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Top 25 African songs of 2021: Bounce Staff Picks.

Our list of the top 25 songs out of the continent in 2021.

Musically, 2021 would go down as the year of the newcomers. Many new, exciting and talented acts flooded the scene, providing a much-needed musical reinvigoration while also keeping the old guard on their toes. In addition to the new faces, more established figures like Adekunle Gold, and Zinoleesky continue to redefine themselves while stalwarts like Davido, Naira Marley and Flavour stick to what they do best: release show-stopping bangers.

From Naira Marley's raunchy and ridiculously addictive banger to Lloyiso's heart-wrenching ballad; from Jaywillz's breakout single to Fireboy's smash hit, here's our list of the top 25 songs out of the continent in the year 2021.

Important note: This list is a compilation of our staff's favourite tracks of 2021 and not a definitive ranking of the songs of the year.

25. "Medicine" - Jaywillz

Prior to 2021, Afropop artist Jaywillz was largely unknown to the majority of music fans. That changed with the success of “Medicine”, a single off his sophomore EP Love or the World. A romantic melody in every sense of the word, the track showcases Jaywillz’s musical talent, both vocally and in the songwriting department. Taking social media applications like Tiktok and Instagram by storm, the song garnered millions of plays and followers across various music streaming websites, establishing him as one of the year’s breakout acts. As is typical of Afropop songs, “Medicine” is a song full of cheesy one-liners addressed to a lover - one who has the artiste discombobulated in a good way. However, what makes it stand out is Jaywillz’s ability to string these one-liners together to create a romantic experience, a sign of his excellent penmanship.- ON


SGaWD is arguably the most promising and exciting female rapper in the country at the moment. Scratch that! SGaWD is the most promising and exciting female rapper in the country at the moment. She’s blessed with a razor-sharp lyrical ability, a sonorous voice, an uncompromising charisma and an enchanting allure. All these qualities and more are on full display on “POPSHIT”, the lead single from her debut project Savage Bitch Juice and hands down one of the hardest singles of the year. It’s an amalgam of vibrant Pop and Hip-hop, anchored by an incredibly catchy hook that perfectly highlights the Lagos-based rapper’s dynamism. She repeatedly sings “I can’t wait to pop shit” with searing vim before going on to deliver some of the year’s most memorable and thrilling one-liners and bars while also deftly gliding through melodious flows. - BA

23. "Harmonies" - Wavy the Creator ft. Wurld

Wavy the Creator’s surprise drop P.S. Thank You For Waiting turned out to be one of the most interesting projects of the year - with Wavy’s eclectic desire to push musical boundaries and explore various sounds resulting in a thrilling combination of moods and sounds. From electro-influenced jams to the forward-thinking Afrobeats offerings, P.S. Thank You For Waiting had it all. The EP’s promotional single “Harmonies” featuring Afro-soul artist Wurld is an example of this commitment to sonic brilliance, combining both artists’ talents and vocals in a harmonious celebration of sexual pleasure while creating eargasms of their own. - ON

22. “Rush” - Bella Shmurda

Bella Shmurda’s giant year 2020 left audiences curious as to what his next move would be. Choosing to share the spotlight with the rest of his Dangbana Republik imprint, the sequel to his 2020 EP, High Tension, is packed with more of the same albeit under a slick layer of polish. With much better production and promotion, it is no surprise standout track “Rush” became as successful as it did. Largely telling his stories from an out of body perspective, Bella Shmurda cuts a figure of friend and preacher at the same time and on his latest, he is no different. - AO

21. “Slow Down” - King Promise

Over the last few years, Ghanaian singer King Promise has found a unique intersection between Afrobeats, Highlife and R&B. His liquid and honeyed vocals, one that can take a number of forms, is largely the reason why he’s found this peculiar pocket. It’s both delicate and slightly expansive, eliciting a range of emotions. It’s this arresting vocals that drives his first single of the year “Slow Down”, a love-drunk record that finds the 26-year-old head over heels for a love interest. Over a stacked wall of violin chords and soft percussion, he bares his intentions: “I’m tryna go on away with you / I’m tryna have my kids with you” he sings, almost with bated breath. His love interest however has just one reply ー slow down. - BA

20. “Woza” - Mr JazziQ ft. Kabza De Small, Lady Du & Boohle

One half of JazziDiscples Mr JazziQ is the brains behind one of the most compelling Amapiano records of the year. Within weeks of its release, it became a dance floor staple and it’s not hard to see why. It’s a highly rhythmic, exhilarating and silky dance record that pairs smooth vocals with thumping basslines and a looping piano chord. The song builds up gradually almost like an inflated balloon, beginning with bare, mid-tempo percussion. However, when Lady Du and Boohle’s vocals enter the fray, things start to get a little more hurried, before finally arriving at the song’s climax: the exuberant and infectious hook that anchors the record and makes it extremely catchy and irresistible. - BA

19. “I can’t believe i get to call you mine” - Manana

“I can’t believe i get to call you mine” is the soundtrack to a deeply personal and endearing moment for South-African R&B singer Manana: his marriage to his longtime girlfriend Vuyi Manana. It’s a simple and stirring piano ballad that attempts to capture the varying emotions that the Eswatini-native felt on that special day. “My face can hide and my eyes rarely tear /I hope these notes convey my message crystal clear” he sings softly on the second verse. It’s an extremely affectionate and tender record that manages to express some of the most complex and intimate emotions with striking simplicity and honesty. - BA

18. “Sinner” - Adekunle Gold ft. Lucky Daye

Adekunle Gold’s rebrand has received significant attention this year, his global ascent has been aided by strategic collaborations from a variety of acts. While maintaining a focus on branching out, he also managed to secure one of the biggest songs in the country this year with “High”, featuring Davido. Antidote featuring NAO and produced by Sarz was the first in a line of singles featuring Western R&B acts. “Sinner” with Lucky Daye has perhaps done the best in that regard achieving significant airplay locally and internationally. - AO

17. "Sore (Remix)" - Yaw Tog ft. Kwesi Arthur & Stormzy

The drill virus is currently sweeping African music with a vengeance, and no other place has caught the bug more than Kumerica, aka the Ghanian drill scene. Yaw Tog's "Sore" featuring fellow Ghanian singer and rapper Kwesi Arthur, as well as UK powerhouse Stormzy (also of Ghanian descent) is a hard jam, bound to get you hyped. The word "Sore" translates to "rise", which is apt because it makes you rise to your feet. What makes it even more remarkable is that the original song was Yaw Tog’s debut and his phenomenal rise to the top of the rap scene in less than a year proves how much of a talent he is. - ON

16. “Naira Marley” - Zinoleesky

Since inking a deal with one of the premier labels in the country, Marlian Records, the 26-year-old singer has grown from strength to strength, releasing a string of hit singles that has placed him at the epicenter of street pop. Perhaps the sturdiest of those singles is “Naira Marley”, a mid-tempo slapper that pays homage to his label head. Atop Niphkeys’ percussion, he softly cruises, delivering dulcet and infectious melodies along with memorable lyricism. “The door to my blessing cannot be locked, I swear this cannot be luck” he prophecies and brags in the same breath. He’s confident and he has every reason to be. His peculiar take on street pop ー substituting the fast-paced drums for much slower ones and a bunch of street lingo and mumbo jumbo for well-thought-out and noteworthy lyrics ーmakes him clearly stand out from the rest. - BA

15. “Seasons” - Lloyiso

South-African vocalist and Youtube sensation Lloyiso possesses a one-of-a-kind voice, one that carries immense power, every note he hits is awash in an inordinate amount of emotion. His dusky falsetto tugs at your heartstrings, almost making you curl in a ball or fall on your knees every time he cinematically belts a lyric. It’s this powerful and special voice that takes center stage on “Seasons”, an emotional ballad built around mournful piano melodies. Here, the 22-year-old painfully recounts the emotional hurt he suffered from a past relationship, citing different heart-rending instances. (“Is it because I don’t love my body / That you make me feel like you’re the only one that loves me”). He, however, picks himself up, reclaiming his heart and ultimately, his self-dignity. The lyrics ー personal, visceral and plainspokenー cut extremely deep, making “Seasons” an incredibly moving number that’ll resonate with almost any listener. - BA

14. "Second Sermon" - Black Sherif

When I say TRAP music, you say "Second Sermon." With the hardest opening lines of any rap song in 2021, Black Sherif’s massive hit is another milestone in Ghana’s rapidly growing hip hop scene. Although Black Sheriff has been releasing music for a while now, the drill-infused "Second Sermon" feels like his real introduction to the world. Detailing the not-so-lovely parts of his life as an upcoming hustler (and possible felon), the track serves as an invitation to explore the underbelly of Ghanian society. Despite its very serious topic, his unique half-rap, half-singing style makes the song a bop. The song grew from a sleeper underground hit to a full-blown continental anthem, eventually nailing a remix with none other than Burna Boy, the African Giant himself. - ON

13. “Ke Star Remix” - Focalistic ft Davido

Pretoria Maradonna was getting a fair amount of traction at the tail-end of 2020. He had just released the original version of “Ke Star”, an infectious Amapiano-inspired record along with the young South-African producer and DJ Vigro Deep. The vibrant single commanded many dancefloors across the continent, propelling the former footballer to relative stardom. It wasn’t however until earlier this year when the single got an upgrade, a remix with Afropop star Davido that it truly became a continental smash hit. The 29-year-old proves he’s still got the Midas touch as he matches Focalistic’s snappy lyrics with equally catchy ad-libs and a standout verse. - BA

12. "Dimension" - JAE5 ft. Skepta & Rema

For years, JAE5 stayed in the shadows, helping to shape the Afroswing and hip-hop scene in the UK, leveraging his Ghanaian and East London roots to create an exciting new sound that dominated pop culture and saw him reap critical and commercial success. From Dave and Burna Boy’s “Location” to NSG’s “Options”, JAE5 is one of the most important beatsmiths in the UK scene in the last few years. In 2021, however, he made the jump from producer to solo artiste, deciding to step into the spotlight with his debut single, “Dimension.” Enlisting the help of legendary MC Skepta and Afrobeats’ golden boy Rema, the song immediately shot up the charts with its calm mixture of urban UK music and Afrobeats. The mellow track features introspective lines from Skepta, but it's Rema who steals the show with a hook that can only be described as spiritual. - ON

11. “Levels” - Flavour

Flavour’s transitions have received much acclaim, his most recent paradigm shift possibly the most. Solidifying himself as the modern-day highlife hero for Nigeria has been no small task but it is one he has approached methodically, collaborating with everyone in that sphere from spiritual leaders to other highlife practitioners. “Levels” finds him at his most celebratory and most braggadocious. Everything from the marching band incorporated production to the consistently upbeat rhythm all point towards the mood he hopes to encapsulate (and which he does), proving that longevity is not for the one-trick ponies. - AO

10. “Beggie Beggie” - Ayra Starr ft. Ckay

Much like its performers, “Beggie Beggie” grew into the sleeper status it achieved this year. Arya Starr, the rookie of the year next to CKay, arguably Nigeria’s most compelling R&B/Pop act in a decade. The seventh song off her debut album, 19 & Dangerous, the record is a bold attempt at an all R&B duet — a format not commonly employed. The song works for all the best reasons, brilliant vocal performances from Arya Starr and CKay, emotive guitar-led production and forlorn lyrics, all key R&B elements. - AO

9. “Peru” - Fireboy

With a newly released remix with Ed Sheeran, this feat alone is emblematic of the scale and influence of this record. “Peru” has morphed into more than just a summer smash. The Shizzi produced freestyle has created a life of its own, from nothing more than two collaborators hanging out. While it is one of Fireboy’s less lyrical efforts, it is also proof that sometimes trying too hard might be the problem. Who ever said minimal effort never achieved anything? - AO

8. "Ex" - Nikita Kering’

In 2019, at the age of 17, Nikita Kering’ won the awards for 'Best Female Artiste in Eastern Africa' and “Revelation of the African Continent” at the All Africa Music Awards (AFRIMA). Two years later, her debut EP A Side of Me proved to all that these awards were not some fluke, but legitimate recognition of one of the continent’s most talented musicians. On “Ex”, the Kenyan singer addresses a relationship with an indecisive lover: “I ain’t tryna be your ex, so don’t come if you ain’t tryna vibe on my wave”, she sings over mellow production by Ochieng David Omondi. A stunning vocal performance, “Ex” dispels the myth that quality African music can only be found in certain markets. - ON

7. “Tycoon” - Show Dem Camp ft. Reminisce & MOJO

Tycoon is representative of the legacy created by SDC over the past decade. The latest entry to their Clone Wars series titled The Algorythm is their most commercial to date, featuring a nice blend of mainstream and underground Nigerian acts. Tycoon is the perfect example of their attempts at eroding mental musical barriers. Featuring Reminisce and MOJO rapping in Yoruba/Pidgin English, the juxtaposition against SDC’s English verses makes for an interesting balance. - AO

6. “Somebody’s Son” - Tiwa Savage ft. Brandy

The standout off her latest body of work Water Garri, "Somebody's Son" is arguably the 41-year-old's strongest single in years. It’s a brilliant mesh of Afrobeats and R&B set to lush production. It’s an optimistic record misted with soft percussion, plush strings and American singer Brandy’s rich voice. Tiwa Savage is however the star of her own show. She’s not willing to settle for less, tightly guarding her heart and hoping for better than she’s ever had. Her voice is as buoyant as it’s ever been, effortlessly cruising over Mystro’s syncopated drums while nicely setting the tempo for Brandy to deliver a pretty impressive verse and an equally impressive vocal performance. - BA

5. "Feeling" - Ladipoe ft. Buju

Ladipoe ended the year with Providence, ending the year as arguably the top rapper in Nigeria. However, this excellent year began with "Feeling", a mid-tempo song that quickly grew into a nationwide anthem. Spurred on by Buju's trademark melodies and Ladipoe's laid-back bars, "Feeling" stayed atop the charts for months while receiving massive airplay on the radio. For a while, it seemed as though Ladipoe would have to choose between a commercial sound or staying true to his pure hip-hop roots, but with the success of "Feeling" and the Headies award-winning "Know You", the leader of the revival seems to have found the perfect crossover formula, and we are all the better for it. - ON

4. “If You Say” - Obongjayar & Sarz

Since the inception of his career, Obongjayar has always tried to marry his Nigerian roots with musical influences from all around the world. On his 2017 debut Bassey he manages to mesh Afrobeat with Hip-hop, splintered techno sounds, R&B, Soul and much more. On his latest collaborative project with veteran producer Sarz, he doubles down on this marriage of influences. Arriving shortly after the brilliant LV N ATTN tape, the four-song EP pushes the experimental envelope further for the continent. Coasting along the borders of R&B, electronica and fusion, If You Say is perhaps the most emotive of all four songs, chock full of lyrically sound appeals and vocal prowess, it is easy to call it one of the better introductions to a market executed in Nigeria. - AO

3. “Bounce” - Ruger

When Jonzing World unveiled Ruger earlier in the year, everyone anticipated a roaring tempest. Coming off the heels of Afrorave sensation Rema, he was expected to hit the ground running almost immediately. His first two musical outputs ー “One shirt” and “Ruger” ー, unfortunately, wouldn’t resonate as much as he would have liked. While he showed immense promise on both tracks, they failed to leave much of an impression. The third time, however, they say is the charm. “Bounce”, the second single off his self-titled debut tape, instantly stood out upon release, his fluid fusion of Afropop and dancehall arresting almost every speaker and dancefloor. It’s an infectious record made for jampacked, sweaty, low-lit clubs with bodies literally bouncing off each other. - BA

2. "Coming" - Naira Marley

Sometimes, it feels like an understatement to describe Naira Marley as an enigma. With his seemingly suicidal decision to court controversy everywhere he goes, no musician divides opinion in contemporary Nigerian society like the Marlian boss. On "Coming", he engages in his favourite sport: pushing the limits of a conservative society by discussing sex as crudely as possible. With the help of South African singer-songwriter and poet Busiswa, he explores sex in detail, inventing words like "vagasm" along the way. Produced by Rexxie, the spirited track garnered millions of streams across DSPs, despite being “banned” by the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission almost immediately after its release. From pulpits to policymakers, Naira Marley and his brand of music have come under fire and attempts to blacklist him have been made. Still, like Maya Angelou, he rises - cementing his place amongst Africa's best. - ON

1. “Monalisa” - Lojay & Sarz

Arguably the biggest Afro R&B fusion record of the year, "Monalisa" has managed to propel Lojay from emerging artist to stalwart status. Continuing Sarz’ legacy of immaculate collaborative tapes with LV N ATTN, his first of the year, he not only successfully introduced Lojay to the mass public, he also maintains his position as the most forward-thinking Nigerian beatsmith to do it. "Monalisa" is many things at once: it's exhilarating, addictive, progressive, and damn near perfect. The way Lojay effortlessly switches between Yoruba, English and Pidgin throughout the record ー his vocal range also on full display over Sarz's pulsating beat ー it should be a crime if this was played at a function and you're not dancing like your life depended on it - AO

Words: Oluchukwu Nwabuike, Abdul-Jabbar Obiagwu, Boluwatife Adeyemi


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