Wizkid is that guy. He is probably the only artist that Nigeria has watched grow from the awkward post pubescent stage into a stellar entertainer in his own right. I remember watching him being interviewed, a slight kid in ill-advised, white rimmed sunglasses, licking his lips repeatedly as he answered an interviewer’s questions haltingly, almost like he was trying fame on for size. That was then.
He has since outgrown his stage moniker, homie is no longer a ‘kid’, literally and fame wise. Not only is he arguably the biggest Nigerian Pop star around, he has since become a father; he’s unabashed about posting photos of this toddling son on social media, he is also a record label owner. On the face of it, one cannot question his achievements since he burst on to the scene with his bubblegum classic “Holla At Your Boy“, his (Nigerian) musical bona fides stand up to scrutiny.
His aptly debut album, Superstar marked a seminal moment on the Nigerian music scene, the arrival of the first true superstar of Nigerian Pop music. The excellent Samklef cooked up sumptuous beats for the young pretender to showcase his skills and the album did not disappoint. Compared to Nigerian Pop albums before it, most especially Wande Coal’s Mushin 2 Mo’Hits (a Nigerian Pop classic in its own right), WizKid’s Superstar has retained a contemporary sound, the highlights of the album “Pakurumo”, “Don’t Dull” and “Tease Me/Bad Guys” can still get parties started.
After reaching the summit of the Nigerian scene so quickly, what’s next for the Kid? It’s been three years, in that time though, he has been busy establishing himself firmly as a label boss, he has found the time to release wildly popular party joints, think “The Matter“, “Caro” (featuring the exciting L.A.X) and “Jaiye Jaiye” to name a few.
There is the undoubted evidence of growth, no not just the physical kind, watch a Wizkid performance circa 2011/2, here was an act, though sure of his fame by then, that seemed to be performing by rote. Now? He owns the stage, his new found grown guy sex appeal coupled with a natty ‘Road G’ fashion sense, he has successfully incorporated UK influences and not only in dress, peep the lyrics on Maleek Berry’s “The Matter” – he drew misplaced criticism for warning ‘20 man‘ of their fate should they cross him, unfortunately, much of the audience misses the point.
It’s evidence of the boy’s smarts that he soaked up these influences, Nigerian culture consumes more than it produces, to stay relevant, one has gotta be open to ‘Nigerianizing’ a ton of diasporic influences; whilst African audiences are receptive to Naija cool, Nigerian artists often betray an insecurity at worst or a ravenous appetite for appropriating accents, slang and their general steez from famous Hip-Hop acts at best, the most obvious example being Yung 6ix’s attempt at becoming a Warri Lil’ Wayne, with predictably comedic results. That cannot be said of Wizkid, he immersed himself in London subculture and emerged clean, his affiliation with Maleek Berry signalled a shift in his thinking, a deliberate one.
The iconic “The Matter” emanated from this newly forged symbiosis. This song signals Wiz’s emergence from an EME act to Wizkid the self determined artist. The lyrical content got blatantly risque, the accompanying video, his most pared down to date, sees him and a couple of his LDN ‘man dem’ mouthing along to the song. Made and produced in the UK, for consumption in Nigeria and the audience lapped it up.
In Berry and later on, Legendury Beatz, WizKid seems to have his muse, producers that allowed him the space to shirk the pretty school boy steez. If Nigeria was as liberal as the US, perhaps he might spit in the odd paparazzo’s face and be embroiled in a new scandal after the next but no. Perhaps due to the stellar training provided by his impeccably mannered erstwhile boss cum business partner, Wiz has refrained from wearing his adulthood ‘training wheels’ in public, instead, he has restricted himself to passing ‘Mari(juana)’ to his guy on records – See “Talk” (produced by Legendury Beatz), and airing his relationship angst with his on and off girlfriend on Twitter. His audience is demanding and he seems reluctant to deny them.
Why then, for an obviously loved superstar like Wiz, whose buzz never seems to wane, is a sophomore album a seemingly recycled rumour? A rash of singles in 2013 suggested the album was close to being finished, the artist himself promised its release but to no avail. It cannot be logistics, EME, at least on the face of it, strikes one as being one of the better organised record labels around.
The fear of being unable to repeat the success of ‘Superstar’ must plague him. Then, he was the undisputed prince of the Nigerian Pop scene, he had the stage pretty much to himself, there was no Davido to jostle with him for the hearts and wallets of the Nigerian consumer. In Davido, Wiz has a genuine rival, perhaps if only in terms of popularity, they are musical contemporaries, with Davido’s dimpled boyishness and the sheer joy he displays in almost all his music videos, he may not be as cool as Wiz but he is a star in almost the same mould and he has a better knack for lyrics.
He also acquired Wiz-level ubiquity in 2013, he had the biggest song of the year with “Skelewu“, the follow up joint to the summer smash that was “Gobe“. As a side note; “Skelewu” was produced by Shizzi, whose biggest break until his work with Davido was “Love My Baby” one of the highlights on the Superstar album, a song that is sure to be to Wiz what “Strong Thing” is to Banky W.
Wiz does not make songs with the same abandon Davido appears to, his “On Top Your Matter” joint has the whiff of the archetypal ‘Wedding Song’ all over it, a deliberate attempt to corner a highly lucrative segment of Nigeria’s party scene, the song feels trite, Wiz again struggles to say anything of even mild substance on the track, juxtapose that song with Davido’s “Aye” and you’ll get a better understanding of why dude must take writing his songs seriously.
Sophomore albums are notoriously difficult, the aforementioned Wande Coal, whose debut album was in 2008, has not managed to find the time to release a sophomore. The fear can be debilitating, in many ways both suffer from the same ailment. Wande, being the fore-runner on the scene has since lost the direction and drive he showed to deliver Mushin; unimpressive, confused turns on feature spots and his own joints are symptoms of a loss of the artistic hunger that made that album the biggest debut in Naija Pop until Superstar.
How is Wizkid similar you may ask, well, sans “Jaiye Jaiye” and perhaps “The Matter”, Wiz has shown a laziness with the lyrics and melodies he employs on his joints. What keeps him from being as obvious as Wande is, he is consistent with the nonsense he says/raps/sings over tracks, especially on mid tempo joints, he’ll start by thanking God for today (usually x2), then he’ll utter another trite line, repeat a shorter version of the previous line then launch into the unfailingly catchy hook.
Wande Coal on the other hand, appears to start with a purpose, on “The Kick”, he seemed to have launched into a properly structured song about another would be conquest, only for it to dissolve into puddle of ridiculousness by the second verse, no form nor structure, the same is to be said of his most recent effort, “Plan B”. But unlike Wande, WizKid has an impeccable ear for beats, on any given night in a random Nigerian club, WizKid’s songs can form anywhere between 20-35% of the joints played. He is that popular!
When Wizkid gets it right though, like on “Number One Lover” featuring Shaydee and “Pakurumo”, he really does. What he has to avoid is the pervasive ennui that comes with being assured of the affection of his audience, the evidence of this present in his lazy lyrical arrangement, we love him and he knows it. Really though, he has nothing to lose, the Nigerian music scene is littered with acts whose idiotic utterances on tracks have seen them attain moderate stardom, they never have to try. We are a people of percussion, so all a wannabe star has to do is to find a danceable track and he’s almost guaranteed a year’s run of performance fees.
Wiz is no fly by night artist though, so confident is he that he was able to pull a power move on EME and renegotiate a contract that he deemed unfair. Many a Nigerian artist have tried the same thing and they all ended up scalded, see Brymo, Kelly Hansome, Vector etc. The Kid was able to win the wrangle with his label because his is a cash cow and his overlords at EME know it, hence their reluctance to upend the arrangement that has proved to be so lucrative for all involved.
In the end, it’s not a question of if his upcoming (if it ever does come) second album will be successful, it will be. The Matter is, they love him, maybe too much for his own good. If he can resist the stultifying effect of all the affection, perhaps Wiz the man can pull a Tuface and release a classic sophomore joint.