It's time we revealuate how much creative space we afford artists to produce new art.
In March of 2019, ace record producer and music mogul Don Jazzy unveiled Rema as the latest addition to his crop of incredibly talented artists housed by his label, Mavin Records. Expectations were high and understandably so: Don Jazzy had built a reputation as one of the very best in spotting and developing musical talents across the country. Shortly after Rema’s unveiling, he released his debut self-titled EP that would go on to dominate every available music chart in the country. “Dumebi”, the standout song from the project, became a megahit, instantly catapulting Rema to superstar status.
The mayor of Lagos, Mayorkun, had a similar story. In 2016, he, alongside Dremo, signed to Davido’s record label Davido Music Worldwide. Soon after putting pen to paper, he released his first official single, “Eleko”, which garnered a million views in just ten days, a feat more established artists struggle to achieve. He was a hotshot right off the bat. The same goes for Fireboy DML, who hit gold with “Jealous”, his first official single under YBNL. The list goes on. In truth, these artists’ success is down to their undeniable musical brilliance, team effort, and months of planning before their unveiling. However, it has set a ridiculously high bar for any new artist remotely affiliated with a big name or label. You have to be “it” from the jump; fans now have incredibly lofty expectations of these types of acts. Showing promise is not nearly enough; you have to be the finished package from the get-go.
When Wizkid welcomed a then 17-year-old Terri to the Starboy family back in 2018, the public held similar expectations of him. While it was impressive that “Soco”, his first musical contribution under the Starboy banner, became a massive hit, it also didn’t help because it only raised the public’s expectations even more. Terri went on to release his first two singles, “Bia” and “Shuu”. While those singles were sturdy – the Damayo-produced “Bia” finds him passionately pleading for love over a groovy mid-tempo beat while the fuji-inflected “Shuu” sees him deliver slightly scatter-brained lyrics over poignant guitar strings and drums – they didn’t necessarily pack a punch. They weren’t the hit singles people were eagerly expecting. However, anyone who paid close attention would know Terri showed immense promise; he just needed time. He needed time to grow and create – something he was barely afforded. A couple of months after the release of these singles, think pieces began flying around about him. Fans and critics started questioning Wizkid’s artist development skills even though Terri was clearly growing and sharpening his musical tooth, something that was evident in his music – music he released at a pretty steady pace.
Earlier in the year, Jonzing World’s unveiling of Ruger was also immediately met with astronomical expectations. Coming off the heel of Rema, everyone expected Ruger to hit the ground running immediately, just as Rema did. Soon after Jonzing World’s collaboration single “One Shirt” and his first official single “Ruger”, fans started grumbling on the internet. In truth, Ruger’s rollout could have been better; nonetheless, he displayed a high level of musical technicality, a good ear for melodies, and versatility in just those two offerings. These, however, didn't matter to most people. He didn’t come out all guns blazing with a hit single of some sort, and this is what eager listeners were more fixated on.
There is little to no nuance when it comes to the weight of expectation placed on these artists. The pressure to deliver very early on in their careers is immense. We compare artist A to artist B, throwing context out the window. As a result, there is never time for these artists to actually grow and learn, which every artist needs regardless of their stage in their career. And this ties into a much larger issue of giving artists – both new and established – ample time to create and refine their craft.
The nature of the current musical climate in Nigeria is highly impatient and unforgiving: The mantra is “you snooze, you lose”. Artists are expected to churn out music at an expeditious rate to stay relevant. Musicians aren’t viewed as human beings who require time to create, experience, and live; there is always an inordinate amount of pressure from all quarters to deliver good music and deliver it quickly. In the summer of 2019, Cruel Santino released his debut album Mandy and The Jungle, which was quickly met with widespread acclaim from fans and critics alike. The following year, he dropped “End Of The Wicked” and appeared on a couple of features. However, this didn’t seem to satisfy his fans enough. A quick look at the replies of his tweets from the tail-end of last year to this point, and he’s constantly hounded by fans for new music. A couple of days ago, he put out a series of tweets informing fans he isn’t hoarding music but taking his time to make worthwhile music – the music they’ll eventually appreciate. This just shows the state of mind of Cruel Santino and a host of other artists in his shoes. Ironically, when artists succumb to the pressure and speed up their process to satisfy fans, eventually delivering half-baked or uninspiring music, it’s the same set of people who turn on these artists. It’s a slow death.
Bryson Tiller experienced this first hand. Following the success of Trapsoul – his debut album – fans couldn’t seem to get enough of him, and they constantly demanded new music just a couple of months after the release of Trapsoul. He heeded their demand and released his sophomore album True To Self even though he wasn’t in the best frame of mind (he revealed this several months after the album dropped) when he was recording his second album. Unfortunately, it was immediately met with negative reviews from fans. Sales were also low. Still, it didn’t matter; fans still constantly hounded him for new music while also reminding him he fell off.
Artists are human beings. They go through life just like the rest of us. While making the music we have all come to love, they are also experiencing life – the good, the bad, and the ugly. As such, they require time to live and process things to create good music successfully. For newer acts, they need time to grow and learn. Anyone who creates any form of art in any capacity whatsoever would know how important it is to take their time to make anything worthwhile. Some people require more time than others, but ultimately, everyone needs time. Unfortunately, fans view artists as droids. We set unrealistic expectations for these artists so that we can satisfy our hankering. New acts are expected to come out refined – as the finished product – while the more established ones are expected to constantly release solid projects, singles, or albums at an alarming pace. It’s damn near impossible.
Three years after Terri signed to Starboy, he has slowly come into his own. Even though there are rumours that he has parted ways with the label, his career is still on an upward trajectory. He dropped his debut project Afroseries in the thick of the COVID 19 pandemic last year, and he scored a sleeper hit with the lead single “Ojoro” regardless. The rest of the tape is tightly packed with solid records that juggle between Afrobeats and R&B, displaying his versatility for all to see. He has also released a slew of spiffing singles afterward while also making notable guest appearances, firmly placing him as one of the faces of the new guard of Afropop. The same goes for Ruger, who is inevitably finding his feet. His record “Bounce” is arguably one of the biggest songs to come out this year; Ruger was always going to succeed; he only needed time. Of course, this also applies to a host of other artists out there. Time is essential in art, to learn, to develop, and to ultimately create.