It’s 2017 and the definition of what an album is couldn’t be any more confusing – artists are forcing us to accept big budget, well thought-out projects as mixtapes, and they are now calling bodies of work comprised of 10 or more songs EP’s.
What this means is that, from a qualitative standpoint, every body of work released has to be judged on the merit of the music, regardless of how the artist or their label wants to market it.
In the past 12 months, several thousands of projects were released by Nigerian artists at home and in the diaspora. Our team of writers listened to weeks and weeks of music collectively to pick out ten of the best, here they are, in order:
10. Morell “Musa Jikin Musa”
Label: Nordan Ortty Limited
Release date: May 21, 2017
3 Standout Songs: Amala, Faya,
See also: Morell interview
There haven’t been (m)any artists since Zaaki Azzaay who successfully married pop music to Arewa culture in a manner that even conservative Northerners could gravitate to, while also being relevant on the mainstream. Morell has been on the cusp of doing that for a while now, his debut album Musa Jikin Musa might have taken a while to come, but it was worth the wait. Morell touches on the kinds of things young Arewa people care about and this album is an outstanding application from him to become their voice.
9. Omawumi “Timeless”
Label: Cabal Entertainment
Release date: June 30, 2017
3 Standout Songs: Somtin, Butterflies, Play Na Play
See also: Omawumi signs to Cabal Entertainment
Omawumi is elevating herself from a run-of-the-mill pop star to a legitimate legacy artist, and she’s brave enough to try to do it on only her third album . On Timeless, the singer worked with the legendary Cobhams Asoquo and with artists such as Angelique Kidjoe and Salif Keita, who are already breathing the kind of rarified air she aspires to breath. With a mixture of classy and razz, Waffi and jazz, this album can best be explained as Omawumi at her sophisticated wayray best.
8. Ajebutter22 “What Happens In Lagos”
Release date: November 24, 2017
3 Standout Songs: Lagos Big Boy, Dollar Ti Won, Rich Friends
See also: Ajebutter22 has dope tees for sale, but you wouldn’t know
Ajebutter22 is growing, whereas on his debut album Anytime Soon he was pensive and hopeful, on What Happens In Lagos, the rapper is now confident and assured. He’s gone from eschewing a 9-to-5 to combining one with a steady career in music. He’s gone from being a part of a promising group of altè artists to proving that he truly possesses staying power. WHIL might have been written to chronicle the evolution of the Lagos big boy, but in many ways, Ajebutter was also documenting his own growth.
7. A-Q “Blessed Forever”
Label: Hustle Ink Entertainment
Release date: September 1, 2017
3 Standout Songs: Lekki Expressway, Blessed Forever, Made by Voice Only
See also: Blessed Forever album review
A-Q is now experiencing the kind of public interest that artists usually get at the start of their careers more than a decade after his own first started. Following up 2016’s critically-acclaimed Rose album with another stellar body of work seemed improbable, but A-Q did just that with his fourth solo effort Blessed Forever. Taking on real life topics, Mr. Bani continues to draw inspiration from the deepest parts of his soul. But the music continues to improve too, to match his authenticity. A-Q has gone from the rapper whose singles are only heard when he’s looking for trouble to one whose albums are to be taken seriously.
6. Niniola “This Is Me”
Label: Drumroll Records
Release date: November 3, 2017
3 Standout Songs: Maradona, Bale, Sicker
See also: This Is Me album review
Niniola set herself apart early by choosing to be an Afro-house artist. Being able to cross over to the mainstream from such a narrow, unpopular sub-genre is no small matter and the singer deserves all the kudos she’s gotten in recent times. Although prominent on her debut, This Is Me, Afro-house serves as a guide to cohesion on the project, but in no way does it box in Niniola – the singer also experiments with other genres of music. She is, however, consistent in her mix of Ekiti Yoruba and English-written songs dipped in mischief, which makes for a thoroughly enjoyable album.
5. Mr. Eazi “Accra To Lagos”
Label: Banku Music
Release date: February 11, 2017
3 Standout Songs: Accra to Lagos, Detty Yasef, Leg Over
See also: Accra to Lagos album review
If there is one sound that defined 2017, it’s definitely the formerly omnipresent pon pon. There were other factors, no doubt, but Mr. Eazi was instrumental in laying the foundation for the hybrid of Nigerian and Ghanaian music to prosper. His mixtape Accra to Lagos drew inspiration from the culture of the two countries nearest and dearest to him. Even though there have been attempts to copy Mr. Eazi’s sound, ATL is a project that only an artist who has walked the 500 or so kilometers between Accra and Lagos, in the singer’s own shoes, would be able to make.
4. Wizkid “Sounds From The Other Side”
Label: Starboy Entertainment/RCA
Release date: July 14, 2017
3 Standout Songs: Come Closer, Gbese, Picture Perfect
See also: Sounds From The Other Side album review
Afropop music has had a number of false starts at going global in the recent past but Wizkid’s major label debut Sounds From The Other Side feels different. It feels like an opportunity to make real progress collided with the pop star’s readiness to cross over. What’s more, he didn’t have to sell himself out in order to do so. SFTOS is also a historically important release, it debuted on the US Billboard Top 200 Album Charts at #107, a few places below King Sunny Ade’s Synchro System album, which peaked at #91 over three decades ago.
3. Show Dem Camp “Clone Wars 3: The Recession”
Label: Show Dem Records
Release date: December 31, 2016
3 Standout Songs: Live, Love, Laugh, Love Naija, 10,000 Hours
See also: Clone Wars 3 album review
Technically speaking, Show Dem Camp have no business being on this list, the rap duo didn’t release an album in 2017. However, they did release a brilliant mixtape and an outstanding EP within months of each other, so if one body of work was overlooked for technical reasons, you couldn’t possibly overlook two. On the last day of 2016, the group released the third instalment of their critically-acclaimed Clone Wars series without warning. The thoroughness of the project would force even the most hardened hip-hop head to forgive the more commerce-driven palmwine wave that was soon to follow.
2. Flavour “Ijele: The Traveler”
Label: 2Nite Music Group
Release date: June 30, 2017
3 Standout Songs: Chimamanda, Oringo, Oppressor
See also: Flavour Ijele – The Traveler album review
Flavour is one of, if not, the biggest highlife singer in Africa; Ijele – The Traveler is therefore a self-tribute to how large the perpetually shirtless singer has become. But despite his success, Flavour has managed to keep his finger on the pulse of street culture in Enugu, where he grew up, and remain inspired by the deepest parts of Igbo customs and traditions. Flavour brings all these and more to the fore on his fifth album, he sugarcoats it in a manner that mainstream Nigeria would easily understand.
1. Simi “Simisola”
Release date: September 8, 2017
3 Standout Songs: Joromi, Gone For Good, Smile For Me
See also: Simi – Simisola album review
Simi’s album was one of the most hotly-anticipated projects of 2017, and my god did she deliver! Simi and her trusted producer Oscar created a signature sound that’s measured and uncomplicated. Her music has an R&B/soul soft core, with Afro-centric outer rings comprised of indigenous sounds, from highlife to Juju. The result is an amazing album that was released over a decade after her debut Ogaju. Between then and now, there aren’t too many artists who’ve delivered better albums than Simisola.