As Nigeria’s informal cultural center, Lagos is home to over 20 million people — and it can sound like a large part of the population on an average day in the city is made up of artists jostling for a chance at popularity. When contemporary African music categorized in international spaces, Afrobeats is attracting more acclaim as an essential style, as local stars such as Wizkid, Burna Boy, and Davido are starting to achieve commercial success on the Stateside. (Both Wizkid and Burna Boy contributed the new “Lion King” album produced by Beyoncé.) T rounds up five of the young talents of the region.
After 2011, when he improvised a rap verse as a challenge to one-up a friend, a staple in Lagos ‘ underground hip-hop scene, Akumefule Chukwu-Emeka, a.k.a. Blaqbonez made music. It wasn’t his best work in retrospect, the native of Imo State admits, but he won the battle the same way. He has become one of the most vocal rappers in Nigeria ever since, often using his social media channels to call himself the best rapper. In Africa and even going so far in July to release, diss track with that name as its title— “B.R.I.A.,” in short. (He has previously promoted his single “Mamiwota” with a series of videos that started as popular songs or funny viral clips before turning to his content at midway.)
Eight E.P.s and mixtapes have already been released by Chukwu-Emeka, 24, mixing a variety of genres such as West African highlife, emotion, and trap; his go-to themes include love. The joys of being young, what it means to fight in the music industry without funding. “That’s my entire creative process for me once I hear the instrumental,” he says to T. “I feel like a second person is here, writing and taking notes about the experience and internal notes about what’s going on. Everything comes out of that other man. “Chukwu-Emeka is currently working on a new E.P.,” Mr. Boombastic, “planned in October to drop. It will introduce a hyper-hedonistic alter ego, draw sounds influenced by the Caribbean.
In 2017, Jennifer Ejoke, a.k.a. Wavy, the Maker, began playing on the music scene at Lagos. She already knew at the time as the model behind the fashion brand Azif and as the Nigerian rap star Olamide’s photographer and videographer. But Ejoke surprised many by branching into a recording career when she released her debut single, “H.I.G.H. (Her in Greater Heights).” The auto-tuned Afro-house invited her to hit to open for the British rapper Skepta and his Boy Better Know crew at the 2018 Homecoming Africa concert where she performed alongside the Afrobeats stars Wizkid and Davido. Shortly afterward, she joined the music agency co-founded by British singer Tinie Tempah as Disturbing London. (She’s also recording videos of other artists and product advertisements while she’s not in the studio or on stage.)
Regularly referred to as “the Nigerian alien,” Ejoke, 26, claims to be a devoted follower of anti-establishment youths who see her edgy fashion and synth-heavy music as a protest against convention. “Everywhere I’ve been to, everything I’ve been part of, I’ve always felt like the odd one out,” she says, referring to her time in Houston, London. Kansas City, Mo., an experience she believes has provided her with a variety of influences she’s tapped into when she creates. “Either I’m different, or I’m doing something else.” Her latest July release, “Body Deep,” is worlds apart from the dominant local sounds and features a flirtatious duet with Nigerian musician Tiwa Savage. Joke plans to drop by the end of the year her debut E.P. Her latest July release, “Body Deep,” is worlds apart from the dominant local sounds and features a flirtatious duet with Nigerian musician Tiwa Savage. Joke plans to drop by the end of the year, her debut E.P.
Adedamola Adefolahan, or Fireboy D.M.L., began performing in Abeokuta, Ogun State, as part of his local church choir. His breakthrough came with “Jealous” in 2018, a song about love and the complicated feelings that go with it, infusing African harmony with country and soul aspects. “I like writing my songs from a more relaxed approach,” says 23-year-old Adefolahan, who describes his sound as “Afro-Life.””These are everyday subjects, but I approach them from an emotional perspective. That’s why it’s excellent. He lists American singer Jon Bellion, British rapper Passenger, and Nigerian pop star Wande Coal as key contemporary influences. The first two for “honesty in their songs,” says Adefolahan, and the latter for his “pristine voice and heart in his melody.” While he only has two well-known singles and his debut album is not due until next year, Adefolahan has received comparisons with more famous performers like Adekunle Gold and Maleek Berry, both associated with Nigerian pop. So far, Adefolahan calls the whole experience surreal. “This growth is all unexpected,” he says. “But I love it, and I’m on the right track. Let’s look at what’s going on.”