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EMI

Afro Pop Vol. 1

Adekunle Gold

There’s never been a transition quite as smooth as Adekunle Gold’s move from Adire-rocking folk artist to AG Baby, the ladies’ man who traded the neat fro for dreadlocks, got tattoos, and became a pop star. The confidence was visible in his records’ adjusting scope, leaning towards more synthesized instruments and sensational themes. His writing was the better for it, and his voice had always seemed suited for broader ideas. On Afro Pop, Vol. 1, Adekunle Gold revels in his newfound artistic freedom. The artist is present from the bouncy percussions that introduce “Sabina” to the synth-driven “Exclusive”. The project is smooth and exciting, with thoughtful lyrics, sing-along hooks, and (not so) subtle brags like on album standout, “Okay”, where he sings in a rap-like cadence: “I dey my penthouse you can’t even reach me.”  - EE

MOTOWN / ISLAND / UNIVERSAL

Celia

Tiwa Savage

For large parts of the 2010s, Tiwa Savage often struggled with navigating the intersection of tradition/ religion and the decade’s evolving social landscape of feminist movements and gender parity demands. On Celia, her big-label debut, she finds a delicate balance between her core ideals and a progressive world without going off cue sonically. “I no come this life to suffer/If I follow politician/You go hear am for paper, dem go call am prostitution,” she ruefully sings about the unfair burden placed on women on “Koroba,” one of Celia’s highlights. On other songs,  Tiwa Savage’s soft, melodious voice acquires a smoky hue as she dissects greed (“Ole”) and self-reliance (“FWMM”). In a year marked by a creative glut, Tiwa Savage is the rare exception, providing a concise body of work befitting her status as one of Nigeria pop’s leading light with barely any missteps. - WO

KEYQAAD / SIRE

Get Layd

Omah Lay

Omah Lay’s Get Layd shaped much of popular Nigerian music in 2020. And it is to his credit, as a songwriter and performer, that a five-song tape released in May established him as an ascendant power in the throes of a pandemic that shuttered social life in the country for months on end.  Omah Lay’s syrupy flow and incisive writing on Get Layd merits all the acclaim it has gotten, with the Port Harcourt-born musician merging his home city’s diasporic influences with the abiding melancholy of the zeitgeist for one of the year’s most cohesive releases. While mood varies from song to song, his message’s central theme, desire, remains constant.  The claustrophobic vibe of “Bad Influence” finds a counter-balance on the appealing filth of  “Ye Ye Ye”; but Get Layd’s staying power was probably sealed with the pentatonic opening of “Damn” that lulled audiences into his music. - WA

DAVIDO WORLD ENT. / SONY

A Better Time

Davido

With young Nigerians just off the #Endsars protests, Davido’s latest album A Better Time was the perfect company to the slightly more relaxed tone the movement had taken. But away from that, it remains a veritable work with smashing hits that will go on to make the rest of our year and possibly the early days of the new year. Not that any of us had begun to doubt Davido’s hit-making prowess, but A Better Time was yet another opportunity for the superstar to flex his muscles and collect a remarkable number of hits into one album. This year saw many of Nigeria’s most Afrobeats figures putting out delectable, timeless work, and A Better Time was no different. - NCJ

YBNL / EMPIRE

Carpe Diem

Olamide

Olamide returned with glinting eyes this year. After holding off on dropping a project in the previous year for the first time in close to a decade, 2020 saw one of Nigeria’s most defining acts drop two projects within eight months of each other. 999 showed a glimpse of what Olamide’s next act might conceivably look like, but Carpe Diem is the pick of the bunch, fleshing out his trajectory with warm, precise — often bombastic — detail. Anchored by P Priime’s ebullient production, Olamide has a rapprochement with today’s  Nigerian pop, as few established acts can. The troika of songs that glisten on Carpe Diem —  “Infinity,” “Triumphant,” and “Loading” —  benefit from Olamide’s guests as they do his vulnerability and versatility. With 999, Baddo settled into a veteran’s lane with minimal fuss. Still, Carpe Diem is a potent reminder that in his element Olamide is an apex hitmaker — and this hit machine will probably never be decommissioned. - WO

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