When the stories of this year in Nigerian music are rounded up and analysed, Olamide and Phyno will still be Kings of the music industry, with perhaps more influence on the local scene than the vaunted efforts of Wizkid in the international space.
Wizkid’s exploits outside the continent is well documented, and might just fetch him his first Grammy Award, something that has eluded the West African giants (Nigeria) since Femi Kuti came close four times, but lost. But in the end, his international collaborations which is novel now, serves as a ceiling raiser, for the yardstick of success in the Nigerian music industry. But it is not defining of our time, and the direction our music is headed. Not everyone can grab a Chris Brown, French Montana, and Trey Songz at will. Not everyone can also be featured by Drake, and have unlimited access to Tinie Tempah, and many more.
But what Phyno and Olamide are doing, everyone can lay their hands on it, because the resources are local. They are involved in the appropriation and championing of everything Nigerian, and while Wizkid brings home his foreign goody bag, these ones create it from the raw resources here, something that we all understand, and generally appreciate.
This year, how have they installed themselves firmly at the top of Nigerian music? The music industry within the country is fragmented and unstructured, with data from streams, and purchases unavailable anywhere. Previously, we had this in the market, with Tony Tetuila sold a million cassettes during his time. But now, we cannot collate the data due to Alaba, and too many distruibution channels not making their data public. Because of this, there is no definitive chart to stratify the music. But it is instructive to use Playdata, a technology which collates the number of airplays on Nigerian radio. It is the best and most reliable tool we have for data collection and analysis. Phyno and Olamide have been crushing on Playdata. With ‘Fada fada’ reigning as the most played song in the country. People are requesting for the song, and with that it keeps getting more rotation. TV too is similar, with the video dominating the rotation at music stations. In a nutshell, that how these platforms work. People make requests of the most popular songs, and with each rotation they get on radio, they get popular, people request again, and the cycle goes on and on, giving it an energy source that keeps it there.
But that doesn’t explain its popularity. First of all it’s catchy, and it sits at the center of every listening activity, overlapping perfectly into different modes and events. It works for jogging, driving, dancing, chilling, at any point in a party (from the opening song, to the thick of the night. The song’s got you covered). It also follows Phyno’s hot single ‘Connect’, and Olamide’s ‘Bobo’. But before this, the both stars were rappers, who occasionally did pop songs. The guys who ruled the West and the East. Their previous singles ‘Ghostmode’, ‘Dope money’, which also became hot songs, were of a good value. But it was ‘Bobo’ and ‘Connect’ which confirmed the changing dynamic that these stars have shifted focus. They were now pop singers, who rap on occasion, a concept that works well with our quest for easy music and danceable beats. ‘Fada fada’ quickly moved into the space created by the previous two tracks and it is squarely exploiting it.
Phyno and Olamide’s formulaic approach can be laid thus: Grab a traditional melody, with deep highlife cuts and Afrobeat leanings from a masterful producer. The subject involves the acquisition of wealth, displays of success, and gratitude to God. These are the elements of what Nigerian term as true ‘happiness’. A country which prides itself for sing the hustle as a virtue, the gaining of money is huge driving force for everyone. The pursuit of it has become the sole purpose of a country that elevates wealth above everything else. Phyno struck that ubiquitous nerve in ‘Connect’, a song about money-making via business. On ‘Fada Fada’, he connects via the conveyance of enjoying that wealth, and giving gratitude to God. That struck another nerve. So with one leg in church, and the other in the clubs, ‘Fada Fada’ straddles the divided between opposing sides of the moral discussion in Nigeria. The last song to achieve that is Korede Bello’s ‘Godwin’. It is championing, unity, creating a bridge between ‘good’ and evil.
You could argue that with this multi-cultural sounds, Phyno and Olamide are trying to build a following outside the rap music’s demographics. Others might accuse them of abandoning Hip-hop movement to chase the ‘easy’ wealth that comes from pop music gotten from Highlife and other purist Nigerian melodies. Critics have been unimpressed with the new direction, linking it to one of the factors responsible for the demise of the rap game in Nigeria. They find it too simplistic, and perhaps far removed from the elements of Hip-hop. More specific, the content, drawn from the chorus, are too basic for such deep stars. (Everything I do e just dey penetrate oh).
But the impressive acceptance of the singles negates this logic. Their notable run on radio shows that none of this matters. Phyno and Olamide creates a microcosm of the sounds that many of us want to consume right now: a carefully-selected, hyper-celebratory blend. We’re highly individual in our taste, but certain things as contained in the song unites us, and makes us all alike. Phyno and Olamide are the leaders of that sonic-unity.
Where critics hear simplicity, listeners hear the picture of what they want for themselves – a key element of Phyno and Olamide’s success.
‘See I’m living large I get Angels for my gate’ is a typical Phyno-Olamide lyric, centred on wealth acquisition and opulent living, secured by the grace of God. ‘Fada Fada’ is as relatable as it gets, too: The Nigerian dream is after all, to make clean money, and enjoy God’s blessings on the works of your hands. Of those listening to that, many are youths, with just a prayer, and hope on their lips. Phyno and Olamide are, in societal parlance, speaking our mind.
Many might suggest that these stars and everyone who follows them are far removed from the hustle of today. In fact, the opposite is the case. These stars have come from the ghetto, with poverty and the quest for a better life leading them to where they currently are. ‘Fada Fada’s’ popularity should not be seen as simple, but rather, as a necessary inspiration to comfort you in these perilous times. Just as the singers of the 80’s and 90s held down our fathers with their party melodies and protest art, this world chooses to leave that out of the picture, enjoying blissful escapism from the mundane struggles, into an immersive, overwhelming and joyful melody. This reflects what we all want.