How the afropop star's smash hit laid the foundation for the genre's global ascension.
It was a sunny afternoon in August 2015. I had spent most of the day doing my laundry and I had wearily trudged back to my room at school, ready to take a much-needed nap. As I flung the door open, I was greeted with the shocker of my life as my roommate announced with glee: “Drake jumped on Wizkid’s ‘Ojuelegba’.”
My jaw dropped in disbelief, and I froze on the spot. I struggled to find the words to voice my thoughts while still processing this bomb he had just dropped on me. Luckily, a voice from across the room echoed my exact thoughts: “Na lie, where Wizkid wan see Drake.” Good, my sentiments exactly.
But three minutes later, our shock turned to excitement then to confusion after listening to the track: it was true.
When Wizkid’s long-anticipated sophomore album eventually got released, it was a surprise drop. In contrast to the events and singles that led to the buildup of Superstar, his debut, no update or press release preceded Ayo. Like Beyoncé had done a year ago back then, media associates and fans, and industry professionals suddenly woke up to the news of Ayo in September 2014.
The project came three years after we heard the fresh tunes off Superstar, but during that time, Wizkid turned into an artist on the cusp of global explosion. You knew this kid had something different. When the Superstar era was over, Wizkid began a long phase of steady freestyle releases. At one point, the radio could have four new singles in the space of four months: There was “Sisi Nene”; you remember singing along to “Zombie”. Did you forget “London Gyal”? And the electrifying Sarz-produced “Dance For Me”?
With Ayo, it was evident the artist was transitioning from that fresh-faced teen to becoming his own man. And he was clearly mapping out the next phase of his career solely on his own input. Structurally, Ayo felt like a collection of different singles – cumulatively those previously released and the new material he had recorded for the album – and not necessarily a cohesive project.
Yet, from the slew of songs, “Ojuelegba”, a poignant rags-to-riches tale, stuck out instantly and shone through with irresistible energy. Over wistful keys and soft drums, Wizkid gently chronicles his meteoric rise to stardom in a ruthless music industry, detailing the struggles he faced on the come-up. It’s a tale as old as time – and a trope far too common with artists from these parts (see: Dr. SID’s “Surulere”). Hence, it’s no question why the song instantly struck a chord with fans, who embraced it with arms opened wide. Listening to “Ojuelegba” immediately casts listeners into a reflective mode, wheeling them into a dreamscape where the struggles of our past can help make meaning for our future.
Soon enough, “Ojuelegba” crossed into foreign markets and accrued a new global appeal for Afrobeats as a genre. It’s important to note that this crossover was unexpected, especially from Wizkid. Interestingly, the “Ojuelegba” remix wasn’t the first time he had tried his hand at foreign collaborations. Back in 2014, Wizkid tested the waters with a Tyga feature on the remix to his hit single “ Show You The Money”, but it didn’t live up to expectations. Hence, “Ojuelegba” is widely regarded as a sliding door moment for Afrobeats. While D’banj’s “Oliver Twist” unlocked the door to international airwaves, Wizkid’s “Ojuelegba” evolved into something else. Where “Oliver Twist” – even with its Kanye West cameo – may have lit the spark that ignited Western interest in Afrobeats, “Ojuelegba” set the fire ablaze, drawing influential figures at the helm of music and lifestyle closer to the pulse of the genre.
This is not to say that the Drake and Skepta factor didn’t significantly affect how far the song went. The combined presence of both international superstars certainly influenced the song’s prevalence: Alicia Keys swirled to it; Kylie Jenner danced to it while preparing a meal. And then there were Swizz Beatz, Karreuche, Ellie Goulding and a cast of other influential figures sporadically posting on social media as they caught on to the vibe.
With a Drake co-sign came more avenues for Wizkid to prove his craft, and six months later, he did. On the 2016 summer smash, “One Dance”, he shone through with a captivating hook. “One Dance” went on to become one of 2016’s biggest musical moments, shattering streaming numbers and elevating Wizkid’s status as a world star. With heightened focus and attention on him, he snagged his first international deal in 2017.
In a way, things kicked into motion for Afrobeats after Wizkid’s “Ojuelegba” moment. A focus – though not as amplified as it is now – was immediately placed on the genre. Key music players became aware of a “new sound” in vogue. Artists wanted in, producers wanted to duplicate the sound and even record labels joined in the rush, hoping to capitalize off this movement.
This new interest in Afrobeats undoubtedly influenced Davido’s international record deal with Sony Music (though it didn’t last very long). Then months later, when “One Dance” dropped, this interest piqued even more; Nigerian artists began to grace the covers of international music magazines and feature in elaborate editorials. As such, there was an increase in commercial activities as major heavyweights began setting eyes on talent here. Tiwa Savage inked a deal with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation (before fully signing to UMG). Ycee also had his debut project released via a one-time deal with Sony Music Africa back in 2017. Soon enough, UMG and Sony Music moved in to set up shop in Lagos, the country’s creative heartbeat. One thing was clear: afrobeats artists were being sought out and not the other way around.
It’s fair to say these grand moments can all trace their roots to Wizkid’s “Ojuelegba” and its resulting impact. “Ojuelegba” broke the glass ceiling placed on sounds from these parts and catapulted our music to a globally recognised stage. You see, back then, for Afrobeats to gain more attention globally, a collaboration had to be forged with a thriving foreign act. These features didn’t come easy; they had their intricacies in terms of access and monetary terms. M.I reportedly rejected a verse from Nas, which he paid $50,000 for. P-square had “settled” Rick Ross for a remix to their hit, “Beautiful Onyinye”. There were rumours of a Kcee and Nicki Minaj collab at one point in 2014. And while Davido and Meek Mill’s collab happened the following year, the global ascent of Nigerian music had only begun.
As we continue to bask in the current groundbreaking global success of Wizkid’s “Essence” and CKay’s “Love Nwantiti”, it’s worth remembering Wizkid’s “Ojuelegba” as the moment that laid the groundwork for this
Featured Image credit: Instagram/@wizkidayo