A month ago today, in what could best be described as the African gods of peace and harmony coming together to have a laugh, arch-rivals Wizkid and Davido performed for crowds abroad on the same night, in the same city and in venues just fifteen minutes apart from each other.
As part of his promo tour to support the Sounds From The Other Side EP, Wizkid performed at the Bloody Louis nightclub, while Davido’s 30 Billion World Tour made a stopover at Birmingham Palace, both in Brussels, Belgium. A few weeks prior to their shows, the two men had reignited their five year-old on-again, off-again rivalry, so no one truly knew what that night had in store. But July 8th, 2017 came and went without any drama, so if Brussels – a city a fraction of the size of Lekki alone – could contain two of Nigeria’s biggest pop stars, the world is more than enough.
If Cristiano Ronaldo was born in a different generation, Lionel Messi would have been undisputedly the best football player of this generation, but the presence of Ronaldo will always make that conversation a debate and vice-versa. It’s a similar thing with Wizkid and Davido, even though the two of them started competing for the number one spot in the minds of their fans, in their respective crews and in the media before they started competing for it in real life. Wizzy was already doing music at a high level for 2-3 years before Davido’s career took off, but being the two young pop stars of their era with the most promise, the two of them were constantly getting compared.
Wizkid and Davido’s relationship initially started on a friendly note. As far back as 2012, Davido even complained about outsiders constantly pitting them against each other:
I don’t know why people weigh us… I see him as a colleague, maybe if I didn’t know him personally (there’d have been issues) but I do.
Ominously, trouble began to manifest in the two’s relationship that same year. At the Nigerian Entertainment Awards (NEA) in the US, in a show of disrespect, Davido and his HKN crew reportedly walked out of the venue in the middle of Wizkid’s performance with EME, his crew at the time, and made sure their exit was noticed. Almost immediately after that incident, the two singers started getting more and more questions from the press about the status of their relationship.
There are as many conspiracies about what actually started the beef as there are on how Gen. Sani Abacha went home to meet his Maker. Some of the more intriguing stories range from Wizkid snubbing Davido by rejecting a record he sent to him to collaborate on, to both artists taking subliminal shots at each other on songs, even to their relationship being collaterally damaged by the collapse of Mo’ Hits Records. However, whatever was the real reason for their initial falling out, the two artists haven’t let on to this day. Towards the end of 2012 though, Davido joined Wizkid on stage as a surprise guest at the EME’s Baddest concert in Lagos in a move that was positioned as a reconciliation at the time.Between then and now, Davido and Wizkid have formed a duopoly at the top of Nigerian pop music by amassing more affluence, more hits, more fame and more awards than any of their contemporaries. Coincidentally, the two men also signed international record deals with the same parent company, Sony Music. As they ascended to the top, there was a fragile peace between the two men that has been shattered and repaired repeatedly through the years. That peace was shattered once again last month when Davido seemingly took a jab at Wizkid on Snapchat: “Na pon pon sounds dey reign now. All other sounds na d least for now.”
Davido was actually echoing a popular sentiment about Wizkid’s new artistic direction when he made those remarks. Wizkid’s new EP Sounds From the Other Side has divided fans, the singer brought together a combination of American artists and Caribbean sounds to what, some felt, ought to have been a Naija-only party. The “Come Closer” singer, however, didn’t take the criticism from his arc-rival lightly – he fired right back, calling Davido a ‘local’ artist and mocking his own international experiment, last year’s Son Of Mercy EP, which, according to many reports, was a commercial flop. Davido then upped the ante when he used his favorite move, taking shots at his enemies on other people’s songs.
On Olamide’s “Summer Body”, he sang:
With Yankee passport dem say we local
You better catch up I go see you late
Their battle for supremacy has now gone global, Nigeria is no longer enough. When two rival artists successfully make it out of their home country, their rivalry often evolves into a fight for the right to the crown back home. We’ve seen it before with dancehall, in the feud between Vybz Kartel and Mavado, and in reggaeton in the beef between two of Puerto Rico’s finest exports in Daddy Yankee and Don Omar. The on-again, off-again rivalry between Wizkid and Davido makes for an equally engaging story but just like dancehall and reggaeton music was bigger than those who fought for the crowns, so also is Nigerian pop music.
The world is ready to listen to our sound, whether it’s from a talented singer with humble beginnings in Ojuelegba or in the form of the husky voice of the hardworking son of a billionaire – or, better still, from someone else entirely.
Originally written for Guardian Nigeria