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Opinion: Why Calling Don Jazzy an Influencer is an Erasure of His Impact on Afrobeats’ Global Dominance

Opinion: Why Calling Don Jazzy an Influencer is an Erasure of His Impact on Afrobeats’ Global Dominance

Why Calling Don Jazzy an Influencer is an Erasure of His Impact on Afrobeats Global Dominance | Afrocritik

If there were ever a book written chronicling the globalisation of Afrobeats, Don Jazzy would undeniably deserve to grace its front cover. As an artiste, producer, and label boss, he has witnessed — and contributed to — Afropop’s maturity from a “niche sound” to a dominant force in popular culture.

By Abioye Damilare Samson

The last few years have seen Afrobeats’ unprecedented ascent to global prominence, which led to a more propulsive motion for Nigerian and African music in 2023. The Grammys announced the creation of a Best African Music Performance Category, Rema joined the 02 Arena sold-out club, and Burna Boy etched his name in history as the first African artiste to sell out a US stadium, among numerous other triumphs. Unfortunately, the beginning of 2024 brought an unexpected shift in momentum. By the end of the first quarter, Afrobeats had yet to produce a standout hit record. A strange thing in an industry known for a consistent stream of chart-topping releases. This sudden lull in creativity has led to concerns about the genre’s trajectory, with cultural commentators suggesting that the law of diminishing marginal utility may be at play.

On  March 28th, popular rapper, Ladipoe took to Twitter (now X) to express his observations on the conundrum of stagnancy the Afrobeats genre is facing in a tweet that also throws a subtle jab at an earlier comment from singing sensation, Wizkid, about the death of the Hip-Hop genre. To quote the rapper, “Nigerian rappers [who] survived ‘Hip Hop is dead’ [are] watching Afrobeat artists go through their own” — a reference to how the Hip-Hop genre, once a staple of music enthusiasts in Nigeria, experienced a decline in the late 2010s, which coincided with a collective shift towards the bounce and rhythm of Afrobeats. However, as is the way of Stan culture, two days later, a Wizkid fan drew the singer’s attention to Ladipoe’s commentary on Afrobeats. In a surprising turn of events, Wizkid responded to the fan with dismissive brevity: “lol never chatting to anyone signed to an influencer. Next.” Ladipoe is signed to Mavins Records, founded by Michael Collins Ajereh popularly known as Don Jazzy, and WizKid’s comment alludes to Don Jazzy, the record’s CEO as being a “mere” influencer.

Deciphering the context behind the “influencer” tag by Wizkid isn’t difficult. In recent years, Don Jazzy has dabbled in skits, comedy, and podcasts, and his social media accounts, particularly Instagram, are filled with brand advertisements, goofy videos, and some of the most random content you’d ever find on a Nigerian influencer’s page. This includes, for instance, videos of him frolicking the Ugandan actress, Kaitetsi Gold, or his appearance in comedy skits with popular skit-makers such as Oluwadolarz, among others. This seemingly light-hearted jab accentuates the irony of questioning the status of someone who played a pivotal role in Afrobeats’ massive — and increasing — global appeal and commercial boom, and there have been conversations on whether the “influencer” tag is rude or perhaps Wizkid is just pointing out the obvious. This narrative circles back to the core question: is Don Jazzy merely just an influencer?

Why Calling Don Jazzy an Influencer is an Erasure of His Impact on Afrobeats Global Dominance | Afrocritik
Don Jazzy

Let’s take a trip down memory lane. I was in secondary school when I first heard D’banj’s EDM-infused track, “Oliver Twist”, produced by Don Jazzy. This was in 2012, and at the time, music streaming platforms were almost non-existent. Nigerian radio and TV stations still wielded immense influence on how high an artiste could pop. When the song first came on Splash FM 105.5 Ibadan, I never considered that it was a Nigerian track. This is not because I had any sense of elitism in my musical preferences, but rather, compared to every other Nigerian song I had heard before that moment, the only point of reference I could draw for its sound was the EDM-infused elements reminiscent of rapper PSY’s K-Pop 2012 hit song, “Gangnam Style”. During that period, I was learning how to play the keyboard under the tutelage of a music instructor, so my ears were finely attuned to compositions with distinct chord progressions. So, when I heard the song’s intro, I was utterly amazed by the quality of the sound. Although I had heard the ‘It’s Don Jazzy Again’ tagline on songs before “Oliver Twist”, it wasn’t until that moment that I discovered he was the music producer behind that track and other popular hit songs of the era.

Of all the Afropop producers to ever grace the Nigerian music scene, Don Jazzy stands unrivalled, and it is regrettable to those who assume his social media engagement and posts undermine his legendary status. Before the release of  “Oliver Twist” — arguably the song that introduced Nigerian music into the global pop framework — Don Jazzy had already left his mark on D’banj’s debut album, Rundown, back in 2006. Tracks like “Tongolo” and “Serve The Lord” not only showcased his sonic architecture but also his not-so-secret weapon: his deep vocal, described by Johnny Drille as “one of one” on his song, “How Are You (My Friend)”. These projects and many others laid the groundwork for Don Jazzy’s and D’Banj’s eventual rise to superstardom in the Afrobeats scene, with his multi-layered production infused with sonic influences from Hip-Hop, EDM, disco, and Highlife. Together, they arguably redefined how consumers viewed Afrobeats superstars. They expanded the Afrobeats soundscape and garnered acclaim from international stars like Akon, Jay Z, Snoop Dogg, and Kanye West, while nurturing the careers of artistes like Wande Coal, Dr. Sid, D’Prince, and Kayswitch under the Mo’Hits umbrella. 

Don jazzy X Jay Z X Kanye jpg
Don Jazzy with international acts, Jay Z and Kanye West

If there were ever a book written chronicling the globalisation of Afrobeats, Don Jazzy would undeniably deserve to grace its front cover. As an artiste, producer, and label boss, he has witnessed — and contributed to — Afropop’s maturity from a “niche sound” to a dominant force in popular culture. With Mo’Hits, Don Jazzy introduced a new sonic production style of music with a frenetic uptempo version of Afrobeats characterised by a faster percussive rhythm, usurping the previously prevalent style of heavily Hip-Hop and R&B leaning sound which had the likes of Eedris Abdulkareem, Tu-Face, Styl-Plus and others, at the forefront. This pivotal moment led to the creation of records that commanded the attention of the Nigerian music scene. Notable highlights include the release of the 2009 Mo’Hits compilation album, Curriculum Vitae which served as a showcase of the label’s collective talent. Additionally, Wande Coal’s album, Mushin To Mohits, engineered by Don Jazzy, emerged as a significant precursor to the diverse ethos within Afrobeats. An album adjudged by many music critics to be one of the best Nigerian pop debut albums of the last two decades, heralding the genesis of the genre’s distinct sound.

After the Mo’Hits fallout was made official in 2012, Don Jazzy founded Mavins the same year. Beyond his music genius as a producer, he built the record label at the epicentre of Afrobeats’ excellence. As a label boss and producer, he produced chart-topping hits and championed zeitgeist-defining projects like the Mavin posse-cuts-inspired tracks: “Dorobucci” and “Adaobi”. He orchestrated the careers of notable talents. For instance, Tiwa, hailed as the Queen of Naija Pop, has remained one of the most enduring artists of her era, consistently delivering stellar performances, and Reekado, had the music industry in a chokehold with back-to-back hits to win the Next Rated Artiste award in 2015.

First Mavin Group Picture

He has signed artistes such as Johnny Drille, Ladipoe, Rema, Crayon, Ayra Starr, Magixx, Boy Spyce, and Bayanni, whose ascent coincided with a new seismic shift in the landscape of the genre, propelled by the digital transformation revolutionising the music industry. In 2023, Mavins achieved groundbreaking success, highlighted by the Universal Music Group investment in Mavin Global, Rema’s historic feat with “Calm Down” as the first African song to achieve a billion streams on Spotify, and Ayra Starr’s groundbreaking Grammy nomination of her global hit – “Rush”. While their talent undoubtedly played a significant role in these achievements, it’s undeniable that strategic marketing and innovative collaborations, facilitated under Don Jazzy’s pioneering leadership at Mavins, also played a giant part.

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While the spotlight is fixated on the artistes, Don Jazzy has been proactive in changing the narrative by signing producers and songwriters, acknowledging their crucial role in shaping the sonic direction of Afrobeats. In an interview with music journalist Joey Akan, Don Jazzy openly shared,  “At Mavins, we definitely do not believe in the illusion that an artiste simply wakes up one morning and becomes a star; there’s a team of individuals who make it possible for the artiste to flourish”. Recognising the need to seed, develop, and train future stakeholders and leaders of the entertainment industry, he launched the innovative programme, Mavin: Future Five, shepherded by Peter Tega, Mavin’s Chief Operating Officer. This initiative, now in its second edition, aims to discover, mentor, and groom emerging talents with the potential to shape the music industry’s future. 

Second Mavin Group Picture jpg

To confine Don Jazzy to the tag of “influencer” is to disregard the depth of his impact and the reverence he commands among creatives and fans. But it is not just only an insult at Don Jazzy, it is also a subtle shade at other young — and inspiring — Nigerian influencers in the entertainment industry. The tweet perpetuates the misconception that influencers are somehow insignificant compared to other public figures. Influencing — much like being a recording artiste like Wizkid — is not to be trivialised. It plays a vital role in shaping culture and driving trends across various industries. 

The toxic engagement that often characterises interactions among celebrity fans reflects a troubling trend of needless conflict and rivalry as fans vie to defend their favourites. However, Wizkid’s response to his fans seems to tacitly endorse this ongoing toxicity within his fanbase and others. And if this exchange is part of a secret beef with Don Jazzy, then perhaps all is fair in love and war. Regardless of the context, it’s important to emphasise that Don Jazzy’s playful and social media engagement in supporting emerging creators on social media, does nothing, in any way, to diminish his status as a living legend and one of the most influential figures in the Afrobeats genre.

Abioye Damilare is a music journalist and culture writer focused on the African entertainment Industry. Reading new publications and listening to music are two of his favourite pastimes when he is not writing. Connect with him on Twitter and IG: @Dreyschronicle.

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