It’s been our dream at FilterFree to see data analytics being used more and more in Nigerian music to add more objectivity to our analysis. Opinions are great – we all have them – but there’s just something about having cold, hard facts to prove a point. After all, the urban philosopher Jay-Z once said: men lie, women lie, numbers don’t.

The creation of PlayData in 2015 was therefore a dream come true for us because, for the first time, it gave Nigerians the best opportunity to determine what a ‘hit’ song truly was. PlayData took away guess work and the use of anecdotal evidence in our charting systems, and we’ve referenced the charts ever since to strengthen its validity. We now feel the same way about MTN Music+.

More Nigerians are using online music stores and streaming platforms to access their music than ever before. Physical CD’s aren’t moving like they used to, the imperfect Alaba distribution system isn’t the behemoth that it once was. This means that album sales in Nigeria isn’t this unknown black box anymore, we can finally peep inside to see who’s truly moving units.

In years gone by, it was impossible to independently verify claims like Flavour’s marketer claiming his Thankful album sold 1 million copies in 5 days or MI boasting that Talk About It moved 30,000 copies in 30 minutes. But things have changed, by counting the number of views on each artist’s album, MTN Music+ gives us the most accurate way to quantify commercial success yet.

Using Music+’s view system, we’ve been able to put together a list of the most popular albums/EP’s/projects released in 2016. Of the indigenous streaming services currently operating in Nigeria, Music+ controls a lions’s share of the market space and therefore gives us a large enough sample size to know who’s truly popping in these streets. The projects were all released at different times of the year, and some important projects weren’t released on the platform at all, so it is no means a perfect system but it’s the best one we’ve had in decades.

10. Reekado Banks (Spotlight): 51,500 views

It’s been a couple of years since Reekado Banks, Korede and Di’ja announced their presence in the game on the epic single “Dorobucci”, so it’s great to see Mavin 2.0 finally taking off. Reeky is the first from that batch of the Mavin family to release an album and it’s dope to see him move. His album is also the only from a traditional ‘big’ label to have made the list, this is indicative of how tough business has been for the bigger, older record companies in recent times.

At 21 tracks-long, Spotlight is a lengthy debut album but Reekado Banks had a lot to say about his short time in the spotlight and just enough musical pep in his step to make you want to listen to it again and again.

9. DJ Spinall (Ten): 67,000 views

DJ Spinall is the only non-musician on this list but he wants you to know that he’s still as hands-on as they come. The highly-rated DJ produced 3 out of the 11 tracks on his sophomore album – Ten.

I’m happy to be proven wrong but DJ’s don’t usually get this involved on their albums. Then again, I’m not sure whether ‘production’ means actual beat-making or song arrangement or providing music direction or even all 3.

But either way, DJ Spinall’s involvement on Ten is as visible as his signature multi-colored caps. This approach makes Ten feel very intentional, like it was purposely made for a DJ set, rather than some randomly assembled playlist of artist’s leftovers that DJ albums can sound like at times. That’s probably the reason why the Ten album is currently doing well in the market.

8. Adekunle Gold (Gold): 73,000 views

In the second half of 2016, there were a number of albums that were hotly-anticipated, one of them was Adekunle Gold’s aptly titled debut album – Gold. Adekunle Gold still managed to stun us with the way he released the album, two whole days ahead of schedule, but at that time, we were already ready to be wowed.

There are a lot of positives that have made the wait for this album worth its weight in GOLD. It was fresh and deliberately different, and added a contemporary feels to Yoruba folk music and highlife – which he called urban highlife. This album seemed to come from a deep place of artistic excellence, a place of “I either get it right first time or go home”. It deserves applause, no wonder it made this list.

7. Lil Kesh (YAGI) – 95,000 views

Lil Kesh’s rise to the top took many people by surprise, the young rapper from Bariga seemed to come out of nowhere to place a number of hit songs in heavy rotation, back to back. Those hit songs were included on his debut album Young And Getting It, among other records that tried too hard to sound like them and replicate their success.

Nonetheless, Kesh is another disciple of Olamide’s who made the highest seller’s-list. You can’t help but think that, in setting his artists free after just one album, Baddo might have lost the chance to build a true YBNL dynasty. Sadly, unlike Adekunle’s Gold album, YAGI wasn’t well-received by the critics, even though it was obviously well-received by consumers.

6. Phyno (Playmaker): 103,500 Views

Phyno The Playmaker Album Review

To settle the debate using numbers, hip-hop in Nigeria isn’t dead, there are 3 rappers on this list after all. The most popular rappers just went from using English in their songs, to using pidgin to now using their local languages. But because we don’t all speak the same language, this transition has fractionalized the hip-hop community and we don’t all have an even appreciation for our top rappers of today.

Another thing that happened is that in order to breach the language and cultural barrier, rappers started using symbols everyone can understand such as melody and dance to cross over, sometimes at the detriment of actually rapping over a beat. Phyno embodies this transition perfectly and the once-hardened MC has no qualms letting you know that he made a play for the money.

The most noticable difference between his sophomore album The Playmaker and No Guts No Glory is that Phyno now infuses a lot more melody and highlife into his music. The Playmaker does have its genuine hip-hop moments though, they just aren’t that many. Phyno choosing to broaden his appeal is the reason why the album is on the list.

5. Kiss Daniel (New Era): 113,000 Views

Last year, when Kiss Daniel promised to publish a press release ending the speculation about his real age, little did we know that he was going to release an album announcing his coming of age instead.

There weren’t many people who listened to the New Era album that weren’t immediately impressed. It is one of the most remarkable debut albums from a pop star in a long time, in the same conversation as Sean Tizzle’s The Journey album and Tiwa Savage’s Once Upon A Time.

The album wasn’t the shortest listen though, it contained 20 songs, no interlude, no intro, no outro. You’re bound to have a few misses in a selection this large, thankfully when New Era missed, it doesn’t miss by much. And most importantly, it made sure not to miss the list of the highest-selling albums in the country.

4. Frank Edwards x Don Moen (Grace): 135,000 views

One of the most under-reported and underappreciated genres of music in Nigeria is gospel and we are guilty, Lord knows we are guilty. But there are a lot of great things happening in that space, Frank Edwards and Sinach are doing the Lord’s work when it comes to moving units. Frank in particular released 2 well-received projects in just one year, the first was his latest solo album Frankincense and the second was his dual EP with the legendary Don Moen titled Grace. Frank being able to work with such an iconic global figure was one of the highlights of the year in Nigerian music, as was getting Don to perform a couple of songs in Igbo language.

3. Patoranking (God Over Everything): 148,200 Views

Patoranking had the highest-selling album of any debutante last year with God Over Everything. In a year when Reekado Banks, Adekunle Gold, Lil Kesh and Kiss Daniel also released debut albums, that’s no small feat.

GOE might have moved a lot of units but we were left disappointed with the quality of the music. The album felt forced and inauthentic, although if Patoranking continues in this same lane in projects to come, I have a feeling we’ll understand the spirit behind the music a bit more.

That takes nothing away from the album’s commercial success though, Pato has played a pivotal role in keeping the dancehall/reggae genre alive, an art form we’ve cannibalized for years and since allowed to die. Here’s to hoping he doesn’t begin to switch things up to sound like everyone else going forward.

2. Yemi Alade (Mama Africa): 164,300 views

Yemi Alade was the highest-selling female artist in Nigeria last year, ahead of Aramide, Victoria Kimani, Maka and Sinach. She even outpaced Tiwa Savage who released her R.E.D album in 2015 and had a significant head-start.

Yemi’s own sophomore album Mama Africa: The Diary of An African Woman was a bold and ambitious, pan-African musical journey, the kind that artists usually embark on when they’ve conquered their immediate surroundings and not when their stronghold on home territory is still being contested – but it worked.

In spite of her success, Yemi Alade remains one of the most criticised artists of this era for her lyrics and her strong personality that borders on being overconfident. But you can say what you want about Ms. Alade, what you can’t deny is that her music is being listened to.

1. Olamide (Glory): 170,100 views

Olamide’s Glory was one of the last albums released in 2016 but it was still the most popular. With a frequency previously only associated with Fuji acts, the album became Baddo’s 6th in 7 years. The rapper from Bariga has been at the pinnacle of Nigerian hip-hop for most of that time, so much so that these days, the GOAT (greatest of all time) title is being used more and more to describe his impact on the rap game. Not to mention that 2 of his direct descendants Lil Kesh and Adekunle Gold also made the list, in what was a tremendous year for his YBNL label.

Notable mentions

11. Falz x Simi (Chemistry) – 32,000
12. Oritse Femi (Corporate Miscreants) – 22,500
13. Aramide (Suitcase) – 17,500
14. Illbliss (Illygatti:7507)- 15,100
15. Victoria Kimani (Safari) – 15,000
16. Maka (The Truth EP) – 13,000
17. Solidstar (W.E.E.D) – 12,600
18. Sinach (Way maker) – 10,000
19. Maleek Berry (Last Daze of Summer) – 8,900
20. Reminisce (El Hadj) – 7,800

Notable absentees

1. Davido – Son Of Mercy
2. Iceprince – Jos To The World