Thursday, 23 May 2024

Nigerian Album Culture: Where Is The Breathing Space?

In the previous decade, prior to 2019—the knighting of a classic album occurred on a biannual to perennial basis. This only made sense, because albums releases were sparse, so great albums were in short supply, since the rate at which artists churned out albums was deficient in itself. The solid proof of this fact is Davido, who released only 2 albums in the decade under review, yet managed to accomplish innumerable feats to become an all-time great. The industry was a singles market and having an impressive discography was simply a bonus.

Although there were classic albums in the vein of Olamide’s trifecta of YBNL, Baddest Guy Ever Liveth and Street OT, that spawned the time frame of 2012 – 2014 (all albums won in the Album Of The Year category at the Headies.) Kizz Daniel’s New Era in 2016 and Simi’s Simisola in 2017, the major seismic shift in multiple albums garnering notable success in one year, didn’t happen until 2018. Adekunle Gold’s About 30 and Burna Boy’s Outside were commercially and critically successful. Especially Burna’s Outside that triggered his eventual rise to the zenith of the mainstream.

The tide would become more rapturous in the following year, with the immense success of African Giant and Fireboy DML’s Laughter, Tears & Goosebumps. Whilst the former was a major discography catalyst moment in the ‘Afrobeats To The World’ movement, the latter was more of an unprecedented mainstream success in the industry. A type of success we hadn’t seen on a debut album since Wizkid’s Superstar back in 2011.

Fireboy was the biggest winner at the 14th Annual edition of The Headies, bagging 5 awards that included: Revelation Of The Year, Best R&B single, Best R&B album, Best Pop album and Album Of The Year.

It was almost as if, every artist paid keen attention to the rebellious-esque success of Fireboy’s debut album and its impact on the soundscape, before starting to prime themselves for their own personal projects. 2020 saw such a gargantuan rise in the number of albums releases that was so ridiculous, it’s not illogical to think that even artists who hadn’t planned to release an album that year, decided to undertake the task as time went by. 2020 produced numerous classics & soon-to-to-be-minted classics like Wizkid’s Made In Lagos, Olamide’s Carpe Diem, Burna Boy’s Twice As Tall, Fireboy DML’s Apollo, Chike’s Boo Of The Booless etc.

It was also a great year for EP’s. Omah Lay had a precedent setting, breakout year, off the back of 2 succesful EP’s that produced multiple hit records. Granted, Get Layd was a much bigger commercial success, as almost every song off it was a hit record, but What Have We Done produced the artist’s biggest solo hit till date in Godly. Tems also released a succesful breakout EP in For Broken Ears and Bella Schmurda burst onto the scene with the highly energetic High Tension, off the heels of a successful Olamide co-sign in Vision 2020.

At the end of 2020, it was safe to say the industry was back to being an album market, once again. Fast forward to present day in Q3 2022 and we’re having another year that’s as congested and flooded, as 2020—where releases are concerned. It does seem that this could become a trend, that we’d have a flooded album year, every 2 years.

That’s not inherently a problem in itself. This year alone, the global scene has also been very busy. Powerhouses like The Weeknd, Drake, Kendrick Lamar, Bad Bunny and Beyonce have all released albums. Taylor Swift is set to join that list soon. However unlike the US/UK industry, there is no plausible spacing between the releases of albums. What does that mean?

The 3 most successful and influential artists of the last decade, released their albums in the space of 6 weeks in 2020.
The 3 most successful and influential artists of the last decade, released their albums in the space of 6 weeks in 2020.

Nigerian A and B-list artists seem to have some weird obsession with Q3 & Q4, which is the second half of the year. In 2020, 70% of the premier releases didn’t happen until H2 and in the final quarter, there was practically a flood of albums getting released almost every weekend. For example, Cuppy’s debut album Original Copy and Adekunle Gold’s Afro-Pop Vol. 1, got released on the same day, right after Fireboy DML’s Apollo was released the day prior, in a week that followed the release of Burna Boy’s Twice As Tall.

Wizkid’s Made In Lagos and Davido’s A Better Time were also released in the space of 2 weeks and Olamide’s Carpe Diem came barely three weeks before MIL. Matter of fact, the duration of time between CD and MIL, would have been shorter if not for the #EndSars protest and online campaigns, that brought the industry to a halt. These 3 artists were unarguably the most succesful trio of the last decade, yet their albums were compressed into a small time frame.

It is not optimal for the album culture in any industry to be jammed packed. Projects need time and breathing space to realize their full potential, so analysts and casuals alike can fully ascertain the genuine potency of its success. However that is being hampered by numerous projects being pumped into the market, before the one released the previous week, gets a chance to cement its place. In 2022, since July to be precise, we’ve seen the same onslaught of back to back album releases that transpired in 2020.

Love, Damini, Boy Alone, Playboy, The Guy, Bad Since 97, The Brother’s Keeper are all albums that were released in a time frame with suboptimal breathing space. The maximum amount of space between each album to the next was 2 weeks, and it doesn’t also help that the current generation is plagued with a short attention span, and generally people are moving on from albums faster than they should.

Even artists that have decent following like Adekunle Gold, Falz and Simi have gotten mediocre receptions to their albums released in the earlier part of the year. Talkless of break out artists that released impressive debut EP’s that never got the chance to undergo full metamorphosis into mainstream success. Only artists that have current momentum have managed to survive in this cutthroat territory.

Bayanni (left) and Boy Spyce (right) were the 2 new artists Mavins launched in 2022. Whilst debuting impressive EP’s, both projects struggled with tangible mainstay in the crowded mainstream.

In October, Wizkid’s More Love, Less Ego is allegedly slated to get released. Blaqbonez’s Young Preacher and Ayra Starr’s 19 & Dangerous Deluxe Edition is also getting released, next month. Ckay’s Sad Romance is on its way this week and there wouldn’t be many weeks separating its release, from the pending influx that would ensue. Davido, Runtown, Bella Schmurda, Show Dem Camp, Zinoleesky, Bad Boy Timz, Lojay and a host of other artists are releasing projects before the year runs out, so we can be rest assured November and December would also be congested.

We need to take a cue from well developed industries and not cram the releases of all our major albums in the second half of the year. Mainstream artists should be more open to releasing albums in Q1 and Q2, so the potential of each album can be maximized and clinch true fruition. Until then, great records will keep on going under the radar, whilst a few fortuitous ones hog the spotlight. A more balanced, healthier schedule of album releases is beneficial to both listeners and artists, alike.

This article is written by T.J. Martins, an Album Talks’ writer and it doesn’t reflect the full opinion of the entire publication across board.

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