Wizkid: Ten years in the Game
We present a global icon from the city of Lagos.
Ayo Balogun, the artist known as ‘Wizkid’ is arguably the biggest Nigerian artist of his generation, a generation his influence spans over from not just music, but into fashion, the dreams of an entire generation and more to come. From his appearance on the Nigerian music scene with his debut single ‘Holla at Your Boy’, Wizkid has continued to have a hold on the game for 10 years which only a few can attempt to claim. In ‘Holla at your boy’, Wizkid was a new face appearing on the screens of a new generation, a face they could relate to making it hard to adequately describe the place Wizkid holds in our generation.
From his entry into our consciousness in 2010 with ‘Holla at Your Boy’, he set himself apart, he was different; with his teenage look, chequered shirts, dark shades and cap, vocals that sounded sugary and young, he became the outward projection of an entire generation’s dream. A lot became possible because Wizkid did it; he was ours. ‘Holla at your boy’ was 10 years ago, but Wizkid’s hold and significance hasn’t seemed to wane, rather, it grows stronger, ranging from the teenage boy who represented us, to a consistent hit dropper, to a continental icon and into one of the most prominent face of Afrobeats in Africa as a whole. With three albums under his name and his forthcoming album ‘Made In Lagos’ due to drop this month, Wizkid has been able to create cultural ties that run deep within music - a generation’s identity and pride all under a decade where at any point he was one of Nigeria's top three acts.
A year after ‘Holla at Your Boy’ was dropped and followed by a string of hit singles, Wizkid dropped his debut album ‘Superstar’, the most anticipated album of 2011 and the second best-selling album on NotJustOk (one of the major blogs of the blogging era in Nigerian music). Although ‘Superstar’ was heavily criticized for a host of reasons, majorly due to his lyrical depth (a criticism that has trailed Wizkid’s career), it catapulted him into a cultural icon and revolutionized Nigerian pop music. ‘Superstar’ incorporated elements of R&B, Fuji, Reggae and Dancehall. It was majorly Afrobeats and incorporated a host of hit pop offerings in ‘Holla at Your Boy’, ‘Pakurumo’, ‘Gidi Girl’, ‘Tease Me’, ‘What You Wanna Do’ and ‘Don’t Dull’. A compilation of singles built for clubs and dancehalls, the album was successfully able to cut across class, won the hearts of everyone, had massive radio airplay and won him awards. In depth, it lacked a lot - but whatever it lacked in lyricism, ‘Superstar’ made up for it in Wizkid’s vocals that sounded slurry and sugary; his ability to create catchy choruses relying heavily on using calls and responses, stellar production and his ability to jump on any beat. As an album, ‘Superstar’ talked about his rise from obscurity to national fame, wants, sex, melody and dance.
With the success of ‘Superstar’, Wizkid successfully won a generation by belonging to them. He had cemented his status in Nigeria’s music industry, but there was still the issue of a sophomore album, could he break the course? ‘Superstar’ showed Wizkid was no fluke; before and after the album dropped, Wizkid had been on a run of hit songs that were his and those he featured in. As at 2011-2012, it was believed that a Wizkid feature would guarantee you a hit song; and it did.
On 17th September, 2014, Wizkid dropped his second album; ‘Ayo (Joy)’ - an album that had been pushed back for two years for various reasons, one of which was the difficulty in selecting the track list and disagreement with his then label: EME. ‘Ayo’ contained previously released singles such as; ‘Jaiye Jaiye’ featuring Femi Kuti, ‘Show You The Money’ and ‘In My Bed’ had features from Nigerian and American acts such as; Seyi Shay, Phyno, Wale and Tyga. ‘Ayo’ saw Wizkid exploring and experimenting outside the genres of his debut album, from the bits of electro on ‘In My Bed’, ‘Jazz on In Love’, reggae on ‘Joy’, and also Highlife and Afrobeats. As a whole, the project seemed to lack direction, and did not show much of his artistry growth as he attempted to scale notes that came off wrong and revolved around the usual theme of money and girls. Despite much of the criticisms against the album, it has successfully remained on the iTunes Nigeria’s album chart since its release, and currently sits at number eight.
‘Ayo’ included one of the most defining songs of not only Wizkid’s career, but of the Afrobeats in the world - a song whose brilliance was immediately pointed out and praised, even by critics who were strongly opposed to the album. ‘Ojuelegba’ showed the calmly captivating Afrobeats tribute to the neighborhood Wizkid grew up in and his grass to grace story. It was the gem that pushed Afrobeats internationally, taking over both Nigeria and the diaspora; it went further by breaking barriers with a feature from Drake and Skepta. He went on a run of international features, the biggest of which was appearing on Drake’s One Dance, the biggest song of 2016, which earned him a Grammy and an ASCAP nod.
With two of his albums out, there seemed to be a major issue; although, his albums included massive hit songs and where well received commercially, he could not seem to please critics; their major bone of contention; his lyricisms, filling albums with stale singles and the recurrent themes of women, money and drinks. But whatever criticisms of his lyrics, Wizkid has an innate understanding of his audience, melody and a knack for creating hits.
A major part of this push was the release of his third studio on July 14, 2017, ‘Sounds from the Other Side’ under RCA/Sony Music International. Although labeled as an EP, the 12-tracked body of work featured Drake, Chris Brown, Major Lazer, Efya and more. SFTOS was an attempt by Wizkid to break into the American market, according to Pulse’
“SFTOS might have been a small step for Wizkid, but it's a leap for African pop music”.
The project played a crucial role in putting Afrobeats in international conversations with it being majorly pushed outside Nigeria.
It's been three years after Wizkid dropped his last project - he went on a year hiatus, sold out the O2 and Royal Albert Hall, walked the runway of Dolce and Gabbana, won a Versus match against Jamaican act, Vybez Kartel, in a shocking 10-0 where his fans ensured he swept all the polls (a moment that shows the strength and ingrained love of not just his fan base but of millions of Nigerian’s for him). Within this period, he has constantly teased his next album titled ‘Made In Lagos’ since 2017, from interviews to tweets, an IG live where snippets where played and gave shout outs to people believed to be on the album, and another shoutout on IG with a list of suspected features and producers including P2J, H.E.R and Tems. He has kept his fans constantly on their toes for the album, before finally announcing in September that it would be dropping on October 15th, a date fans were heavily skeptical of until the release of ‘Smile’ and ‘No Stress’, the first two official singles off the album. What should we expect from this album?
It is important to know that the Nigerian music scene has changed a lot since Wizkid’s last album. Projects are taken seriously with more efforts put into them; there’s been a plethora of new acts that have taken over the industry within two years. Two major things - it’s been 10 years but there’s finally a debut album that can arguably be put on par with ‘Superstar’; Fireboy DML’s ‘Laughter Tears and Goosebumps’ and Burna Boy has changed the scene for major acts by prioritizing albums and dropping three commercially, internationally and critically acclaimed albums in a space of three years.
When Wizkid came into the industry, he arguably changed things by taking control of the game, constantly releasing hit singles that kept him on the airwaves, in our hearts. That has all changed now, and so has Wizkid, his Starboy label EP ‘SoundMan’ Vol.1 showed that.
On ‘Made in Lagos’, Wizkid reclaims his original sound fans felt was missing on SFTOS, combining the novelty of Superstar, cockiness of Ayo, global appeal of SFTOS and unruffled assurance of Soundman. ‘Made in Lagos’ is going to be a defining album; would our star of the last decade have more than his influence as seen in these new artists? Would he soundtrack another decade? What should we expect?
‘MIL’ needs to deliver in the usual way of Wizkid but with growth and a new freshness. Wizkid isn’t the artist we look to for lyrical depth, he is the artist we fell in love with because his understanding of rhythms, his melodies and catchy choruses sound tracked our happiness, letting loose parties, clubs and radio. From the name, it entails Wizkid shedding the Africa being, the world sound of SFTOS and becoming ours again, travelling with that sound, the sweet rich vocals of his verse on ‘Tokyo’, the lyricism and growth of ‘SoundMan’, the party club vibes of ‘Daddy Yo’, his successful incorporation of genres that blend with Afrobeats as shown on his last two singles, combining all these into a distinct refreshing but familiar Afrobeats sound.
In an interview months before his game shifting debut Superstar, a 21-year-old Wizkid shyly averted his eyes from the camera as he spoke about the album. “I’m putting everything into this. This is everything I’ve always dreamed of,” he said. His burgeoning fan base had been put through several postponements. With three successful singles, Wizkid’s belief in his musical ability and hunger, both catalysts for his early career, was evident.
Although “Holla At Your Boy” assumes position of the breakout single, his formation as an artist leads back to a less glamorous period, the years in Surulere, inspired by all which vivified the Lagos hood. The Kemi Adetiba-directed “Tease Me” featured the who’s who of the 2000s music scene, but how did Wizkid get them to swap celebrity engagements for snaps at a youngster’s party?
“I found Wizkid working,” EME label boss Bankole Wellington said in response to a decade-old tweet which went viral –a young Wizkid tweeting at him and asking for them to work together. Already they were partners, Mr. Bankole confirmed and rather shared the true story of how he first met the artist: Wizkid was the hypeman at an event for Kel, a Nigerian rapper. Later on, it was Banky's songs he shouted along to, lifting the crowd with his infectious energy.
That anecdote is just one instance of Wizkid hitting the ground and forming relationships which proved helpful to his young career. It takes a village to raise a child after all.
In the 2000s, the modern music industry was growing and relatively small –everyone knew everyone. And OJB Jezreel, an auteur who defined 2Face’s early solo career (entirely producing his debut Face 2 Face), was a pull at its center. Wizkid would become a regular at OJB's famed Point Beat studio, where he watched a triumphant 2Face return to make his classic sophomore Grass To Grace. Sound Sultan also recorded an album at the studio; rapper Ruggedman too. Wizkid watched, learned and applied when his time came.
Superstar, while a unique album, wears its influences proudly. The cadences are noticeably Wande Coal esque. The sexy persona, the charisma and glamour as seen in videos and interviews one could trace to D’Banj. Like every 90s kid, Wiz rocked to rap and proved adept in fitting slant rhymes and Nigerian isms into his music. Party classic “Pakuromo” burrowed into the intricacies of jùjú as Wizkid made an early iteration of ‘Owambe music’, a juju-pop style to be later finessed by contemporary Olamide.
Leading one of the strongest collaborators lineup of its time was Samklef, who produced “Pakuromo,” and five other songs on Superstar. Masterkraft, E Kelly, Shizzi, Jay Sleek and DJ Klem were the other producers on the tape. A village raises a child. And one made of heroes? They couldn’t raise a lesser child. The journey of life however, for many of us, requires we leave home.
Wizkid left home.
III. LEAVING HOME
Wizkid’s second and third albums were about versatility; leaving home. Wizkid already was a global star in 2017, three years removed from his sophomore and departed from EME. Though Mo Hits and D’Banj had charted international waters earlier through a very public deal with Kanye West’s G.O.O.D Music, Wizkid took the game to the next level, talent and strategy his battle armory. An intentionally diasporic Sounds From The Other Side appropriated genres like Dancehall, EDM and House. It was a good Wizkid tape even if the direction and features left him little wiggle room to serenade with his trusted pop flourishes.
For a section of listeners, there was credible reason to worry. His previous album Ayo was preceded by six hit songs. Wizkid was the biggest artist in Nigeria and for a reason: If “Jaiye Jaiye” didn’t set you ablaze, “Show You The Money” surely did. “Joy,” sampling “No Woman, No Cry,” was a fan favorite and was the dawn of Wizkid’s love affair with Caribbean styles. Although a number of people thought SFTOS objectively good, it went mostly ignored by the Nigerian audience.
That outcome lied in listeners having fallen deeply for a younger Wizkid, the one who made bangers from freestyle sessions and cared little for structure while embracing music at its most visceral level.
IV. MADE IN LAGOS
It’s a unique time for Wizkid. The industry he entered as a teenager has progressed. There’s a new guard of young artists with diverse styles leveraging social media to reach the most sophisticated set of listeners and in the most distracted era. More than ever, questions are being asked of today’s musicians. Questions which pertain to craft, that aching topic which even veterans sometimes revile.
The past few years has seen Wizkid come under criticism. His lyrics particularly, considered bland and formulaic. The Soundman EP in December 2019 ‘eased’ these concerns as the artist hit gold with syrupy records like “Jam” and “Blow.” Left and right, as young artists continue to rise into prominence, the veteran and hit maker Wizkid remains a charismatic center –a beneficial position leading to the release of a near mythical album.
The singles from Made in Lagos suggests what to expect: “Smile,” the melodious Rock-Reggae record and “No Stress.” Both records sees Wizkid take a laid back approach to his singing. The complete project is expected to feature its party anthems however, gbedu to shake up dimly lit bars from Ajegunle to Mushin.
If Made in Lagos succeeds, how Ayodeji Balogun fuses the powers of Superstar Wiz and the Wizkid he is today (subject to critical discourses on thematic range, songwriting and cohesion) will be a key element. And though 2020 hasn’t been much fun for anyone, this moment –Wizkid reiterating his greatness through this album (or not)– could be influential to the trajectory of Afrobeats this decade.
Wizkid's #MadeInLagos was originally scheduled for the 15th of October but was pushed back due to the #EndSars protests in Nigeria. Stream here on Apple Music.
Additional writing by Emmanuel Esomnofu.
Photo Credits: INSTAGRAM / WIREIMAGE / JOSEPH OKPAKO
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