REVIEW by PitchFork
The Afrobeats star balances the formula to unite home and abroad with big pop songs that can compete across cultures and an underlying theme that embraces his roots.
It’s been 10 years since WizKid first debuted in Lagos, becoming synonymous with all that is good in Afrobeats. Four years ago, Drake’s “One Dance” introduced the Nigerian pop star internationally, broadening his audience and spotlighting a genre on the verge of becoming a global powerhouse. The 30-year-old singer has picked up the skills to dualize his music, making art with one foot planted firmly at home while the other seeks success in new markets. From making dance records designed to conquer Lagos, he’s expanded into other territories, by leaning heavily on Caribbean influences. It hasn’t been an easy task, and in the time since WizKid gained international recognition, his crossover credentials have been in question back in Africa.
His stateside debut, Sounds From the Other Side, struggled to make a dent commercially. His contract with Sony demands that he continues to play for a global audience, making music that would not work connect locally back home. To work around contractual restrictions, he’s paired with producers and DJs, appearing on their records as an invested guest, to start records in the Nigerian market. More complex still is the ever-changing scene in Lagos, where a new guard of musicians including Omah Lay, Fireboy, and Joeboy are expanding the borders of genre and redefining the local sound. WizKid’s legacy is secure, but in 2020, he’s a king under threat of deposition.
Made in Lagos dispels those doubts over 14 tracks. Here, he’s finally balanced the formula to unite home and abroad with big pop songs that can compete across cultures and an underlying theme that embraces his roots. The project is dedicated to Lagos, Nigeria’s bubbling creative hub, historically the beating heart of Africa’s art community. It’s home for WizKid, the place where he was born, raised, and first accepted. It isn’t his first love letter to his hometown: His previous ode to the city’s popular Ojuelegba neighborhood brought Drake into his life and launched his crossover campaign. He continues to embrace his people in art and in action: As young Nigerians around the world participated in the recent #EndSARS protests against police brutality, WizKid delayed his album release and joined in, marching alongside fans in London and becoming a vocal advocate on social media.
Made in Lagos is narrow in its sonic approach, but for good reason. Where previous projects were outsized cocktails of club bangers and experimental pursuits, WizKid’s measured take on his fourth album betrays refined maturity. His sounds are familiar, his delivery sure. And the sincerity bleeds through the songwriting. “Inna inna inna, I know say dey go pray on my downfall/I’m still a winner winner,” he asserts early on, as horns travel through the winding melodies of “Reckless.” Wizkid’s delivery of patois and pidgin English interpolating with lush saxophone instantly set this apart. He has refined his approach, finding comfort in exploring the intersection of two sound cultures: Lagos exuberance meets Jamaican rhythms.
For a project dedicated to the Nigerian city and its country, the core of Made in Lagos highlights the cultural exchange between Africa and the Caribbean. For many generations, the music of Lagos has enjoyed a healthy Island influence. From reggae to dancehall, to soca, local creatives in Lagos chop and mix music along a wide spectrum of Island sound cultures. Lagos might have birthed WizKid, but Kingston provides the inspiration.
True cross-cultural explosion happens within the bounce and deep drumming of “Mighty Wine.” You are instantly transported into a late night in a small club in Victoria Island, bodies gyrating from joy. Damian Marley’s gratitude and introspective verse elevate “Blessed” into an anthem fit for those windy sunsets driving through the incessant honking cars of Lagos Island. On the ground, Lagos might be a city of struggle and shadows, but its very heart is aspirational, and to survive its horrors is to be blessed. WizKid captures the feeling of escapism on the hook: “Say tonight man no go stress o/Say tonight, me and my guys we go jam gbedu.”
Other collaborators elevate their records, playing on their strengths in a diverse fashion. H.E.R. redirects flowing positivity into romance on fan-favorite, “Smile.” The mid-tempo reggae production attracted local criticism for its cultural detachment and simplicity when it was released in July. A poignant music video might have softened that stance, but within the full project, its familiarity feels like home. Ella Mai’s openness makes for the perfect duet, bringing a slow burn to the R&B standout “Piece of Me.” “Meet me for lobby o, I know nobody can satisfy ya,” WizKid brags. Alternative Nigerian vocalist Tay Iwar’s sunny infusion of tropical fun over lush instrumentals on “True Love” provides a highlight, while rising singer Tems continues her steady ascension with a sultry performance on “Essence.” Despite a pedestrian chorus, Burna Boy still rings in the party on “Ginger” amid rolling drums and exaggerated promises to a lover. Skepta relives his “Bad Energy” success on “Longtime,” and even though the new collaboration drags uncomfortably, a little déjà vu can be excused.
Made in Lagos doesn’t pretend to dig deeper than escapism and a bit of symbolism. Love and gratitude drive the affair forward, with rich approaches to its mid-tempo production. With 10 years of African success under his belt, WizKid’s play for increased global reach is transforming his artistry. The beauty and novelty within Made in Lagos is a consequence of that metamorphosis. For African artists pushing for crossover success, a full Afrobeats takeover of the Hot 100 remains the Holy Grail. WizKid’s latest is a fine addition to make that a reality.