Despite everything that happened in 2020, Nigerian music remained strong. Towards the beginning of the year, cemented stars like Niniola, Burna Boy, and Rema were already rolling out singles as the pandemic began to hit. By mid-2020 many had adapted to the strange year and albums like Tiwa Savage‘s Celia, Fireboy DML‘s Apollo, Burna‘s Twice As Tall, starting rolling out.
The year also saw the continuing trend of top-tier collaborations between Nigerian and North American/European stars keep going, as Tiwa connected with Sam Smith and Mr Eazi with Nicki Minaj & Major Lazer, among others. In October, the #EndSARS protests against police brutality and corrupt governance brought Nigeria, and its music industry, to a necessary halt. Nigerian musicians at home and abroad pitched-in and joined the movement as the country’s youth stood up for their rights.
By the end of 2020, despite by the virus, lockdowns and after joining national protests, a large portion of major Nigerian acts had dropped an album, with the last quarter of the year seeing Wizkid’s Made In Lagos, Davido‘s A Better Time, Olamide‘s Carpe Diem and many more.
Below we round up our picks for the best Nigerian of the year. Listed in no particular order.
Davido returned in September with “FEM,” the first single off his highly-anticipated album, A Better Time. “To the people talking about you because they don’t understand your shine, they don’t understand your grace,” he wrote about the song during its release. While it started as a track about people that talk too much, it soon became the unlikely anthem for Nigeria’s #EndSARS protests. “When Nigerian youth shout the line ‘Why everybody come dey para, para, para, para for me’ at protests, it is an act of collective rebellion and rage, giving flight to our anger against the police officers that profile young people, the bureaucracy that enables them, and a government that appears lethargic,” explains our contributor Wale Oloworekende.
DJ Neptune, Joeboy & Mr Eazi ‘Nobody’
DJ Neptune‘s “Nobody” saw him recruiting Nigerian star Mr Eazi and the rising Joeboy for an uptempo number that speaks about young love and the blind devotion that often follows as a result of infatuation. The track, which was the second single from Neptune’s The Greatness II [Sounds of Neptune], broke records this year as one of the most streamed songs across Africa. It topped Apple Music’s singles charts in eight countries and supplied the soundtrack to millions of Triller dance videos.
Tony Allen & Hugh Masekela ‘Slow Bones’
On April 30th, the world sadly lost trailblazing dummer and afrobeat pioneer Tony Allen. In Rejoice, his last album before his passing, the Nigerian percussionist connected with South African jazz legend Hugh Masekela to finalize a collaboration that had started back in 2010. Though they’d known each other since the 1970s, through their friendship & work with Fela Kuti, it took forty years—and a coinciding tour schedule that saw them both in the UK at the same time—for Allen and Masekela to make it to a London studio together. It was there that, along with producer Nick Gold, they recorded the “kind of South African-Nigerian swing-jazz stew” that makes up their album, Rejoice, as Allen described it. The album came out just one month before Allen passed away.
Burna Boy ‘Bank On It’
Burna Boy continued his reign at the top of the Nigerian and ‘global’ music world with the release of his latest album, Twice As Tall. The 15-track album—which Burna described as “very different because I’ve never really sat and been stuck in one place and had to make an album in that one place before”—was executive produced by Diddy and Bose Ogulu (Burna’s mother) and features the likes of Chris Martin, Stormzy, Youssou N’dour, Naughty By Nature and Sauti Sol. While there’s many highlights on it, our favorite is the album closer “Bank On It,” which sees Burna connect with producer JAE5, who’s known for his work with J Hus.
Fireboy DML ‘ELI’
Fireboy DML cemented his spot as one of Nigeria’s most buzzing artists this year. His 17-song album, Apollo. featured collaborations with Olamide, Wande Coal and D Smoke, and production handled by Pheelz, IamBeatz, P-Prime and Type A. “This album is about evolution, growth, love and pain,” Fireboy DML mentioned. While there were many highlights in the album—including “Champion” and “Tatttoo”—our pick of the bunch is the alluring “ELI.” Read our recent interview with the ‘Afro-Life’ singer, in which he gets deep and personal.
Niniola ‘Fantasy’ ft. Femi Kuti
Niniola shared her single “Fantasy,” featuring the legendary Femi Kuti, early in the year as part of the early rollout to her Colours and Sounds album. On “Fantasy,” Niniola delivers her usual crisp vocals atop a pulsating beat and smooth saxophone riffs from Kuti. It’s an infectious song through and through, and the two make for a memorable duo. Read our interview with Niniola and longtime collaborator & producer Sarz about Colours and Sounds, and working with the likes of Timbaland, Busiswa, Kel P and on the album.
Olamide ‘Green Light’
Nigerian heavyweight Olamide came through with his latest 12-track album, Carpe Diem, in October. “The project is a reflection of my mind, and also the current sound brewing underground in Nigeria,” Olamide mentioned. “It’s a combination of a lot of traditional elements and also a sound from Nigeria called galala. It’s also a fusion of something we call Celestial, which is when you are playing secular music in church. It’s like taking pop to the church.” The highly-addictive “Green Light” is the album’s standout track, and Olamide himself agrees, as he told us in our recent interview around Carpe Diem.
Wizkid ‘Ginger’ feat. Burna Boy
Nigerian superstar Wizkid released his highly-anticipated album Made in Lagos in on October. 30 The album was originally meant to drop two weeks before that, but was deliberately delayed to honor the #EndSARS protests. Like several Nigerian artists, Wizkid had been participating in the #EndSARS protests and went on to dedicate Made in Lagos to the collective call for an end to police brutality in his home country. The 14-track album features notable features from Skepta, Damian Marley, H.E.R., Ella Mai and Terri. Through there’s many highlights on MIL, our favorite on the new album is “Ginger” which sees Wizkid connecting with another Nigerian megastar, Burna Boy.
Teni & DJ Neptune ‘Isolate’
Back in April, at the height of lockdowns across the world, Teni released an EP to get us through the quarantine. The project, a collaboration with Nigeria’s DJ Neptune. saw her playing out different stages of being in quarantine and talking about the strains of being in lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Quarantine Playlist EP opens with the reflective “Morning” before jumping into songs aptly titled “Isolate,” our favorite from the EP, and “Lockdown.”
Buzzing Nigerian afro-fusion artist Oxlade released “Away,” as part of his debut 6-song EP Oxygene. The Spax-produced track fuses elements of afropop, highlife, R&B, and more to deliver a catchy pop-leaning sound. When we asked Oxlade to describe his EP in two words for us in our recent interview, he told us: “Soothing. Different. In the sense that, during this period where things are going bad and we are getting bad news everyday, this music is supposed to relieve stress.”
Mr Eazi ‘I No Go Give Up On You’
Mr Eazi‘s “I No Go Give Up On You” is a mid-tempo love song that sees the Nigerian star singing sweetly to his lover about his unwavering feelings for her. The track featured in Mr Eazi’s One Day You Will Understand EP, and released was under his ever-growing emPawa initiative. It came accompanied by an eye-grabbing animated visualizer, as has become custom for emPawa releases. The romantic earworm was produced by Blaq Jerzee.
Tiwa Savage “Dangerous Love”
“Dangerous Love” is a signature Tiwa Savage number with elements of R&B and afrobeats seamlessly coming together for a mellow and straight-up enjoyable track. The sensual music video clocked over 1 million views on YouTube in just five days—a true testament to the viral nature of the hit. The track is a highlight from Tiwa’s fifth studio album Celia, which boasts 12 tracks featuring the likes of Sam Smith, Davido, Stefflon Don and Naira Marley.
Adekunle Gold ‘AG Baby’ ft. Nailah Blackman
Adekunle Gold‘s “AG Baby” is a pulsating, dance-worthy composition featuring singer Nailah Blackman on the hook. His third single of the year, the TMXO-produced beat proved that a different sonic formula could work just as well for the Nigerian artist—even Don Jazzy weighed in about it. Read our recent interview with Adekunle Gold around his visual transformation across albums into his latest, Afropop, Vol. 1.
Rema x Rvssian “Beamer (Bad Boys)”
Rema, the prince of afrobeats, came through early in the year with “Beamer (Bad Boys),” his first single since the release of his 2019 EP Bad Commando. Produced by Rvssian, the song features a sultry, drum-heavy beat and a catchy hook in which a chorus of female voices sing about their love of “bad boys.” In an interview with Zane Lowe about the song Rema mentioned, “Every single artist… has their roles to play in the army of the new generation. Me, I’m the bad commando. My role is to actually, you know, mix vibes, and I want to share the… vulnerability of afrobeats through mixing cultures together.”
Cruel Santino ‘End of the Wicked’ ft. Octavian
Cruel Santino (formerly known as Santi) continued his captivating genre-blending experimentations with “End of the Wicked,” his only single of the year, which followed his highly-acclaimed debut album Mandy & The Jungle (2019). “End of the Wicked” sees the young artist showcasing once again why he’s one of the most forward-thinking acts in Nigeria as he goes in over a dizzying beat with the help of Octavian.
Buju ‘Lenu Remix’ ft. Burna Boy
Buju came through in April with remix of his hit single “Lenu” which was released in late 2019. The up-and-coming afro-fusion artist recruited Burna Boy to deliver the alternative version to the song that fans were waiting for. The two acts make for a breezy collaboration, building on the multi-layered sound of the original track, and Burna adds to the song by delivering a high-energy final verse. Read our interview with the blooming Buju from earlier this year.
Simi ‘No Longer Beneficial’
Simi had a lot of big hits in 2020 she dropped “Duduke” earlier in the year then was featured in “Know You” with Ladipoe, and, more recently, the Nigerian star released her new Restless II EP. “No Longer Beneficial” is our highlight from that latest EP, which saw her taking a risk and going for a more R&B-leaning sound. The EP, Simi told us in a recent interview, was inspired by her husband Adekunle Gold.
Though he dropped several loose singles this year, Tekno‘s “Enjoy” was the first official taste we got from his just-released debut album, Old Romance. “Enjoy” sees the acclaimed Nigerian singer/songwriter/producer sharing a carefree, upbeat composition about simply being allowed to enjoy life—a message that resonates even more this year.
Naira Marley ‘Aye’
Naira Marley‘s Rexxie-produced single “Aye” explores the meaning of life and encourages listeners to keep pushing even in the midst of challenges. In “Aye”—the Yoruba translation for “life”—the rhythm and lyrics work together to convey Marley’s contemplativeness as he navigates and searches for meaning. Released in March, at a time when the world needed it most, the at-times controversial Nigerian artist spoke about persevering through life’s obstacles.
Falz ‘Bop Daddy’ ft. Ms Banks
Falz came through with some strong releases this year—from the Lagos traffic-inspired “One Trouser” to a timely music video for 2019’s excellent single “Johnny” in the face of #EndSARS protests. In “Bop Daddy,” Falz connects with British-Nigerian-Ugandan Ms Banks for a boastful, bumping track with a heavy bass line that will live in your head.