Do not yearn to be popular; be exquisite. Do not desire to be famous; be loved. Do not take pride in being expected; be palpable, unmistakable.
Davido was the man. When Tanzanian musician Diamond Platnumz needed to crossover into West Africa, Davido was the man. This was 2014, and his output hinted at an expanding ear for sound. The seismic Tchelete (Good Life) with South African duo Mafikizolo followed singles Gobe and Skelewu and would have made an album titled The Baddest, which would never see the light of day. He was the man of the moment and succeeded in making Diamond Platnumz famous –that was a Davido thing.
Recently, Diamond Platnumz spoke to Nairobi News on how expensive the whole experience had been. He had to fly his people to Lagos, pay for the payment, and everything else. “But it was worth it,” he could easily have said, as the record and its video shot to prominence in the continent, backed by the MTVs and Trace TVs, only then beginning to make in-roads in the entertainment industry. Today, Diamond Platnumz is one of the most popular African musicians on YouTube and remains a giant of the streaming era. And Davido definitely contributed to that, giving Diamond what many would call “the dream feature” – presence, vocal quality, serenading.
That moment seven years ago has continued to grow even stronger, Davido still getting mad impact on his features. The fact is underscored by his showing on Teni’s fun record For You, the first single off her coming debut album, Wondaland. In typical Teni style, the song was preceded by a video where she ‘accidentally’ meets Davido in a Lagos road, and asks, enthusiastically, that he feature on her record. Shortly after their first song together it went number one on Apple Music, one of the most popular streaming platforms in Nigeria.
Davido’s break as a feature king came on the Sauce Kid record Carolina, a party starter for the cool kids, bringing Sinzu closer to the pop consciousness at the time. His first showing and David Adeleke was already on some epic stuff.
When the modern Nigerian music industry fashioned its early shape, circa 1999 to the mid-2000s, its biggest players shared strong ties with the political elite; to successfully counter foreign infiltration in Nigeria, they kept diplomacy. Compromises were made, promises kept, the biggest artists to emerge from the era, too, knew to be friendly with the gatekeepers. As such a culture of silence pervades the industry. None fancies a fight with the big dogs. Even as the son of a business mogul and a vocal PDP supporter, Davido has never seemed like one of them –the elites. Never cared to filter himself through the prism of his celebrity, Davido is often in the news.
I think now of his verse on Humblesmith’s Osinachi [Remix] where he dissed Dele Momodu over his involvement with Davido’s daughter Imade, and her mother Sophia, who’s Dele Momodu’s niece. The feud continued with his appearance on rapper Falz’s Bahd, Baddo, Baddest, spurring the iconic ‘Mr Dele na my boy’ lyric. Inspiring captions and chants at random moments, the young people of my time found it exciting that a musician from an affluent background could burn the house down, in such Nigerian no-try-me fashion. But this wasn’t just violence for the sake of it: Davido wrote an open letter where he explained where he stood in the matter and ended the note thusly: “Uncle Dele Momodu has boasted about possessing certain things he knows about me and my family. I dare him to publish or perish whatever he has in his pouch, globally!” After reconciliation talks by both families, both Davido and Mr. Momodu would meet months later at an event, and the night ended with a shared hug.
When last year’s Fem became so loved it was blasted at the End SARS protests, culture observers noted how its energy was familiar, and its plea for freedom wasn’t so different from young people in danger of their nation’s ageist leaders. Why dem come dey para for me? Davido strips the mysticism of celebrity, keeping it real by airing his drama in the music, and visibly being on the side of the people. On features, his acclaim affords him more freedom to speak his mind while he conveniently sidesteps all the hassles of being the owner of the song.
The music critic Oris Aigbokhaevbolo once tweeted of Davido, that he’s made “a science of pop music.” A subsequent article dissected the brilliance of Fem, with Aigbokhaevbolo noting how he combined “music and gossip” and “hasn’t looked back since he uncovered the value of this strategy.”
This uncanny ability to exploit space and situation shapes Davido’s operational tactic as a label boss and musician. Earlier this month, the South African artist Focalistic shared a video on Twitter, of himself and Davido sitting, laughing over local slang. Fifteen days later Davido is on the remix of Focalistic’s Ke Star, sprinkling his husky vocals and adlibs over the Amapiano-style drums. But more remarkably, it was the first mention of his viral “Tule joor!” in an official record, yet another instance of Davido weaning his pop-culture credentials into the sound. In the world of David Adeleke, nothing is wasted; not a viral chant, not a feature with a foreign musician who got his break two years ago. Davido wouldn’t inspire the mythic quality of a Wizkid feature, but he’s confident in his trusted formula and has seldom had reason to ditch it.
Across genres, feature runs are considered a shot at immortality. In the 2010s, Burna Boy tasted continental acclaim due to his masterful contributions to songs by Sarkodie, AKA, Da Les, and others. Tiwa Savage, since her emergence in 2012, has served as go-to for sultry features, etched in the breakout stories of stars like Kizz Daniel and Patoranking. Lately, the likes of Zlatan Ibile and Psycho YP are relentless in their work ethic, touching base with the most promising producers and musicians in the music scene and stretching the horizons of what rap could sound like. For the past three years, Davido’s signee Peruzzi has staked his claim as one of the most exciting songwriter-musicians around, through extensive collaborative efforts, most notably on 2Baba’s Amaka. Davido however towers above the enviable accomplishments of the mentioned artists, especially in regard to consumerism and how we all can remember his full-throated moments, how ingeniously he hammered them onto the context of society.
Mayorkun, Davido’s beloved protégé, seems to be taking lessons. Though last year saw unprecedented fortunes, with many creators and especially musicians waddling in uncertain waters, Mayorkun went higher into pop royalty, the prince to Davido’s king. Taking the mantle of collaboration, he was quick to jump on the remixes of a Highlife-pop record (Chike’s If You No Love) and Badboy Timz’s MJ, one of the biggest records of 2020. Though both records didn’t take off as expected, there’s reason to believe Mayorkun will keep tapping into the field of features and has his friend and label boss as the blueprint for rich harvests.
It makes sense that Mayorkun’s biggest guest verse in his best year came on a song with his label boss. And how significant, that here Davido’s feature ran the show; and he made it clear, Mayorkun, that he learned from The Best- Davido.
Photo Credit: Tomi Idowu
Find him at odd places arguing for the greatness of the contemporary. Published by lit mags such as Brittle Paper and The Kalahari Review, he is certain that he is destined to write The Great Ajegunle novel. Emmanuel Esomnofu is also a widely published music journalist and he is fascinated by all things Hip Hop and Reggae.