The Lagos Review’s Top 50 Songs of 2021, thus far

With one half of the year almost gone, it is time to take stock of Nigeria’s musical landscape and who better to undertake that excursion than our team of in-house music critics. This Sunday we bring you a definitive musical audit.

Words by Udochukwu Ikwuagwu (UI) , Dami Ajayi (DA), Ayodele Ibiyemi (AI), Jerry Chiemeke (JC), Fatiat Saliu (FS), Emmanuel Daraloye (ED).

2021 began on a memorable note for afrobeats with Burna Boy and Wizkid winning the much-coveted Grammy awards, the first of its kind for the genre.

The profile of the pop-centric space continues to be elevated beyond the shores of our country and the post-lockdown reopening of music concerts, club performances, and tours in Nigeria is a major morale boost for the industry, at least, locally

The Lagos Review has chosen to highlight the exceptional works of our artistes over the last eight months. We considered songs released from the last quarter of 2020  till date. Our pruning process was painstaking, with an excess of one  hundred songs reviewed. 

We shortlisted songs based on their lyrical and production quality , pop culture influence, radio plays – as curated by TurnTable Charts. We also considered their streaming counts – on Boomplay, Spotify, Audiomack, YouTube, and chart positions on music and streaming platforms.  What we have here is the top 50 songs so far. There is an abundance of the amapiano flavour, consistent with the zeitgiest, but we also branched out to account for the alternative to mainstream as well as the occasional gospel tune that can not be ignored.

A caveat is that we are only halfway through 2021, and things are in flux but here is a considered view of songs that looped over the Yuletide season of 2020 and continues to be in our collective listening consciousness.

Please enjoy TLR Best 50 Nigerian Songs, thus far, of 2021.

50. Ric Hassani, “Thunder Fire You”

Beyond working as the lead single for his album, “The Prince I Became”, this post-breakup ballad is a thematic departure from the compositions that Ric Hassani is known for. On “Thunder Fire You”, he is jaded, no longer in the mood to serenade. He is a scorned lover, aware of his erstwhile lover’s serial infidelity, and in a catchy falsetto he wishes her nothing but ill-luck. The NBC had a few things to say about the song’s title, and subsequently restricted the song’s airplay on mainstream radio, but who cares what those guys think anyway? The hilarity of the hook makes the track easy to get into, and for a song that’s supposed to be mourning the end of a relationship, the rhythm isn’t remotely morose, but you just feel that Hassani missed the chance to run a viral social media challenge with this. JC 

49. Zlatan featuring Davido and Mayorkun, “Cho Cho”

Did you hear the drums? On first listen — or maybe the second listen — you might feel like your ears are being subjected to a symphonic onslaught, and not without good reason. Zlatan’s enunciation is immaculate, and while it’s difficult to mouth off so many lyrics in such a short listening time, he does it incredibly well.  Mayorkun is used to slower tempos — and he says so on Twitter after the song’s release — but he pulls through. In his verse, he references the popular DJ Tunez’s hit single, “Pami”, while managing to drop a few solid bars. It’s clever, and unapologetically Mayorkun-esque. In the official video, the gang launches new dance moves, and that as well as Zlatan’s boyish energy is a delight to watch. The instrumentals are highlighted, and P.Priime’s genius is  difficult to ignore. The elite production makes “Cho Cho” one of the best ‘lamba’ songs to be released this year. FS

48. Lil Kesh featuring Fireboy DML, “Love Like This”

Shortly after his decent EP from 2020, Lil Kesh returned with assists from Afro-lite proponent, Fireboy DML, on “Love Like This”. With a pleasant cameo by Priscilla Ojo, daughter of Nollywood actress, Iyabo Ojo, as vixen in the Anietie James-directed music video, Lil Kesh continues to chronicle one of his obsessions, love or the lack thereof. ED

47. Naira Marley, “Chi Chi”

For many watchers, the Naira Marley’s era is over as many believe that Nigerian audiences are now looking unto the new younger generation of artists. While there is some credence to this, Naira Marley’s “Chi Chi” is a reminder of why the self-acclaimed leader of the Marlian movement was at the top in the first place. Even though the song is a profession of love to an eponymous lover named Chichi, the song follows the same Naira Marley sound. Many musicians who maintain a distinct sound run the risk of ending up as one hit wonders but Naira Marley has managed to stay relevant in the game for a decent time. Also, the song also confirms that Marley and Rexxie are soul brothers. AI

46. Qdot featuring Patoranking, “Magbe”

“Magbe” is a perfect party starter and also a didactic tune. Given the widespread drug abuse by the youth, Yoruba bad boi, Qdot, and dancehall king, Patoranking, are the new vanguard against the social vice with the duo curating a dance and tune for the listeners; the only problem is retention of their message.  On “Magbe”, both acts craft their verses with humour and pop culture references. In the Bizzle and Frizzle-directed music video, they become emergency laboratory scientists who mix chemicals to generate their elements. “Magbe” is proof of the relevance of art in society. ED

45. Lyta featuring Emo Grae, Zinoleesky and Naira Marley, “Are You Sure”

Marlian record signee, Lyta, released his Trips-produced debut single for the year; the song is another nod to Lyta’s ingenious songwriting skill and his honeyed voice. With assistance from label boss, Naira Marley, Zinoleesky and Emo Grae, they live up to expectation with decent verses. The cowboy-themed video is an original in the Afrobeats visual landscape and it definitely adds to the delight. ED

44. Blaqbonez, “Don’t Touch”

On April 30 2021, Blaqbonez put out one of the better-received albums of the year so far, “Sex over Love”. On a 14-track record that is practically an anthem for hyper-masculinity, “Don’t Touch” suggests a thematic and sonical departure from the rest of the LP. Where other songs illustrate jadedness and emotional unavailability, this Blaise Beats-produced track paints images of provocative dancing at a nightclub and suggests male territoriality: Emeka the Stallion isn’t really keen on anyone “touching his kele”, referencing an old Banky W classic; it’s the one track on the record where Blaqbonez appears to show any form of vulnerability. JC

43. Gabzy, “Toxic”

Gabzy’s “Malone” EP is unabashedly chauvinistic. He boasts of his toxic tendencies and playboy personality traits. It’s unusual; it’s odd. But people love it. In this current climate, we are often reluctant to admit what we want out of relationships, or in Malone’s case, situationships, but welead the other party on until we get what we want. When both parties are not on the same page, everything eventually gets messy. Gabzy is not about that life. In “Toxic”, he tells his tryst partner upfront what she’s getting herself into. He wants her, but he’s only giving her half of him, yet he doesn’t want to see her happy with another. That,by its very definition, is toxic and here’s a man readily admitting to it. It’s brazen, and rhythmically, so. FS

42. Barry Jhay, “Muje”

Barry Jhay has come into his own as a popstar. On his post-EP single, “Muje”, he doesn’t deviate from his inspirational tunes. Barry Jhay sings in his usual falsetto about hard work coupled with prayers and praises for the success that one hopes for. Rather than come off as preachy, his high-pitched rendition promises a better future for adherents to his wise teachings. On “Muje”, he mixes elements of praise-singing/self-adulation of juju with folk and fuji. The result is one the finest records for mainstream pop and Barry Jhay’s biggest song, yet.  UI

41. Rema, “Bounce”

In preparation for the release of his debut studio album, Rema churns out the fast tempo “Bounce”, and just like the title suggests, it is a song for waist-whining but takes a cue from Rema who gets overwhelmed with Blessing’s booty. Hear him: “Blessing, you go kill person, abeg, abeg abeg oh”. It is his first time working with the legendary producer, Don Jazzy, who also appears in the music video. ED

40. Hagman DC, “Focus Dance Beat”

DJ YK Beats’ “Lagos Dance Beat” was the last time an instrumental turned dancefloors and shindigs on their heads. Three years have passed and Hagman DC’s “Focus Dance Beat” has revived those memories. Produced by Ajimovoix, “Focus Dance Beat” was carefully curated by Instagram sensation, Hagman DC, with a dance challenge featuring his celebrity friends. Unlike other street jams accompanied by complex dance steps, “Focus Dance Beat” comes with simple body movements: head-bopping, finger-pointing/handgun gesture. The melodic drums and sparse keys will make even the most lethargic reveller a contender for Poco Lee’s crown. UI

39. Naira Marley featuring Busiswa, “Coming”

South African diva, Busiswa, joins Naira Marley to deliver this tune with an audacious title, “Coming”. Not coming as in the locomotion of bodies. The real thing: the climax of a sexual dalliance that which the French call le petit mort! Naira Marley is keen on describing the minutiae of the carnal act and, for the first time, the duet itself, is a proposition to his female partner who also brags about her WAP and makes it rhyme with her name. Think Pan-African sexual collaboration between the two erstwhile warring nations, Nigeria and South Africa, by way of Peckham-violated Yoruba.  They archive a catalogue of sexual acts bubbling on a thrusting Amapiano sound. DA

38. Teni featuring Davido, “For You”

Davido and Teni’s first industry collaboration gave Davido a solid hit in “Like Dat” with Teni being just the songwriter, a background contributor. The collaboration that produced “For You” for Teni’s debut album is solid and it feels like payback for the earlier collaboration. The song is groovy in a way that it is easy to forget the story that it tells yet it is introspective and personal enough for one to sink it in, like the two artists are doing a proper RnB love duet. They both align n the song with no one outshining the other. The song also combines Pidgin English, English and Yoruba languages, a method of language mixing that both artistes are good at. AI

37. Dunsin Oyekan, “Yah”

Yah is the shortened form of the Hebrew name for God and who else would title their song “Yah” if not Dunsin Oyekan whose music is premised on encounters and conversations with God. Oyekan has stamped his feet as a minister of the gospel and while he might not qualify to be called a pioneer in the subgenre of gospel music that he sings, he is one of the frontrunners. The subgenre, a relatively recent phenomenon, features Pentecostal ministers who intersperse their songs with singing in unknown tongues. Another attribute of most his songs adopted in “Yah” is the call and response, which he seems to have perfected. The song repeats lyrics many times but Oyekan’s boisterous nature and the heavy percussion cover for it. AI

36. Crayon featuring Rema, “Too Correct”

A few years ago, a young Charles Chibueze Chukwu stood up in the middle of a university entrance exam and walked out of the hall. These days, the 20-year-old goes by the name, Crayon, and he is one of Afropop’s most exciting young projects. Two EPs down the line, the Mavin Records signee, whose craft and vocal deployment are largely influenced by Wande Coal, is slowly figuring out life as a young, fast-rising artist. “Too Correct”, a club-themed track produced by Andre Vibez, is the lead single off his recently-released, “Twelve A.M” EP. He teams up with his more popular label mate, Rema, with whom he has been friends since 2019, as he adulates a love interest’s gluteus maximus while paying tribute to Tonto Dikeh’s backside. Amapiano is a sound that is slowly becoming overwrought, but it is used well in this song. With Rema serving up a contagious hook as he attempts to rhyme “Eseosa” with “mi casa” and “bulldozer”, the two succeed in creating one of the year’s bigger dance anthems. Oh, that clubs across the country would reopen soon enough! JC

35. King Perryy, “Creme De La Crème”

After his entry into the music industry with “Man On Duty”, released under Timaya’s Dem Mama record label in 2018, and “Murder”, his hit single with Teni The Entertainer, released in 2019, King Perryy released his debut album, “Citizen of the World” in April 2021. Dabbling in a genre that is relatively new to the audience, his sound is definitely distinguishable. It’s a solid project and “Creme De La Crème” is one of the many enjoyable tracks. The concept eludes many as it is used in several contexts, even ones where it doesn’t belong, but King Perryy asserts that his lady’s body is the best of the best. Sensuality and guile intact, he loses concentration and he is right to. FS

34. Burna Boy, “Kilometre” 

With the much-coveted Grammy award now standing tall on his shelf, Burna Boy teams up with Chopstix to deliver a summer anthem, “Kilometre”.  Just like his first single in 2020 “Odogwu”, “Kilometre” runs on boastful lines as he asserts his kingship in the industry.  While we await his post-Grammy album, Burna Boy gifts the dancefloor and gym with a tune in the interim. Cue in that mad dancehall riddim! ED

33. Lojay & Sarz, “Tonongo”

One of the jewels 2021 gifted us is Lojay, the crooner with the ethereal vocals and amazing songwriting skills. Legend has it that Lojay approached Sarz, in awe of his talent, and wanted to make a song together but Sarz gifted him a whole EP. Tonongo is the lead single off their collaborative EP, “LV N ATTN”, and it is undoubtedly orgasmic. The subject of the song is a dancer Lojay was opportune to watch in a popular strip club in Lagos, and the way he appraises her and her skill is unrivalled. Sarz delivers over and beyond in the production, and it results in a brilliant composition. FS 

32. Mainland Block Party featuring LADIPOE and Terry Apala, “Champagne Already”

In the beginning of the second quarter of 2021, Mainland Block Party — a brand closely associated with music — launched the Confluence Project. It involved bringing two artists and a producer to make remixes of already-released songs by the artists, usually blending two songs into one.   For this particular track, Sess teamed up with LADIPOE and fuji-trap king, Terry Apala. “Man Already” was a song released early in LADIPOE’s Mavin career, and Terry Apala’s “Champagne Showers” was released in 2016. A blend of this rap track and fuji-trap song resulted in magic. Without Mainland Block Party, we’d never have known what these two artists sound like together. FS 

31. Ajebo Hustlers featuring Omah Lay, “Pronto”

George “Knowledge” Dandeson and Isaiah “Piego” Precious gained mainstream attention in 2020 when their hit single, “Barawo”, found its way into the unofficial nationwide #EndSARS playlist, and even got an artistically-muted remix treatment from serial hitmaker, Davido. But what do you get when two street-savvy Port Harcourt boys team up with a high-flying handsome young man from the same city? A pre-Valentine’s Day release which focuses on lust rather than love, with lyrics that dwell on clandestine romance and oral stimulation. “Pronto” is a nod to the duo’s versatility, but it also establishes Omah Lay as the lady killer who says the naughtiest things in the most melodious ways. As a bonus, the name of one of Nigeria’s finest writers, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, is finally inserted into Naija pop culture verbiage. JC

30. Wizkid featuring Burna Boy, “Ginger”

Released as the third single off Wizkid’s critically-acclaimed LP, “Made in Lagos”, this song was always going to ride on star power rather than artistry. With two Grammy winners contributing their vocals, and Kel P teaming up with P2J to provide production input, anything short of a smash hit would have been a disappointment. There isn’t much lyricism going on, but both artists seem to enjoy themselves on the track, even though fans of Burna Boy would have preferred a longer verse for their idol before the fadeout. “Ginger” not only stands out as a top-tier collaboration, but as one of the signature songs of a 14-track album that dwells on dance, wine and sex. JC

29. Naira Marley, “Koleyewon”

Regardless of Naira Marley pushing “Koleyewon” as a protest anthem against police brutality and bad governance in its accompanying pantomime video, the theme of the song is celebration. On the second verse, he raps: “aiye mo, orun mo/o ma shock e/ni odun yi, o ba’n sope/ba’n bet e,” over hard-hitting Niphkeys production. Although, “Koleyewon” bears no political undertone, it’s the song that you play to celebrate wins in a country that kills its young and censors opposing voices. UI 

28. Fave, “Beautifully”

During the heat of the lockdown in 2020, Fave was the young girl who blessed our Twitter and Instagram timelines with freestyles we all thoroughly enjoyed. We watched as she built a brand and fanbase with her talent. In April 2020, she released “N.B.U” — birthed out of a freestyle she did on a Jinmi Abdul beat earlier in the year. That helped solidify her foundation in the music scene. “Beautifully” is her first track of 2021, and in it, she articulates her thoughts on love and how it makes her feel.  What is the concept that most attracts people, if not love? It instantly became a fan favourite, because who doesn’t want to tell their romantic partners about how their love makes them feel warm and fuzzy inside? FS

27. Zlatan, “Lagos Anthem”

The track is audaciously titled, “Lagos Anthem”, but it does not qualify to be the anthem of Lagos. In the song, Zlatan kept repeating that there is money in Lagos, contrary to what most people say. He seems to be focusing on only his own circle of friends, who he name-dropped as “awon omo wire wire” in the track. Despite this, it is a really good party song and it is bound to rouse nostalgia in Lagosians. It signifies the takeover attempt that Zlatan’s street sound is making in the Lagos airwaves. Lagos has since changed from the days of Banky W’s “Lagos Party” but vestiges of the chilled demeanour that made Banky W’s track likable is still there. Zlatan’s song has already attracted a remix and if Lagosians had a longer attention span, it would have attracted more.AI

26.  Davido featuring Mayorkun, “The Best”

Betty, the muse from Betty Butter, got another stint on this song, “The Best”, a convergence of history, homage, and anecdote. The video replicates scenes from the 1984 movie, “The Karate Kid” with Davido playing the role of Sensei while Mayorkun plays the character of the Karate kid. In furtherance of the “we rise by lifting others” mantra, we see other trainees learning how to be the best from Davido and other instructors in the video. ED

25. Ayra Starr, “Away”

Titling the song Away was a bold and risky move by Ayra Starr as any song with that title released around the time that Oxlade’s “Away” came out was either going to be accused of being a rip-off or bound to play second fiddle. The risk paid off and Ayra Starr’s “Away” stands on its own merit, showing that Ayra Starr is no pushover. The song is really melodious and the lyrics is storied and assertive, yet it is delivered subtly. For the entire duration of the song, she holds her own. The song maintains a noticeable rhyme scheme as with many RnB songs and it shows that Pidgin English is qualified for use in ballads. AI

24. Peruzzi featuring Davido, “Somebody Baby” 

The Lagos love market is rife with deceit, mutual suspicion and commodification of love. On “Somebody Baby”, the fifth single off his superb sophomore album, “Rum & Boogie”, Peruzzi and Davido encapsulate the dilemma of finding love in a world filled with lies and guarded hearts. Ironically, Peruzzi’s biggest song to date, “Somebody Baby”, explores the misery of being played for a fool, over dance-ready beats while paying homage to Rudeboy. “Somebody Body” starts off with a folk song, which is fitting for a song telling a familiar tale of heartbreak.  UI

23. Burna Boy, “23” 

Following his Grammy win, Burna Boy released “23” off “Twice as Tall” as a radio single. The basketball-themed video featured Burna channelling his greatness through the eyes of women. His feminocentric consideration isn’t the centre on “23”, however, though three women are pivotal to his success: his momanager – Bose Ogulu, his stylist – Ronami Ogulu, and his publicist – Bukola Sawyerr-Izeogu. “23” opens with sombre piano keys as OluwaBurna sings, “music make me feel I be Jordan”. Burna is self-aware as he addresses naysayers, “then come dey doubt am…no go do like say I don’t deserve am.” Media and fans have labelled him cocky and disrespectful to OGs perhaps his “34” song didn’t clear his position, doing another basketball-themed record – an ode to the GOAT – will ensure that they get the memo. UI

22. Basket Mouth featuring Oxlade and Show Dem Camp, “Myself”

Veteran comedian, Basket Mouth, seems to have finally stamped his name in the music industry with the release of his executively-produced contemporary highlife album, “Yabasi”. “Myself”, the lead single off the project, enunciates the live-and-let-live mantra, caution against reckless lifestyle; it also celebrates life in a chaotic society like ours. The new school palmwine music promoters, Show Dem Camp, delivered two warm verses to accompany Oxlade’s melodic hook. ED

21. CKay, “Felony”

It’s been three years since Chukwuka Ezeani, best known to Nigerian music listeners as CKay, sampled a Distruction Boyz beat while dancing around caravans and repetitively yelling about the arrival of a “Container”. These days, he is more expressive about his love for women than his love for bank notes, and a record deal with Warner Music has brought about some artistic rebranding for the 25-year-old, which extends to fashion choices. He puts his Alto to work on “Felony”, a love-themed ditty, off the recently-released, “Boyfriend” EP, replete with onomatopoeic lyrics like “your love dey make me jogodo/the love dey burst my bololo/my heart dance Awilo”. In a country whose citizens are streaming-shy, 2.4 million views in 6 months is not the worst of returns for a pop song that preaches the gospel of being lovestruck. JC

20. Joeboy, “Show Me”

Joeboy is a certified hitmaker, and his debut album, “Somewhere between Beauty & Magic”, proves this. Despite the heavy engineering on SBBM towards scoring radio hits and huge streaming numbers, “Show Me” succeeds in sounding genuine. In his boy-never-gets-the-girl, inexperienced lover persona, Joeboy tries lucklessly to woo another love interest. Interestingly, the beauty of “Show Me” lies between the mellifluous lyrics and bare production, translating to the TikTok song of the year. UI

19. Blaqbonez featuring Amaarae and Buju, “Bling”

Blaqbonez might not have forgiven his ex-lovers for his pain and agony but he has sublimated those experiences to curate one of the standout projects for the year, “Sex over Love”. “Bling”, a pre-release single, chronicles one of those not-too-cool experiences with females. With input from singer Buju and fusionist, Amaarae, you may slow whine with your lovers or friends while listening but you will do well to be careful and follow Blaqbonez’s edict: sex over love. ED

18. Zinoleesky, “Kilofeshe”

With the stunning acoustic reverb of amapiano lurking in his recent works, Marlian records’ multi-coloured boy, Zinoleesky, adds yet another win to his unbeatable streak of popping records. Even his boss, Naira Marley, should be envious. When he says he is doing extraordinary things, he is not only consolidating on his wins in the studio booth, he is also delivering yet another hit for his teeming fans, this reviewer inclusive. DA

17. Peruzzi, “Murda”

Rum and Boogie, a 20-track LP, is Peruzzi’s third project since his introduction to the Nigerian music scene in 2018. The long-awaited album which had its release date shifted on multiple occasions because of extraneous circumstances was definitely worth the wait. “Murda” was the first song the audience assimilated because of its relatable lyrics. The catchphrase, “belly fat, leave it like that” was immediately adapted by the general public and even promoted by Peruzzi himself. The lyrics preach self-love and acceptance regardless of apparent physical flaws. It’s definitely one of Peruzzi’s better compositions. Tapping into current trends and spreading a positive message can never go wrong. FS

16. Omah Lay, “Can’t Relate”

Perhaps Omah Lay’s pivot to stardom was one of the unexpected things 2020 gifted us, alongside the COVID-19 virus and the lockdown. After releasing his debut project, “Get Layd”, which did excellent on the charts and on the streets as well, he released his sophomore EP, “What Have We Done” months later. He relayed that the project was borne out of the unexpected turn his life took after his project’s release and the events following it. “Can’t Relate” aptly describes the life of an artist after an instant explosion to fame. He sings about how designer shoes and luxury clothes have replaced a certain stability that came with anonymity. Nobody can relate to Omah Lay’s feelings and it can be quite lonely at the top. FS

15. Ruger, “Bounce”

Reminiscent of Baba Fryo, eyepatch-wearing Ruger and his dancehall tunes appeared months following the lockdown with his “Pandemic” EP. “Bounce”, the highlight of his debut project, projects to a bedroom rendezvous between a lover and his interest. Although Ruger, in typical Yorùbá demon fashion, wants his interest only for the night, this riddim is bound to continue for many trysts before the cock wakes the lovers up. Whether lovers for the night or lovers at night, Ruger’s “Bounce” make the playlist. UI

14. Peruzzi featuring Fireboy DML, “Southy Love”

What Nigerian musicians get up to in their studios will one day be the stuff of a Luc Sante-type think piece – or how else could we account for the neologism “Southy Love”. My guess is that, in the beginning, there was an Amapiano vibe for the songwriting duo of Peruzzi and Fireboy, who decided on a mellow crooning exercise about physical longing in the context of romance. No player outshines the other here and there are no explosive moments, just a linear constancy, the stuff of earworms, and ultimately, an exercise in syrupy crooning about love and other demands.  DA

13. Cheque featuring Fireboy DML, “History”

Nigerians love grass to grace stories and it is obvious in many tracks that are released. This collaboration between Superboy Cheque and Fireboy DML feels like something that should have happened long ago; the synchronisation between the two artists is almost unbelievable and the track is intelligently titled “History”. In spite of the boyish sound, the two artists prove themselves as masterful vocalists and the lyrics of the song follows a logical progression. The relationship between the two artists as former colleagues in school also strengthens the story behind the lyrics. AI

12. Olamide featuring Omah Lay, “Infinity”

In retrospect, “Infinity” may be the finest moment on Olamide’s comeback album, “Carpe Diem”, and all thanks to Port Harcourt wunderkind, Omah Lay, who tendered one of the most articulate introductions on an afrobeats song. His quatrain rhymes cucumber with Awilo Longomba, energising a risqué tune about the preferred duration of a sexual encounter: infinity. Olamide is calm, assured even, measuring up with competent bars, but we all know who the real celebrant is.  DA

11. Bella Shmurda featuring Zlatan & Lincoln, “Cash App”

Golden boy, Bella Shmurda, smug with fairy dust, ended 2020 in spectacular style with his late year delivery, the energetic “Cash App”, which has been described as a Yahoo boy instructional by some and as a hustle-on-steroids motivational by others. With help from Zlatan, whose powerful rhetoric about (not) swallowing sputum and an accompanying American bank robbery themed video, Shmurda may be celebrating the return of his namesake Bobby Shmurda from the jailhouse. In the time since the latter’s jail term, Bella Shmurda has gone from unknown gangling boy to someone we can no longer ignore, cue in his wicked incantatory bridge and you will realise that he is resilient and possesses energy for days. DA

10. Vector featuring GoodGirl LA, “Early Momo”

On the road to the “Teslim” album, Vector dumbed down his hard punchlines for some mellow soul. “Early Momo” creates a perfect ambiance for lovemaking with input from chanteuse, GoodGirl LA; the song revolves around self-love with a dash of sex talk. It also shows the dynamism of Vector as an artist and it is another proof of GoodGirl LA’s unappreciated vocal range. ED

9. Omah Lay, “Godly”

Riding on the positive reception of his debut EP, Omah Lay released a 5-track follow-up record called, “What Have We Done”, with “Godly” as lead single. On the mid-tempo track, the 25-year old acknowledges the perks of new-found fame, attributes his success to divine powers, and lets his audience in on his favourite liquor. With over 31 million streams on YouTube, it is clearly one of the more successful Nigerian singles of the last six months, and further proof that this suave bad boy from Port Harcourt clearly doesn’t know how to hit any wrong notes. JC

8. DJ Kaywise featuring Phyno, “High Way”

DJ Kaywise, born Kehinde Okiki Ayorinde, has come a long way since fiddling with turntables at a pool party on the 2013 Dammy Krane song, “Hangover”. He has been involved in some of Nigeria’s infectious streethop tunes over the decade, but “High Way” is probably his biggest song yet. From Instagram to TikTok, this light-hearted collaboration with Phyno featured in viral social media videos throughout the first quarter of 2021. The Enugu-born rapper made a huge impression with a hypnotising hook and lyrics rendered in Igbo dialect, but it was Yung Willis’ production effort that caused this high-tempo track to stand out. “High Way” is one of the year’s real earworms, and not without good reason. For the 28-year-old DJ, years of creating hundreds of mixtapes look like they are finally paying off. JC

7. Rexxie featuring Mohbad, “KPK”

Rexxie, in-house producer at Marlian Records, teams up with label mate, Mohbad, to lay this incredible dance tune frothing over with rapturous joy and breaking-in not one, not two but three slangs with accompanying acronyms to boot! KPK stands for Ko Por Ke, part rhetoric and exclamation, and OPP stands for O Por Paa; OPG stands for O Por Gan, both exclamation and response to the abundance that is related to the female form, that recurring muse of afrobeats music in particular and music, in general. DA

6. Masterkraft featuring Bella Shmurda and Zlatan, “Hallelu”

When other Africans complain about Nigerians adopting and taking over trends from other countries, Masterkraft’s “Hallelu” can be used as a case in point. The song domesticates the amapiano sound and one would think the sound as distinctly Nigerian. Featuring Bella Shmurda, whose current run is relentless, and Zlatan Ibile, who has sealed his place as a carefree, street rapper, the chord progression is striking and it reminds listeners of why Masterkraft is on top in spite of the proliferation of talented younger producers in Nigeria. If the production was not good enough, the owner of the song would have been pushed aside by Bella Shmurda’s energy and Zlatan’s forceful rap but the three of them asserted themselves on this song. AI

5. Joeboy, “Focus”

A high point in Joeboy’s debut album is the song “Focus” and its crisp tragic video. A mid-tempo foray into how unrequited love trashes about in the victim’s psyche, it reflects the myth about Greek gods famed to have created love to stymie cosmic boredom. But for the sufferer of the affliction called love, it is germane for it to be reciprocated. The persona in Joeboy’s song is asking a lover to focus while he is losing focus and drying out his bar. The song snapshots this chaos and relentless turmoil that resonates with the listener who understands that the sufferer is light years from a realisation that this may not be love after all. Definitely one of the more tender moments in recent afrobeats history and a strong win for the “Baby” crooner. DA

4. Olamide, “Rock”

Call it a ghazal of romantic propositions or a summery ditty about prospective affection – and you won’t be far away from what Olamide achieves on this song about lamba, love, lounging bodies and romantic possibilities. Check his irreverent humour (in his aside about wearing agbada for mosquitoes), his outlandish reference to a Domino effect in a party love song (but works wickedly) and perhaps the first name-check that Marilyn Monroe will garner on an afrobeats song – what is more than obvious is that the pre-Wilderness Carpe Diem days has been logged into the past and the bright UY Scuti days are here, with Rock has gambit. That anticipated album is already irresistible. DA

3. LADIPOE featuring Buju, “Feeling” 

LADIPOE’s ascent to the pop pantheon has taken more than a decade but since the arrival of his lockdown-friendly ditty, “Know You”, he has been on a home run. On his second song of 2021, “Feeling”, he features Buju on a dancehall-type production. “Feeling” evokes the tenderness of Jesse Jagz and Wizkid’s “Bad Girl”, serving as template for Andre Vibez to build percussive excitement for the feel-good song of the year. Feeling’s selling point is the convergence of simple wordplay, infectious hook and singsong rap verses. UI

2. Chiké featuring Simi, “Running (to You)”

‘Running to You’ is what happens when two talented musicians come together. Everything about the song is perfect. The r&b sound is the trademark of both musicians and the excellence in the song is not entirely surprising as both Chiké and Simi are masters of ballads in their own right. The lyrics feature both English and Igbo languages while alluding to the Holy Bible and Kung-fu. As deep as the lyrics are, it is also relatable and has a distinctly Nigerian touch. AI

  1. Wizkid featuring Tems, “Essence” 

When Alté queen Tems met Wizkid on a duet for his elusive Made in Lagos, she came with her A-est game! A spot-on tweet suggests that she was singing for a D-need on Maslow’s hierarchy but much more must be said about the innate chemistry between both crooners and the alchemy of P2J’s beat. It is a love song insisting on monogamy, an irony, you must agree, from serial daddy Wizkid, but the song is one of the few moments when alté shares the spotlight with mainstream Afrobeats and outshines it. DA

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