Here is why…
Have you ever been sad about an ‘I told you so’ moment that you hoped you would be wrong about? Maybe not, and I wish I was that conceited.
In 2016, I was stuck in a Law firm, supposedly serving my father-mother-land in undersized khakis with fake swag when Wizkid dropped ‘Shabba,’ his feature with French Montana, Trey Songz and Chris Brown.
I tweeted that the song was going to be a pointless and fruitless in his quest for a maiden hit in America.
I also remember tweeting that as a cross-over act, seeking and creating a successful song in the American market requires more than featuring supposed heavyweights acts like French Montana, Trey Songz and Chris Brown. That’s aside the song itself being trash.
It didn’t turn out well for my Twitter mentions. It also didn’t help that I had a ‘suit and tie’ picture on my profile at the time.
Wizkid FC was at its merciless best. Ravaging my entire existence by testing the limits of abuses as they felt necessary to make me get the point that I was a hater. They also noted that my father was broke and that the song was going to be a No. 1 hit. If only it were ever that simple or black and white.
It was never that simple and it never will be…
It’s been three years since Wizkid was featured on Drake’s record-shattering smash, ‘One Dance’ opposite Kyla. Since then, he has not had an independent song on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. I was right, as much as it pained me to be.
Becoming a successful cross-over act in the America is not just about teaming up with the best artist or making the best trendy music for the American market at that point in time. It has to be a confluence of the music that suits you, music that suits the market and music that is good enough to garner a market share.
While sometimes, we might regard the process of breaking out in the American market as a process that requires pragmatism, afrobeats is the new obsession of the global market. All it requires is a Nigerian with Drake-sized calculative tendencies to really take advantage of that market. But sadly, we have seen none.
They’re all either frolicking with good ideas or simply kidding themselves with notions that they’re ‘building’ for that spot.
While I do admit that it is seriously hard to break into that market, like I told Wizkid FC that wanted my head on a spike in 2016, it requires more than talent.
You need someone with a core understanding of that terrain on your team to help you see the things you are not seeing. Sometimes, it also requires making the type of music the American market does not expect from you – there are dynamics
Earlier in 2019, Davido admitted as much in his ‘Ebro in the Morning’ interview, as hosted by Ebro Darden for Hot 97, New York.
Thinking the American market an ultimate goal, Davido set out to make songs like ‘Fans Mi’ with Meek Mill and ‘Pere’ with Rae Sremmurd and Young Thug to force his emergence on the American market. Sadly, he just couldn’t crack it.
He said it was only after he came back to Nigeria and made songs like ‘Fall’ – currently charting high on the Billboard Airplay Charts – that things started happening for him organically.
That was not surprising. Those songs he released for America were basic and were never something that ‘White America’ will ever endorse or gravitate towards.
As big as we think Burna Boy’s ‘Ye’ was on the western market, it was only a hit with people who know music. During his Coachella performance of the song, people barely moved because he was strange to them.
I don’t think the song even cracked the Billboard Heatseekers or Bubbling Under Charts.
UK rap still struggles to gain any kind of look-in. I think the last UK Rapper to crack the Billboard Hot 100 Top 20 was Tinie Tempah with ‘Written In The Stars.’ Yet, artists like Tove Lo, Zara Larsson and Lorde continue to have albums and singles charting high on the charts.
It’s not just about the type of music they make, their gender, looks or their skin colour. While the labels that signed them aid them, it’s difficult to see how a Nigerian act will have the sense to make music suitable for the American market without the help of an A&R.
Even though the Zara Larssons and Tove Los or whoever else also require A&R help, Nigerian acts need A&Rs more because they need a significant style switch to make an impression on that market.
However, with these realities, Nigerian artists still obsess over foreign features as they continue to make decisions that will likely do nothing for their careers or their quests to get that elusive place on the western music market.
The problem is that they treat foreign features are a shoo-in chart success.
I know for a fact that ‘Oh My Gosh’ has enjoyed good airplay and amassed a good following amongst certain Americans. It’s a lovely song too.
But at this point, I must say a foreign feature like Yemi Alade’s collab with Rick Ross for ‘Oh My Gosh (Remix)’ might help her gain a look-in into the American market, but it does seem like a gross mismatch from a music perspective. Rick Ross has not been A-list for a minute.
Even worse, Rozay on Afrobeats, even with the slight trap tweak isn’t really it. His fan base is not really suitable for promoting a song like that either.
That said, the case of Nigerian artists trying to take the necessary next step sometimes requires sympathy. On the one part, to get a foreign artist to endorse them enough to want to collaborate is a lot of work.
On the second part, sometimes, you have to let the foreign artist lead the way so you don’t seem like you’re over-pushing it, despite being the party that needs something. Thus, with afrobeats continually gaining an acceptance on the global market, the foreign artist could choose to work on a song that doesn’t suit him or help you.
So, there might be a disconnect that doesn’t favour both artists with the Nigerian artist taking the heavier loss. It’s a sad reality when you need to take the next step in a market that is wary of foreigners.
But sadly, price nor dey for you try
That’s the whole point of this article. Even with all the roadblocks inherent in trying to get your ball rolling in America, you have to make sure you’re not just featuring the artist for pedigree or even just to get the feature out of the way. It is enough to learn from the mistakes of Davido and Wizkid.
Nigerian artists also need their team to make sure the plan is the plan for the right artist.
With the right feature like say, a female pop star with performative skills, ‘Oh My Gosh’ remix would probably do considerably better than it is set to do.
What then should artists do?
It’s basic, not simple or easy, just basic;
1. Get a good team/structure behind you that believes in you – a team that has an understanding of sonic waves and how to take advantage of the continual warmth that afrobeats seems to be getting from the west.
It has to be a team that understands the concept of features as not simply black or white. Rick Ross’ fan base will seriously not care about a pop song titled ‘Oh My Gosh.’ They want bars and hard-hitting beats.
Even if you are on your own and can’t find a great team to believe…
2. Utilize the power of media appearances.
ALSO READ: Davido to appear on Nick Cannon’s Wild n’ Out
3. Focus on making good music first – music that can succeed, at least reasonably on its own. Music that can appeal to ‘white American’ curiosity on its own as Drake continually tests them with.
4. Find the perfect feature by merging the right amount of pedigree with how your sound could help that feature with how acceptable the sound will be to that feature’s fan base.
Featuring an artist might, sometimes, be mathematics, but it’s not black and white. Nigerian artists need to learn and stop wasting money.
But what do I know, I’m broke and ignorant.