In the last year or two, a quiet revolution or rather, evolution has taken place in Nigerian music. For almost a decade, the hierarchy in the industry was something like this: Davido and Wizkid then the rest. At different points, the rest has been led by Olamide, Tekno, Kizz Daniel, Iyanya, Tiwa Savage, Mr Eazi, Burna Boy and Naira Marley. On the back of back to back years as one of the most prolific artists around, Burna Boy has joined Davido and Wizkid at the high table, and naturally, that has generated some friction.
Yesterday, Davido released the first single of the follow up to 2019’s A Good Time, A Better Time. A Better Time was largely a product of the lockdown period where artists who would normally have been crisscrossing the world had to take an enforced break and recharge their batteries. Both Davido and Burna Boy embodied this with both spending the longest span of time in the country since they started delivering for their foreign labels and recording new album material. Davido went even further by embarking a social media break. Burna Boy’s follow up to 2019’s African Giant, Twice as Tall was also recorded in this period. The Davido single titled Fem was an unmistakable allusion to the growing tension that underscores the relationship of the big three. While Wizkid has built a reputation for himself as the more laidback, insular one of the three- the elder statesman of sorts perhaps owing to his seniority, the days of his youth were characterized by a heady clash with Davido. That rivalry has softened as both have made the effort to compliment each other at turns. On the other hand, Wizkid and Burna were pictured in a London studio last week suggesting some chemistry is being built. Davido and Burna’s relationship is a bit more tetchy. Fem is spliced with references to the self-proclaimed African Giant. Fem can be translated to mean “be quiet” in the most polite context and “shut up” in a not so polite context. “Tell Odogwu we like to party” is Davido trying his hands at being punny while the refrain of “Call my phone” is an obvious reference to Bankulli screaming “Burna Boy call me” while recording with Kanye West in Uganda during the Ye phase. There is the threat of potential war “Before the whole matter gets dangerous/ You need to make sure you don’t say too much/ ‘Cause if you say too much, I fit to run up on you” but the “Make una tell am to call me” refrain hints at an interest in an amicable settlement.
July 26th was a milestone day in the industry last year. It was the day both African Giant and Davido’s Chris Brown collab Blow My Mind were released. It was also the first time I heard of the growing tension between both with the suggestion that the former took offense to what he saw as an attempt to step on his turf. This degree of sensitivity and desire to one-up each other is an inevitable byproduct of the Nigeria to the World movement. For the artists who are essentially in competition with each other in a foreign territory where Afrobeats is increasingly respected but is ultimately a novelty and consequently, a quota filler, this rat race only serves to exacerbate issues that could be managed carefully on a lesser scale. Another anecdote I was told at the root of the issues comes in the shape of the much-coveted placement in the Coming to America sequel for which Burna had been mooted but ultimately went to Davido. The constant needling and desire to outdo each other became increasingly public over the course of the lockdown. In March, Burna Boy had announced that his next album would come in July. In May, when Davido suggested his album would come in July too, Burna’s response was “July will be very funny and I shall laugh accordingly.” Davido later tweeted a user-generated artwork of him and Wizkid with the caption “The 2 greatest of all time. No cap”. Burna’s response “You cannot play football. Everybody knows you cannot play football and you are an embarrassment to the team But your daddy bought the football team”. As one would expect in 2020, this has largely played out on social media which while offering an immediate snapshot of their thinking leaves them susceptible to the pressure to clap back in order to please bloodthirsty fans.
The supposed needle points being release dates is mind-boggling and betrays any sense of maturity. When Wizkid and Davido were engaged in their own battle in 2017, I argued that competition was the antidote to mediocrity and it’s a point I still stand by. Instead of falling for the sideshow, why don’t the fans, the ultimate consumers determine what’s hot or not. When Davido’s Son of Mercy came out and was panned, no one needed to tell him to go #backtobasics. It was a strategy he came up with, executed, and culminated in possibly the hottest 12-month run we have seen in the Afrobeats era. To scrutinize the claims for what they are, Davido’s conceptualization of himself and Wizkid as the “greatest of all time” is reasonable. While Burna has made his way to the top more recently, he lacks the long term dominance that we have seen from both Davido and Wizkid. Burna undoubtedly has a chip on his shoulder and sees himself as more talented which is a fair summation but has to be reminded that Pop music is less defined by talent and more by numbers. His suggestion that Davido’s privilege is responsible for his success also rings hollow. Privilege undoubtedly opens up the window of possibilities and one’s imagination but privilege is not the reason why Sony Music signed Davido or Fall was the mega-hit that it was. It also comes across as rich considering that Burna is relatively privileged compared to the vast majority of his peers. He attended some of the more prestigious schools in the country and has affiliations to the country’s most famous music family- marketing gold in these times. Moreover, the arts is the one field where talent or the lack of, always tells. I only have to cite the career of a certain neon haired rapper whose penchant for attention-seeking and chart manipulation tactics has ultimately been found out and seen for what it is.