Nigerian music has evolved and expanded beyond the African shores, moving into the international market where the demand for Afrobeats is off the hinges. Afrobeats has grown so popular that even Billboard had to carve out a unique niche for Afrobeats amongst its many genre-inclusive charts. This global expansion has been made possible by some artists that have been evolving with the changing times, fusing new sounds and styles into their music that highly appeal to a larger audience nationally and internationally.
One thing that makes an artist stand out from the crowd is talent, and such talented musicians are what we are here to discuss. Yes, these artists have a substantial following on social media and streaming platforms, but if all the hype and popularity were to be stripped away, their raw talents would stay. We will be looking into ten Nigerian artists pushing the boundaries and elevating the African sound. Please note that the list is in no particular order. Now, let’s roll.
Rema (Divine Ikubor) was born and raised in Benin City, the capital of the Edo State, and he grew up surrounded by Afrobeat and mainstream rap. Rema, a musician, and rapper from Nigeria, unintentionally started his career by posting something on social media that led to a deal with Mavin Records. “Dumebi,” a highlight of several commercial releases during 2019, showcased his supple, elastic voice. In 2022, Rema released his debut album, Rave & Roses, changing his style to what he calls Afrorave. The album earned favorable reviews from critics and even debuted towards the bottom of the Billboard Top 200 chart, which is huge for a debut.
Nigerian Afrobeat singer and songwriter Michael Adebayo Olayinka, better known as Ruger, was born on September 23, 1999. In 2021, Ruger and D’Prince’s “Jonzing World record” agreed to a record deal for publishing and distribution with Columbia Records and Sony Music Entertainment, UK. He released his debut EP, Pandemic, on March 4, 2021. Afro dancehall was Ruger’s description of his music (a fusion of Afrobeats with dancehall elements).
Ahmed Ololade, better known by his stage name Asake, was born in Nigeria on January 13, 1995. He is signed to Empire Distribution and YBNL Nation. His stage name is a tribute to his mother, Asake, who has the first name. Asake frequently uses fast-paced Afro and Amapiano production. Due to his Yoruba singing and usage of slang in his songs, some listeners have also said that his style is similar to Fuji’s.
Oluwatobi Wande Ojosipe, better known by his stage name Wande Coal, was born in Nigeria on October 18, 1985. Before being signed to Don Jazzy’s Mo’ Hits Records in 2006, he had his first break as a dancer in the Nigerian entertainment industry. However, he later left the label due to “irreconcilable differences” and started his imprint “Black Diamond.” Later, Coal launched his debut album, Mushin To Mo’Hits, to resounding acclaim in Nigeria, the UK, and the USA.
Rapper Emeka Akumefule, better known by his stage name Blaqbonez, is a member of Chocolate City. Blaqbonez is well known for both his original rap style and his inventiveness. The New York Times highlighted him as one of the new guards of Nigerian music in 2019. His unconventional methods and hilarious demeanor connected with the younger generation, earning him the public backing of artists like Wizkid and Burna Boy.
Early in the 2020s, Nigerian Afrobeat musician, songwriter, and producer CKay experienced breakthrough success when his song “Love Nwantiti” went viral across the globe. A remixed version with Joeboy and Kuami Eugene, made available on his 2019 EP CKay the First, became a massive hit in countries like Australia, the Netherlands, Norway, India, and the United Kingdom. It even cracked the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States. In addition, it became popular in France, Germany, and Latin America thanks to additional remixes. Early in 2021, CKay released his third EP, Boyfriend, amid this surge in fame.
In the early 2010s, Burna Boy became one of Nigeria’s quickest-rising talents because he combined dancehall, reggae, Afrobeat, and pop. His breakthrough single, “Like to Party,” from the LeriQ-produced album in 2012, served as the foundation for his full-length debut, LIFE, released the following year. Burna collaborated with various musicians over the next five years, including J Hus, Skales, Fall Out Boy, and Lilly Allen. During this time, she also released two additional albums.
2018’s “Outside,” which peaked at number three on the Billboard Reggae chart and received the Nigeria Entertainment Award for Album of the Year, increased his recognition on a global scale. Twice as Tall and African Giant received a lot of praise and did well on the charts in several nations. His sixth album, Love, Damini, was released in 2022 after he made history by becoming the first Nigerian to perform as the main act at Madison Square Garden.
One of Nigeria’s top R&B crossover performers, singer-songwriter Ayodeji Ibrahim Balogun (also known as Wizkid), has collaborated with artists including Drake, Skepta, and Chris Brown. With the wildly successful tune “Holla at Your Boy,” featured on his debut album, Superstar, he first achieved regional popularity in 2011. Wizkid gained international fame in 2016 after his and Drake’s song “One Dance” reached the top spot in 15 different nations. This led to a multi-album deal with RCA, which released his major-label debut, “Sounds from the Other Side,” in 2017. In 2021, the critically acclaimed “Made in Lagos” was released, which featured the top-charting hit song “Essence.” Wizkid released his fifth album, “More Love, Less Ego,” one year later.
Nigerian singer-songwriter Ayra Starr achieved national popularity with her 2021 debut album, 19 & Dangerous, and its number-one hit “Bloody Samaritan,” which blends self-assured, empowering lyrics with Afro-pop and smooth R&B. She spent most of the following year working with musicians like Ladipoe, Kelly Rowland, and Magixx while releasing solo singles like “Stars” and “Rush” after being signed to Don Jazzy’s famous Mavin Records label.
Tems is a Nigerian singer, songwriter, and producer whose deft blending of alternative R&B and Afrobeat brought her international recognition at the end of the 2010s. She started to make appearances on notable songs like WizKid’s “Essence” and Drake’s “Fountains” after scoring the 2019 smash “Try Me.” Her first two EPs, For Broken Ears in 2020 and If Orange Was a Place in 2021, produced her successes, including “Damages” and “Found,” the latter of which featured Brent Faiyaz. She later appeared on Future’s number-one 2022 hit “Wait for U.”