Nigerian music is the in-thing right now with Wizkid and Davido pushing the Naija sound way beyond the African continent.
While there are a bunch of ‘Afrobeats’ playlists on streaming platforms, it is necessary to not get lost the sauce. There are a bunch of Nigerian records in the bag to choose from and listen to.
Within the contemporary context, there are many classic and seminal albums to listen to. Just in case you want to know which important albums to stream well you are in luck.
Pulse Music has put together a list of 20 essential Nigerian contemporary albums you should listen to. It starts from 1998, the year the The Remedies help usher in urban music with a Hip-Hop background into the landscape.
This list is made up of defining albums that helped push its genre and the culture of music forward. It goes beyond classic debuts as the list accommodates impactful albums that have influenced not only the direction of sound but the careers of many stars afterwards. These albums are also mainstream darlings too.
*The list is in no particular order.
1) Face 2 Face by 2face Idibia
The debut solo album from 2Baba can be regarded as the musical Bible of our generation. Released in the year 2004 under the mighty Kennis Music, 2face Idibia announced the arrival of a new generation.
Produced entirely by the late legend OJB Jezreel, 2Face Idibia delivered a classic that was not only a commercial success but an influential LP that will continue to inspire Nigerian pop singers till to this day. There is hardly any song on this great project that is not anthem and it remains one of the few unmatched contemporary pop albums ever.
2) Mushin 2 Mo’ Hits by Wande Coal
If 2face wrote the classic templates for Nigerian pop music, Wande Coal rewrote to the point of blissful perfection. The singer with the unmistakable vocals showed us a glimpse of what he had to offer on a couple of Mo’ Hits projects but we could not have anticipated his full range of skills on his solo debut effort.
Dripping with rhythm, bounce, lyrics and the stalwart production of Don Jazzy, Wande Coal helped usher in a new era of Nigerian pop music. Using his ridiculous flow, vocal dexterity and off the top rhyme schemes, Wande presented an album that we could rock without skipping anywhere, clubs to cars. He drew the blueprint that Davido and Wizkid are now selling to the world.
3) Peace Nigeria by Remedies
There might never be a group or duo that will blend free-form rap and melodious crooning better than the Remedies. Made up of Eedris Abdulkareem and Eddie Montana (Tony Tetuila would leave the group before it could drop an album), the two friends released their debut album in 1999.
The album was a blend of easy rap, groovy singing mixed that experimented with Fuji and Juju genres. The pioneering group initially didn’t get a lot of credit in their heyday but at a time when our stars are blending genres in hunt of that elusive crossover hit, it would be hard to deny that Peace Nigeria doesn’t have a place in our history.
4. C.E.O by Dagrin
Let’s get the facts right. Indigenous rap music had been around in Nigeria for a while. The likes of Lord of Ajasa, AY, Nigga Raw and MC Loph had scored hits rapping in their native tongues. However, indigenous rap music lacked mainstream appeal and credibility among Hip-Hop heads until Dagrin came.
On his second try, Dagrin released the barrier-shattering Chief Executive Omota album orchestrated by arguably Nigeria’s greatest rap producer Sossick. Not only did CEO help indigenous rap get the rep it deserved as well as mainstream appeal, it also injected the rags to riches, and story of a hustler narrative into the tapestry of Nigerian rap music. His style and formula are used by most (if not all) indigenous rappers today.
5) The Entertainer by D’banj
There is no greater showman in our generation than the harmonica blowing D’banj. The Kokomaster had dazzled with two solo albums and a group project but his finest outing remains his third project aptly titled The Entertainer. Released in 2008, D’banj under the supervision of Don Jazzy (and assisted by Wande) came up with a party monster of an album.
Probably Don Jazzy’s finest work as a producer, D’banj let loose his carefree and enchanting persona all over the album. He brilliantly infused his charming personality over the track and it remains one of the finest examples in our generation on how to bring songs to life with a god-like aura. Creating hit tracks is easy but creating hit tracks with your personality infused into them is the stuff D’banj does effortlessly.
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6) ASA by Asa
You might be forgiven into thinking that Nigerian music is all about fast-paced music and addictive hooks. Alternative music lives in Nigeria and its finest hour came in 2008 when the songbird Asa released her self-titled debut.
Produced by the genius Cobhams Asuquo, Asa’s smoky vocals over Cobhams’ soulful constructions pierced the pop landscape to deliver a smash hit. Asa’s debut is proof that you can succeed in your own lane, a lane that Adekunle Gold and Simi are cruising in right now.
7) L.A.G Style Vol. 1 by Trybesmen
While critics frowned at Eedris Abdulkareem’s rhyme skills, they couldn’t do anything but hail at the clean and effective rhyme structures and patterns of a group called Trybesmen. The group which consisted of eLDee, Freestyle and Kaboom helped lay the foundation for rap as a credible music genre in Nigeria.
Their blend of rap lingo and Naija pidgin is as unparalleled even till this day. They represented Lagos hip culture to the max. Their style of approaching rap is still relevant.
8) Game Over by Psquare
In a year that saw 9ice and D’banj drop classics, the duo of Peter and Paul Okoye dropped their hat into the ring by releasing the sparkling ‘Game Over’ album. This was the group’s third album but the body of work showed no sign of the twins slowing down. Instead of relaxing on their laurels, Peter and Paul put their feet on the neck of the music industry to produce an undeniable classic.
Psquare has a solid discography but this album goes down as the most essential to listen to because they had mastered the act of codifying and producing formulaic (but highly effective) Nigerian pop songs for a mass audience. When you hear the likes of Tekno and Runtown breeze over a track, that effortless glide was birthed by Psquare.
9) Gongo Aso by 9ice
If the second time is the charm then 9ice came fully loaded. After an impressive debut album, 9ice doubled up with his partner in crime ID Cabasa who oversaw most of the production. What came out from the studio in Bariga was a masterpiece of Hip Hop influenced beats and grimy street melodies brought to life by 9ice’s award-winning husky voice.
The Gongo Aso was the streets’ claim to Nigeria’s pop scene which had been dominated by the sheen and showmanship of Psquare and D’banj. And if you are still doubting the importance of this album then revisit the title track, a monster of a song that remains undefeated in sonic brilliance.
10) Curriculum Vitae (CV) by Mo’ Hits
When it comes to posse albums, CV by Mo’ Hits is at the tip-top. Comprising of D’banj, Wande Coal, Don Jazzy, Dr Sid, Kay Switch and D’ Prince, the group came up with an album that helped solidify the presence of one of the most successful record labels of our generation. This was the formula- Don Jazzy oversaw the production and delivered banging beats that could shake concrete pillars (check out the bassline of Booty Call).
D’banj was the Captain who dominated the attitude of the group on tracks. Wande Coal the highly impressive rookie who brought in the killer hooks and verses. The trio of Dr. Sid, Kay Switch and D’Prince were the supporting cast who brought in their playful elements to add to the chemistry of the team. CV was a knockout punch that helped all individual members create/establish their own solo careers. Years down the line Empire Mates Entertainment would borrow the CV template to some degree to create its own posse album.
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11) Talk About It by M.I Abaga
So much has been said about this album that it sometimes feels like a myth and no longer a great piece of art. Don’t get it twisted, Talk About It is as solid as gold till this day. M.I birthed an instant classic that brought about a new style of rapping, finesse and lyrical showmanship that singlehandedly changed the way Nigerian rappers dropped rhymes.
It is a colossal effort that has been unmatched not only by M.I himself but by so many other rappers. It remains a product of undeniable artistic excellence.
12) True Story by Timaya
This is not only Timaya’s legacy but one of the best albums to come out of the South-South of Nigeria. With K-Solo dropping a new signature sound on this project, Timaya embodied the strife and troubles of South-South Nigeria.
His soulful wailings were reminiscent of a battled tired soldier telling his war-torn stories to whoever would listen. It is a gem of an album.
13) Legacy (Ahamefuna) by Duncan Mighty
The first son of Port Harcourt delivered an astounding tribute to the city that raised him with his second album. Aptly titled Legacy, the album opened up the ears of the nation to the music stylings of what was happening in the Garden city.
If the likes of singer Kokomikor whispered about PH City, Duncan Mighty would roar about his city on his second effort. This album makes the singer one of Nigeria’s most beloved artists today.
14) Morning Time by Tony Tetuila
Before 9ice would give street pop its hard edge laden with deep Yoruba proverbs, Tony Tetuila would champion the streets with his happy-go-lucky and easy going narratives of the common guy. On his debut album, Tony Tetuila delivered a classic diss track and a memorable duet with a young 2face Idibia.
Working with Paul Play Dairo and influenced by the Plantashun Boyz, Tony Tetuila dropped a commercially successful project announced his arrival on the scene as a solo act. Artistically the album has lived on with the likes of Sean Tizzle fine tuning his style.
15) Thy Album Come by Ruggedman
It’s hard to choose an essential album for Ruggedman. His debut album however has the strongest claim. When it comes to challenging authority and speaking up, this is the rap album you should listen to.
The rebel Ruggedman went against the powers that be at this time and you can hear his trilogy of diss tracks aimed at fake rappers, Eedris Abdulkareem and Kennis Music bosses, Keke and D1. Proving he was more than just beef, Ruggedman showed us how to get it on the dance floor to. Released in 2005, the album came at a time when Nigerian music was beginning to shift to more artistically tasteful sounds.
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16) E Pluribus Unum
On the flip side is Nigeria’s greatest lyricist of all time Modenine. This man has a treasure chest filled with albums and mixtapes. It’s hard to pick one out but for essential listening, it doesn’t get better than his full debut album.
On this project, Modenine scored hits with his narrative skills, probably one of the best in the land. And 14 years after, songs like ‘Cry‘ and ‘Nigerian Girls‘ are essential Naija rap tracks to listen to. Also, if you are into punch linens and hardcore rap this is the album you should listen to.
17) Return of The King by eLDee the Don
As one of the architects of the Nigerian rap sound, eLDee found his second wind as one of the orchestrators of the hybrid Nigerian pop/rap rhythm during his solo days. His album ‘Return of The King’ blessed us with gems such as ‘I’m Leaving’, ‘African Chiquito’, ‘Champion‘ and the conscious classic ‘I Go Yarn‘ a song so relevant to this day. eLDee is the jack of many trades and master of all.
18) P.A.S.S by Eedris Abdulkareem
Back again for the second time, Eedris Abdulkareem’s solo debut effort gave him enough room to exhibit his rebellious and bullish tendencies. No longer confined within just a pop space, Eedris raised dust by shooting shots at Plantashun Boyz and his former crew member Tony Tetuila.
From raunchy anthems like ‘Oko Asewo‘ to ‘Player Meji‘ to a more thoughtful track like ‘Come Back Home‘, Eedris used a pop template and rap style to create a sound that was very much impactful.
19) Expressions by Styl Plus
The finest representation of R&B music in Nigeria comes from Styl Plus. It’s just a shame that their finest works- ‘Olufunmi‘ and ‘Run Away‘ were not featured on their debut album but in a preceding EP. Still, Expressions is undoubtedly one of the best R&B/Pop albums of our generation. With a song like ‘Imagine That‘ Styl Plus made us believe that one-day Nigerian songs can overtake the world. And here we are today.
20) Body & Soul by Plantashun Boiz
The trio faces couldn’t have dropped a better debut album. Helmed by the OG Nelson Brown, Blackface, 2face Idibia and Faze sang their hearts out and captured the soul of the country. Repping the bustling music scene in FESTAC, the ‘Boiz delivered beautifully composed catchy songs that still do the damn job in 2018. Undeniable classic.