In what has been a truly interesting year, where the music out of Nigeria came with an exploratory feel. While 2016 was dominated with talk about going global, all of that has peaked in 2017, and artists have lost some of the pressure to misrepresent themselves. This has made for a very experimental music stream on projects released this year.
There are winners on many fronts, with Simi, and Ric Hassani, leading the unconventional artists to victory. Elsewhere Hip-hop again comes through with Falz and A-Q dropping expansive projects dealing with self, society and the pursuit of excellence.
And the pop team has Wizkid, Flavour and DJ Spinall to thank for representation.
Pulse presents to you, the top 10 Nigerian albums of 2017.
10. DJ Spinall – “Dreams”
“Dreams” is a total victory; a happy-hour album of back-to-back hits with an inclusive feel which would see Spinall catering to diverse crowds such as the guy on the streets, and the Islandic music nerds with an obsession for everything that is ‘wavy’ and packed full of vibes.
Opener ‘Thinking about you’ features the buzzing Niniola. It plays to her strengths as a House banger, drawn from the bars of Johannesburg and commoditized into a dope record.
The rest of the record continue that promise, with Wizkid experimenting with full jazzy horns for the darkly exciting ‘Opoju’. It’s a fresh take for Starboy, whose international ambitions have diversified his music palettes.
Harrysong is surprisingly terrific on the Calypso anthem ‘Hanky Panky’, Simi goes all out on the emotional, but party-flavoured ‘Don’t let me go’, and Wande Coal and Davido are on the banging, party-starting ‘Olowo’.
9. Yung6ix – “High Star”
Everyone knows Yung6ix is talented. He’s proven himself in that department. No one argues when he makes his claims about personal greatness and the quality of his skill.
What ticks people off is that he has never truly come into his own as the pop culture ruler that he thinks he is. No one knows what the problem is. It’s just that it hasn’t happened. That’s why he is banking so much on his sophomore LP, “High Star.”
It’s a statement of intent, of diversity, of growth and all its beautiful friends. Music in Nigeria has cross-pollinated profusely to create a heterogeneous spectrum of sounds. And on this album, he embraces them all, infusing his lyrical dexterity as a constant and unifier. He’s put together a record of potential radio hits, that offer enough in depth to be the soundtrack of many sombre moments. He’s walking a fine line, balancing sound and substance for effect. And it’s beautiful to experience.
8. Bemyoda – “Stark”
When you plough the depths of Nigerian music for something other than what radio offers in today, you will find numerous gems, probing just underneath the surface, and feeding a crowd that relies on their music for happiness and escape.
Bemyoda is at the top of that space. A singer/songwriter, and photographer based in Lagos, the young man has made music for the soul. Stark” is his debut album, and it obeys all the rules of his music which explores themes of hope and conflict, love, humanity, and his Christian faith.
Just as his EP, Bemyoda travels in search of artistic perfection, and that’s why the album was recorded in 4 cities in Nigeria and USA: Abuja, Lagos, Cleveland, and Nashville. It was produced by Atta Otigba, Amos Kantiok, and Paul Scholten.
7. A-Q – “Blessed Forever”
Here comes A-Q, the prolific rapper who has been on the path to re-invention since 2016, since he dropped “Rose.”
The project marked a turnaround in A-Q’s music, moving him from a traditional Hip hop role to new-age experimentation and song writing. “Blessed Forever” continues that journey. It’s an enriching ride through A-Q’s mind, as he whips up strong imagery and storytelling to carry gigantic beats.
Everything is near-perfect here. Musically, this album draws on a diverse palette. Opener and title track ‘Blessed forever’ strikes a choral opening, that leads into vibey ‘No problem’. ‘Criminality’ bites off Fela Kuti’s Afrobeat.
It’s interacting rhythm uses a sound so pure and Nigerian to drive home the fallibility in our characters. But where he takes the medals home for experimentation is on ‘Lekki Express Way’, which features gender-bending creative, Wavy The Creator. They cruise with you along Lagos Islands, in drop-top cars, and electro-pop.
6. Ajebutter22 – “What Happens In Lagos”
Ajebutter22 is a special artist. He is one of the best who has made vibes and laziness an art form, scoring delightful fan-favourites along the way as he delves into the surface of our human experience to create music.
With “What Happens In Lagos,” Ajebutter22 captures life in the city via the eyes of a young man with dreams. That boy begins his life at ‘A good place to start’. ‘4 am’ with Dremo storifies the reality of the hustle, which all leads back to making money.
‘Rich friends’ is a recognition of different levels of that hustle, as Ajebutter22 contemplates between accelerating his life by going dark and dabbling into the non-legal businesses of his ‘rich friends.’
With “What Happens In Lagos,” Ajebutter22 sets a standard for conceptual projects. He’s found a way to work around the monotony of his singular delivery style, instead offering enough in songwriting and production to complement his weakness. Drawing from the mundanities of everyday life in Lagos, he has made his best work yet.
5. Ric Hassani – “The African Gentleman”
In 2017, Ric kept on with the love themed songs, which would eventually make the theme of his debut full length album.
Releasing songs like ‘Only you’, ‘Marry you’ and ‘Mama’ in 2017, Ric Hassani set the tone and mood for the release of his first album. Love dominates this album in its totality, as Hassani offers impressive new takes on a range of heart-melding topics.
Ric Hassani was not afraid to explore new sounds looking at what he did on ‘One two’ featuring Chocolate City Music stars MI and Yung L – A wavy collaboration with production sounds that did the most with its simplicity. This is a great win for the other side of radio, where songwriting, rather than beats, drive the artistry.
4. Falz – “27”
“27” album is a symbolic statement. He is turning 27 years old, and this album is simply a collection of his thoughts at this age. While “Stories That Touch” mixed his humour perfectly to great effect and “Chemistry” pushed him into a romantic dynamic, “27” is all of that and more.
Another reason why this project is important is that it arrives at a time in Nigerian Hip-hop where the conversations have been about the best way for rappers to approach music for profitability. Falz, who is routinely disrespected by Hip-hop heads, leads the way with action and music.
His formula works, the music contains rap, and most importantly, it sells. “27” isn’t a landmark in Nigerian music, but it does a lot of things right, and ends up as a project good enough to service the market, and move Falz a few inches in the process.
3. Flavour – “Ijele The Traveler”
You have to respect Flavour. The Nigerian Highlife singer has made a career out a single genre in this day and age of divergent sounds.
And he has done it by creating iterations of Igbo Highlife and folk, fusing it into every song, every soundscape, and yielding positive results. ‘Ijele the Traveler’, the singer’s fifth full-length record, does not stray from all of his other projects.
It is a traditional inspired, romance-Highlife sonorous ride, fitted with variations of his music making ability. While Highlife still dominates, Occasionally he embraces a more direct, less mainstream side (the folksy Zoro-assisted ‘Ijele’; the grateful soft-rock of ‘Most high’ which is a culmination of his chance meeting with blind Liberian boy Semah G. Weifur), but he is mostly unwilling to change the format. This latest effort is his best album yet.
2. Wizkid – “Sounds From The Other Side”
For a man so diminutive, Starboy is shouldering the hopes of an entire continent on those lean shoulders. To some, he is Africa’s first global pop superstar. To others, he represents a black messiah, the second coming of Fela Kuti, who will grab our traditional pop sounds by the reins and ride it to global attention and dominance.
“Sounds From The Other Side” arrives on the back of his deal with Sony Music Entertainment and RCA Records. That business affiliation has provided Wizkid with both recording, marketing, promotional and distribution resources for this mixtape.
Thematically, Wizkid focuses on love and his interaction with his ladies. Every record here is inspired by women, and throws light on his various interaction with them. And tell me, who else can get Chris Brown, Drake, Ty Dollar Sign and Trey Songz on their album?
1. Simi – “Simisola”
Simi delivers on her promise of good music. She comes through with a project that fully captures all that she chooses to offer in her artistry; Love, vocals, songwriting, rhythm and A&R. In many ways, it is the best that Nigeria has seen in 2017.
For parts of this project, Simi looked to the past legends of Nigerian music inspiration. The call-and-response and title of ‘Joromi’, is from a Victor Uwaifo-inspired record which was released in 1996. Another track, ‘Aimasiko’ samples work from Chief Ebenezer Obey.
Other parts contain Adekunle Gold pushing a duet, and more heart-tugging songwriting that wins everyone over.