With our fingers tightly crossed, these are some follow-up projects we're highly anticipating this year.
2020 was a tumultuous year for the world. Many deemed it unlikely that we would experience a global-level event that would bind us together more than our differences could pull us apart. Yet we did, and the world has found a way to keep moving.
Music was one of the few industries that did not stop going. Artists who were established pre-COVID had audiences in need — the pressure on debutantes became palpable. In easily one of the most memorable years in recent history, releasing music that wasn’t timeless simply wouldn’t pass. This led to the historic release of more music than we’ve ever received from these parts last year, including projects like Amaarae’s stunning The Angel You Don’t Know and Tiwa Savage’s femme-focused Celia. This inflow of impressive rollouts in 2020 has set the stage for a new album-heavy era in Afropop and hopefully more releases in 2021. It’s for this reason that we’ve compiled a list of follow-up projects we’re highly anticipating this year.
Some of the artists on the list below delivered projects last year, while some did in 2019. The one thing they all have in common is that they were all produced at the highest levels, leading to the high expectations surrounding their follow-up efforts.
The self-proclaimed leader of the Rebel Gang, Tems, is a first in many ways for Nigeria. A real-life maverick whose existence is living proof that breaking from the norm is the only way to go. The singer/songwriter released her debut EP late last year to instant critical and commercial acclaim.
Her impressive vocal ability has seen her garner one of the most loyal fan bases the country has seen in a minute. Coming off an incredible run in the early half of the year, she appeared on several high-profile singles leading up to her first project’s release. One of her credits was alongside the British production duo, Disclosure on their self-produced “Know Your Worth” with Afropop heavyweight Davido and American pop sensation Khalid. One of the few bonafide R&B projects to come from our shores last year, Tems’ debut project For Broken Ears, finds the singer wafting over breezy production. Covering various topics from a distance, she allows her listeners to experience her emotions and situations without ever feeling chaperoned.
An incident in the late half of last year with the Ugandan judicial system has only served to reinforce her growing legend as she emerged unscathed from the ordeal with a defiant tone maintained. Her potential seems unmatched, and Tems promises to be one of the most engaging careers the continent will ever behold. And while her debut project is still in heavy rotation, these events and her growth from it revealed one thing: Tems definitely has a lot to say — hopefully on a new project this year.
Coming off a promising 2019, Lady Donli spent the better part of last year recuperating and coping with the new normal like most of us. Renowned for making the old feel fresh, the sound she tapped into for her debut, Enjoy Your Life, leaned heavily on nostalgia. The project performed admirably well commercially and critically, indicating that the stakes had automatically been raised. The concept of a ‘price going up’ is one many in the music industry consider to be a corollary effect of success — the alternative being a ‘fall-off’. Instead of responding to pressure in a reactionary manner, she patiently worked on a worthy follow-up.
Her most recent two-track single, Rockstar Parole, possibly presents some markers as to her current soundscape. Alternatively, this could be an instance where an artist decides to use their single as a creative outlet to try new things. It could have no similarities to what her sophomore album sounds like; it also could. Either way, she has played up the mystery extremely well, and it bodes well for the young Nigerian rockstar.
Odunsi (The Engine)
It might have been two years since Odunsi shook up the world with his debut studio album, rare., but he has since become a staple in minds and on screens everywhere. The 24-year-old pop star has released one other body of work between then and now: the experimental EVERYTHING YOU HEARD IS TRUE, a filler project to satiate fans as they patiently wait for his sophomore album. The pandemic project served to show his versatility off for whoever was unaware of the fact. It also provided a platform for many of his current crop of collaborators to perform on production from the Engine himself.
Odunsi might have the best build-up on this list so far as his near incessant work rate has allowed him to provide production not only for himself, but for his label mates and a rumored collaboration album for The NATIVE. With no date for his forthcoming album – which he announced to be titled KAKEGURUI back in September – scheduled, fans are left with the promise of impending audio and visual offerings from the singer (such as the Fuji 5000 video) to hold them over.
The R&B fusion artist delivered his official debut album, Gemini, in 2019 on the LA-based label, Soulection. He has seen his stock rise since then, and for good reason. The project was released to massive critical acclaim, with critics praising it for its brazen honesty and impressive production. Not one to shy away from emotion in his music, his collaboration (and reunion) album with Le Mav steered in a slightly different direction while maintaining many of the genre-bending qualities that have become synonymous with both artists. That joint album was released at the end of 2019, and two years later, the illustrious singer is yet to release another full-length body of work. Although his next project is rumoured to be an EP and not an album, we’re ecstatic as ever to be getting new music from Tay.
The emotive Afrobeat crooner instantly grabs your attention with his vocal texture and hyper-realistic lyrics. He interpolates satire to paint a picture of the Nigerian situation in a very creative manner. With relatable songwriting and contemporary Afrobeat production, Bella Shmurda’s style is unique. His use of Fuji and Yoruba folk elements creates an incredible sonic blend that carries through on his latest project, High Tension.
His breakout single “Vision 2020” was responsible for putting him on multiple stages at the end of 2019 in Lagos. The remix with Nigerian rap icon Olamide was a major co-sign that set 2020 in motion for him. Strong storytelling is an integral part of his skill-set, and it shines through on all his records. “Vision 2020” finds him tackling socio-political issues from a first-person perspective. He continually bares his soul throughout the track, touching on credit card fraud and his pregnant girlfriend in the same breath. The quality and success of his debut album, High Tension, perfectly cued up the release of his monster hit, “Cash App”. His high-profile features at the tail end of the year alongside Runtown, Darko Vibes, Davido, and Olamide (again), helped solidify his position as a maverick.
These reasons make the appeal of his sophomore album undeniable, and it is easy to see why his fervently faithful ever-growing fanbase is patiently anticipating its release.