Rema is leading the next generation of Nigerian pop music

Rema is leading the next generation of Nigerian pop music

It’s dusk in Lagos, Nigeria, and Rema is making sure his angle is perfect for our video call.


It takes him a couple of minutes, but he manages to place his three slick-backed dreads and his newly gifted ocean blue OVO polo—sent from Drake’s right-hand man, Oliver El-Khatib—in the frame.


At the start of our chat, the 19-year-old’s lips are forcibly tight, as if he’s trying to act composed by not allowing his bright smile to burst through.


Eventually, he fails. He has a lot to be happy about right now.


ALSO READ: Rema becomes first Nigerian artist to debut 5 top songs on Apple Music Chart


Sitting in a lavish conference room at the headquarters of Mavin Records, Rema shows off a shelf of trophies. The imprint has earned with a Vanna White-like flourish.


In March, he released his debut self-titled EP on Mavin. The song has gained a reputation for minting polished Afropop stars like Tiwa Savage and Reekado Banks across the last seven years.


But Rema’s EP marks a new era for the label, and perhaps for Nigerian pop music at large.


ALSO READ: Rema stands apart from contemporaries with new ‘Freestyle’ EP

It features four distinct tracks that introduce the country to his youthful take on Afropop. EP incorporates a medley of Western influences and a soft voice that makes every word sparkle.


On “Iron Man,” he lets loose eccentric melodies that would make some assume he hails from the same Atlanta neighbourhood that birthed Young Thug.


Elsewhere, there’s a heart-aching trap on “Why,” the slow grooves of “Corny,” and “Dumebi,”. This has spawned many expertly choreographed dance videos en route to breaking through in both the U.S. and the UK.


“If you don’t like ‘Dumebi’ you like ‘Why,’ and if you don’t like ‘Why’ you like ‘Corny,’” Rema says with a confident smirk. “If you don’t like the songs you like my style. And if you don’t like the style you like my hairstyle.”


His plan is working. Upon its release, the EP spent more than a month at No. 1 on Nigeria’s Apple Music charts.


But Rema’s sudden success was polarizing in his home country: Some unfairly thought his light voice was too similar to Nigerian pop sensation WizKid, while others disliked his non-traditional spin on Afropop.


When I ask him about the older generation’s reaction to his music, he puts his hand over his face, attempting to hide a grin and an eye roll. “Some people just take my confidence wrong,” he tells me. “My sound is for the young people of my generation and the older people who want to feel young again.


I really want to take the Nigerian flag over all the world.”


Born Divine Ikubor, Rema grew up in Nigeria’s bustling Benin City, near the country’s southern coast.

He was forced to mature early on after his father died from asthma-related issues when Rema was only 8 years old. Then, in 2015, his older brother passed away as well.
He was forced to go to get a job to help out his mom, who worked as a trader of wholesale goods. “I was lost after losing my brother,” says Rema, suddenly stoic. “I had to change the way I talk, the way I act and fight to make it in society.”
Rema fell in love with music at his church, which took a split service approach—adults went to one session and teenagers another.
He used that freedom to start a rap group, enlisting some of his fellow young churchgoers. “We had to do it all on our own because the adults weren’t ready for that yet,” says Rema.
Slowly, the grownups came around to his group—but only after he added certain elements.
“Everyone just listens to Afrobeats here, so we had to attract them with costumes and dance moves,” he says. “It’s where I learned that if I want to impress someone I have to do what they like plus what I like.”
SOURCE: Pitchfork 

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