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The year of the underdog: the rise of new voices in Nigeria

These young artistes who ‘blew up’ in 2019 are the future of the Nigerian music industry.

Picture: Fireboy DML


Jealous” wathat song. Featured in 2018 on the in-house YBNL Mafia album, the song grew into a force of its own in 2019, when its visuals were released. On it, we see a love-struck Fireboy marauding the streets of Lagos, searching for a departed lover. In his crazed moments of The Search, the director flips the linearity, featuring scenes which depict warm moments of love and sexually-charged activities. Suitably, Fireboy DML revealed that it was inspired by a personal experience. “I had a roller-coaster affair with a young lady that turned into an unhealthy addiction. I wanted to relive the experience in a song, so I did.” 

Since “Jealous,” Fireboy DML, born Adedamola Adefola, has risen through the ranks, carried on the wings of his music, which he chooses to describe as Afro Highlife. His songwriting skills are impeccable, his voice too. His fashion, fashioned by Uncle Soft (a Lagos-based fashion designer and writer) is avant-garde, one which leans on the experimental and detached coolness of youth. 

His singles include “Sing” (a collaboration with Oxlade), “What If I Say,” “You,” and “King,” his latest song, released with accompanying visuals. One of Fireboy’s biggest wins so far will be his performance at the O2 Arena in London, alongside Wizkid at the Starboy Fest. While he performed, Rema won the Headies Next Rated back in Lagos, surely the new kids are here to stay. 

Fireboy DML, in what seems like forever, has shared details for his debut album, titled “Laughter, Tears & Goosebumps.” It will be released under the YBNL imprint on November 25th


The songBaby” has been one of the most enduring songs of the year. In Nigeria, the song is played in many social gatherings. Joeboy, the artiste, was an unlikely challenger for Artiste of the Year at the start of 2019 but the narrative changed. 

In 2017, Joeboy posted a video on Instagram of himself covering Ed Sheeran’s smash hit “Shape of You.” A friend of his sent it to Nigerian singer Mr Eazi, who immediately DM’d Joeboy – he wanted to help the new artist break through.

A year later, Mr Eazi created a talent incubator for emerging African artists, called emPawa Africa – a full-service company offering marketing, distribution, publishing, label and management services. He also launched #emPawa100, a funding and mentorship program, and encouraged Joeboy to sign up. And Joeboy did, becoming one of 10,000 applicants from 14 countries. As part of the program, he was the first of 100 recipients to earn a share of a $300,000 grant aimed at helping a new generation of African artists find mainstream success. The artiste, born Joseph Akinfenwa-Donus, has been the poster face for emPawa’s growing influence across Africa. 

On November 8th, Joeboy released his debut project, Love and Light, a six-track EP. Mr. Eazi has also revealed that in December, Joeboy will headline his own show in Surulere, a middle class suburb in Lagos, which doubles as a spot for emerging creatives. There’s also a US and Europe tour forthcoming for the 22 year-old Afropop star in 2020. 



This 19 year-old, born Divine Ikubor, is having perhaps the fastest come-up in Nigerian music history. 

Whereas he was just last year a kid in Benin City, this year, after being discovered by D’ Prince, he has, on the back of three Eps, risen to prominence in Nigeria and surely beyond. 

Dumebi,” the banger produced by Ozedikus, was the propelling force. Its sound was instantly likable. Rema banked on his youth, pairing it with his artistry – an unstoppable force was born. His music is a curious child of genres, from afrobeats (“Lady”) to trap (“Why”), to emo-rap. 

With the coveted Headies Next Rated to his name, next year promises to be even bigger for Rema. He’s recently put out a video for “Lady” and he’s scheduled for a tour in America; Rema is shaping up to be a real superstar: there seems to be no market he cannot break into.


Artistes like Tems, Lyta, Barry Jhay, Buju, Blaqbonez, Crayon, and Oxlade, amongst others, have also proven themselves to be capable of ushering a new guard. Among these names, many hits are shared, and much hope for the immense possibilities inherent in the future of Nigerian music. 

Read next: The 5 best Nigeria-Ghana collaborations