By Emmanuel Daraloye, Yinoluwa Olowofoyeku, Hope Ibiale, & Emmanuel Okoro
2023 has so far been the year for diverse iterations of Afropop, ranging from Rema’s enchanting tunes, Seyi Vibez’ street ballads, Asake’s stylistic doggedness, Davido’s signature ‘Pon Pon’ sound making a resurgence, and street Hip-Hop making a definitive statement on contemporary pop culture.
If there is any common theme across board, it is the maturation of previously heralded breakthrough artistes, staking a claim in their respective sub-genres, stamping their identities and re-shaping the palettes of consumers across the sonic spectrum.
The Afrocritik music editorial team has set out Africa’s top 30 records released during the first half of 2023, in ascending order.
30. Ruger – “Jonzing Boy”
Ruger rides on a slow, groovy beat, while sprinkling a bit of his braggadocious lines. The title, ‘Jonzing Boy’ referencing Ruger’s record label, alludes to popular street tropes, while the song in itself is another clean cut collaboration between Ruger and Kukbeat, his longtime producer.
Lyrically, “Jonzing Boy” takes a large cut from “Asiwaju,” continuing his infectious play on words like the superstar attempted on the third verse of the latter.
Ruger is calculative as he warns his enemies to tread with care. It is a menacing tune over a mid-tempo production.
29. Johnny Drille – “Believe Me”
Johnny Drille might have written “Believe Me,” for his wife, Rima Tahini. The song finds Johnny gushing about his lover, urging her to remain with him. Finally, for those who think they are in the single boat with Johnny, he just may have left them behind.
“Believe Me” remains a sleek addition to the wedding playlist, one of the lucky few in 2023. From the writing to the song engineering, Johnny Drille and Don Jazzy stuck to the template they had in mind. And it has achieved its aims and objectives. They created a wedding song, an incredible one for anyone that has ever been in love.
28. BNXN – “Pray”
“Pray” comes three months after the success of the Seyi Vibez’- and Kizz Daniel-assisted “Gwagwalada.” This time around, BNXN takes the message to church as he explores his gospel arch to score a hit song. BNXN has always been vocal about the impact of God in his life. If you check through his discography, you may notice he has always sprinkled a bit of this in his songs. Finally, he comes in full force; this time around, on a three-minute-long song, as he calls for God’s protection over his life, as well as offer words of encouragement to those trudging on, not to give up in their pursuit for success.
Produced by the prolific Magicsticks, BNXN calls on a chorister at the mid part of the song to beautify it. They did an incredible job; yet, there’s an excusable chaos somewhere that we may blame on the song’s final mixing.
27. Amaarae – “Sex, Violence, and Suicide”
This genre-bending track off her critically-acclaimed Fountain Baby album finds Amaarae diving into more than two genres. Its shortness does not stop the impressionable aura it gives listeners, as you would likely spin this on repeat. Amaarae’s upbringing in the United States seems to have a bearing in the composition of this song. The last part, a tribute to Rock, takes the listeners to a shindig. Yes! Amaarae is that incredible.
“Sex, Violence, Suicide” is a polarising track. The first part of the song welcomes the listeners to the quiet, emotional and loving Amaarae. She even tells her lover how they make her feel, and she promises to be by their side if they ever die. These promises get flipped in the second verse where Amaarae seems to take back her life in her own hands. Now, she is a party freak, no longer caring about being a doting or vulnerable partner to her lover. It’s a beautiful mix, a dash of cuteness and freakiness.
26. Tim Lyre – “Chasing Wind”
In this multi-genre mix-mash, Tim Lyre takes you through various influences of Country music, Soul, R&B, Reggae, and Gospel, further cementing his skill at blending, and showcasing an impressive sonic palette. Just like the title states, “Chasing Wind” is a voyage through different topics, with family, life, and tribulations taking the upper hand.
Tim Lyre smartly dives through these topics in a way that isn’t confusing or discomforting to the listeners. Sometimes, the vocal points are low, butthey rise equally in the same vein. In the dystopia of this world, Tim Lyre brings a glimpse of hope to those who yearn for it.
“Chasing Wind” is Tim Lyre’s first release in more than nine months. Perhaps, the fans might finally get an album later this year.
25. Davido – “Away”
“Away” could have been titled “Ibiza” and still banged as a standout tune. Ibiza is renowned for its incredible nightlife and its distinct club activities. This is what Davido preaches on “Away,” one of the hit tracks off his fourth studio album, Timeless. On the track, Davido unpacks some goodies. The first three lines attest to his credibility and the attempt of enemies to derail him from his plan, “I know they want to see me fall, hmm/
But I dey stand fit, stand no dey fall oh, hmm/
Wan pe mi Omo Baba Olowo, hmm/
If you no know make you ask Adugbo (Adugbo).”
The next two lines serve as prayers and admonitions; “Whatever you do/Hope say you dey make the raba/I no get time for wahala.”
Davido’s positive acclamations are littered all around this track so well, he would give motivational speakers a run for their money. Using this distinct skill, the superstar employs relatable lyrics to stay inspirational to listeners, while delivering melodious interludes to keep the jive going.
24. Barry Jhay – “My Father My Father”
Barry Jhay, one of the early proponents of Afro-Adura, made a return early this year with “My Father My Father.” It’s still a reflection of who he is. He sticks to his forte of offering prayer while seeking God’s comfort. With support from a chorister, a mild talking drum and some strings, Barry Jhay does what he knows best in this two-minute, thirty-eight second-long song.
The song serves as the lead single to his recently released Barry Back 2 EP, his first project in over a year. Recent developments, most importantly, the death of his label boss, and Jhay’s subsequent six-week detention in Ghana, seem to have served as the inspiration behind this song.
Barry Jhay’s lyrics may not contain much novelty, as he uses predominantly contemporary Yoruba lingo, but his manner of delivery is brilliant as he expresses a depth of emotion, simply too stirring to ignore.
23. Odumodublvck – “Dog Eat Dog” (remix) (Ft. Cruel Santino & Bella Shmurda)
Odumodublvck’s “Dog Eat Dog” remix was tagged by some publications as an unlikely collaboration. Featuring Cruel Santino, representing the Alte Movement, and Bella Shmurda, the dude with a Fuji-inflected tone, the remix comes exactly a year after the original was released. The original record took a while to take off on its own, because at the time of its release, Odumodublvck was still an Indie artiste.
Santino and Shmurda come through with an equal amount of energy as they effortlessly bounce on Ucee’s production. “Dog Eat Dog” remix is an appreciation of beauty, a mouthing of sexual prowess as well as street credibility.
22. Victony – “Angelus”
Victony reveals his exceptional versatility and artistic brilliance in “Angelus,” a track that beautifully captures the essence of late 90s and early 20s South-Eastern Nigerian gospel music soundscape, and Highlife. It evokes nostalgia in many.
On “Angelus,” Victony opens up about his jealousy when he sees Rosey, the woman he deeply admires, with another man. Despite his jealousy, he expresses a profound willingness to wait patiently for her to make her decision, while assuring her that he would go to great lengths for her.
The promises he makes bear resemblance to the heartfelt declarations you might find in any of the Bridgerton series. The song’s emotional depth and nostalgic musical backdrop create an enchanting atmosphere that pulls listeners into Victony’s heartfelt confession and devotion.
21. Minz – “Wowo” (remix) (Ft. BNXN & Blaqbonez)
Minz showcases his distinct artistry through the remix of “Wowo,” collaborating with Afropop artiste, BNXN, and rapper, Blaqbonez. The track features mellow chords and subtle saxophone elements created by French producer, Mike BGRZ, setting the tone for Minz’s heartfelt reflection on the challenges he has encountered in his pursuit of commercial success. Minz emphasises that it has been far from glamorous. It’s akin to the meaning of “Wowo” in pidgin, which translates to “ugly.”
BNXN and Blaqbonez contribute their unique perspectives on the journey toward global recognition, taking turns in sharing their own experiences and struggles in pursuing their artistic dreams. Each artiste’s verse adds depth to the song, providing glimpses into their trials and triumphs while striving for nationwide, continental, and worldwide appeal. “Wowo” remix should be added to your Lo-Fi playlist if you haven’t done so already.
20. Odumodublvck – “Declan Rice”
“Declan Rice” serves as Abuja-based Afro-HipHop artiste, Odomodublvck’s breakthrough into the mainstream music scene, solidifying his position as a fast-rising star. Named after England and Arsenal’s talented defensive midfielder, Declan Rice, Odumodublvck’s lyrics cleverly weave a metaphor between Rice’s unconventional nature and the footballer’s ability to snuff out opposing attacks on the football pitch.
Odumodublvck also narrates the abundance of his friends, likening them to countless grains of rice. And what happens when someone comes for anyone of them? The rapper pledges to “Push them to the curb/Smack them, push them to the corner,” just like Declan Rice would do on the field.
It’s no surprise that the tune caught the attention of football fans and Arsenal Football Club, who recently repurposed it for Declan Rice’s announcement.
19. Adekunle Gold – “Party No Dey Stop” (Ft. Zinoleesky)
“Party No Dey Stop” marks Adekunle Gold’s submission in a half-year filled with an abundance of diverse music offerings. Produced by Kel-P, the track resonates with a profound sense of gratitude as Adekunle Gold reflects on the obstacles he has overcome and the remarkable achievements he has attained throughout his journey in the music industry.
Adding to the infectious club vibe, Afrobeats artiste, Zinoleesky, joins the song, infusing it with an extra layer of lyrical finesse. Together, they create a captivating club banger that celebrates life’s victories while maintaining an attitude of gratitude. “Party No Dey Stop” presents a powerful and uplifting message about being thankful and placing faith in a higher power.
And who says you can’t move your body while at it?
18. Suté Iwar & RayTheBoffin – “THE PLEASURE PRINCIPLE”
“THE PLEASURE PRINCIPLE” sees Suté Iwar fearlessly explore his carnal desires, delving into the realm of mild shakers, soothing chords, intricate IDM synths, and lively bouncy drums. Throughout this song, Suté Iwar narrates stories of engaging in various passionate encounters with alluring women who share connections with one another, amidst dimly lit rooms, and an aura of mystery.
To add to the song’s zest, Suté collaborates with RayTheBoffin, who contributes a cheesy chorus celebrating the beauty of noncommittal relationships. Their combined artistry weaves a captivating tale of hedonism and liberation, embracing momentary pleasures without the constraints of long-term commitment.
17. Asake – “2:30”
2022 was specifically made for Asake, who had a meteoric run with hit single after hit single. His debut album, Mr. Money with the Vibe, made a significant impact, setting high expectations for his continued commercial success in 2023.
“2:30” is Asake’s second solo submission in the first half of the year, following “Yoga,” which arrived at the beginning of the year. This new song showcases Asake embracing his authentic self, set to the captivating beats produced by Magicsticks and BlaiseBeatz.
The track blends various soundscapes, featuring defiant synths, snare rolls, and stammering log drums, creating an irresistible rhythm with relatable hooks that celebrate self-importance.
16. Xbusta ft Lyta – “Shower”
On “Shower,” Xbusta and Lyta are in their lover boy era as they both make sweet promises to their love interests. With phrases such as, “you don’t need a broom. You sweep me off my feet like that,” the Lyta-assisted song is an impressive love tune. The slow-paced record is likely to grow on listeners because of its smooth lyrics and theme.
15. Seyi Vibez – “Hat-trick”
When Seyi Vibez released the snippet of “Hat-trick,” it instantly went viral due to some suggestive lines directed at Ayra Starr and Tems. On the same song, Vibez sings about stream farms, and makes references to Nollywood’s Taiwo Hassan. He also makes heartfelt confessions to his lover, addresses naysayers and includes a plea to the powers he believe in. Now, this might seem scatterbrained to an average listener, but while paying close attention to “Hat-trick,” one notices an invisible thread that ties everthing in it together. The song’s production, crowd vocals, and the intentionality behind each line result into a well-carved piece.
14. Bloody Civilian – “Escapism”
Ever since Bloody Civilian made her debut in 2020, she has pushed her craft fiercely. At this point, her unique talent is undeniable. She shows this and holds nothing back on “Escapism,” one of the songs on her latest project, Anger Management. On “Escapism,” she flows effortlessly through log drums, House music influences, and EDM inflections that show her unique artistry and production skills. “Escapism” is a great tone setter for what’s to come in the follow up songs on the EP.
13. Asake – “Remember”
Asake is undisputed. With projects like Mr Money with the Vibe and Work of Art, he displays consistency and unique artistry across both projects. One song that stands out on his most recent project is “Remember.” Here, the violins at the beginning ease listeners into a familiar atmosphere where Asake thrills them with an exciting love song. The easy rhymes and melodic hook makes “Remember” one of Asake’s most memorable creations.
12. Davido – “Feel”
Being one of the biggest stars in the music industry comes with a lot of expectations and criticism. Your art is constantly scrutinised, and certain bars are raised. Since his debut in 2011, this has been Davido’s story, but like he says in “Over Dem,” he continues to thrive. On his latest album, Timeless, he does just that. On most of the songs on the project, Davido brings something fresh and lets himself be on the songs. “Feel” is one of those songs. Here, he delivers a groovy tune and solidifies his penchant for making club bangers.
With “Feel,” Davido splits himself into different parts. In this song, he is a passionate, vulnerable lover. Overall, the song fits into the structure of Timeless.
11. BNXN, Seyi Vibez and Kizz Daniel – “Gwagwalada”
In “Gwagwalada,” BNXN fka Buju recruits Seyi Vibez and Kizz Daniel to release a feel good song dedicated to one of the popular cities in the Federal Capital Territory of Nigeria. The song incorporates BNXN’s unique songwriting, Kizz Daniel’s addictive ad-libs, and Seyi Vibez’s distinctive flow. Beyond the song’s glaring features, the synergy between the artistes stands out, and the Perlinks-directed music video adds an enjoyable experience to the song.
10. Pawzz – “Body Language”
Every time a new artiste emerges in the music scenes, everyone pauses and pays attention. In Pawzz’s case, it is obvious that he has caught a few ears with his debut EP, Prezz Play. On this 5-track project, “Body Language” stands out with its sleek production, infectious lyrics, and the artiste’s sultry vocals. From the bouncy production to the image the song creates in the listeners’ minds, Pawzz introduces music lovers to his unique style of music. Sex is at the root of the record, and wphrases like, “Body on my body baby. Do it like you really mean it,” is repeated with bold intentions.
P.S: “Body Language” fits perfectly in a playlist filled of Nigerian sex songs.
9. Seyi Vibez – “Man of the Year”
With his music, Vibez channels different personalities. Sometimes he becomes a wise sage leaving life nuggets; other times, he only offers energetic melodies that rule the dance floor. However, on “Man of the Year,” he channels the intricacies of a motivational speaker. When he says, “This year na my year, I can be the man of the year you can be the man of the year too,” Seyi Vibez reassures himself and his listeners. His sobriety elevates the song’s production and his words flow over the thumping drums and well-positioned violin. Despite his calmness, there is a sense of control that oozes off the track. He puts himself in the song with even more authority and he does not sacrifice its purpose or water down its simplicity.
Beyond the song’s simplicity, however, “Man of the Year” is Seyi Vibez expressing his desires, while admonishing everyone that the sky is big enough. “Man of the Year” is a song whose depth widens on every listen.
8. Lojay – “Yahweh”
Lojay entered 2023 on a prominent high, riding the wave created by “Monalisa” and his collaborative EP with Sarz. He refused to rest on his laurels and lined up a follow up EP titled Gangster Romantic.
“Yahweh” was the opening track of that highly anticipated EP, and it immediately set the tone for the project, establishing a romantic atmosphere with Lojay’s gentle, angelic vocals and naughty lyrics layered over a sparse instrumental consisting of spacious keys and prominent low tempo Afroswing drums.
7. Omah Lay – “Reason”
Possibly because of his emotive singing style, and poignant, introspective lyrics, Omah lay has become one of the most unique and notable voices in the Nigerian music industry. People have dubbed his style “Afro-Depression.” Still, this does not stop his songs from being largely memorable and enjoyable, as is the case with “Reason,” the lead single for the deluxe edition of his Boy Alone album.
Lay bares his emotions in his signature affecting delivery, questioning a lover’s motives over lively percussion-heavy drums and expressive guitar riffs.
6. Stonebwoy – “Therapy” ft. Oxlade and Tiwa Savage
Stonebwoy has been a fixture of the Ghanaian music industry for years, continuously pushing boundaries with his energy and versatility. With his newest album, 5th Dimension, he brought this versatility to the fore, exploring new directions and expanding his sonic horizons. This foray led to interesting features, of which one stood out amongst the pack.
The remix to “Therapy” sees Oxlade and Tiwa Savage add multiple dimensions to an already beautiful Stonebwoy song. Backed by warm chords, sweet guitars, and steady Afrobeat drums, Oxlade and Savage deliver heartfelt emotional verses and harmonies to supplement Stonebwoy’s powerful love song.
5. Libianca – “People” (Remix) (Ft. Becky G)
Libianca stole the hearts of millions of people with her deeply introspective “Beautiful.” The song’s meteoric success propelled her to instant prominence, landing her on multiple stages and playlists across the world. In a bid to capitalise on this success, her team launched a series of remixes with distinguished acts across the continent. The largest launch pad came with the assistance of Latin American singer and songwriter, Becky G, on “People.”
The two songstresses combined their soft subtle voices to devastating effect, wrenching hearts further with delicate deliveries over the simple key-led Afrobeats instrumental. Becky G’s presence and Hispanic appeal helped endear the song to a whole new audience all over again.
4. Joeboy – “Body & Soul”
Joeboy remained a fas-rising star ever since he debuted in the Nigerian music sphere. Following a slew of successful singles, his sophomore album, Body & Soul, became very eagerly anticipated. Its eventual release met the demands of the expectations and thrilled fans across the nation.
The titular track, “Body & Soul,” gained traction as one of the most beautiful songs across the R&B inspired album. Joeboy’s romantic lyrics are sweetly sung over an instrumental built with emotive guitars, sweeping strings, a pulsing bassline, and steady Afrobeats drums.
3. YKB – “Bo Card”
YKB is a relatively new face in the industry, premiering with the moniker, Yusufkanba, in 2019. His profile has been rising steadily off the back of consistent and quality releases. This year, on his Yusful Music EP, he released a possible career-making standout in “Bo Card,”
On this record, YKB showcases his vocal prowess in a sensual manner, assuring his lover of her adequacy. The track is soaked in mellow, chill vibes with smooth jazzy chords that create a light and airy atmosphere for YKB’s vocals to effortlessly float over. The subtle rumbling bass synth and sparse Afro drums contribute to the song’s seductive allure, while backing vocals and colourful ad-libs add layers of richness.
2. Asake – “Lonely at the Top”
At this point, Asake needs no introduction after taking the nation by storm in the past few years. His idiosyncratic, contagious take on Afrobeats and Amapiano has undeniably changed the landscape of the Nigerian music industry. His tireless work rate was displayed when he released his sophomore, Work of Art album less than a year after his debut Mr. Money with the Vibe. Considering he is already featured twice on this list, it is evident that the album was full of notable tracks.
“Lonely at the Top” is cut from a different cloth, characterised by more typical Afrobeats elements, such as its steady live-sounding drums, summery guitars, and simple chord progressions. He does away with the Amapiano influences to deliver a soft-spoken, introspective song that places itself apart from the rest of the album.
1. Rema – “Charm”
The Mavin Records superstar has risen to being one of the biggest global stars the Nigerian music industry can boast of. His versatility, melodic mastery, international appeal, and youthful stylishness are just a few of the weapons he possesses in his sensational arsenal. The “Ultra” version of his exemplary Rave & Roses album gave the world a number of gems, including the viral sensation that is the Selena Gomez-assisted remix of “Calm Down.”
However, the crown has to be handed to the London-produced infectious groove that is “Charm.” Built on mesmeric plucked guitars, wailing strings, a pulsing synth bassline, and bouncy mid-tempo Afrobeats percussions, this track introduced a new, more relaxed dimension to the album. The sultry waist-whiner nestled itself comfortably in the upper echelon of Rema’s already outstanding discography and sits atop the mountain of music that has dropped this year so far.
Asake – “Yoga”
Following a successful 2022, Asake offered up “Yoga” as his first single of the year. The song, which Asake described as a song of peace and Zen, has the artiste singing about minding his business and protecting his peace. Accompanied by a vibrant music video directed by TG Omori and a beautiful fusion of Sakara, “Yoga” lets listeners get a glimpse of Asake’s mindset for 2023 and reminds them of Asake’s star power.
Zinoleesky – “Many Things”
After letting the world experience the beauty of Grit and Lust, Zinoleesky continued to tread new waters with “Many Things.” On the Timi Jay-produced track, Zinoleesky addresses naysayers and reminisces on his past struggles. With “Many Things,” the artistes proves his versatility.
Mohbad – “Ask about Me”
When Mohbad released “Ask about Me,” he really was about confidently wearing his bragging rights on his sleeves. From the Amapiano elements, to the saxophone runs, Mohbad’s cool but confident approach to the beat moulds the song into a well-crafted piece of work.
Rexxie – “Asiko” (Ft. Lojay)
“Asiko” opens Rexxie’s 12-track project, Big Time. In “Asiko,” the popular music producer teams up with Lojay to deliver an impressive number. Over the Amapiano instrumentals, Lojay flexes his lyrical prowess and puts Big Time on a great start.
Wande Coal – “Ebelebe” (Ft. Wizkid)
In “Ebelebe,” two musical giants merge and listeners experience a one-of-a-kind musical bromance. Here, Wizkid is in his element and Wande Coal bounces off Wizkid’s energy with well-positioned adlibs.
CKay – “Hallelujah” (Ft. Blaqbonez)
Never one to take his foot off the gas, CKay continues to thrill fans with the release of “Hallelujah.” On the Blaqbonez-assisted number, CKay is grateful for his blessings while Blaqbonez follows suit. One of the outstanding qualities of “Hallelujah” is its relatable storyline. Everyone has been in a tough spot, and this song resonates their experiences.
Majeeed – “Gbese” (Ft. Tiwa Savage)
On “Gbese,” Majeeed and Tiwa Savage deliver a noteworthy number. The fusion of Amapiano and Afropop, the way the artistes’ vocals glide over Masterkraft’s production chops, and their effortless back and forth make “Gbese” qualify for the notable mentions category.
Jayo – “22”
Tottenham-born, UK-based Nigerian artist, Jayo, made a splash with his sultry Afro-RnB fusion “22.” He laced crisp, silky vocals atop a simple R&B piano riff with the most subtle and delightfully-subdued Afrobeats drum pattern, winning the hearts of new fans along the way.
Yinoluwa “Yinoluu” Olowofoyeku is a multi-disciplinary artist and creative who finds expression in various media.
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
Emmanuel Daraloye is Africa’s Most Prolific Freelance Music Critic. He has over 600 album reviews in his archive.