The Place of Remixes in the Nigerian Music Industry

By: John Eriomala

On March 21st, 2023, Rema’s Calm Down Remix featuring American singer, Selena Gomez, charted at Number 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 Charts; becoming the highest-charting African song ever in the history of the US Billboard Hot 100. This was a particularly stunning feat, considering the fact the original single was released a little over a year ago, and the remix itself in August of 2022. 

For me, however, the most interesting part of all this is that Calm Down broke a record previously held by another remix, Wizkid and Tems’ Essence which featured pop star, Justin Bieber. It had me thinking of what we could possibly take away from the nature of these remixes; especially concerning the likely aim for the release of said remixes. As such, we’ll be categorising a  few recent remixes and trying to understand the intent behind them.

Project Remixes

The most recent example of this is DJ Neptune’s ‘Icons Remix’ for Nobody, which turned out to be one of 13 songs on his Nobody: The Extended Playlist (Worldwide Remixes) EP. The original song (with Joeboy and Mr. Eazi) dominated the airwaves for months after its release in March 2020; even going on to win Song Of The Year at the 2020 Headies Awards. But there was a need to capitalise on the popularity of the record. So, in the timely honored tradition of the likes of David Guetta, Neptune rolled out a remix tape targeted at various markets; Latin America, France, the Carribeans, Hausa, Igbo, the Middle East etc. And for the lead single, he capitalised on the popularity of Laycon who had emerged winner of Big Brother Naija just the month before. 

Other examples include Rema’s Dumebi (The Remixes) EP which came a year after the hit song was released off Rema EP. It was the label’s way of pushing him onto the international scene with features from Latin star, Becky G, and the legendary electronic dance music duo, Major Lazer. Also, Mayorkun’s Geng Remixes EP was mainly to sustain the shelf life of the original song released four months prior (April 2020). It included a UK Remix, an African Remix, and a Naija Remix; the latter being the first song on which both Vector and MI would appear following their 2019 beef. 

In summary, these types of remixes are targeted at multiple markets but employ less promotion than the initial records. I’m almost willing to wager that Victony will be towing this path soon with a few more Soweto remixes. 

Remixes Aimed at the US Market

My earliest recollection of remixes of this nature was the 2011 remix of P-Square’s Beautiful Onyinye which featured US rapper, Rick Ross. Even though I knew little about music in general at the time, the reactions I observed from listening to radio and TV show countdowns, were enough for me to grasp the gravity of the collaboration. It was that huge! In comparison to today’s remixes, however, Beautiful Onyinye barely measures up in reach and impact. 

Take Fireboy DML’s Peru for instance; released midway through 2021 and almost immediately laid claim to the Song Of The Year title. It did reasonable numbers all over Africa, the UK, and parts of Europe, but had minimal penetration in the US. Then, Fireboy’s team reached out to Ed Sheeran over the possibility of a remix, Ed sent back a verse, they put out the remix, and Peru went nuclear! As Fireboy, real name Adedamola Adefolahan, put it in an Apple Music 1 interview ” This is a record that will stand the test of time. Years later they’ll say, “Oh, Afrobeats opened up in the United States, worldwide, internationally, and Peru by Fireboy is one of those records that made it happen”. The record went on to peak at number 53 on the Billboard Hot 100 Charts, 1 on the Official UK Singles Chart, and as of today has tallied 231 million views on Spotify. The music video is itself one of the ten most viewed by a Nigerian artist on YouTube; with roughly 155 million views recorded so far. 

A more popular example would be the aforementioned Essence Remix. One of the most interesting things about Essence was its emergence as the biggest song off Made in Lagos. For one, it wasn’t one of the three songs released as a single (No Stress, Smile, and Ginger). Also, it took about half a year before the hints of an ascent even became visible. Finally, unlike the others in this category, Essence didn’t blow up in Nigeria first; the push came from the US. It was an unexpected but welcome development that Wiz and his team at RCA took advantage of. The icing on the cake came with the release of the Justin Bieber-assisted remix on August 30, 2021; a song that eventually peaked at 14 on the Billboard Hot 100. After that, songs like Ckay’s Love Nwatiti, Burna Boy’s Last Last, and Rema’s Calm Down have gone on to record entries but to be honest, none was as special as Essence. It was a masterclass in bolstering organic promotion with strategic input and marvelous AnR work. Fun fact: Kanye called Essence the greatest song of all time. Knowing  Kanye, that was a bit of a stress but we’ll allow it nonetheless.

Other examples of such collaborations include Oxlade’s Ku Lo Sa remix with Camilla Cabello and Ayra Starr’s Bloody Samaritan remix featuring legendary RnB songstress, Brandy. 

You might call it ‘Mungo-parking’ or a search for Western validation. That would be true to an extent. Still, truth be told, the capitalist nature of the music business means that whoever holds a block of the US market holds a block of the global market. Hence, why would a record like Ku Lo Sa still call for more US perpetuation despite its global appeal? 

‘Shelf-Life’ Remixes

These remixes are the most common type. They’re mostly done by artists to extend the shelf-life of a record; increasing the listener base – and in some cases – bringing it back to public consciousness. A classic example and one of my personal favourites have to be Bad Boy Timz’s Michael Jackson. The single was released on April 4, 2020, during the early days of the COVID-19 lockdown and was what one might term a ‘bop’ but not a ‘hit’. That was until a month later when he released two remixes featuring Mayorkun and Teni; sending the record to incredible new heights and establishing Timz as one to watch in the industry.

Other examples include Black Sheriff’s Second Sermon remix and Asake’s Sungba remix; both of which featured Burna Boy and both outperformed the original single by a considerable bit. In Black Sheriff’s case, the original song, released in July 2021, had been successful in his home country but the remix in December put him on the map in Nigeria. It was after this that he got invited to several recording camps in Nigeria. Think of any remixes right now and I’m almost a hundred percent certain that it would be one of this nature. Not only are they easier and cheaper to execute but in the event that they fail, there’s less likely to be any public backlash. 

In conclusion, it’s important to note that not all remixes fall into these three categories.  Some might be experimental remixes or covers released more as a result of label influence than the artist’s direction. Others could be made for special purposes such as the streaming platform’s celebration of the pioneer artist. However, for the most part, remixes involving Nigerian artists tend to fall into these three brackets. It would be interesting to see what direction they head in the coming years as Nigerian music takes up more space on the global stage.

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