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