The Afrocritik music board has compiled the top 25 music projects out of Africa in 2023, showcasing the rhythmic and sonic excellence that the continent holds.
By Emmanuel Okoro, Emmanuel Daraloye, Yinoluwa Olowofoyeku, and Hope Ibiale.
2023 has seen the immense growth of African music worldwide, with music stars across the continent touring globally at an unprecedented scale; Burna Boy, Black Coffee, Rema, Wizkid, Tiwa Savage, Davido, Ayra Starr, Bnxn, and Adekunle Gold toured globally all summer.
African music was also spotlighted with international collaborations such as Gunna, H.E.R., 21 Savage, Travis Scott, Ice Spice, J. Cole, Coco Jones, and Pharrell Williams. These African artistes were guest appearances at some of the world’s most prestigious stages, including the NBA All-Star Game Halftime Show, Professional Footballers’ Association Awards, BET Awards, UEFA Champions League Final, and the Ballon d’Or Awards.
This obvious success is replicated in the quality of music put out this year, as both EPs and LPs have shown immense sonic range, versatility, and astute melodic verve. From Rema’s Ravage EP to Mohbad’s Blessed; Asake’s Work of Art to Azawi’s Sankofa, the common thread amongst African projects this year has been the non-compromise on sonic quality across genres, alongside more mainstream acceptance of the R&B genre as seen in Tay and Suté Iwar’s releases, Nonso Amadi’s When It Blooms, and Oladipo’s In Case I Never Love Again (ICINLA).
The Afrocritik music board has thus compiled the top 25 music projects out of Africa in 2023, showcasing the rhythmic and sonic excellence that the continent holds.
25. Crayon – Trench To Triumph
How do you track poverty? What is the yardstick for measuring success? The answer to these polarising questions lies with the Marvin/Blowtime Entertainment signed Crayon.
Four years after his introduction to the Nigerian music industry, Crayon finally had his moment, capping it up with the release of his debut album, Trench To Triumph. The album encapsulates the artiste’s voyage; the agony and the joy of success, amongst others.
24. Adekunle Gold – Tequila Ever After
Inspired by his frolicking with tequila, Adekunle (AG) Gold’s fifth studio album, Tequila Ever After, is his longest album – his first under Def Jam Africa. On this album, AG features nine artistes, his highest on a project. The album slowly starts with “Chasing Peace of Mind”, but it was the party-themed “Party No Dey Stop” that put the audience in a proper album mode.
On his previous album, it was evident that Gold had reached his maturity stage, an era where he simply wanted to make music, away from the industry politics, with eyes closed on needless enemies. He breathes and lives this new mantra on Tequila Ever After. Here, he makes good music, with simple words that deviate from the elevated lyricism of the Gold and About 30 era.
23. Mr. Eazi – The Evil Genius
Created in a space of two and half years, this album is the elusive album everyone has waited for. After years of naming his mixtapes after places of creation and likely destinations, we finally had a full body of work from Mr. Eazi – The Evil Genius. A contrasting title you might say.
On this album, the artiste explores themes of family, love, commitment, faith, and joy, in collaboration with the likes of Joeboy, Tekno, and many others.
22. Mannywellz – Don’t Tell Anyone
Nigerian-born, US-bred singer, songwriter, and producer, Mannywellz, has a penchant for delivering soul-stirring numbers, and it is on full display in his extended play, Don’t Tell Anyone. Couched in the warmth of acoustic guitar plucks, mid-tempo drums, and groovy basslines, the music maintains a stripped and minimalist approach, allowing Mannywellz’s vocals to command the spotlight with evocative grace.
Yet, the true brilliance lies in his lyricism. Whether baring his soul for a love interest in “Everything” or asserting the need for quality time in “For Real”, Don’t Tell Anyone is Mannywellz’s most accomplished and compelling work to date.
21. Nkosazana Daughter – Uthingo Le Nkosazana
With close to a million monthly listeners on Spotify, Nkosazana Daughter is gradually making her mark in the South African music industry. Her new album, Uthingo Le Nkosazana, features an array of stars and it is largely pivoted on Amapiano.
Beyond singing about enjoying fleeting good times, Nkosazana Daughter – with the featured artistes – also sings about love and life. The up-tempo “Amaphutha” remains the most iconic track from this album, no wonder it has been streamed more than two million times.
20. Mohbad – Blessed
One of the most heartbreaking developments in the Afrobeats scene this year was the untimely passing of Street-Hop artiste, Mohbad, who was tragically cut down in his prime. However, three months before his passing, he released his sophomore extended play, Blessed, following a tumultuous 2022 involving his former record label, Marlian Records, and encounters with the NDLEA.
Mohbad, known for his knack for crafting melodious and memorable Street-Hop music, didn’t disappoint on Blessed. Whether navigating his internal struggles in tracks like “Beast & Peace” or revealing a romantic side in “Omo Mi”, the EP stands out as one of 2023’s best offerings, featuring emotive stunners like “Ask About Me” and “Pariwo”.
19. Ruger – Ru The World
Attaining mainstream superstardom, a feat challenging for many emerging artistes, comes effortlessly to Ruger. Following the success of his two critically acclaimed EPs in 2021, Pandemic and The Second Wave, Ruger brings his distinctive style to the forefront in his debut album, Ru The World.
Unapologetically establishing himself as a sex symbol, he infuses a bold mix of grit and cadence throughout the project. Whether navigating the Afro-Pop vibes of “Tour” or the homegrown appeal of the hit track “Asiwaju”, Ruger exudes an unbothered ease, firmly establishing himself as one of the finest acts of his generation.
18. Tekno – The More The Better
In what could be deemed a reawakening, Tekno storms the music scene with his sophomore studio album, The More The Better. Throughout this delightful project, Tekno reaffirms his status as a maestro in crafting melodious songs that once dominated the Afrobeats scene from the early to mid-2010s.
The album skillfully blends nostalgic elements with a contemporary reimagining of sounds, injecting a dose of dynamism into the mix. From “Twice Shy” to “Can’t Chase”, the project boasts exceptional production, maintains impressive sequencing, and showcases Tekno’s luminary status in the Afrobeats scene.
17. Tay Iwar – Summer Breeze
Tay Iwar’s soulful Summer Breeze is a mind-blowing composition. The mid-tempo EP explores romanticism, with Tay Iwar beautifully manipulating his vocals to aid his delivery. Long-time producer, Juls, was on hand to help in the production of this EP.
The artiste, who is largely known for his collaboration with Wizkid and his recent contribution to Burna Boy’s “Alone”, is gradually making his mark in the budding Afrobeats market. This EP is a crossbreed between Afrobeats and R&B, with a copious to the UK sonic scene.
16. Seyi Vibez – Thy Kingdom Come
On “Man of the Year”, the rave of the moment, Seyi Vibez, claims to be the man of the year. Perhaps he is. The song has been streamed more than six million times on Spotify, and is his most streamed song in 2023. The song serves as the first track on the earworm album, Thy Kingdom Come.
The Phyno-featured track, “Highlife Interlude”, is impeccably delivered, arguably one of his best in 2023. With four bodies of work released in 2023, Thy Kingdom Come ranks as the most cohesive of all.
15. Azawi – Sankofa
A sprawling collection of songs, the nineteen-track album, Sankofa, is a beautiful time out with the Uganda-born artiste. It is a sparkling showcasing of talent, skill, and artistic range.
One beautiful thing about this album is Azawi’s desire to explore more genres. It is further proof of her artistic prowess. The Afro-centric essence of the project is difficult to ignore.
14. Oladapo – In Case I Never Love Again (INCILA)
Oladapo tells an impressive story of love and heartbreak with his brilliant debut studio album, In Case I Never Love Again.
It is a threatening title, however, a dive into the album makes you understand it better. The artiste uses his last two decades of gathered experiences to draft out a body of work that is most likely to stand the test of time. It is a project that is exceptionally put together, a solo flight that branches genres like Amapiano, R&B, Afrobeats, and others.
13. Sute Iwar – Ultralight
Released under the London-based record label, Outer South, Ultralight houses fifteen tracks from Sute Iwar. It is also the brilliant artiste’s debut album. The album explores themes that revolve around space, sound, love, and lust, featuring a broad line-up from West Africa and the UK, including WurlD, Tim Lyre, Lex Amor, Kadiata, Raytheboffin, Tay Iwar, Shalom Dubas, Ogranya, Efe Oraka, and Twelve XII.
The album’s focus track, “Meditate”, is helmed by fragile piano keys, with Suté professing a need for exercising continuing mindfulness, a message to himself to stay grounded among the disarray. Ultralight, encapsulates his signature fusion sounds. It also dives into a deeper foray into his perspectives on life, love, and human interaction.
12. Lojay – Gangster Romantic
With slews of hit records dominating the extended play, Gangster Romantic finds Lojay in his best form. Although released in March 2023, the records come up whenever conversations about the year’s best project arise.
Lojay sings about topics like sex, heartbreak, and sometimes love. He is boisterous and stretches his vocals to fit into whatever he aims for on a record. Songs like “Moto” and “Ova” remain a standout in the seven-song body of work.
11. Paybac Iboro – West African Goat
When Paybac Iboro raps about being better than anyone, he states a fact. There is perhaps no better way to reinstate this than to properly release a full length of work. And he achieves this with West African Goat, his first solo album in about three years.
West African Goat explores far-reaching topics about life, love, loss, success, depression, and more. In retrospect, PayBac Iboro has created an album that caters to everyone, one where people can find a pocket of what they fancy.
10. Rema – Ravage EP
Rema, the self-titled “Prince of Afrobeats”, has been on the rise for over five years, delivering hit after hit record, with no plans of slowing down. After the captivating release of his Rave & Roses Ultra, Rema cements his global triumph and victory lap with the Ravage EP.
Despite the project’s apparent chaos, it is meticulously organised and sonically sequenced. Tracks like “DND” and “Red Potion” convey that this is Rema’s world and we are simply living in it.
9. Nonso Amadi – When It Blooms
Nonso Amadi’s prowess in creating captivating Afro-R&B compositions has always been unquestionable. Demonstrating his skill on his debut LP, When It Blooms, the self-taught Canadian-based singer and producer effortlessly navigates through each track, establishing a seamless harmony among vocals, production, and sound engineering.
Standout groovy tracks such as “Paper”, “Pieces” featuring Tay Iwar, and the entrancing “Shivers” with Tamera collectively position this project as one of the standout debut LPs released this year.
8. Bloody Civilian – Anger Management
Following her 2022 debut single “How To Kill A Man”, singer, songwriter, and producer, Bloody Civilian expertly delves into the intricacies of her emotions and experiences on the breakout EP, Anger Management. She channels her rage and showcases her artistic range, maintaining a profound exploration of her realities as a Nigerian woman.
The EP also explores overbearing family dynamics, a flawed partner’s dismissal, and the challenges of growing up in Nigeria. While Bloody Civilian has since released a re-up version of the EP with stellar features, artistically, it lags in matching the precedent set by its original iteration.
7. Burna Boy – I Told Them…
Burna Boy’s latest project, I Told Them…, marks a continuation of his global dominance, following the breakthrough success of his fourth album, African Giant. Positioned as the foremost African musical export, Burna Boy strategically shapes his seventh studio LP for widespread penetration in the Western music scene. Amidst the album’s characteristic braggadocio, emblematic of the superstar’s persona, there are underlying moments of gloating for the people who supported his artistry pre-fame.
Notable collaborations with Hip-Hop heavyweights such as 21 Savage, Dave, RZA, GZA, and J. Cole enhance the album’s international appeal. While tracks like “City Boys”, “Sittin’ on Top of the World”, and “Big 7” cater to Western audiences, Burna Boy ensures a strong presence on the domestic front with tracks like “Giza” with breakout artiste, Seyi Vibez, “Dey Play”, and “On Form”.
6. Asake – Work of Art
Coming off an almost unprecedented run since his breakout year with the single “Omo Ope” and his project, Mr. Money With the Vibe, Asake’s second full-fledged project, Work of Art, beats the sophomore curse, affirming the artiste’s status as Nigeria’s quintessential pop star. With trademark Magicsticks’ Amapiano-laden production, Work of Art is a tour de force in sonic identity assertion. Not very often do we find artistes who double down on their sonic preferences, damning obvious critics and succeeding at the same. Such is the brilliance that Work of Art radiates.
From chart-topping “Lonely at the Top” to “2.30” and “Amapiano” – obvious popular hits – to deep cuts like “I Believe”, “Sunshine”, and “What’s Up My G”, which shine exceptionally on this record, Asake re-asserts his dominance on Africa’s pop landscape, in little less than 2 years since his breakout single – a spectacular feat by all standards.
5. Nasty C – I Love It Here
Much has been said of the relative decline of the rap genre lately. Soweto-born South African rapper, Nasty C, however, smashes this narrative with his latest album, I Love It Here. This project kicks off with Sammie Heavens’ throbbing vocals on “She’s Gone & The End”, where sultry piano chords and melodic flow patterns are employed. Here, Nasty C is as vulnerable as ever, with pulsating lyrics about dealing with his mother’s loss. In a similar vein, I Love It Here intersperses between equally introspective tunes like “Release Me” and “Temptations”. A highlight of this project is the Benny the Butcher collaboration on “Prosper in Peace” where the duo address detractors with slow-paced but top-tier lyrically charged cadences.
Nasty C shows a coming of age in this project with the help of other stand-out collaborations where he features Ami Faku, Manana, Anica & Maglera, and 25k. The range of topics explored, from loss, self-affirmation, and familial love, show an artiste who is not afraid to bare his soul, without compromising on the sonic quality he is reputed for.
4. Bnxn – Sincerely, Benson
Stylised as a personal reflective note, Bnxn, fka Buju accomplishes a sonic masterclass in cohesion and songwriting on his debut LP, Sincerely, Benson. Known for a plethora of successful collaborations, Bnxn does the opposite – he goes solo on 9 out of 15 tracks, shining spectacularly with his signature laid-back vocal poise.
With production credits from LeriQ, Sarz, Magicsticks, ATG, and Jae5, Bnxn comfortably lays his vocals on stand-out tunes like “Aduke (Sweet Tea)”, “Pidgin & English”, “Say My Name” and the fast tempo smash hit, “Gwagwalada”, which features Kizz Daniel and Seyi Vibes. It is safe to conclude that Bnxn, through artistic brilliance, cements his footing in the African pop space with Sincerely, Benson, leaving no room for any doubts as to his capabilities.
3. Davido – Timeless
In what one could rightly term a sonic/career rebirth for Afrobeats maestro, Davido, Timeless is undoubtedly the superstar’s best attempt at a full-length music album since launching into the scene. Timeless boasts of infectious tunes, such as smash hit, “Unavailable”, arguably the most popular Afrobeats tune of the year, “Feel”, “Kante”, and “Away”, another OBO staple.
If there is anything Davido re-emphasises in this project, it is that the Pon-Pon sound can be expressed in a myriad of ways and is capable of hybridisation, albeit in a cohesive manner, without losing touch of rudimentary West African staple melodies. This is showcased in deep cuts throughout the project such as “Na Money” which features Bèninese music royalty, Angèlique Kidjo and The Cavemen.
In an era where multiculturalism is demanding more sonic experimentation across borders, Davido manages to keep his home audience refreshed with his signature sound, expressed through flashes of brilliant production across the board.
2. Lloyiso – Seasons
On his debut EP, Seasons, South African R&B and Soul artiste, Lloyiso, makes a compelling introduction, showcasing his ability to craft emotive anthems.
The project serves as a canvas for his impressive vocal dexterity as he navigates themes of loss, intense introspection, and escapism with unwavering honesty and precision. With noteworthy production, Seasons establishes Lloyiso as a promising artiste and sets a commendable standard for him to surpass in his future endeavours.
1. Amaarae – Fountain Baby
With groundbreaking genre-blending excellence at its finest, Amaarae stunned the world with arguably one of the finest productions from an African artiste in 2023. With rattling trumpet shakers, filtered plucked chords, percussive 808 drums, and warm basslines, Fountain Baby represents a seamless assemblage of multicultural brilliance, with stand-out tunes such as “Reckless & Sweet”, “Angels in Tibet”, “Sex, Violence, Suicide” and of course “Aquamarie Luvs Ecstasy”. In a world where cultural walls are breaking per second, music is increasingly becoming the truest manifestation of this phenomenon, with Amaarae leading the charge through Fountain Baby. Her adept skill at fusing a distinctive airy and wispy voice with impeccable lyricism makes for a perfect gloss over intentional takes on layered genres.
The mastery of this effort is such that each song is tailored to achieve a singular expression. The rock segments come across the way they would have on any typical rock project; the Afrobeats strike the ears as Afrobeats should with the emphasis on vocals and drums; orchestral elements feel full and rich; each track is coming across communicating the intentions in their totality.
- Joeboy – Body & Soul
- Jantra – Synthesised Sudan: Astro-Nubian Electronic Jaglara Dance Sounds from the Fashaga Underground
- Qing Madi – Qing Madi
- StoneBwoy – 5th Dimension
- Sean Tizzle – Dues
- Reminisce – ATSG, Vol. 1
- Anendlessocean – Decagon
Emmanuel Okoro is a content writer and journo with an insatiable knack for music and pop culture. When he’s not writing, you will find him arguing why Arsenal FC is the best football club in the multiverse. Connect with him on Twitter, Instagram, and Threads: @BughiLorde
Listed twice by “Black Pride Magazine” as one of the top 5 Music Journalists in Nigeria, Emmanuel Daraloye has over 600 album reviews in his archive.
Yinoluwa “Yinoluu” Olowofoyeku is a multi-disciplinary artist and creative who finds expression in various media.
Hope Ibiale is a writer and book lover.