14 Projects The NATIVE Team Are Excited For This Year
Moliy, Asa, Cruel Santino & more
Moliy, Asa, Cruel Santino & more
Between Grammy Award wins and monumental inroads into the heart of popular music across the world, in 2021, Afropop and African music provided fresh impetus to a world reeling from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, Afropop did not witness the glut of releases that it did in 2020. What the genre did experience was a variety of blockbuster showings from its emergent class like Blaqbonez’s ‘Sex Over Love,’ Prettyboy D-O’s ‘Love Is War,’ and The Cavemen’s delicate sophomore, ‘Love In Highlife’ as well as plays for legacy shouts by veterans like Olamide (‘UY Scuti’), Kizz Daniel (‘Barnabas’) and Tiwa Savage (‘Water and Garri’).
In Kumasi, the Asakaa scene moved beyond the gritty singles format that birthed it with key players like Yaw Tog, Jay Bahd, and Reggie dropping well-received projects — ‘Time,’ ‘The Return Of Okomfo Anokye,’ and ‘2 Times A Guy’ respectively — while rap veterans Sarkodie and M.anifest served up succinct reflections on their lives on ‘No Pressure’ and ‘Madina To The Universe.’
Beyond West Africa, it was clear that the sub-Saharan Africa was engaged in a transcontinental musical conversation as influences moved back and forth in fluid manner. The Scorpion Kings’ ‘Rumble In The Jungle’ with TRESOR was a pan-Africanist work that incorporated elements of Kizomba, Zouk, and Rumba into its core while TRESOR returned later in the year with the elegiac “Motion.” Further afield, acts like Cassper Nyovest, A-Reece, Victoria Kimani, and Shekhinah have expanded the scope of African music in interesting fashion.
2022 promises to be as storied if not more impactful for the continued trajectory of Afropop with the looming shadow of Wizkid’s next project — tentatively titled ‘More Love, Less Ego’ — while Rema is expected to share his debut album, ‘Rave and Roses.’ Ghanaian upstart, Black Sherif, continues to tantalise ears across the continent with his gravelly voice and smoky melodies that mine the boundless energy of Asakaa, but tincture it with trap’s traditional melodies and, after the success of his “Second Sermon” and its Burna Boy-featuring remix, will now be expected to definitively take form on a project. With all this and more expected, the NATIVE team has compiled a list of projects that track some of the most eagerly-anticipated records from this year as well as other selections that spotlight some of the continent’s most promising stars. Enjoy.
Release date: TBA
Sarz’s importance to Nigerian music is irrefutable. In a career going on fifteen years, the super-producer has defined multiple periods in Nigerian pop, while consistently redefining his craft as a versatile and constantly top tier soundman. Having gone over a decade without putting together a joint project with a vocalist, Sarz turned out three within a two year span, outfitting his collaborators with varying sonic palettes that played to their strengths and stretched the scope of his (and their) sound.
There’s the sensual and speaker-throbbing fusion of afro-house and R&B on ‘I Luv Girls with Trobul’ alongside WurlD, the sultry and vibrant melding of Afropop-tinged R&B and electropop on ‘LV N ATTN’ with Lojay, and the retro-futuristic Funk and Disco of ‘Sweetness’ with Obongjayar. Sarz is set to that immaculate canon, having tapped Apex Village prodigy Azanti as his latest collaborator. Azanti won the iconic producer’s attention following a ‘Free Sarz’ social media challenge, where up-and-coming artists were asked to freestyle over a Sarz beat for the opportunity to work on a joint project.
Azanti’s voice, brimming with teenage charm and precocious charisma, sounded like a perfect fit over that instrumental, so much so that Sarz thought he was quite clear of his colleagues. Whether they’ve even started working on the project is not known, but the possibilities of a Sarz and Azanti tape is tantalising. The singer is a melody wunderkind with a knack for insanely catchy hooks, and Sarz will always be a genius regardless of where he pushes the sound to.
Release date: TBA
Perhaps one of the most sonically unpredictable stars on the continent right now, one thing we do know 100% about Rema is that we’re finally getting an album from him in 2022. ‘Raves & Roses’, his debut LP under Mavin Records, has been announced (albeit without a date, for now). The fact Rema has ascended to the lofty heights he currently inhabits, without a full length album, is both a testament to his stardom and a fascinating look into just how much the music industry has changed.
It’s not an exaggeration to say ‘Ravers & Roses’ will be one of the most anticipated debut album since Wizkid’s ‘Superstar’ in 2011. Mavin’s golden child has come a long way from freestyling in the car, but you would be a confident punter to predict which Rema we’re going to get on his first full set. Lover boy Rema, as heard on the inescapable “Soundgasm”? Trap star Remy Boi, that we instantly gravitated to on “Beamer Freestyle”? Hook gawd Rema, that we’ve seen all too fleetingly on cuts like Jae5’s “Dimensions”? The answer probably lies somewhere in the middle. We live in an era in which there has never been this level of easy access to music, and there has never been more new music released on a consistent basis. Rema knows this better than anyone, capturing the hearts and minds of a new generation during his 2019 EP run. Since then, he’s dipped in and out of the public eye, emerging from his cave for shows and straight back into it.Now, with all eyes firmly on him, it appears he’s finally about to open his world for all to see.
Release date: TBA
DJ Maphorisa and Kabza De Small formed Scorpion Kings in quite the spontaneous manner. The pair had worked on a slew of tracks together, featuring a long list of vocalist, and unbeknownst to Kabza, Phori shared a free download link to a zip file, which contained their eponymous debut album, a game-changer for Amapiano. That sparked a ridiculously prolific 5-album run within a year, climaxing with Kabza’s own proper debut in the lockdown summer of 2020. They would reunite, with singer TRESOR for the ride, on last year’s Rumble in the Jungle, adding subtle pan-African shades to their inimitable craft.
Since then, Kabza and Phori have been spreading their influence through personal and occasionally intersecting ventures, from Kabza’s integral mentoring of Young Stunna and his 50-track tape with MDU aka TRP, to Phori’s splendid vocal participation—as Madumane—on bangers like “Izolo” and “Bopha.” Thankfully, the iconic ‘Piano pair are back to helming seminal hits, closing 2021 with two Ami Faku-assisted stunners, “Abalele” and “Asibe Happy.” For me, and many others, that means a new Scorpion Kings album is on the horizon. It’s been nearly three years since they became a driving force for the Yanos to become a prominent part of Afropop, but as those two singles clearly prove, the Scorpion Kings remain musically progressive. A new project would be less of a reminder, and more of a flex, another assertion of their singularity in an ever-widening genre.
Release date: TBA
In 2020 during the peak of the pandemic, Omah Lay stepped into the limelight with the release of his debut solo EP ‘Get Layd’ to incredible fanfare. Largely unknown to fans a few months before its release, the EP catapulted Omah Lay into superstardom, earning him a spot in the upper echelons of Afropop conversations. Over 5 tracks, the singer unfolds his loverboy side as he delivers romantic tunes such as “You”, “Lo Lo” and “Damn”, making confessions and owning up to his feelings for his muse.
Since then, there’s been little doubt that 2022 would see Omah Lay shoot into greater heights once again. Over the past few months, the singer has been teasing his debut album titled ‘Boy Alone,’ whetting fans appetites for what’s to come with teasers and promo clips of the new universe he’s creating. Although no release date has been announced, fans are already hypothesising on what Omah Lay could bring to the album. Lover boy Lay who we’ve grown accustomed to? Jaded Lay whose shown he’s a “Bad Influence” or would it be smooth talking Omah whose sweet-tongued lyrics draws women to the dancefloor? Whatever the case may be, Omah Lay is keeping his cards very close to his chest at the moment. While there’ve been whispers of what an Omah Lay album would sound like, none of the speculations can prepare us for what’s to come and if his recent string of singles is anything to go by, this album will be replete with daring love songs and fiery club bangers, neatly packed from one of Port Harcourt’s most viable hitmakers.
Release date: TBA
The sound of post-2019 Ghanaian music owes very much to the hard-hitting brand of drill music being made in the Ashani region. In 2020, the Asakaa boys from Kumasi made a big splash across the world with the strength of their culture and their melodic tunes inspired by the harsh realities of life around them. Konongo-based rapper, Black Sherif is at the vanguard of the immediate of this emerging sound on the continent, coming to fame last year with a series of singles that distilled his reflections on life in the trenches and hoping for a better life. “First Sermon” made him a regional star but “Second Sermon” with its painful reference to a tragic passing and Blacko’s zest for life made him a truly national star before a Burna Boy co-sign elevated his profile. With part of his Christmas spent recording music in Nigeria, with the likes of Prettyboy D-O and more, expectation is rife for a debut project from the ascendant rapper.
Release date: TBA
What a whirlwind couple of years it’s been for Big Tems. Following the success of breakout single “Try Me” and the fantastic ‘For Broken Ears’ EP, perhaps it wasn’t a surprise to hear Wizkid had enlisted her for a cut on his hotly-anticipated ‘Made In Lagos’ album. But few – well, apart from us – could have predicted would come next: the unprecedented success of “Essence”, quickly followed by festival sets, sold-out international dates, a collaboration with Drake, another genre-bending offering in ‘If Orange Was A Place’, all culminating in a sold-out homecoming show in Lagos.
Now, what next? A debut album from Tems truly is one of the most exciting prospects in music this year. Take away the aforementioned groundbreaking success she’s had, and you see an artist whose creativity has been going from strength to strength with each release. Most recently on ‘If Orange Was A New Place’ cuts “Vibe Out” and “Found”, her innovative manoeuvring of her vocals on the record provides a brief glimpse into a new sonic dimension for the girl who was once afraid to sing in her school choir. ‘Orange’ also proved to be her most introspective release till date, with songs like the standout “Replay” offering a peek behind the shades. One would expect a full-length album to open up the blinds even more.
Release date: March 4
By now, it’s no small secret that we’re a while away from new Cruel Santino music. Originally announced late last year, and set for release sometime last October, ‘Subaru Boys: Final Heaven,’ was indefinitely pushed back, due to delays from his label and management, after two years spent working on it. Despite this heady start, the album didn’t suffer from any delay to its epic rollout as anticipation for its release has not waned, qualifying as an accurate representation of the singer’s magnetic pull.
Now, ‘Subaru Boys’ which has been status imminent for the last few months, is now full steam ahead to its March 8 release date (IWD coincidence? I think not). Beginning the year hot and heavy, Cruel Santino has now shared the album’s tracklist and cover art to incredible reception from his loyal fans. Announced to arrive in multiple arcs (which hint at yet another multiverse created by the singer) and set to feature a range of exciting acts such as Koffee, Gus Dapperton, Skepta, Amaarae, SOLIS and newcomer, Brazy Bih, the new album promises to be packed with fierce reflections of Cruel Santino and his many alter-egos tumultuous life. With only a month left to its release, Cruel Santino is already teasing the new drop with regular updates shared on his newly minted subaruwwworld IG account, as he takes us behind-the-scenes on the making of Subaru World.
Release date: TBA
‘The Angel You Don’t Know,’ the debut album by Ghanaian singer, Amaarae, hinges its magnificence on being a rich depiction of singer’s eclectic music taste. Rising singer, Moliy, is at the center of some of the record’s cornerstone songs like “Feel A Way” and “Sad Girlz Luv Money,” helping bring earthy urgency to these songs that interrogate money, carnal pleasure, and more money with her lithe voice while maintaining a semblance of candy-eating playfulness in the margins.
On the Billboard Hot 100-charting remix of “Sad Girlz Luv Money,” the self-proclaimed Wondergirl is a perfect foil for both Amaa and Kali Uchis, providing a bridge to connect their worlds. Moliy’s own songs push the boundary just a little further along against a backdrop of airy beats accesorised with light percussion and her soul-meets-R&B delivery. Her quaint 2020 extended play, ‘Wondergirl,’ showed that she was not lacking in confidence or ability and, following the success of the remix of “Sad Girlz Luv Money,” she could be set for a big year. A new link asking listeners to pre-add a song, “Love Doc,” has been a significant feature on her social media bios and it could be the beginning of a year filled with Moliy music.
Release date: Unknown
Olamide’s influence is as strong as anyone who ever did this music thing, and he’s still going hard. So it was somewhat surprising when he hinted at his retirement after ‘Unruly,’ his forthcoming album which is “95% done.” Past efforts ‘Carpe Diem’ and ‘UY Scuti’ successfully updated his sonic strengths, loosening his rap tendencies while playing up his effortless charisma and dazzling beats.
While he’s certainly prolific, his approach to an album roll-out is remarkably private. Not much has been heard of the album but in between partying with Wizkid and collaborating with Wande Coal on his next song, one could expect to hear the Olamide of “Rock” or “Jailer”—songs which center romantic tension amidst Afropop’s quintessential flair for the dramatic. Yet the title—’Unruly’—evokes an outlier, Hip-Hop vibe, stoking the possibility he could be part boastful and part introspective on the tape, looking back at the legacy he’s built, from the jaws-off rapping on 2011’s ‘Rapsodi.’ In recent years, Olamide has become an important figure in connecting Nigerian talent to international audiences, whether it’s through his mentorship of the generational Fireboy DML, their distribution deals with EMPIRE, or his ongoing feature run which includes Portable’s “Zazoo Zehh” and T.I Blaze’s “Sometimes”—Olamide has inevitably set himself perfectly for glory, and with genius producers like Pheelz and P Priime working with him, ‘Unruly’ is already shaping up to be an album to be reckoned with.
Release date: TBA
In 2021, Victony was on track to burst into the next stage of his career with flying colours. Then, in April last year, the worst happened and Victony was impaired from the waist down, unable to exercise his motor skills. An experience such as this is enough to weigh one down, let alone an artist on the cusp of a breakthrough moment. Yet, in 2022, Victony’s name hasn’t faded from the lips of many Afropop lovers and industry insiders. After a string of exceptional guest appearances last year including his scene-stealing hook on Mayorkun’s hit single “Holy Father” to his two-pack single ‘Nataraja,’ with Grammy-award winning producer Rexxie, and his solo releases such as “Pray,” Victony has consistently shown why he deserves to have our attention. Ready to begin the year with a bang, the singer recently took to his Twitter, hinting at the release of his debut project. While he’s been rather clandestine about the details around its release or content, eager fans are already piecing together the pieces from his social media and holy smokes, it seems we might be getting some Victony and DJ Maphorisa heat in the next few months. In any case, all eyes (and ears) are on the charming singer and his voice of gold.
Release date: February 25
Asa is known to cause conversation with minimal effort. Countlessly forging her own path in the industry with her otherworldly sounds and a sense of unflappable chill, she’s undeniably brought the warm and dreamy vocals to Nigeria’s indie scene, serving as a role model of sorts for a new vanguard of Afropop stars. On the pulse of yet another changing terrain, last year, Asa released the Ppriime-produced “Mayana,” a bubbly and soulful number that pairs Asa’s mesmerising vocals with timeless production. The release served as the first tell-all sign of her fifth studio album which we’ve gathered is titled ‘V’. With little word about the album’s content, what we know so far is that Asa worked on the project throughout the lockdown period when everywhere was shutting down and she was confined in her home in Lagos, Nigeria. ‘V’ was also inspired by Asa’s passions outside music, such as watching the calm ocean view from outside her home. If 2020’s ‘Lucid,’ is anything to go by, ‘V’ promises to feature some of the singer’s boldest hooks and loosest songwriting till date.
Release date: February 18
There hasn’t been a better time than ever for new Teezee material and the streets are in agreement. After an almost 7-year break from releasing any solo material, rapper Teezee is about to release his debut project after serving as an indelible ⅓ of DRB for the past decade. Interestingly titled ‘Arrested By Love,’ as he told NME in an exclusive last November, the forthcoming EP promises to explore the many layers and types of love that Teezee has experienced. That’s not all, the rapper has also teased the EP’s exciting features which include but are not limited to Davido, Lancey Foux, Pa Salieu and Backroad Gee.
As one of the leading voices in the alternative scene, Teezee has been blessed to work with a range of local and international acts which he now invites to his sonic world in his most daring musical effort to date. Already, the rapper has released the Maison2500 and New World Ray-assisted “GUALA”, followed by the Davido-assisted “BADI” and more recently, the EP’s lead single, “New Government” with PrettyboyDO and Kofi Mole. With the year only just begun, Teezee has already been crowned one of NME’s Artists to Watch, setting the scene for what could be an incredible year for the rapper and new-father. For someone this advanced in his career, it is only expected that the EP caters to fans and listeners, as well as showing off Teezee’s new and improved skills as an artist.
Release date: TBA
Tiwa Savage’s inclusion on this list may draw eyebrows, only because the singer has been working consistently for the past two years keeping her fans satisfied with frequent releases. In 2020, she released her third studio album ‘CELIA,’ a 13-song set inspired by her mother then followed it the preceding year with ‘Water & Garri,’ her sophomore EP which featured the likes of Brandy, Stefflon Don and Amaarae. Now it seems like the crowned Queen of Afropop is set to release the second half to 2021’s EP, with rumours of the project circulating ever since the first half’s release last August. Whether it’s the rumoured second hald or an entirely new album, we’re rest assured that it’ll be some of her best work yet. It’s been a long way for the artist since her “Eminado” featuring Don Jazzy and “Love Me, Love Me, Love Me”, and with an impeccable work ethic and saccharine-sweet melodies, we can only expect something positively delicious.
Release date: TBA
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Even with the backdrop of a global pandemic, 2020 was an eventful year for The NATIVE. There was Issue 004 with Tems, Naira Marley and Mowalola as cover stars, an exclusive zine focused on Wizkid (!), and, to close out the year, majority of the recording for the upcoming NATIVE Sound System album happened at a clandestine location in Lagos. Members of the team, whether directly involved or not, were privy to watching dozens of cutting edge artists and producers from across Nigeria lay down and commingle sonic ideas. For whatever reason, I didn’t make it to any of those sessions, and it still eats at me occasionally.
Beyond the teasing stories of my colleagues who watched some of these songs take shape in real time, I’ve heard a handful of (rough) cuts over random to know there’s so much great, diverse music on the NSS album. Also, contributions to the album are not limited to those from the recording camp, with the collective A&R team sourcing out collaborations from across Africa and the diaspora. I don’t know what the results will be, but the possibilities from what I’ve heard are endless. There’s possibly a silky electro-pop song from one of last year’s breakout stars; I heard an American R&B singer’s demo that’s meant to be performed by a former NATIVE cover star; there’s an amalgamation of two pioneering groups on one song; there’s an artist who’s acclaimed as an album auteur having unbridled fun over a dusty amapiano beat — I could go on and on, but you get the gist.
Writing this blurb, I think I’m no longer salty about not being at the camps, mainly because I do not envy the final decision-makers, as well as those with special attachments to songs they watched get created. Right now, I’m like the rest of our community: eager to hear what NSS puts together.
Featured image credits/NATIVE