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The New Guard of Nigerian Musicians

By Joey Akan

 
 

As the unofficial creative hub of Nigeria, Lagos is home to more than 20 million people — and on any regular day in the city, it can feel as though a large part of the population consists of musicians jostling for a shot at success. Afrobeats, as contemporary African music is classified in foreign spaces, is gaining more recognition as an influential genre, as homegrown stars like Wizkid, Burna Boy and Davido are beginning to experience commercial success Stateside. (Both Wizkid and Burna Boy contributed to the recent Beyoncé-produced “Lion King” album.) Here, T rounds up five of the city’s emerging talents.

Stephen TayoBlaqbonez wears a Valentino shirt, $1,250, and pants, $1,250.
Blaqbonez wears a Valentino shirt, $1,250, and pants, $1,250.

A fixture of Lagos’s underground hip-hop scene, Akumefule Chukwu-Emeka, a.k.a. Blaqbonez, has been making music since 2011, when he improvised a rap verse as a challenge to one-up a friend. In retrospect, it wasn’t his best work, the Imo State native admits, but he won the battle all the same. He’s since grown into one of Nigeria’s most outspoken rappers, often using his socialmedia channels to declare himself the best rapper in Africa and even going so far to drop a diss track in July with that distinction as its title — or “BRIA,” for short. (He also previously marketed his single “Mamiwota” with a series of videos that each began as either popular songs or funny viral clips, before switching midway into his material.)

Chukwu-Emeka, 24, has already released eight EPs and mixtapes that blend a variety of genres like West African highlife, emo and trap; his go-to themes include love, the joys of being young and what it means to struggle in the music industry without funding. “For me, once I hear the instrumental, that is my entire creative process,” he tells T. “I feel like there is a second me, writing and taking notes from life, and mental notes of what is happening. Everything just comes out from that other guy.” Chukwu-Emeka is currently at work on a new EP, “Mr. Boombastic,” scheduled to drop in October. It will introduce a hyper-hedonistic alter ego and draw from Caribbean-influenced sounds.

Stephen TayoWavy the Creator wears a Versace shirt, price on request, similar styles at versace.com, and Moschino Couture pants, $525.
Wavy the Creator wears a Versace shirt, price on request, similar styles at versace.com, and Moschino Couture pants, $525.

Jennifer Ejoke, a.k.a. Wavy the Creator, started to perform on the Lagos music scene in 2017. At the time, she was already known as the designer behind the fashion brand Azif and as the personal photographer and videographer to the Nigerian rap star Olamide. But Ejoke surprised many by branching into a recording career when she released her debut single, “H.I.G.H (Her in Greater Heights).” The auto-tuned Afro-house hit earned her an invitation to open for the British rapper Skepta and his Boy Better Know crew at the 2018 Homecoming Africa concert, where she performed alongside the Afrobeats stars Wizkid and Davido. Soon after, she signed to Disturbing London, the entertainment company co-founded by the British rapper Tinie Tempah. (And when she isn’t in the studio or onstage, she still shoots videos for other musicians and brand commercials.)

Regularly referring to herself as “the Nigerian alien,” Ejoke, 26, claims a devout following of anti-establishment young creatives who regard her edgy fashion and synth-heavy music as a protest against convention. “Everywhere I have been to, everything that I have been a part of, I always felt like the odd one out,” she says, mentioning her time spent living in Houston, London and Kansas City, Mo., an experience she believes provided her with varied influences that she taps into when creating. “Either I’m different or doing something different.” Her latest single, “Body Deep,” released in July, is worlds apart from the dominant local sounds and features a flirtatious duet with the Nigerian musician Tiwa Savage. Ejoke plans to drop her debut EP by year’s end.

Stephen TayoFireboy DML wears Bottega Veneta pants, $4,300.
Fireboy DML wears Bottega Veneta pants, $4,300.

Adedamola Adefolahan, or Fireboy DML, started to perform as part of his local church choir in Abeokuta, Ogun State. His breakthrough came in 2018, with “Jealous,” a song about love and the complicated feelings that go along with it, which infuses African harmonies with aspects of country and soul. “I like to write my songs from a more relatable approach,” says Adefolahan, 23, who describes his personal sound as “Afro-Life.” “They are everyday topics, but I approach them from emotional angles. That’s why it stands out.” He lists the American singer Jon Bellion, the English musician Passenger and the Nigerian pop star Wande Coal as key contemporary influences — the first two for the “honesty in their lyrics,” Adefolahan says, and the latter for his “pristine vocals and the soul in his melody.”

Although he has only two well-known singles and his debut album isn’t due out until next year, Adefolahan has already earned comparisons to more established performers, such as Adekunle Gold and Maleek Berry, both synonymous with Nigerian pop. Adefolahan calls the entire experience thus far surreal. “All of this growth is unexpected,” he says. “But I am loving it, and I am on a good run. Let’s see what happens.”

Stephen TayoOdunsi (The Engine) wears a Balenciaga shirt, $2,390, and pants, $795.
Odunsi (The Engine) wears a Balenciaga shirt, $2,390, and pants, $795.

The Lagos-born Bowofoluwa Olufisayo Odunsi dropped out of a Ghanaian university in 2015 because of his struggle with A.D.H.D. and soon ended up in a recording studio in Accra, where he experimented with beats pulled from ’80s and ’90s funk music. His debut album, “Rare.,” released in October 2018, defies categorisation, hopping between dance-worthy pop and quieter ballads. On the syrupy track “Star Signs,” featuring the Afrobeats star Runtown, Odunsi fuses classic highlife melodies with auto-tuned verses about falling in love. “My process is really just vibes,” says Odunsi, 23. “I get inspired by real-life and online conversations. I create music to represent you, living in time, living young, free and with the ability to document your moments.”

In the past year, Odunsi has also gained recognition as a key figure in his country’s growing Alté scene, a youth movement known for embracing individuality and bending genres in the music and fashion worlds. Most recently, the Warner Music-signed performer collaborated with the British singer Raye on the swinging pop song “Tipsy,” elevating him to the international stage. “I’m a young Nigerian, and it’s already hard being from here and making it,” he says. “What encourages me is that the world is big enough for me to shine through, connect with people and see the bigger picture.”