Rising stars: Spotlight on talented Gen Z musicians taking afrobeats global
The mantra "the future of Nigerian music is in safe hands" has continued to permeate musical conversations globally, given the array of rising stars from the country. The presence of established musicians does not wholly power the ongoing Afrobeats' global conquest; its most potent weapon is the talented bunch of emerging stars. Some of them have already surpassed most of the so-called superstars in both charts and stream successes. Advent of kid stars The Nigerian music industry was not always as youth-dominated as it is today. It was exclusively for mature men and women, who were in their 30s and 40s, in the 70s-80s when Fela, King Sunny Ade, Onyeka Onwenu, and others held sway. The new millennium ushered in a new wave of young talented stars such as 2Face, P-Square, and D'banj into the Nigerian music industry. But, it still eluded kids until the 2010s. Wizkid is arguably the first kid star to achieve a la Justin Bieber prominence in Nigeria. He launched onto the Nigerian music scene in 2010 with his hit song 'Holla At Your Boy'. His 2011 debut album, aptly dubbed 'Superstar', and Davido's 'Omo Baba Olowo' which was released a year after, soundtracked the childhood of many Gen Z. The duo would go on to inspire a generation of kid musicians from Nigeria. Gen Z takeover By the turn of 2019, it was almost certain that the 2020s would be dominated by Gen Z - the demography of people born between 1997 and 2012. The rise of Gen Z musicians in Nigeria has been accentuated by their fusion of sounds and musical styles and the use of new technologies such as Tiktok for viral approval. Nigeria is witnessing a shift from analogue to digital music marketing and consumption, thanks to the foresight of the Gen Z musicians who deployed a fun way of getting their mates to consume afrobeats globally. Streaming giant, Spotify, in its recently launched 'Afrobeats: Journey of a Billion Streams', revealed that since 2017, the genre witnessed a remarkable growth of 550 per cent on the platform. In 2022, afrobeats garnered over 13 billion streams, with Gen Z making up 35% of its listeners. From incorporating foreign sounds into their songs to woo the global audience to throwing challenges on short video streaming platforms such as Tiktok as a marketing strategy, these innovative Gen Z musicians have continued to prove that the future of afrobeats is not in doubt: They are game-changers from their music styles to fashion, and social media demeanour. Faces of leading Gen Z musicians Rema Rema, born Divine Ikubor, launched onto the Nigerian music scene in 2019 with his eponymous debut extended play (EP) in a la Disney hero, donning a teddy bear and mask. With the EP, Rema popularised a sound that marries Indian percussion with contemporary afrobeats. The standout tracks 'Dumebi', 'Corny', and 'Iron Man' (which made ex-US president Barack Obamas 2019 summer playlist) all have Indian feels. Consequently, he was nicknamed "Indian boy" on social media. Today, Rema, 23, has toured and performed in several countries, including India. His hit song 'Calm Down' is the longest-running N0. 1 song in the history of India's IMI International Top 20 Singles Chart. Rema's debut album, 'Rave & Roses: Ultra' (deluxe version), is the most streamed African project on Spotify, with 1.5 billion streams. Guinness World Record has also recognized Rema for securing the first number 1 hit on the worlds first regional streaming chart and first-ever official chart in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) with 'Calm Down.' The remix version of 'Calm Down' with American superstar Selena Gomez is the most streamed African song on Spotify, with over one billion streams. It is the highest-peaking Nigerian song in the US Billboard Hot 100 chart history (3). Not even Rema himself had the faintest idea of his remarkable achievements so far, which has solidified his status as the poster child of Gen Z afrobeats when he made the famous statement, "I am the future", while receiving the Next Rated gong at the 2019 Headies Awards. Omah Lay Stanley Omah Didia, ceremoniously known as Omah Lay, whose 2020 debut extended play, 'Get Layed' could fit in as a sex playlist, is now adapting a new image as a balladeer of "sad songs." The lead single of his debut EP, 'Bad Influence' is a fascinating melody. Omah Lay became an instant star after the song went viral on social media in early 2020. The 26-year-old singer continued to dominate the romantic playlist of many Gen Z with numbers such as 'Lo Lo', 'Damn', 'You', and 'Ye Ye Ye', until 2022, when he switched the game in his sophomore project and first full-length mixtape, 'Boy Alone' which could be described as a soulful expression of melancholy. The album is sorrow-ridden yet enjoyable. Social media music buffs quickly termed Omah Lay's new music style "Afro-depression." While the debate on his swift switch of genres was going on, Omah Lay found new fans in depressed Gen Z worldwide searching for songs to soundtrack their sad experiences. His sad love song 'Attention' which featured Canadian pop star Justin Bieber, debuted on several international charts, including the UK, Canada, Portugal, Ireland, Switzerland, New Zealand and the Netherlands. It also appeared on the U.S Billboard Bubbling Under Hot 100 chart. In June 2022, Puerto Rican Ozuna featured in the remix version of one of the standout tracks of Omah Lay's debut album, 'Soso', introducing the Port Harcourt-born star to the Latino market. The prophecy of Omah Lay's superstardom was unveiled at the 2021 Headies Awards, where he was presented with the Next Rated Artist gong. Ayra Starr The career trajectory of Oyinkansola Sarah Aderibigbe, known professionally as Ayra Starr, followed a similar path as her Mavin record label mate, Rema. She made her debut in early 2021 with her eponymous extended play. The EP housed the hit track 'Away', which endeared her to many Nigerian music lovers, especially Gen Z. Ayra Starr's meteoric rise was primed by her distinctly rich vocals, unconventional but sweet fashion sense and social media charm. Her debut album, '19 & Dangerous' (2021), was a seal on her unofficial title as the undisputed poster girl of Gen Z afrobeats. The 11-track project and its lead single 'Bloody Samaritan' solidified her place as one of the leading female songbirds in Africa. However, Ayra Starr only hit global reckoning in 2022, thanks to her smash hit 'Rush', which charted in several territories, including Switzerland, Ireland and the United Kingdom, where it peaked at Number 24. The song is certified silver in the UK, and platinum in France. It is also eligible for Gold certification in the US. 'Rush' is the first solo song by a Nigerian female artist to cross the 100 million stream mark on Spotify. Ayra Starr, 21, is also Africa's second most streamed female artist on the platform, behind Grammy award winner, Tems. Oxlade Ikuforiji Olaitan Abdulrahman, popularly known as Oxlade, hit stardom with the release of the song 'Away', housed in his debut extended play 'Oxygene' (2020). The song was ranked number 23 on Rolling Stone's list of 50 Best Songs of 2020, and OkayAfrica's 20 Best Nigerian Songs of 2020. In February 2022, Oxlade headlined the global news media after his sex tape leaked via Snapchat. The 26-year-old singer later apologized on Twitter to the woman featured in the video and his fans. In June 2022, Oxlade got his international breakthrough with his smash hit 'Ku Lo Sa.' The song, which was originally A Colors Show, is one of the most streamed Nigerian/African songs on Spotify, with over 200 million streams. It appeared on the official chat of several territories, including South Africa, the UK, Canada, France, Luxembourg and Belgium. A remix version of the song was released with a new verse from Cuban-American singer Camila Cabello in December 2022. BNXN Daniel Benson, known professionally as BNXN and formerly known as Buju, began rising to fame in 2019 after his songs, such as 'Spiritual' feat. Zlatan Ibile, and 'L'enu' started gaining some traction. He achieved full stardom after he was signed to Spaceship Collective in 2020 and released 'L'enu' remix with Burna Boy. BNXN released his debut extended play 'Sorry I'm Late' on 27 October 2021, shortly after pathing ways with Burna Boy's Spaceship Entertainment. In early 2022, BNXN gained international prominence after he featured in producer, Pheelz's hit song 'Finesse', which went viral on Tiktok before its official release. 'Finesse' charted in several territories, including the UK, Ireland, France, New Zealand and the Netherlands. The song also topped the global Shazam chart. Since then, the 26-year-old has earned a reputation as the "Nigerian King of features." He is arguably the most featured Nigerian artist since 2020. He was featured on 'Mood' off Wizkid's 'Made In Lagos: Deluxe.' His second extended play 'Bad Since '97', featured guest appearances from Wizkid, Olamide and Wande Coal. In September 2022, BNXN won the Next Rated award and walked away with a 2022 Bentley Bentayga prize at the 15th Headies Award held in the United States.