This year didn’t allow us to experience music the way it’s intended, but the internet is infinite and has changed how we consume, categorize, and obsess over music forever. Pulling out my phone to Shazam a track in a different country was an experience, watching everyone sing along as I frantically tried to capture the sound so I could add the track to my Apple Music is now a pastime.
In 2020, the soundtrack of global catastrophe was borderless, genre-bending, and fluid. And Afrobeats crossed over to the anglosphere.
Although we didn’t get to enjoy music at our favorite clubs, bars, music festivals, and parties, isolation demanded that we enjoy music for ourselves. As a result, we individually determined what music would help us survive this unbearable year.
Here are the nine best Afrobeats albums of 2020.
Burna Boy - Twice As Tall
Burna Boy’s fifth album is multifaceted. In Twice As Tall, the Nigerian artist still sounds hungry, providing another masterpiece after African Giant, a Herculean album that cemented his place in wider pop culture. His follow up, or follow through, was concise and electric, weaving together afro-fusion, dancehall and R&B. A standout track, “Way Too Big” is groovy, braggadocios with its drums and suave chords. In “Level Up,” he sings, “I was trying but I couldn’t level up, it was rough, you see/ Start feeling like I had enough, then I contemplate giving up.” It’s a clairvoyant look at what his music is capable of and how it’s being interpreted. Burna Boy is here to dominate with the Black diaspora in mind.
Tiwa Savage - Celia
Celia, dedicated and in tribute to Tiwa Savage’s mother, is a beautifully designed architecture of sound from beginning to end. It is smooth and delicate with passageways into deep melodic transitions and subtle holes of pure euphoria. Savage clearly has something to prove with each release. Fusing R&B, Afrobeat and pop, she conquers with a bass-line and a message. With moving tracks such as “Koroba” and “Glory,” Savage’s talent is raw, evolving, and sharp. Her voice glides weightlessly on all of the tracks. She’s aware that you have expectations, and she delivers with your anticipation in mind.
Wizkid - Made In Lagos
Made in Lagos is steamy — grown and sexy if you will. Wizkid turned 30 this year and his music shows that. The album is slowed down in comparison to his other releases, and its sultry — the instrumentation reflects that. The production allows you to escape in the same way that a night of pacing and mixing red wine with rum does. Wizkid always comes with that material you can feel deep within you, catering to you whether you want to twerk or whine. He is all grown up and this album is his homecoming. Featuring Burna Boy, Skepta, Damian Marley, Ella Mai and Tems, Wizkid delivers his best album to date.
Adekunle Gold - Afro Pop, Vol. 1
Adekunle Gold shines on his third album. He’s experimental and clutching to the mic. “Sabina” sounds intricate with a punchy bass, and an arsenal of drums. On “Pretty Girl,” he schools everyone on an overly confident fleeting interaction with a girl, reminding men that “almighty create you.” There are only a few slow spots, but the album allows you to rest the doubts you may have on the polished beats and quirky lyrics. Gold reiterates his sonic flair and artistry masterfully.
Davido - A Better Time
“FEM” became an unlikely protest anthem during the End SARS movement, a movement calling to end the police brutality in Nigeria. Davido didn’t anticipate this, but his music allows for the kind of escapism. “The Best” featuring Mayorkun encompasses that escapism. The track is filled with joy and fun. This album soothes your eardrums. It’s appetizing and proves that Davido can still hold his own with or without the mainstream co-signs.
Maleek Berry - Isolation Room
Maleek Berry is alluring on Isolation Room. In this short offering consisting of seven songs, Berry doesn’t surprise anyone. Seeping throughout the album is a need for more polished beats and lyrics, but the album is sloppy fun. Here there is sympathy for the careless, the hopeless romantics, the people who don’t care for perfection, the people who don’t need the story. The continuity throughout will hold your attention and demand you to dance, to have fun, and to allow yourself to be imperfect.
Fireboy DML - Apollo
Fireboy is transcendent, tender, and luminous in his second release, cutting across afro-pop, afro-house and R&B. In Pitchfork, Ivie Ani best describes Apollo as “not grand or abstract enough to qualify as escapism. Instead, Fireboy stays grounded, shooting the breeze, limning the simplicities of romance and life.” In “Wait and See,” Fireboy wants you to stick around and see what he has in store for you. After a short nine months since his debut, “Apollo’s” release is bold and ultimately, he delivered.
Cuppy - Original Copy
Born to the billionaire Femi Otedola, Florence Ifeoluwa Otedola, known as DJ Cuppy is one of the artists who has a lot to live up to. Her debut album is erratic, traditional and at times, predictable. Featuring Fireboy, Teni and Rema, Original Copy embraces contemporary artists and heavyweights like Wyclef Jean. The production quality on the album is sleek with contributions from Killertunes, Pheelz, Krizbeatz and 2Kriss. It features musicians from Nigeria, Ghana, United Kingdom, Jamaica and the United States. DJ Cuppy is refreshing and triumphant in her debut.
Kida Kudz - Nasty
Kida Kudz is on the rise. He dubs his take on Afrobeat as “afroswank.” A British-Nigerian, his sound blends and borrows from the diaspora, while staying true to his British influences to create a genre of his own. Kida Kudz has an impressive resume, as he’s worked with the likes of Ms. Banks, Cuppy and Burna Boy already. Nasty is an infectious offering, a concise project consisting of 10 tracks. In a Trench feature, Kida Kudz described his music as “too jiggy: I make the jiggiest sound right now.”