The best Nigerian songs of 2021
This year Nigerian music broke records, filled stadiums, and created household names around the world. Keep up with the global rise in Afrobeats and Afropop with our selection of Nigeria’s best songs of 2021 including Burna Boy, Tiwa Savage, Rema and more.
The year 2021 has been an eventful one of releases, milestones, and recognition of Nigerian music. As established talents like Burna Boy, Tiwa Savage, Rema keep pace with outstanding releases, new names like Ayra Starr, Ruger, Lojay stake their claim with critically-acclaimed projects that shoot them right atop the echelon. While artists like Victony, Buju, Fave are elevated from underground tier to mainstream consciousness, Reekado Banks, Mayorkun mark their rebound with banging singles. These events throughout the year culminate to what would be our picks for The Best Nigerian Songs of 2021.
By Tochi Louis
Reekado Banks reclaims his place as a bona fide hitmaker with “Ozumba Mbadiwe”, in commemoration of victims of the Lekki massacre, following the nationwide protest in 2020. The record has since become a reference in pop culture around life on Lagos Island. “Ozumba Mbadiwe” marks the singer’s stab at socio-political commentary, which he brilliantly executes over an amapiano-leaning beat mastermind by best-in-class producer, P.Priime. The release of “Ozumba Mbadiwe” coincides with the one year remembrance of the Lekki massacre.
Tiwa Savage (feat. Brandy)
Savage, in a dreambound collaboration with her idol Brandy, delivers a blend of Afro-R&B sweetness that carries a badge of vulnerability, resilience and optimism . In Savage’s own words, “it’s a female anthem and it’s saying that even though I’ve been hurt so many times, I’m still holding out and believing that I’ll someday find true love”. Adding to their perfectly cloned vocals, hearing Brandy sing in Yoruba is something we can’t get over.
Johnny Drille, in his first release this year, sings about treating his lover to a romantic sway even at the risk of being bad at busting a move. The percussion, piano and violin accompanied by Drille’s dulcet vocals and ferevent lyricism evokes a hopeless romantic’s daydream. “Bad Dancer” is single-handedly written, produced and engineered by Drille himself and it depicts diversity in the music emerging from Nigeria – away from the all-too-familiar- Afrobeats.
LADIPOE (feat. Buju)
LADIPOE and Buju link up for what would be one of the biggest songs in Nigeria this year. “Feelings” is reminiscent of a human state of mind to aspire for a good time irrespective of looming negatives, especially as the world recovers from the grueling pandemic. In Poe’s words, “I wrote a poem called ‘How I’m Feeling Now’ because in these times, it’s hard to be grateful. The scars on my face are not as deep as the ones inside but still, I like the way I’m feeling”.
In “Monalisa”, Lojay latches onto amapiano to extol the feminine physique, but this time with territoriality as he croons “‘cause this your miliki for front na for me”. “Monalisa” is housed in Lojay and Sarz’s collaborative project, LV N ATTN which also features Wizkid.
Mayorkun (feat. Victony)
On “Holy Father”, Mayorkun and Victony experience a hard time moving on as they ruminate on getting back with an ex. The emotions conveyed in the scripture-themed hook that was helmed by Victony. It would catapult the record to become one of the hottest releases this year. “Holy Father” is one of the standout records off Mayorkun’s sophomore album, Back in Office.
Larry Gaaga (feat. Pete Edochie, Theresa Onuorah, Flavour & Phyno)
Larry Gaga assembles veteran singer Theresa Onuoha, Flavour and Phyno for what would become an anthem that celebrates and propagates Igbo culture – to the fascination of non-indigenes inclusive. Onuoha, also known as “Queen of the Coast”, drives the hook as Flavour and Phyno work the verses in their mother tongue. Also featuring Nollywood veteran Pete Edochie, “Egedege” is presumably a cultural reset for music emerging from Eastern Nigeria.
Fave is knee-deep in her feelings on “Baby Riddim” as she teases “steady your face jor for me, I want to take a picture”. She adopts a concise, seemingly down-bad vehicle to drive home this affection. According to Fave, “I’m never slacking on a chance to unlock a phase. A chance to birth a sound, a chance to love upon a beat. If it’s calling, I’m answering”. “Baby Riddim” presently has hopeless romantics in a chokehold on Tiktok. Fave featured in two songs off Olamide’s most recent album, UY Scuti.
“Now That You’re Mine”
“Now That You’re Mine”is cut from the same heartwarming texture of Johnny Drill’s Bad Dancer but with more indigenous leaning. Here, Zamorra extends words of affirmation to his significant other as they journey through life together. The Dunnie-produced number unearths a wholesome blend between Zamorra’s husky range and Dunnie’s silvery vocals in the background. With “Now That You’re Mine”, Zamorra joins a list of go-tos to serenade couples at love-themed events in Nigeria.
Ayra Starr (feat. CKay)
Ayra Starr recounts a story of unrequited emotions towards a lover-turned-nemesis, while CKay, from a male POV, is accepting of his excesses. His reluctance towards commitment shines through nonetheless. The best thing about “Beggie Beggie” is the effortless delivery in pidgin English alongside an infusion of relevant pop culture reference like “hundred yards husband/wife material”. This is the only feature on Ayra Starr’s magnum opus 19 & Dangerous, and it’s one we didn’t know we deserved.
In “Jennifer”, Guchi is suspicious of her lover’s divided attention in their relationship and attributes it to his seemingly too-close-for-comfort relationship with a feminine figure called Jennifer. “Jennifer” has since established Guchi as a household name across the continent – more than in her home country, Nigeria. The record, predominantly sung in pidgin, took off on Tiktok and was later followed by a remix featuring Tanzanian sensation, Rayvanny.
In “Motivate Yourself”, Magixx charges listeners to chin up and stay the course regardless of the twists and turns experienced. The singer reels out anecdotes to further drive home his gospel of self-motivation and tenacity – seemingly targeted at young men. “Motivate Yourself” is off Magixx’s self-titled debut project, following his signing to Mavin Records.
The London-produced “Soundgasm” sees Rema express sexual tendencies in a manner void of subtlety. The singer coasts from doing a sonorous whistle to amping up his sexual know-how one lyric line at a time. According to him, “‘Soundgasm’ is derived from the combination of two words which are ‘sound’ and ‘orgasm’. It’s literally Sex translated into sound frequency. It’s a record that disposes of spiritual vibrations and creates euphoria through the ears.”
Joeboy draws the curtain on his debut project with “Sip (Alcohol)”, also putting to rest his lover-boy streak as he gets more personal. Thematically, “Sip (Alcohol)” relatively parallels “Feelings” which according to the singer, is “from a place of complete self-awareness”. The Tempoe-produced record is Joeboy’s call to be missed out on shady things.
This would be Fireboy’s only release this year and boy, did he strike gold here. In “Peru”, the singer coasts from attention-seeking to braggadocio about his cross-continental acclaim. While “Peru” seemingly nears maturity phase in Nigeria, it’s not waning in the diaspora as it recently breaks into the Official UK Top 100.
Burna Boy (feat. Polo G)
“Want It All”
Burna Boy recruits Polo G on “Want It All” where they recount their journey from grass to grace. The record embodies heartfelt storytelling that segues from “when I was sleeping on the ground, on the cold floor” to now getting “every Louis V collection from Virgil, Dior from Kim Jones, Bottega from Daniel”.
Vector (feat. Good Girl LA)
The chemistry between Vector and Good Girl LA on “Early Momo” makes it one of the most unsung releases to grace the music industry this year. The duo give off an admirable sensual energy complemented by cheeky punchlines like “it’s not my birthday but I got some cake”. The romantic exchange, released just in time for Valentine, is arguably a ‘collaboration of the year’ material at the Headies.
“Bounce” would take on a life of its own to become the nucleus of Ruger’s debut project, Pandemic. “Bounce” is testament of Ruger’s genius characterized by his off-the-top delivery and macho lyricism. It is no wonder “Bounce” that emerged as one of the most streamed Nigerian songs on Apple music this year. According to Ruger, “Bounce gave me the hardest time to record compared to other songs on the project”.
Simi dedicates her opening release for the year to womanhood, following a social media challenge she’d initiated where women share their personal account of stigma heaped on them by society. The #NobodyLikeWoman campaign will usher in the release of “Woman”, after garnering thousands of entries by women only. “Woman” furthers Simi’s call for equality and women liberation. It features vocals from Adekunle Gold and possesses brilliant Fela-esque influences.
On “Gone Far”, the Marlian Music signee reflects on his career trajectory from being a viral sensation to a bonafide pop star. He draws listeners’ attention with the opening lyric line “I left dem post on my Instagram. So, you can see there was a turnin’ point”. Produced by Medua, “Gone Far” furthers Zinoleesky’s progress into the mainstream – breaking away from the street-pop pigeonhole.