In 2021, Afropop’s sonic landscape has never looked better and that is largely down to the gamut of musical acts that are now reshaping the face of the genre for future generations. Last year historically saw the release of more Afropop projects than we’ve ever received as eager fans on the continent, including the release of projects, such as Wizkid’s magnum opus ‘Made in Lagos’, Burna Boy’s ‘Twice As Tall’, and Amaarae’s stunning debut ‘The Angel You Don’t Know’ which comforted ears at a time where many were in search of aural healing.
Outside of West African Pop, other artists around the continent also began crafting their impenetrable sonic worlds, buoyed by the soulful and rhythmic production that has now come to be expected of African music. South Africa’s Busisiwa and Sho Madjozi, Sauti Sol, Nigerian comedian, Basketmouth, Cassper Nyovest, Kenya’s rising Maya Amolo, Kabza De Small, and many more, released some of their best musical efforts, each instrumental in its own way for broadening African Pop’s sonic palette.
Now that 2020 is over, we are beginning to see 2021’s music picture more clearly and it’s already looking like a banner year for African music, especially pertaining to incoming albums and EPs already being teased by our favourite artists. Although we’re very much in the early days of the new year, there’s already so much new material to anticipate in the coming months. With the focus of the world now on recorded music (thanks to the panoramic), NATIVE has compiled a list of the year’s most highly-anticipated releases which includes already confirmed projects from VanJess, Mr Eazi Shekhinah, Scorpion Kings x Tresor and more. While other announcements have been less concrete but no less promising such as Diamond Platnumz and Liya’s imminent debuts and ascendant artists like SGaWD and capespring’s debut albums. It’s already looking like a great year for music on the continent, so let’s look forward to the music we expect to see in 2021.
Last year, the uncertainty brought on by the pandemic denied us the release of Shatta Wale’s 5th studio album, ‘Gift of God’. Although live concerts are still a no-go while wait for a viable vaccine for the COVID-19 virus, the Ghanaian dancehall heavyweight has promised that he’ll share the album this year. We got the first taste of what’s to come with the release of his new single, “1 Don”, arriving earlier in the month. Though it’s unclear if the song will make the final cut for the album, the self-assured lyrics confirmed that he’s still in high spirits following his profile growth from last year’s feature on Obama’s 2020 summer playlist.
Shatta Wale has already made his presence felt in the international music scene as a dancehall artist, but fans who have been following him know that he can also perform as a rapper. He released a Hip-Hop mixtape, ‘Cloud 9’ in 2017 and last year, he rapped over a drill beat on “Kumerica”, showing he isn’t afraid to experiment with trendy new sounds. In an interview with BBC last year, Shatta Wale expressed that the coming tape will sell very well in the international market because he plans to feature international stars like Vybz Cartel and Beyoncé. His last collaboration with Beyoncé, “Already” was a huge hit and there’s no doubt that another collaboration between the two will be massive. We look forward to hearing that as we edge closer to the album’s release date.
Odunsi (The Engine)
Odunsi (The Engine) is always on the cusp of further artistic explosion with each new project he undertakes. After exploring love and its complexities on his 2016 debut EP ‘Time of our Lives’, he emerged with 2018’s ‘rare.’, a world with a distinctively retro-inspired aesthetic that harkened back to his mastery of ’80s and ’90s R&B influences. By the time he was releasing his sophomore EP ‘Everything You Heard is True’ two years down the line, Odunsi had morphed again, this time letting listeners into a rare and rounded glimpse of his psychedelic-inducing rockstar world.
For some, Odunsi (The Engine)’s master shapeshifting abilities are a tad disconcerting but for many day-one fans of the artist, growth and evolution has come to be expected with each project chronicling a different phase in his life. Cue in “Fuji 5000”, the anthemic loose single from the singer released at the tail end of the year to fans’ surprise. The song blends the sounds of indigenous Fuji with Trap eccentricity, a feat largely untapped in modern Afropop. “Welcome 2 da new world,” Odunsi had tweeted on the song’s release day, suggesting he was in album mode and ready to hit back with a new thematic persona. Announcing the title of the forthcoming project as ‘KAKEGURUI‘ back in September, our expectations are sky-high for Odunsi’s latest multiverse – especially as he takes inspiration from one of the most enamoured subcultures: Anime.
Last September, Kwesi Arthur dropped ‘This is Not the Tape, Sorry 4 the Wait II’, the sequel to the similarly titled pack that preceded his 2019 star-making project, ‘Live from Nkrumah Krom, Vol II’. In addition to fanning the hype for his coming album, which will be released sometime this year, ‘Sorry 4 the Wait II’ served as a stunning reminder of Kwesi’s versatile skillset, the type of artist that can spin a searing Drill banger and deliver boisterously sung melodies on a party-ready song. In the time since his last full project, Kwesi Arthur has clearly been consolidating on his abilities as a music maker, and he’s manifested it in the array of loose singles and long list of guest features. All of that growth is set to coalesce on his forthcoming project, and if it’s as exciting and thematically riveting as the preceding 3-song pack, then we’re in for an absolute treat.
16 years old, capespring. caught our attention last June, featuring in our Fresh Meat column for that month, following the release of his debut tape, ‘Duality‘. A five-track course, ‘Duality‘ played true to its name, as capespring. placed both his singing and rapping talents side by side, separating his two halves with a soothing interlude. Just over six months since his debut project, capespring. was already “basically done” with his next body of work, he told his modest Instagram following.
It’s common for artists to announce the imminent completion of their newest body of work, and leave listeners in the wind for months to come, but with the release of “indigo”, “off [his] next EP,” capespring.’s start to 2021 indicates that the new project should be dropping some time within the first quarter – if we’re judging by the timeline followed by his previous project ‘Duality”s lead single, “Gang” and the EP’s arrival. Flaunting his linguistic ability, his alluring vocals and his undeniable rapping chops, “indigo” is a pop-rock infused number that leaves us impatient for capesprings. forthcoming EP. As he is a rising star, quick succession of albums will keep him in the view of fans and industry players alike, so not only are we keen to hear more of his casual, conversational raps, we are also anticipating the career hike that a new body of work will bring capespring. Watch this space.
Other pop stars would kill for the success Rema has had after just two years since he debuted as a Mavin artist. No, the 20-year-old artist hasn’t racked up a Grammy nomination or featured on the Billboards chart – not yet, anyway – but he is still reputed as one of the most internationally recognised artists from the continent thanks his very first hit single, “Dumebi” getting featured on Obama’s summer playlist in 2019 and his performance at last year’s NBA All-Star Weekend show.
Given all he has accomplished, it’s hard to remember that Rema hasn’t actually released a proper album yet. He has released a lot of projects that feel like albums, from the 4-track EPs, ‘Rema’, ‘Rema Freestyle’ and ‘Bad Commando’ to his compilation project, ‘Rema Compilation’, and they have allowed him to keep a near-constant presence in music conversations. His hit singles from last year, “Woman”, “Ginger” and “Peace of Mind” also helped in that regard, however fans expect him to bulk up his discography with a proper album in 2021. He has confirmed as much on Twitter, implying that he’s working on sharing his first full-length project with a simple, “album, yes.” For a versatile artist who can make emo Trap songs and lightweight Afropop bops, it will be interesting to see how he balances all his different sounds to make a cohesive album.
R&B is some ways away from dominating mainstream attention, but it’s undeniable that the South African music scene is leading the charge. Marking an instant impact with her well-received 2017 debut LP, ‘Rose Gold’, along with its huge, focus single, “Suited”, Shekhinah has become one of the leading lights of modern R&B on the continent. Originally scheduled to drop late last year, the singer’s sophomore LP, ‘Trouble in Paradise’, is finally scheduled for a February 26th release date. Ahead of the album, she’s already shared “Tides” and the Bey T-assisted “Fixate”, both smooth cuts flaunting her honeyed voice and ever-affecting writing. It’s an indicator of a purposeful return, four years after her breakout run.
22-year-old SGaWD is one artist you should keep tabs on this year. The Fresh Meat Alum is strutting with palpable confidence into the new year as she sets her sights on the release of her first body of work. First hitting our radar with the exciting snappy comebacks on the Rap release “Are You Dumb” last year, the rapper and singer soon became an unmissable force with her powerful vocals and sex-positive lyrics.
Although she rounded up the previous year with only one official solo release, there is an abundance of collabs stacked in SGaWD’s arsenal, from the sexy slick-winded rapper style she employs on Somadina’s “Kno Me”, to the coy, soulful singing she adopts on Jess ETA’s “Resistance”. Confident and smooth-talking at the same time, SGaWD has clearly set the bar high for her debut EP, due to be shared with listeners at some point this year. To stay updated with its release, we’d advise you to stay peeled to her Instagram account where she’s endlessly testing new material on her growing fanbase.
Mr Eazi’s trajectory from breakout star to global ambassador for Afropop is nothing short of exemplary. The mid-tempo, Banku music style he popularised helped rewrite the sonic DNA of Afropop, and in the years since, he’s grown even more prominent while doing his part to enable a better music ecosystem on the continent, through the incubator/label services company, emPawa Africa. With all of these obligations, he’s remained active with dropping new music but it’s been three years since his last solo project, ‘Life is Eazi, Vol. II: Lagos to London’. That’s about to change, with the imminent arrival of a new EP, ‘Something Else’. Ahead of the February 19 drop, Mr Eazi has just shared “The Don”, a self-eulogising track that hints at the assured direction the project might take. Considering all he’s achieved, no one can say Eazi hasn’t earned the right to toot his own horn.
Fans are quite literally begging for a new Cina Soul project. Releasing her last body of work, ‘Ga Mashi‘ in 2018, Cina Soul’s discography remains distinguished by her 2017 project, ‘Metanoia‘, owing to her sparse single releases. Attentive to her visuals, her branding, and live performances – back when they were any– Cina Soul’s artist profile resembles that of an upcoming artist, so it’s no wonder that fans are constantly yearning for more official drops. Thankfully, as Kla Manye curates her new visuals, we’re given an assurance that a new project will follow shortly. Tweeting, “Project ELEMENT,” alongside stunning promotional images, details surrounding the album (or EP) are still scarce, but if industry insiders are to be believed Cina Soul’s next effort is fully ready, and it’s about to be “another banger!”
Falz’s last album, ‘Moral Instruction’ took on a prophetic slant during last year’s EndSARS protests as it spoke on the issue of police brutality at the heart of the movement. Though Falz is no stranger to exploring politically conscious messages, the album was a bold switch from the usual lighthearted persona we heard on previous projects, ‘Wasup Guy’, ‘Stories That Touch’, ‘Chemistry’ and ‘27’ – he even borrowed notable samples from Fela for extra measure. Falz’s active involvement in the EndSARS movement earned him the support of more Nigerians who saw him walking the talk and it certainly boosted the anticipation for a follow-up to ‘Moral Instruction’.
It’s still unclear when Falz plans to drop his coming album, but after going all of last year without dropping any project, fans are expecting to get a new one this year. His acting career has kept him busy as he continues to show off his versatility with different award-winning roles. However, his time on set hasn’t kept Falz from delivering hit singles like “Bop Daddy” and “Squander” featuring Niniola. Over the course of his career, Falz has shown that he can deliver the hits as well as the knowledge. His next project could add to the political message of the last or it could be something for the club. Either way, you can bet that fans will tune in and support the bop daddy.
To round up 2020, Abuja-based singer/songwriter Lady Donli released dual singles, “Rockstar” and “Parole”, the final offerings from her ‘Enjoy Your Life’ era. Announcing that she would be evolving beyond the project’s titular person Cash Mummy, a new alter-ego emerged ready to take listeners into the next phase of Donli’s sonic evolution. While there are no firm details of a forthcoming release, Donli has shared with fans that the album is in its final stages as she finetunes it for delivery later this year.
When we last heard from the singer, she shared that the new project was an entirely new vibe: “Every time I create a new project, it’s a new sonic, I take on a new identity,” and her upcoming sophomore album is no different. With a prospective darker alter-ego named Space Whore, we won’t be surprised if we get to see a more sexier, twisted side to the singer. In any case, we’re waiting with bated breath. RIP Cash Mummy.
When it comes to artist activation, Mavin know how to make a statement, launching their artists into popular consciousness with EPs straight off the bat. Their unusual tactics have definitely spoiled listeners on the continent. Signing to eponymous label Davido Music Worldwide last year, Liya’s only official release since has been the commendable “Melo”, the opulent video for which starred her alongside her label boss, Davido. Of course, this drought has been a little disappointing, but just a couple of days ago, Davido himself gave us a hint that the wait will be worth it soon, announcing that the 30BG ‘First Lady’’s EP is “under construction.”
Though it wasn’t made explicit that Liya would be dropping this year, it isn’t a stretch to imagine that January construction will lead to a fully formed project by the end of 2021. With dynamic women across the country already breaking glass ceilings in a range of industries, more and more women are being given the opportunities they deserve to shine and we would love to see that happen frequently within the music industry as well. in the mainstream and compete alongside the top pop artists. It would be awesome to see Liya amongst these conversations this year, and what better way to command attention than a debut EP?
DJ Maphorisa, Tresor & Kazba De Small
South African sound maestros, Dj Maphorisa and Kabza De Small are longtime collaborators who spin every track they touch into musical gold. With a track record for creating danceable hits capable of placing Amapiano on the global map, the producer duo have gone on to craft four joint albums so far under their moniker Scorpion King, with ‘Once Upon A Time in Lockdown’ being their most recent offering. Now that it’s 2021, the pair are wasting no time in delivering yet another body of work that will enlist the sonic efforts of South African singer Tresor. Judging by the project’s promotional single, “Funu”, an anthemic number with a disco sheen, it’s clear that we are soon in for a real treat. Coupled with Tresor’s honest songwriting and soulful vocal stylings, ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ – arriving February 26 – is certainly set to make a splash in the music scene this year.
It’s quite interesting that, in all his years of dominating as East Africa’s foremost superstar, Diamond Platnumz has only dropped one full project. In early 2018, he released ‘A Boy From Tandale’, a star-studded effort with high profile features from Rick Ross, Ne-Yo, Omarion, Tiwa Savage and much more. Nearly three years later, he’s only gotten much bigger. Similar to Nigeria’s Davido, the Tanzanian singer has built his rep off crafting hits, making full use of the singles-focused terrain in these parts – and to full effect.
For a significant portion of 2020, there were rumours that Diamond would be dropping his sophomore album, but that notion took the backseat after his label, WCB Wasafi, focused on pushing the eponymous debut project of its latest signee, Zuchu. Although it’s not been confirmed by the singer, there’s already speculation that Diamond Platnumz’s long-awaited LP is in the works and should be in our ears sooner than we expect. Considering the magnitude of his debut, Diamond’s full-length follow-up should be a show-stopper.
Their campaign started last year September with “Come Over” a funk production that mixes their nostalgic sensibilities with the contemporary R&B sounds with which they have grown most famous. Since “Come Over” VanJess have released “High & Dry”, “Slow Down” and “Curious” (featuring Jimi Tents and Garren) off the forthcoming EP, and also “Groove Thang”, which didn’t make the project cut. Employing the same retro imagery for all the pre-album singles, VanJess weld the soundscape of their childhood – down to a tell-tale “Rump Shaker” sample – with the tastes of today.
With features from KAYTRANADA, Phony Ppl and Devin Morrison, as well as the “Curious” collaborators, VanJess’ ‘Homegrown’ looks to be an authentic expression of their artistry; the stunning album art alone and tracklist promising a full nine tracks dipped in gold. The EP is set for release in May, and is already available for pre-order.
Santi is one of the few African artists known for putting extra effort to make legacy projects with genre-defining conceptual directions and immersive narratives with visuals to match. As a result, we’ve watched his career blossom with each new tape he shares. His latest project and debut album, ‘Mandy and the Jungle’ was released in partnership with Interscope-affiliated American label, LVRN, and he was able to score features with international artists, DRAM and GoldLink as well as other notable artists from around Africa. Unfortunately, in the wake of his ‘Mandy and the Jungle’ tours, Santi invited a hiatus at the start of last year, and one of the long lists of reasons why 2020 was so awful was because we only got to hear one single from Santi, “End of the Wicked”.
The fanfare for ‘Mandy and the Jungle’ and sparse single release ensures that all eyes will continue to be on Santi to deliver another classic project in 2021. He recently came out on Twitter to speak about how he’s feeling the pressure from fans demanding a new tape saying, “you people don’t care about me, you only care about the album.” However, his most recent tweet explained that he’s taking his time with the project so he can give his fans the “best possible experience (he) can give in a time where everything is unsure.” I suppose we can wait a little longer for the next Santi album. We don’t have a date yet, but his tweet emphasises Santi’s perfectionist work ethic and we can’t wait to hear what he has cooking for us in the studio.
Intaba Yase Dubai
2021 is set to be the year Intaba Yase Dubai becomes a bonafide star. After years toiling in the underground and earning his rep as an ascendant Folk-Pop prospect in the KwaZulu-Natal area of South Africa, the singer has garnered major looks in the last few months. His indelible hook on Big Zulu’s smash hit, “Imali Eningi”, slung him into a higher realm of ubiquity, and his new recording deal with S.A. powerhouse label, Ambitiouz Entertainment, will only push him further. With a sonic make-up of Maskandi, Afro-Soul and Folk, Dubai’s debut project, set for sometime this year, will make his distinct even more profound on mainstream Afropop.
Ictooicy always has a project up her sleeve. A rising artist with more than enough music to keep her fans satiated, it is clear that making and releasing music is Ictooicy’s passion, and she is going to continue fulfilling her wants for a long time coming. As always, Icy’s Twitter has brought us along the journey of the forthcoming, ‘$HYGURL‘ – which could have been another project of hers called ‘Chaos‘. It’s said to feature SirBastien, ‘Sorry I Don’t Like Phone Calls‘ feature, Cozy Kiyo, Ghanaian polymath Oshunda (who created the album art), and likely 234Jaydaa and SOMADINA with whom she’s created, “something amazing.” As Ictooicy grows stronger, and her network is cast wider, the stakes on her career continue to rise, and we’re hoping that this album will be a definitive one from the Fresh Meat alum.
Featured Image Credits: The NATIVE