant shut social media down for a day and his haircut trended on the go.
He seems to have slowed down over the past few months, but his moments in the first three quarters of 2020 land him on this list. He got Headies nominations yet again and was nominated for Best International Act at the 2020 MOBO Awards. He was also nominated for the Best New International Act at the 2020 BET Awards.
Notable releases: Tattoo, ELI
Fireboy to release new album in this month. (YBNL)
Laughter, Tears and Goosebumps was still going strong when Fireboy chose to release his sophomore album, ‘Apollo.’ Thankfully, the album worked and worked amazingly. While Fireboy didn’t really have a smash hit single in 2020, he transcended that side of his music and became an all-rounder.
He also dished out fire on features for Reminisce, Cuppy, Peruzzi and more.
At the 2020 Headies, he was the most nominated artist with nine nominations. He also got a nomination for Best African Act at the 2020 MOBO Awards.
Notable releases: Smile, No Stress
Album: Made In Lagos
Cover art of Wizkids 14 track studio album Made In Lagosb [Premium Times]
‘Baba Bolu’ ended 2019 with a very bad EP, Soundman Vol. 1. After a string of DJ Tunez-aided experiments as well as a feature on Blaq Jerzee’s single, ‘Arizona,’ Wizkid returned with the beautiful song, ‘Smile’ featuring Grammy winner, H.E.R.
What followed was Made In Lagos. The success of the album – both critically and commercially – reaffirmed Wizkid’s status while it further cemented his greatness. The album debuted at No. 80 on the Billboard 200 and in the top 10 of Spotify’s global albums charts – the same week as Taylor Swift and Sam Smith.
He had a listening party for the album on Capital Xtra, led an EndSARS protest in London, had a three-hour YouTube Special programme which positioned Afrobeats in a different light, had numerous Headies nominations, won the Best African Act at the just concluded MOBO Awards, won yet another Soul Train Award alongside Beyonce and looks to have bagged a Grammy nomination for ‘Brown Skin Girl.’
Notable releases: Wonma, Triumphant, Infinity, Loading
Pulse Interview: The constant evolution of a legend. (Instagram/Olamide)
Olamide started 2020 with a shock announcement of 999 EP. He then followed it up with the announcement of his deal with EMPIRE Distribution and immediately announced another album for himself. When he released ‘Eru’ and ‘Green Light,’ both singles didn’t exactly breakthrough as they could have.
But by the time Carpe Diem dropped, it became apparent that bangers were coming. ‘Triumphant’ set the tone for Bella Shmurda’s current form, the social media sensation, ‘Infinity’ featuring Omah Lay and ‘Loading’ featuring Bad Boy Timz. To be honest, ‘Loading’ has only just gotten started.
Notable release: Know You by LadiPoe, Duduke
Album: Restless II EP
Simi says Nigerians don’t need any rep to dialogue with government [Instagram/SymplySimi]
Simi would be higher up this list solely on the strength of ‘Know You’ and ‘Duduke’ alone. But the momentum of both songs slowed down by Q3 and Q4 2020. While she did release an amazing EP, Restless II in Q3, it didn’t exactly produce any hits. ‘Be There For You’ is taking off on social platforms, but it’s only just started.
Nonetheless, Simi’s 2020 has been a ludicrous run despite having a baby and being out of the country since January. Her participation handed LadiPoe his first smash hit record and ‘Duduke’ became an anthem on the streets of Nigeria – possibly Nigeria’s biggest song of 2020.
She also announced a deal with Platoon and got Headies nominations. How she didn’t get a MOBO Award nomination is still a mystery to many people.
4.) Burna Boy
Notable releases: Odogwu, Monsters You Made, Real Life
Albums: Twice As Tall
Burna Boy (Instagram/Burna Boy)
Burna Boy didn’t come into 2020 to make Nigerian hits and that’s apparent. How that will reflect on his career long term is something that we’ll have to await. Nonetheless, he remains Odogwu, though his single of the same name didn’t exactly succeed as expected.
What we do know is that Burna Boy’s 2020 changed after he lost a Grammy category to Angelique Kidjo.
His moves since then have not been geared towards the Nigerian market. Even his singles are not exactly geared toward acceptance in Nigeria. ‘Wonderful,’ his Telz-produced single was lukewarm. What he got right was the overall quality of Twice As Tall, his third straight critically-acclaimed body of work.
Throughout the year, he has also copped accolades at the Headies, Best International Act at the BET Awards for a second consecutive time, Best International Act at the MOBO Awards and yet another Grammy nomination.
Notable releases: Geng, Of Lagos, Betty Butter
Davido, Olamide, Rema, Mayorkun perform at Kizz Daniel Live . (Pulse Nigeria)
At some point in 2020, it felt like Mayorkun would be the hottest Nigerian act of 2020 and he could have, if he had released a body of work at the turn of the lockdown. He opened the year in clearly confident fashion as a young artist who had shed off the final vestiges of his young self. He took on the appearance of a man.
His experimentation with the Grime track, ‘Geng’ showed a man who was ready. He followed it up with yet another experimental effort in ‘Of Lagos.’ He followed that up with ‘Betty Butter’ and ‘Your Body.’ But more importantly, Mayorkun became the most potent feature of 2020 in Nigerian music.
He had matured into an artist who can consistently dominate as a feature while also guaranteeing visibility through streams. He did that for Davido, Bad Boy Timz, Lil Frosh, Chike, Jamopyper, DJ Kaywise, ECool and more. His game got tighter and he went from a B-list artist into one who started showing A-list traits.
Notable releases: FEM
Album: A Better Time
Davido – A Better Time. (Sony)
At the start of 2020, Davido was on tour until COVID-19 hit. He was then cooped up in his house, crafting A Better Time. What followed was ‘FEM,’ a diss song to Burna Boy which ended up becoming Nigeria’s anthem for EndSARS protests. How that happened, nobody knows.
He also released ‘Jowo,’ but the release of its video falls outside the year-in-review. Davido also featured on ‘Betty Butter’ by Mayorkun, ‘Barawo (Remix)’ for Ajebo Hustlers, ‘Maserati (Remix)’ for Ola Kira and more. He also released ‘So Crazy’ with Lil Baby, but that didn’t exactly breakthrough.
At the tail end of 2019, his singles, ‘Risky’ and ‘Sweet In The Middle’ started catching fire. He also released a video for ‘1 Milli’ earlier this year. At the 2020 MOBO Awards, he was nominated for Best African Act while he got yet another Artist of the Year nod at the 2020 Headies.
He covered Billboard alongside Tiwa Savage and Mr. Eazi while he also appeared in a programme for the Grammys.
1.) Omah Lay
Notable releases: Bad Influence, You, Lo Lo, Damn, Godly
Omah Lay was arrested alongside Tems in Uganda for flouting covid-19 guidelines [Instagram/OmahLay]
It’s very rare to be named MVP in your rookie season, but it looks like Omah Lay literally pulled a Steve Nash-esque or Kobe Bryant-esque rookie season off. He’s literally playing in the all-star game, winning slam dunk contests and shooting threes without blinking.
With ‘Damn’ and the current Slo Mo Challenge on Instagram, TikTok and Triller, Omah Lay is set to win the all-star game MVP.
With ‘Godly’ and ‘What Have We Done EP,’ he looks set to win the slam dunk contest. Everywhere you look, Omah Lay is winning. In the Nigerian mainstream, he’s winning and gaining stans – same with social media. On radio, he gets slammed almost more than any Nigerian artist at this point. On streaming platforms, his music is visibly well-positioned.
At the end of 2020, ‘Bad Influence’ became the most streamed Nigerian song on Apple Music. For a kid that was basically unknown until February 2020, he heavily used the lockdown to his advantage. ‘You’ looked like the winner, until he ran away with ‘Bad Influence.’ The sky remains his starting point right now because he doesn’t look like slowing down.
From all indications, he is set to be named Next Rated at the 2020 Headies.
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