The history of music is dominated by trendsetters and inventors. To go down in the books as a musical great, one must have the ability to harness existing music, making it a reference point for the creation of new variations – either through the combination of formerly unrelated genres, innovation of stylistic adaptations, or the creation of new music genres entirely.
So what exactly characterizes an artist as being ahead of their time? It can be challenging to define, but one thing remains certain – many artists come to mind when discussing music that is nothing short of futuristic. An artist ahead of his time has most likely created timeless art that continues to evoke inspiration and appreciation in the future, even if their work does not receive appropriate praise at the time of creation. Oftentimes, they are trendsetters in their stride, igniting a chain of thought that prompts artists after them to recreate or reinvent their work. Sometimes, their work is perfected in solitude, masterpieces created away from media buzz or sensationalism. Other times, their interpretations of various platforms or materials make them stand out. One thing is clear; these artists have a lucid representation of what their work is supposed to look like and the mark they intend to leave on the sands of time.
Due to how much importance is ascribed to mainstream music and art in general, it is easy to overlook musical masterpieces and artistic innovations. Even when the artist is relatively mainstream, their craft may be so well executed that it remains relevant for years to come. However, it is important to acknowledge the work of artists responsible for forging the existing musical landscape in Nigeria today. Here, we consider 5 Nigerian artists who made music ahead of their time.
Born Bisade Ologunde, Lágbájá is a Nigerian percussionist, singer-songwriter, and Afrobeat musician. He adopted the name Lágbájá, loosely translated to John Doe – a person whose identity is concealed intentionally, donning a cloth mask as he began his career in the early 90s. In 1991, Lágbájá formed his first band after teaching himself to play the saxophone. Bisade as an artist, was very experimental, performing what he tagged Africano music. This jazz-infused Afrobeat sound involved the heavy use of Yoruba drums such as sakara and bata. He often performed with an orchestra, drawing inspiration from western jazz and traditional highlife music of the 60s, producing what would be termed alternative music today. Lágbájá rose to fame with the release of his Lágbájá album and Ikira in 1993. In 2000, he released the album WE, containing his hit song and party banger, Konko Below, with its signature dance move, distinct bata drums, and catchy hook. Bisade’s alter ego, Lágbájá, represented the common man, hence the facelessness of his persona and his lyrics that often detailed daily interactions as heard in Baby Tani Ko Fe Wa and Gra Gra. In 2006, Lágbájá received the Channel O Music Video Awards for Best Male Video, with the song Never Far Away, where he featured Ego Iheanacho.
Adesola Adesimbo Idowu did not receive support from her conservative parents when she decided to pursue a career in entertainment. While in secondary school, she formed the hip-hop group Weirdos with four other girls, but despite their popularity, they failed to secure a record deal and disbanded pretty quickly. Weird MC proceeded to the Ogun State University, where she studied law for a year, before leaving to focus on her music career. Influenced by Queen Latifah, Fela Kuti, Jimi Hendrix, and Miriam Makeba, she competed in several rap battles, including the Club 291 contest, where she came third. In 1992, she released her single Wanna Make You Jack which charted number one on the Choice FM charts and received positive reviews from music critics. In 1996, Weird MC, alias The Rappatainer, released the album Simply Weird, a blend of Afrobeat and American hip hop, which featured her smash hit Allen Avenue and a sample of Fela’s Look and Laugh. Unfortunately, the album did not do so well, with critics agreeing that it was way ahead of its time. Weird MC’s unique style – a high hat made from gele material and her gender-fluid sense of fashion made her stand out. When she released Ijoya from her After The Storm album in 2006, she had gained a considerable amount of popularity and was now a household name. Weird MC was the first person to win a Hip-hop music award in Nigeria – the EME Awards. Her hit song Ijoya, produced by Donjazzy and JJC, won the AMEN award for Most Pop Song and a Channel O Music Video Award for Best Special Effect.
After completing secondary school in Nigeria, Naeto C moved to the United States for higher education, where he met Ikechukwu and Uzikwendu, both aspiring hip-hop artists. The three of them went on to form the World Famous Academy, a brotherhood of musicians which they planned to grow into an independent record label but couldn’t because they lacked proper funding. In 2004, Naetochukwu Chikwe decided against studying to become a medical doctor and instead developed his talent as a rapper. In 2006, he returned to Nigeria with the rest of the WFA, and Ikechukwu released his debut album, Son Of The Soil, which laid grounds for Naeto C and the World Famous Academy. Naeto began working as an in-house producer with ET-Quake, where he worked with artists like Dare Art-Alade, Sasha, Disconnect, and GT the Guitarman. Here, Naeto recorded over 60 songs, including the bulk of his sophomore album Super C Season, which he co-produced with ET-Quake. The Super C album contained Naeto’s hit record Ten Over Ten and came after his debut album You Know My P. Naeto C is credited with releasing the most articulate representation of Hip hop/Afrobeat to date with his Fela-inspired Lagos City Hustler. In 2008, he received the MTV Africa Music Awards for Best New Musician. In 2009, he received the Channel O Music Video Awards for Best Video Of The Year and the MTV Africa Music Awards for the Best New Artist.
Ikechukwu Onunaku was born in the United States but grew up in Nigeria. He went back to the U.S. for his tertiary education, and when he returned to Nigeria, he released his debut album, Son Of The Soil, which featured the hit record, My Name Is Ikechukwu that charted No. 1 in the East for 21 weeks, Lagos for 6 weeks and Abuja for 5 weeks. He quickly followed with Life And Times Of Killz Volume 1 produced by Don Jazzy featuring Wande Coal, Dbanj, and Naeto C. Ikechukwu’s third album The Alliance Reconstructed carried hit songs like Now Is The Time, where he featured Donjazzy and Critical. Other singles by Ikechukwu include B.A.D.A., Bu Lie Oto, Balabala and Carry Me. Also known as Killz, Ikechukwu took a break from music and pursued acting, where he played a major role in the 2016 blockbuster, Wedding Party. In 2019, he released another single titled Nnukwu Azu. In 2008, he won Best Music Video at the MTV MAMAS and the Channel O Best Male Video.
Considered one of the best female rappers in Nigeria, Eva was introduced to music by her mother, who played musical recordings from the 1970s and 1980s. Influenced by Sade Adu, Michael Jackson, John Lennon, and Bob Marley, Eva’s music is precise, with lyrics that are considered deep. She was inspired to become a professional rapper when she listened to Cleanin’ Out My Closet by Eminem. In 2009, she released I Dey Play, her first-ever studio recording featuring Tha Suspect, recorded over the instrumental of Lil Wayne’s A Milli. In 2011, she released her debut ep – The GIGO EP, comprising 9 songs, including the hit song High. In 2013, she released Mercy, which was remixed several times by UK producer Drox. Eva began working on her debut studio album as early as 2012, and in 2014, she released Deaf, the album’s lead single. In 2014, she released War Is Coming, another single from her album, and announced 1960 as the debut album’s title. She then released a self-titled EP in 2014, and in 2016, she released a second mixtape titled Because You Been Waiting, comprising 5 songs and a sample of DMX’s What These Bitches Want. In 2011, she won the Female Rap Artist of the Year at the ELOY awards, and in 2012, she was crowned the Most Promising Act to Watch at the Nigerian Entertainment Awards.