GAME RECOGNIZE GAME: HIP HOP GIANTS FINDING VALUE IN AFRICA’S ELITE
In addition to blessing us with tech innovations like social media, the information age has made the world ridiculously smaller. Nowhere is this concept more prevalent, at the moment, than in the entertainment industry. What once was an anomaly (of sorts) is now commonplace in artists looking to improve branding & expand their international presence by reaching new audiences overseas.
Entering in a picture – that was once almost exclusively dominated by collaborations with European & Latin musicians – is the African market. Under the “Afro” umbrella, musicians from “the motherland” are dominating the international music scene. Afro music commences with the historic AfroBeat genre, a traditional/contemporary sound pioneered by legendary Nigerian singer & instrumentalist Fela Kuti. His influence gave birth to hugely popular subcategories in AfroBeats, modern variations of AfroPop and even Afro&B (see OgaSilachi), to name a few.
Not only is this eclectic sound popular within the continent of Africa (and its 1 billion inhabitants), it’s also sending waves through Europe – namely United Kingdom. The advent of social media has allowed for artists like Wizkid and Davido to become less dependent on the ‘mainstream’ route to success; instead allowing them to leverage digital platforms to reach their fans directly and amass huge followings in the process.
Insert North America’s elite.
Contrary to popular opinion, domestic artists – from the fairly new, like Fetty Wap to the fairly established, like Drake – benefit greatly from the association with these international stars. As the opportunities for music monetization continue to dry up, with album revenue at a stand still, touring and merchandise income become an artist’s best bet to cash in! By teaming up with the hottest acts overseas, artists in America put themselves in great situations to become global icons and acquire new audiences that allow them to earn big.
African musicians reap dividends as well, from this unity, in the form of validity and sense of respectability from the masses. Without a certain acceptance from influencers within the states, it’s hard for these musicians to truly break through, realizing global star potential.
I spoke at length with Sarkodie, the Ghana-based hip hop/hip-life star dubbed Africa’s best emcee and a leader of the continent’s ‘new school’ of sound. Sarkodie says the recent cultural fusion is due to artists looking to create beyond their “comfort zone”, in addition to the mutual benefit of discovering new markets.
“.. Of course you see most of the Americans want to tap into the markets on the continent here in Africa, so if you happen to be one of the lead artists – and I thank God for putting me in that position – one of the reps of Africans, you get to be one of the first persons to have a taste of it.”
From a financial/marketing standpoint, Sarkodie said it makes a lot of sense, as well, as “you then double up with numbers since you have [access to] a different territory”.
Ice Prince (center left) meets JAY Z at ROC Nation in NYC
Hip hop moguls, Kanye West and JAY Z, have made valiant efforts to tap into West Africa’s flourishing music market. If you recall, Kanye’s label, G.O.O.D Music, signed Nigeria’s power duo D’Banj and Don Jazzy back in 2011 – before things reportedly went awry. JAY Z, in looking to expand his music/media entities (ROC Nation and TIDAL), has his sights on Nigeria and wants Ice Prince Zamini as his flagship act. Akon was able to pry R&B pairing P-Square away from business independence, en route to a joint deal between Konvict Muzik & UMG. And over the last three years, T.I., Rick Ross, Wale, Akon and Ace Hood – to name a few – have jumped on huge African singles, respectively, meshing styles & cultures.
Despite these mutually beneficial arrangements of the recent past, it seems like 2015 is the start of something special; as the world keeps shrinking and a culture fusion – unifying the two worlds – continues.
In 2015, thus far, we’ve seen this trend take off with no indication of slowing down anytime soon. Last month, Davido (winner of the 2015 MTV Africa Music Awards’ “Best Male Act”) released a monster single featuring Meek Mill, entitled “Fans Mi”.
Davido ft. Meek Mill – “Fans Mi”
From a promotional standpoint the track couldn’t have dropped at a better time for Davido, as Meek’s Dreams Worth More Than Money sophomore studio album has experienced great success to date – including a number 1 ranking on the Billboard 200. The MMG prodigy also boasts the fourth highest selling U.S. album, of any genre, this year (behind Drake, Kendrick Lamar and Mumford & Sons). In addition to “Fans Mi”, Davido will also reportedly have Trey Songz, Akon and Wale on the final cut of The Baddest, his sophomore project set to release early August.
Wizkid ft. Drake & Skepta – “Ojuelegba (Remix)”
The second massive afro-collaboration of the summer comes from the 6 – by way of England. Last week, Drake premiered his version of Wizkid’s hit single, “Ojuelegba”, with help from UK Grime MC, Skepta – who helped make the collaboration possible. The remix was first heard during Drake’s inaugural OVO Sound Radio show, on the globally distributed Beats 1 streaming service. News of the unexpected remix set social media ablaze, with “Ojuelegba” eventually trending worldwide. Wizkid quickly took to Twitter to manage the hype, and alert his fanbase of more in store (three Chris Brown features, to be exact).
Sarkodie ft. Ace Hood – “New Guy”
Sarkodie connected with Florida-native & We The Best signee, Ace Hood, on “New Guy”. The pair swapped clever lines, discussed humble beginnings and identified themselves as new guys – bringing fresh, authentic elements to the culture. Sarkodie described the chemistry between himself and Ace as “too natural”, which he credited to staying true to his foundation.
“New Guy actually is one of the great records I’ve done, not [just] because I have Ace on it, but that’s one of my personal favorites because I was myself – this is the real Sarkodie.”
Ayo Jay ft. Fetty Wap – “Your Number (Remix)”
Ayo Jay, the talented Afro-pop vocalist & songwriter, recently enlisted Fetty Wap to lend his 2013 hit “Your Number” a street-vibe. The NEA Awards nominee for “Best New Act” is said to have three songs with Fetty and could collaborate further, in the near future. Fetty, the New Jersey product taking the industry by storm, has also recently been linked to Davido, Wizkid and Ice Prince Zamini. In an Instagram video from late May, Fetty announced an Afro-Remix of his chart-topping, critically acclaimed “Trap Queen” with the Nigerian acts.
It’s been a huge summer for African sound and the artists that identify with, and embrace, it. This presents great opportunity for continued expansion of both music from the motherland, and American talent on an international level.
“I think music is actually breaking boundaries now, we’re all coming together as one.. [Other countries have] had their fair share… I think its just Africa’s turn”, says Sarkodie.
If smoke from these past partnerships are of any indication, there will be an abundance of fire coming by way of collaboration, both sonically and business-wise, very soon.