Rema is poised to herald a new chapter for Afropop with ‘Rave & Roses’

“As you listen to the Album embrace the light, trust me I will not take my time in the studio to convince anyone.”

“…One love, respect. I am the future.” Those were the last words Rema said as he poetically delivered his acceptance speech after clinching the coveted Headies Next Rated award in early 2020. As we watched the young wunderkind on stage, accept the award, he hoisted his trophy in the air, made a toasting motion, and uttered those prescient words in a teetering tone, his voice smothered by the roaring of the cheering crowd. 

At the time, his seemingly self-aggrandising declaration could have been dismissed as him overreaching— he was a 19-year-old newcomer with a handful of pop hits and viral freestyles, declaring himself the future of a burgeoning global movement. Almost three years from this momentous point in his career, at the cusp of releasing his much anticipated debut album, those final words have proven to be prophetic. There is now no doubt that Rema is among the elite spate of younger artists actively shaping and reshaping the abundant present and blinding future of Nigerian pop music.

Rema’s come-up as a musician dates as far back as his nascent teenage years but his major break came in 2018 after his freestyle to industry veteran D’Prince’s “Gucci Gang.” The freestyle gained a modest level of virality and before long came to the attention of D’Prince, who flew Rema from his native Benin City to Lagos – the epicentre of Nigerian pop – signing him to a record deal. Under the auspices of D’Prince’s Jonzing World, in partnership with the Don Jazzy-led Mavin Records, Rema spent almost a year woodshedding and fine tuning his craft before announcing himself to the world with his continent-spanning smash hit “Dumebi,” a sunny Afropop record underpinned by bouncy drums and infectious melodies.-

The song was lush and bursting with freshness but it was still in line with the mainstream Afropop sound of the time. The accompanying, Ademola Falomo-directed video embellished that mix of modish and inventiveness. It effortlessly fused the colourfulness and playful plot of quintessential Nigerian pop videos with the iconoclastic fashion sense and liberal artistic direction championed by the Altè movement, into an awe-inspiring whole. It’s symbolic of his eponymous debut, which not only introduced him to a wider audience but also hinted at his future reputation of being a maverick.

Today, Rema is ubiquitously loved at home, but his proclivity for whipping up future-facing sounds and fresh concepts makes his art the constant topic of polarising discussions. For most, he is a young artist staking out new grounds in the Afropop landscape; for others, his sound comes off as alien and vaguely otherworldly, from what they’re familiar with. Every artist receives contrasting reactions to their art but pioneers tend to experience fiery reactions from the extreme ends of the spectrum. Rema fell into this pocket from the onset of his career.

His debut eponymous EP unfurled layers the singer/rapper’s artistry. Two songs on it were especially piquant, namely “Corny” and “Iron Man.” These songs are delectable blends of archetypal Nigerian pop rhythms and exotic classical North-Indian melodies, peppered with Rema’s soulful but garbled delivery. They were met with mixed reactions on the local scene, owing to their distantly unfamiliar nature, sounding as though beamed in from another universe.

Nigerian pop music has always been a melting pot of sounds, as such, fusing it with other genres was not a new affair. Afropop is notable for its wide range of influences, including Dancehall, House music, Rap, R&B, Reggaeton, Dembow, and more. However, almost no one was experimenting with eastern sounds, hence the initial mixed reception. The EP went on to enjoy worldwide success, with “Iron Man” even earning a celebrated spot on Barack Obama’s summer playlist that year.

Despite his ridiculous successes that year, it seemed that Rema was constantly at the receiving end of jibes and quips from online trolls for sounding “Indian”. To the layman listener, Rema might just have come off as yet another young pop star passing through the usual ephemeral and impactful stages of growth for any artist. But a deeper listen elucidates that he was taking his time, to cultivate his style which involves constantly tugging at the fringes of Afropop, redefining and forcing us to evaluate what Nigerian pop music is and could be.

As established on that EP, and emphasised in subsequent releases, Rema’s dynamism and cutting-edge inventiveness exceeds the confines of his music. His artistic brilliance bleeds across a far-reaching gamut and he combines eclectic elements in a way that is uniquely Rema, creating a wholesome experience with each offering. A conspicuous testament to this is his romance with his mascot, the teddy bear.

Since announcing himself to the world with his debut single, he’s featured teddy bears in more than a handful of his music videos (starting with “Dumebi”), severally employed teddy bears in his art as allegories alluding to far-reaching concepts and people. He also recently employed this motif at the listening party for his forthcoming debut album, which was held earlier this month in Lagos. 

In a very conservative Nigeria, he was initially met with staunch criticism but that never deterred Rema. He only doubled down on expanding his sonic world and abilities. In the midst of the billowing criticism, he’s never engaged in a malevolent tirade against his slew of detractors. Currently, most of the ‘eccentricities’ for which he was initially berated for, have become the industry standard. In his three years on the scene, he has completely subverted the blueprint of becoming a leading light in Nigerian pop. “My sound y’all called Indian, everybody doing it now,” he tweeted in 2021, a self-reverent quip on his path to cementing himself as a genre-blending and culture-melding pioneer.


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On his soon-to-be released debut album, Rave And Roses’, he’s still toeing this arc. The three singles he’s released off the album have each followed unique paths, both sonically and thematically. “Soundgasm” is a stripped-down, unique Afro-Caribbean blend that inspires a gust of freshness with its mix of impassioned croons, whisper raps, and sexually-charged lyrics; “Calm Down” is a bouncy Afropop ballad, on which he surreptitiously weaves in and out of speech and hum, painting a romantic montage; on the AJ Tracey-assisted “FYN,” he sings his own praises, over a punchy beat coloured with exotic synths.

“I’ve taught you guys for 3 years with my releases not to have expectations when it comes to me,” Rema wrote in a tweet sent out earlier this week. “As you listen to the Album embrace the light, trust me I will not take my time in the studio to convince anyone. I’ve confidently distinguished myself as a creator. #RaveAndRoses🌹”. The build up to the release of Rave And Roses’ has been drawn out, but it hasn’t dampened its status as arguably the most anticipated debut album in over a decade.

With the stakes attached to it and Rema’s knack for one-upping himself, the project is poised to make a seismic dent and set a new precedent in the Afropop scene. As to what to expect, expect the unexpected as Rema delivers the future.

Pre-add Rave And Roses’ here.