The Rise & Rise Of Wizkid and Tems’ Crossover Hit “Essence”

The NATIVE team discuss one of the year's most anticipated songs

All these months on, it is hard to identify the exact moment when “Essence” became an ubiquitous presence among listeners. Maybe it was somewhere in the heady giddiness of socially distanced raves at the tail-end of last year, as bodies pressed against one another after a year of isolation and social reckoning. Or more accurately, the guileless belief in the early days of this year that 2021 was going to put a pause on the awkwardness of the pandemic as we tried to get back on with regularly scheduled programming.

But heading away from the first quarter of 2021, it was clear that the Tems-featuring standout from Wizkid’s Made In Lagos had become the album’s lodestar, receiving regular airplay across the world and angling itself for the much-vaunted “Song of the Summer” crown. The groundbreaking success of “Essence” was canonically recognised in the United States late last month, when it charted on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, receiving due recognition as one of the most popular songs in the world’s largest music market. (Currently at No. 54 on that chart, its highest position yet.)

Where all of that has led is another cultural moment engineered by Wizkid, with a remix of “Essence” featuring American Pop superstar Justin Bieber coming out earlier today. While the Internet has gone into overdrive, The NATIVE newsroom has also been milling with thoughts and opinions about the remix of what Bieber described as the song of the summer. Questions have been raised about if a Bieber stimulus package was even needed, to whether anyone expected “Essence” to take off as it did. What started as casual conversation eventually evolved into a roundtable conversation that we hope you enjoy below!

Did you expect “Essence” to become the international hit song off Made in Lagos, and why did you think it grew to that stature?

Woju: Absolutely not. I love Tems and I was very excited for this collaboration, but I also did not think it was a high flyer on the album until I started noticing all the buzz around it. I would have thought “Ginger” would become the international hit, given both Wizkid and Burna Boy’s standing — but clearly Tems is moving into that space fast. The success of this song is and this remix are the first signs of an international breakout on the horizon for Tems.

Tami: I actually didn’t expect “Essence” to be the song that would catch on the most from ‘Made In Lagos’. Not because it didn’t have the potential for the leaps its currently making – and will make over the next couple of months – but because as an album ‘Made In Lagos’ was so solid, it could easily have been “True Love” or “Sweet One” or even “Blessed” that could be enjoying this exact same moment. Despite this, I’m really glad it happened to be the Tems-assisted single that has currently grown to this stature because she’s one of three female features on the album and it’s pleasing to see her enjoy this long-awaited moment. The oil is overflowing.

Dennis: Nah. I thought it’d be “True Love,” not because I thought it was the best song on the album, more for the immediate hype. Also, it had that evident Caribbean Pop feel to it, which I felt would carry over to foreign audiences. Still, “Essence” makes for a great ‘global hit’, and anything with Tems on it has my unbridled enthusiasm.

Wonu: I say this all the time; “Essence” was not ‘that’ song. ‘Made In Lagos’ is too good of an album to even know what song would have been that hit song but even at that, I still did not see Essence actually being that hit song. I mean look how long it took before it actually stuck? I thought it would have been “True Love” or maybe “Blessed”.

Shina: Honestly didn’t think “Essence” will be the song that’ll go off internationally. Was thinking “Blessed” and maybe “True Love” but you never know with these things. On why it blew up, I’ll say it was a matter of “Essence” being out as a single at the right time. Summer was fast approaching when the song dropped and it was easier for people to gravitate towards the song during this period and yes Tems delivered almost sounding like a beacon to new listeners. And lastly, there’s just something about screaming, ‘you don’t need no other body’ on your fourth cup of mojito at a function

Damilola: I definitely didn’t, I always expected the ‘party’ song to blow, and “Ginger” was kind of taking that on when it was released, especially when the video came out. It’s always those fast-paced songs that are super popular over here, and then that momentum builds outside of the continent to the rest of the world. But “Essence” took on its own life in America and it was so interesting to see it unfold in real-time. If anything, I thought “Blessed” or “True Love” would crossover, but “Essence” works; Tems did the damn thing.

Nwanneamaka: “Essence” is definitely an amazing song but of all the songs on Made In Lagos, I didn’t expect this to be the international hit. Maybe it’s because I gravitate more towards songs like “True Love”, “Blessed” and “Sweet One”. If anything, I expected “Ginger,” featuring Burna Boy to become an international hit because not only was it topping Nigerian and African charts, it had two of Africa’s biggest artists. I’m having a very proud Tems fan moment.


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From a purely musical standpoint, did the song really need a remix?

Woju: The original song is good—clearly because the world and JB are loving it. Justin Bieber’s verse is also good but too foreign next to Tems and Wizkid’s vocals. I did enjoy him speaking pidgin, though.

Tami: I don’t think the song needed a remix because it’s completely sound all on its own. However, I do understand why it’s been given an international remix treatment – albeit not a befitting one by cultural standards. It’s clearly a smart move. A play to expand and stretch the boundaries of the song’s already fever-pitch hype into one as ubiquitous as “Despacito,” one of the most replayed and eventually worn-out songs of the decade. Here’s to hoping “Essence” doesn’t suffer a similar fate.

Dennis: Nah. Like every song on MIL, “Essence” feels very complete. At that, remixes are meant to add a refreshing coat, and sometimes entirely new dimension(s), so I’m open to them when they’re well-executed.

Wonu: If we’re being very honest, It wasn’t needed at all. I would have loved to see how far the song could go with just two Nigerians on it. I mean it was already on the Billboard Hot 100 so there was definitely more to come, but it was not bad all in all.

Shina: Not at all, the song was fine as it was. Wouldn’t have minded a remix with Rihanna though, I can hear her doing wonders on “Essence.” But I’m not totally mad at the song getting a remix, I can understand why we have one right now.

Damilola: To be very honest, the song was fine as is. I understand the impetus behind the remix and I still think it’s great. The 16-year-old girl in me is leaping for joy knowing that my two GOATS are on a song together, but like I said, the song was fine as is.

Nwanneamaka: I personally don’t think the song needed a remix. The song sounded perfect as it was and that was evident considering the number of streams it got and the charts it was topping. This remix reminds me of Grown-ish because it was a spinoff to Black-ish which was so interesting, and Grown-ish just did not meet the standard. Like Grown-ish, we did not need the “Essence (Remix),” at least not with Justin Bieber.

How well did Justin Bieber perform on this remix?

Woju: The highlight of this song is Justin Bieber singing, “only you fit hold my body!” I think because I’d heard that part sung by Tems, it’s just incredibly hilarious to hear him try to match that. I actually really wish they had layered their vocals and made it a duet performance. Maybe on tour, they can give us that. Wow, that would be incredible. This remix is only going to be worth it if they do that, that’s my final verdict.

Dennis: Respectable. To be honest, I didn’t expect much and it didn’t do much for me, which is good because it doesn’t tarnish the OG’s sneakily addictive feel. I know there’s going to be the talk of Bieber’s impact on “Despacito,” which is understandable because he gave himself over to that song, but here he doesn’t really do that here. It’s not his fault, there’s very little you can do to elevate an already soulful and catchy Pop song when your voice exudes gentrified soul.

Tami: Just as Dennis mentioned above, I didn’t really expect much from JB. I mean, the guy constantly gets flogged on Afropop-leaning records like this (see: “Peaches [Masterkraft Remix]). I’m typically a fan of R&B Justin because he really be in his singing bag when he amps up the vocals however, this was a little bit lacklustre and didn’t really seem to elevate the song that much. I can already foresee that the deluxe is going to have insane streams based on this single alone when it comes around. Still, I’d need to give it a few more spins before I can conclude on this but at this juncture, I’d much rather have Tems’ full verse back.

Wonu: Justin Bieber did great, please. What a guyy. I love Justin Bieber so, well, I’m going to be a bit biased. He can’t really do wrong in my eyes. Sweet verse! I love it and I love the song even more now

Shina: Lol all I’m going to say on this matter is Tems still washed JB even with a shortened verse, Easy.

Damilola: I loved it. I love everything Justin Bieber does though, so this is probably biased and I’m not ashamed. I liked his verse, liked when he came in to the chorus, I thought the synergy between them was good. I enjoyed the song to be honest, I won’t add it to my playlist, but I won’t skip it if it comes on.

Nwanneamaka: His verse in the song sounded out of place and I think threw off the vibes the song was originally giving. I will continue listen to the OG song in hopes that I forget a remix exists.

What do you guys think about Tems’ abridged first verse on the remix?

Woju: This is probably my favourite part of the song, so being cut off as I was about to belt out, “I feel it coming,” was not fun. I’m also pretty sure this is the only part of the song that actually says “Essence” so I’m surprised they didn’t think it as integral as I do. For me, it felt like a bit of a risk to fuck with such beloved vocals so early on in the remix; it made me very sceptical as I listened for the rest to see if taking this part out was actually worth it.

Dennis: It annoyed me, deeply. I think the original balance between Wizkid and Tems was swagger and soul, respectively. You can tell Bieber was trying to play in between both poles and he ate into Tems’ contribution, which I didn’t like. If you ask me, also, all that yodelling of “you don’t need no other body” was unnecessary from him.

Wonu: To be completely honest, I didn’t mind the fact that it was taken out. I mean on listening to it at first, it felt extremely weird but, I mean, it wasn’t an issue to be as long as it wasn’t the last verse that was taken out, I’m good.

Shina: LOL. It shocked me ’cause I was already singing along as I hit play. I’m definitely not a big fan of that verse cut, like I wouldn’t be able to scream out “time is of the essence” again?? It ain’t right.

Damilola: Yeah like Woju mentioned, it’s a bit strange that the only part where the title of the song was mentioned was then removed from the remix. ‘You don’t need no other body’ comes up in other parts of the song so might have been a better shout to take that out. Tems’ intro was all magic and should have stayed in my opinion.

Nwanneamaka: The Tems’ verse that was removed was one of my fave parts. “I feel it coming/time is of the essence”. I always appreciate hearing the title of the song in a song especially in a subtle way not in a way that’s repetitive and annoying. Tems delivered in that verse and I wish it stayed in the remix.

If you were to select an artist to be on an “Essence” remix, who would it be?

Woju: Young Thug. *drops mic*

Tami: Lol, as much as I want to also hear what a Wizkid and Thugger song would sound like, right now, I’ll have some Koffee on it.

Dennis: Rihanna. She hasn’t done a lot of features lately, but the Bajan goddess is really hot sauce; she just makes everything better. Also a video of the remix with Rih would break the internet, and I mean that literally. I also think Bad Bunny would’ve been a phenomenal addition, the man has range, he’d have fit in perfectly and his addition would have been unorthodox enough to make it more intriguing than what we got. But obviously, this remix is for the white people who are always late to everything, so I get the Bieber decision.

Shina: Haha, Rihanna easy. She’ll body this record. Like Dennis says she makes everything better and it’s the summer, people are dying to hear anything from Rihanna and her gracing this record will be perfect for the times.

Damilola: Probably a rapper, someone that will change the pace. One who can still sing ‘you don’t need no other body’ but would give a fire verse. Maybe Young Thug or Future. Or Ladipoe.

Nwanneamaka: This is a tough one because so many artists would have done a remix to this song justice, preferably an African artist—here or in the diaspora—that has experience with Afropop. Anyone that wouldn’t gentrify it the way Justin did. As of right now, I can’t conclude on a name because I really love the song as it is with just Tems and Wizkid, but maybe Drake? He and Wizkid sound good together so that would’ve been nice to hear.

Stream ‘Made In Lagos’ below.

Featured image credits/Billboard

Words by Adewojumi Aderemi, Damilola Animashaun, Dennis Ade Peter, Nwanneamaka Igwe, Shina Ladipo, Tami Makinde, Wale Oloworekende and Wonu Osikoya

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