The dominance of AfroR&B and Hip-Hop in the first-half of 2020 Nigerian music is telling [Opinion]

The future Nigerian pop will be multifaceted with a lot of influences and that will represent the current reality we live in.
The dominance of AfroR&B and Hip-Hop in the first-half of 2020 Nigerian music is telling. (100 Crowns/Bhad Guys/Chocolate City/MusicInAfrica/Banku)
As 2018 drew to a close, Zanku took over from Shaku Shaku to become the 2.0 version of Nigerian street sound. However, all the sensible industry watchers knew it was not going to last. Make no mistake, Zanku has not died by any means – ‘Of Lala’ is a zanku song and it’s one of the hottest Nigerian songs at the moment – but something else is happening.
Since the turn of 2019, AfroR&B or simply Afro&B has become more of a mainstay in the Nigerian soundscape. Before 2019, acts like Simi, Adekunle Gold and even bigger acts like Wizkid, Davido, Olamide, Tiwa Savage and Burna Boy made AfroR&B, but the consistency of its success since 2019 is telling.
Acts like Fireboy, Joeboy, Omah Lay, Simi, Adekunle Gold and more are churning out love-themed numbers with more regularity. In fact, it seems 80% of the ‘commercial songs’ in the Nigeria mainstream since the turn of the year have been AfroR&B.
What is AfroR&B?
R&B simply means rhythm and blues. Built on slower, more methodical rhythms and production is love-themed music – the blues. In Nigerian music, we have foreign-sounding R&B music from acts like Tay Iwar, Asa and sometimes, Brymo. However, there’s an offshoot of that sound that is built on slower, sometimes folksy rhythm.
The music is topically built on love-sex-affection and the beat is slower versions of Afro-pop. Now, a song like ‘On Top Your Matter’ is a love song, but it’s not AfroR&B because its beat is fast-paced. A song like ‘Aye’ by Davido, ‘Joromi’ by Simi or ‘Fever’ by Wizkid are AfroR&B despite having commercial value.
So in essence, AfroR&B stands for Afro-rhythm and blues. Afro&B might be a better, more concise description for the genre though. The Afro will just replace the rhythm – anyone who hears the rhythm knows its Afro. So, Afro&B.
Back to our discussion
While Nigerian music has still not seen a hit in 2020, 80% of the most popular songs are Afro&B songs. The year opened with Chike’s album, Boo of The Booless, an independently released album with immense success. It took over from the groundbreaking Afro&B Fireboy’s album, Laughter, Tears and Goosebumps.
Since then, we have seen Brymo’s Yellow and Oxlade’s Oxygene become successful albums with Afro&B elements – wholly or in parts. ‘Know You’ by LadiPoe and Simi and ‘Duduke’ by Simi are the biggest songs in the country right now – they are Afro&B songs. However, ‘Know You’ is more a dance-pop/Hip-Hop/Sung-rap song with Afro influences.
Others like ‘Nobody’ by DJ Neptune, Joeboy and Mr. Eazi are slightly fast-paced, but it’s still within the realms of Afro&B. The same goes for ‘Call’ by Joeboy, ‘Options’ by Reekado Banks and Parker Ighile, ‘Again’ by Wande Coal, ‘Love Nwantiti (Remix)’ by Ckay and ‘Mi Casa, Su Casa’ by Korede Bello.
On a list of the top 10 Nigerian songs on TikTok published by Pulse Nigeria, six of the songs are Afro&B songs. Mr. Eazi recently released his four-track EP, One Day You Will Understand and it is filled with Afro&B songs. Other acts like Peruzzi, Naya Akanji and more have released Afro&B projects. But Afro&B is not alone.
Hip-Hop is having a great 2020
On April 7, 2020, Ehis Ohunyon, former Music Editor at Pulse Nigeria and Femi Olape wrote an article titled, “How Nigerian Hip-Hop is making a home run that could lead it back to its golden era.” The article starts with an interesting build up of how Nigerian Hip-Hop had a golden era between 2007 and 2010.
It then goes into details of the music. It rightly pegs the 2017 MI Abaga song, ‘You Rappers Should Fix Up Your Lives’ as a turning point. It also rightly endorses the sub-mainstream efforts of Show Dem Camp in making something possible.
Since the turn of the year, Hip-Hop has had it strong. ‘Geng’ by Mayorkun is a rap song that has become one of the biggest Nigerian songs of 2020. ‘Of Lagos’ by Mayorkun also has Hip-Hop influences. ‘Bop Daddy’ by Falz and Ms Banks is one of the biggest Nigerian songs of 2020.
Some of the best Nigerian albums of 2020 have been Hip-Hop; The Live Report by MI Abaga and AQ, God’s Engineering by AQ, Judah EP by MI Abaga and CULT! by Paybac. In the same vein, Olamide has released 999, iLLBliss has released IllyChapoX and more albums have dropped.
In the niche markets, trap is making a case to be recognized with quality projects from Laycon, Kiienka, Maison2500 and more. It’s actually noteworthy that Odunsi’s impressive EP, Everything You Heard Is True is heavily influenced by Hip-Hop. Vector also released an impressive four-track voice poem, The African Mind.
The Monster Verse by AQ and 100 Crowns has also contributed heavily to everything related to that. A lot of people might disagree, but the 2019 beef between MI Abaga and Vector contributed to the reawakening of Nigerian Hip-Hop by giving it a jolt and mainstream attention.
On the production side, Beats By Jayy has probably been the most recognizable Nigerian music producer of 2020 so far. On a list of the most-used Nigerian song of 2020 on TikTok, four songs on the list are Hip-Hop songs or songs with heavy Hip-Hop influences.
‘Know You’ by LadiPoe and Simi is another one of the biggest Nigerian songs of 2020. It’s also the most popular Nigerian song on TikTok. Depending on who you ask, it’s a Hip-Hop song or a dance-pop song with Hip-Hop influences. While a song can be more than one genre, what matters is that Hip-Hop is there.
In the top three of that list, two of the songs are Hip-Hop songs. The second one is ‘Bop Daddy’ by Falz featuring Ms Banks.
Why is this happening?
Over the past 18 months, the Nigerian music scene has been in a furtive state of uncertainty. The formula for straight success in Nigerian pop has all but vanished and we are seeing the first major change of guard in 10 years. The last major change of guard Nigerian music saw before the one in 2019 happened in 2010.
The 2010 change of guard ushered in Wizkid, Burna Boy, Davido, Olamide and Tiwa Savage. Before then, we could not really define anything as a change of guard in Nigerian music. In the 60’s and 70’s, different genres of Nigerian folk music were dominant alongside Fela’s afrobeat.
In the 80’s, folk and Afrobeat were joined by Reggae and Alternative/New sounds like rock, disco, post-disco and New Jack Swing. The era of modern Nigerian music started around 1997 with the rise of Kennis Music and all-boys movements. However, Nigeria didn’t really have a mainstream pop sound till the late 2000s. In those early days, Hip-Hop mostly inspired Nigerian mainstream songs.
R&B later found a home, but it was not until Timaya’s True Story, 9ice’s Gongo Aso and Wande Coal’s Mushin To Mo’hits that the Nigerian pop space found some form and semblance that Wizkid, Davido, Burna Boy, Olamide and Tiwa Savage found sounds to experiment and grow with.
Thus, when the new guard led by Rema, Zlatan, Naira Marley, Fireboy, Joeboy, Blaqbonez and in some way, Omah Lay came onto the scene, there was upheaval. The Nigerian pop space didn’t have a blueprint anymore as the pop blueprint of the prior nine years had expired.
The Zanku sound is having its time, but it’s not enough to pioneer anything. This lack of a recognizable sound is why Nigerian music is struggling to have a mainstream hit in 2020. People are enjoying the popular songs, but those songs lack the shock value effect of the pop sounds of yesteryears. Thus, the hit factor has been missing.
What does it mean?
Nigerian music will find its dominant pop sound again – either it has to borrow it from another country or find it by itself. Afro&B has come to stay and maybe even Hip-Hop – depend on its intensity and willingness to evolve and be more digestible. However, every soundscape in the world thrives on a mainstream pop sound.
The US currently has the return of electro-pop, trap music, EDM, Latin-pop and Dancehall to thank. The UK has Eurodance, Dubstep, EDM, Grime and Afroswing to thank. France has Hip-Hop, Trance, House and more. Europe has Eurodance, Hip-Hop, EDM, Trance and more. Asia has J-Pop, K-pop, Latin-pop and more to thank.
South Africa has its Amapiano sound – which took over from Gqom. Nigeria doesn’t have a worthy blueprint at the moment, but something tells this writer that Afro&B might have a role to play in that future.
In my opinion, this is a short window that passes by July 2021 – at its latest. I also think that the future Nigerian pop will be multifaceted with a lot of influences and that will represent the current reality we live in. The Nigerian soundscape is maturing with listening habits/palettes of the listeners also evolving. Thus, one thing will not satisfy the listeners.
In the same vein, it also means that Nigerian music will be more receptive to genres that have previously been niche/sub-mainstream in Nigerian music. Now, it’s Afro&B and Hip-Hop staking their claim. We will see more of these niche genres come to the fore as the 2020s open up. What’s next? Trap? AfroDM? Only time will tell.
These are interesting times. It’s quite akin to the birth of Marxism in the thick of Capitalism and Communism. For the smart acts in Hip-Hop, Afro&B, Afro&Soul, Alternative and more, it’s time to start positioning. Nigeria might find a pop sound, but the well-positioned niche acts will not be left behind.

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