We’d never forget Davido. Not just because of his decade-long dominance in the Afropop space, but because he’s that superstar whose hands are always stretched. “We rise by lifting others,” he’s often quoted; and for the longest, he has tried to live by this maxim. Davido is the guy who doles out money to fans on social media, hands out millions of Naira to fans on stage, helps strangers fund their schooling, projects young acts into the limelight, and pulls stranded artists out of bad deals. He’s always been one to reach out.
“I think it’s something I learned from my father. That’s just how he was growing up. From everybody in the family to his friends. I don’t know man, it’s just a natural thing for me. Don’t get me wrong, I can’t help everybody. But I won’t lie to you, God has blessed me that I’m able to take care of my friends, my family, and also spoil myself, spoil my woman, etcetera. We are not complaining, but I do what I can for the community, I do the most I can,” he reveals in an interview with Joey Akan.
Davido often seems like the best ally new-gen acts have in the Nigerian Afropop space. Interestingly, it is this self-imposed Santa-duty that has led him into new musical worlds. Despite being an Afrobeats giant, Davido doesn’t seem scared to leave his comfort zone when hopping on some of these tracks with new acts. Just last year, he pushed Lady Donli to new eyes and ears when he hopped on the remix to ‘Cash’ and invited her to join him on stage at his December concert. The year before, he joined the alté frontman Odunsi (The Engine) on ‘Divine’, one of the highlights off the latter’s debut album, “rare.”
These are not Davido’s natural sonic choices. At his core he is an Afrobeats act, playing as one of the genre’s biggest flag-bearers across the world. But he also isn’t scared to test new waters, and it shows in his willingness to work with these young acts on their turf. Davido has also served several international collaborations that have seen him stretching out of his comfort zone. ‘Dun Rich’ with Popcaan found Davido riding the Caribbean wave like a pro while blessing Quavo’s ‘Swing’ with a scene-stealing feature.
In many of these fish-out-of-water situations, Davido doesn’t sound out of place. He meets these artists halfway, retaining his style while stepping into their world. At the end of the day, you have a solid verse, a brilliant song.
Most recently, the DMW boss featured on Khalid’s ‘Know Your Worth’ alongside one of Nigeria’s most promising singers, Tems. Meshed in a song with two intimidating vocalists, Davido’s vocal talents appear very limited. Many insecure acts would shy away from such ‘set-ups’. But not Davido. He isn’t scared to try. When he wraps his pidgin-laced verse with the daring question “shey him dey treat you right, are you happy?” You search your soul, barely remembering it was delivered in a near-faint husky voice.
Therein lies the makings of a great artist. You know you can always be better, so you step out of your comfort zone and push boundaries in your craft. And asides helping you explore new musical complexities, working with acts who create a different sound from yours also exposes you to a new fanbase.
Times are changing fast. Genre lines are getting blurred. Sounds are evolving and you can’t be caught slipping; not if you want to last long in the music space. The trick is to move with the times, while holding on to your core elements and unique style.
The music game is so brutal and unforgiving. When people know what to expect from your new project, they lose a bit of the excitement. And once they ‘see you finish’ musically, they run off to where they can get their next thrill. Natural selection starts to take place. And before you know it, the world has left you behind. Forgotten.
Another Nigerian artist who has been open to the new generation of artists and music is M.I. While many of his peers are stuck in the boom-bap era, M.I’s recent releases have been sonically ambitious. While many are crying at how the world has moved on from “true” hip-hop, M.I appears to have found the fountain of youth.
For his 2018 projects “Rendezvous” and “Yung Denzel”, the hip-hop elder sought the assists of the likes of Odunsi, Lady Donli, Tay Iwar, Nonso Amadi to help keep his sound up to date. He tapped into their talents, sound, and raw energy while in turn helping to shed the spotlight on them. True, the former Chocolate City boss might not be rocking the clubs with bangers anymore but he’s ageing even better. M.I is still mutating. We are still excited to hear his music. He’s sounding as refreshing as ever.
Look around. How many of his peers are still playing at his level?
Over the past year, Adekunle Gold has been shedding off his signature traditional sound for something more synth-led and poppy. All the sonic and aesthetic shifts we’ve been spotting from ‘Before You Wake Up’ down to ‘Something Different’ is building up to the next album aptly titled “Afropop”. Yet, he still retains his highly relatable pen, soothing vocals, and genuine personality that made many fall in love with him in the first place.
It won’t be so shocking to realize that for Adekunle Gold, “Afropop” isn’t even the destination. In a recent interview with Afrobeats Intelligence, he revealed plans to even redefine his sound further right after this album. “Right now, I’m making Afropop’ because that’s where my mind is. That’s where I’m in my head and that’s where I am, sonically. In 2021, it’s going to be different again. With Adekunle Gold, you don’t know what to expect really. I guess that’s how it is with me.”
The international serial-hitmaker Drake is on a never-ending quest to find new sounds to tap into. No two Kendrick Lamar albums sound alike sonically. There are even rumours that his next album leans heavily towards Rock, and we won’t be surprised if that turned out to be true. J.Cole has recently been crossing generational lines with his sound and that earned him his first Grammy. Take a look at Jay-Z, LL Cool J, Prince, Snoop Dogg; the list is endless.
Truth be told; there are no guarantees. Nothing is promised. You might step into new frontiers and it might not just work for you. You might even lose fans in the process. But you can’t play it safe all the time. Self-development and the drive to evolve is at the core of every great artist. And even when it’s rooted in survival, the willingness to explore new sonic worlds and take on new challenges rings better than sulking at how the world has moved on from your one ‘true’ sound. Want to be a good artist? Play in your little safe box. But if you want to be more, study the greats and learn to evolve your sound with the times.
Push your boundaries. Take that risk and succeed!