Four takeaways from the inaugural Billboard Afrobeats chart

Amidst the excitement, there's some insightful points to look at.

A week before its arrival, Billboard announced a new weekly chart tallying the most popular Afrobeats songs in the U.S. The hugely popular chart publication and magazine made the announcement in tandem with Afro Nation, who serve as partners for the new chart. As scheduled, the debut edition of the chart was published on Tuesday, March 29.

Unlike the debut of the UK Afrobeats chart in 2020, which came with its fair share of critical conversations, the U.S. version has been mostly greeted by excitement, a level of geniality that is likely due to the long trudge towards stateside recognition. At that, it’s still worth taking an insightful look at the first week of the chart, so here are four takeaways from the debut edition of the U.S. Afrobeats chart.

CKay leads the pack with “Love Nwantiti”

If you ask most people who they’d guess would set the pace for the chart in its first week, the poll would’ve featured CKay’s “Love Nwantiti” as a favourite. Released in 2019, with the accompanying video for one of its remixes coming in a year later, “Love Nwantiti” took over two years to reach global ubiquity, via TikTok virality. Having debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 last year, the song was one of several to further confirm the ascendant popularity of Afropop, and its debut, peak placement on the new chart is proof of its staying power.

In the recent IFPI Global music report, Warner Music’s Temi Adeniji stated that the label is “truly thinking of [CKay] as a global artist.” While “Love Nwantiti” is a solid footing to begin ensuring those ambitions are achieved, it’s not the only gambit, and the evidence is in “Emiliana” also debuting at the tenth spot of the U.S. Afrobeats chart. Even though it isn’t as mammoth as its smash predecessor, “Emiliana” seems to be performing respectfully, and it hints at CKay continuing his momentum over the course of the near future.

Tems lands 8 (!) entries on the chart

Think about it: Around this time in 2019, Tems was a fairly known up-and-coming artist with two singles and a handful of features. Three years later, she’s easily one of the most popular and invigorating proponents of African music on a global level. If that’s not awe-inspiring, I don’t know what is. Further confirmation of Temilade Openiyi’s ascent is her record-setting eight entries into the new U.S. Afrobeats chart.

Of course, “Essence,” her song of the summer collaboration with the iconic Wizkid is near the top of the chart at No. 3, while For Broken Ears standout, “Free Mind,” follows closely at No. 5. Also in the top ten is the Brent Faiyaz-assisted “Found,” off last year’s If Orange Was A Place. Tems’ remaining entries are split between songs from both EPs, a strong indicator that the singer/producer is building a dedicated following in the U.S. Having signed a major label deal with RCA last year, the resources and systemic support at her disposal for future releases will ensure there’s more record-setting moments on this chart.

Is it really representing Africa if it’s all Nigerian?

Of the 50 songs on the inaugural U.S. Afrobeats chart, only one does not feature the participation of a Nigerian artist. That song is “Down Bad,” the smash hit by Ghanaian singer Kelvyn Boy. If you want to get a bit technical, you could add Darkoo and Black Sherif’s melodic drill banger, “Always,” but Darkoo is British-Nigerian even if she lives and operates out of the UK.

This overwhelming dominance of Nigerian pop music and its artists is obviously a reflection of what’s popular stateside, but the lack of diversity further obfuscates the sheer breadth of African pop music. As far as impact is concerned, Afropop revolves around Nigeria, which intentionally and unintentionally marginalises the rest of the continent. In a western world where there’s still ignorance of Africa, and its diverse youth culture, the U.S. Afrobeats might be promoting the egregious idea that the continent is a country, and our music can be neatly categorised into a one size fits all genre name.

What makes a song Afrobeats enough to be on the chart?

If you scroll all the way down to the 41st position of this chart’s inaugural edition, you’d find Metro Boomin’s “Borrowed Love,” a sunny track off the ace Atlanta producer’s NOT ALL HEROES WEAR CAPES LP, which features fellow ATLien Swae Lee and Nigerian pop superstar Wizkid. It’s a surprise entry that also seems important because, amidst all the songs by Nigerian pop stars, it serves as a great entry point into looking at the nuances of an ‘Afrobeats’ chart.

“Who gets to decide which songs belong to the Afrobeats genre, enough to earn a spot on the chart? Do the producers and artists have to submit a genre?” Adewojumi Aderemi and Debola Abimbolu asked those pertinent questions when the UK Afrobeats chart was set to launch, questions that remain relevant today. In the case of “Borrowed Love,” is it because of the Wizkid affiliation, or is it because the composition of the song fits within the Afrobeats template?

If it’s the former, does that mean every artist from Africa with a popular song, regardless whether they make Amapiano or Drill or Bongo Flava, will simply be lumped into the Afrobeats chart? If it’s the latter, does that mean a song like Doja Cat’s Afro-house-inspired “Woman”—which is currently moving up the Hot 100—qualifies as a potential entry into the Afrobeats chart? The fact that the answers aren’t clear, or won’t be clear anytime soon, is an indicator that the chart curators are choosing the validation that comes with a vague tag that continues to water down the diverse essence of African pop music.