Every year, there are artists who make jumps many couldn’t fathom at the start. Some come on to the scene from nowhere as Rema did, but for some, the rise is a lot more predictable and a function of a more natural process that can be foreseen by those studying the industry. To start off the year, we drop our list of 10 artists we’re tipping for big leaps in 2020. The list doesn’t feature your most obvious names and artists who have dropped full-length projects.
Despite only making her introduction in 2018 with Mr Rebel and features on Poe and Show Dem Camp’s projects, Tems has developed a core following that some would deem unexplainable taking into account how sparse the music she has out there is. With Looku Looku and Try Me in 2019, she continued to carve her territory and made inroads into the mainstream. 2020 will probably see her share her debut project armed with the right collaborations that will, ultimately, help establish her as a mainstay in the Nigerian scene.
Another musician who came from the streets of Agege, Lil Frosh has found his way to the mainstream courtesy of his gritty rapping and a large social media following. From getting attention early in 2019 via his viral Firi Yahoo ad-lib and freestyle he transitioned into a more rounded artiste as the year went by as evinced in Prison In a Bit featuring friend and frequent collaborator, Zinoleesky, where they trade tales about the realities of life in the Lagos inner city.
In April, he published the video for Firi Yahoo featuring Small Doctor on Empawa’s YouTube page and the fruit of his graft bore fruit when his deal with AMW/DMW was announced later in 2019. His first single as an AMW/DMW signee, Fifty, sees him try to play in popstar territory and he holds his own admirably with his lovers in Agege sure to be proud of the strides he has made. 2020 promises to be a fascinating year for Lil Frosh.
Debuting in 2017 with Instaman and then following it up with an impressive debut project that won everyone over in Lagos City Vice, WANI has succeeded at staying relevant with an unwritten mantra that is clearly quality over quantity. Appearing only on Better Days with Odunsi before sharing No Love and Fast Life which was followed by In Case on Show Dem Camp’s Palmwine Express, it almost feels like WANI shelved music to roll out at a later date. There’s a feeling of now or never and if the music drops, we’re tipping WANI to have a breakout year.
For a while now the Nigerian music industry has embodied the spirit of the latest cultural craze from Mainland Lagos, the lingo and culture of that area has been appropriated into pop culture without wholesome representation of its constituents. Divided by the colloquial Third Mainland Bridge, the Island and Mainland can seem worlds apart for young mainlanders looking to break past the ceiling on their craft. For Zinoleesky that divide has been bridged by the internet, Instagram specifically. Zinoleesky released a slew of viral videos that gained the public’s attention and made him one to watch out for.
His greatest strength is his ability to blend scathing rap-bars with melodic interludes that strike a chord in the heart of the listeners and 2019 ended on a high note for the Agege-born musician whose deal with Naira Marley’s Marlian Records was announced. Zinoleesky could be the next to carry the torch of street music into mainstream consciousness.
2019 saw Buju earn his first major mainstream collaboration in Spiritual with Zlatan after flexing his social media know-how and getting fans to facilitate an introduction by camping in Zlatan’s mentions. Consistently staying in public consciousness with releases, Buju has cornered his territory and will inevitably earn more features from bigger artists this year (Word is Burna and Buju is coming). Hopefully, the year also comes with his debut project and better branding that allows him to consolidate and grow his following.
Oxlade is the artist on this list with the most mainstream success. With features with Reekado Banks, DJ Tunez and on the radar of many of the biggest players in the game, two singles at the right times could catapult Oxlade from the artist who came up short for Rookie of the Year at the Headies to a potential Next Rated winner.
When he relocated from Benin to Lagos in January 2019 Alpha P said one prayer: he wanted to get signed to an international label. At the end of the year, he was signed to Universal Music Group Nigeria and released his first body of work, King of the Wolves. The project, a brilliant fusion of sonic influences ranging from trap, to rock, and RnB represents a composed rise for the 17-year-old who has dreams of establishing himself at the top of Nigerian music’s food chain.
“My name (Alpha) inspired King of the Wolves. An alpha is the leader of the park…king of the wolves, so basically, me. I was just telling people that this is me (leader of the park). This is where I stand in these times, in this industry; I am the king of the wolves,” he said in an interview weeks after his deal was publicly announced.
Alpha P’s emergence from the same cultural laboratory that birthed Rema has birthed comparison, the startling similarity in their music, and looks but Alpha P is a talented musician in his own right and 2020 is set to be an important year for him to set himself apart.
Operating freely at the interjection of alternative-leaning interpolation and rhyming in Yoruba language, Mojo AF delivered a cult classic with his PrettyBoy D-O-assisted Chop Life Crew that has prompted young listeners to name themselves part of the aforementioned crew. More than music, Mojo has provided kinship for his community of listeners with his words of admonition taken quite literally. To quote the singer: only one life, ko si part two.
Mojo’s syrupy drawl and deadpan delivery are stellar but his elucidation needs work as shown on Shawarma; not like that affects people feeling him. Mojo closed 2019 as the chairperson of the Chop Life Crew, 2020 presents an opportunity for him to become a key player in afrobeats’ always-evolving movement.
Very few musicians in Nigeria can do what Ditweni does. He has a specific ear for tunes: equally comfortable singing achy hooks and choruses as he is rapping about social issues that he has a connection to. Ditweni has a knack for making enjoyable songs about almost anything without sounding corny or straying from the subject matter. And I mean everything, this past December he made a song that was essentially a requiem for chickens that would be killed during the festive season. In November, at the height of social media condemnation of the proposed social media bill, Ditweni dropped a one-minute quasi-satirical video lending his voice and platform to an important cause.
Ditweni’s biggest selling point is how he effortlessly oscillates between rhythms and blurs the line of genres. Perhaps, that carefreeness is down to his experimental nature as a producer but I cannot wait to see what he does in 2020 after Mr Eazi announced him as a part of the Empawa cohort.
The Producer cum Rapper has ascended to the high table of Nigerian music in the last couple of years with contributions on albums like rare, Mandy and the Jungle, Enjoy Your Life and potentially earning a Grammy for African Giant. As a key but understated player in a generation most famous for its disruption of the Nigerian mainstream, his contributions have the potential be needle shifters. Last year, GMK was prepping two projects- one designed to show his rapping skills and another designed to highlight his production ability. It’s likelier those will come this year and with a high powered network of artists to draw from, we expect GMK to make a big leap over the course of the year.