Although Afrobeats is just now hitting the global mainstream, this music genre dates back to the 1960s, with the pioneer Fela Anikulapo Kuti spreading the sounds of Afrobeat (which would later combine with other genres to create Afrobeats) from West Africa worldwide. Additional originators include Lee Dodou, George Darko, and Pat Thomas, who stewarded this movement through the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. American artists like James Brown, Wilson Pickett, Ike and Tina Turner, and Roberta Flack also were influenced by Afrobeats in their music.
A major inflection point for the genre occurred in 2016 when Drake partnered with Wizkid and Kyla on the popular song “One Dance,” his first number-one song as a lead artist on the Billboard Hot 100. In musical circles, this song was considered dancehall first, with heavy Afrobeats influence second and the introduction of the Nigerian Afrobeats star Wizkid accelerated the global popularity of Afrobeats.
In addition to further legitimizing Drake as an artist, it allowed Afrobeats to cross over to the popular music world while leading to immense global exposure for both featured artists. As a result of all the success, Wizkid became the first Nigerian artist to chart on and top the Billboard Hot 100. Akon even attributes this song to international record labels beginning to sign Afrobeats artists.
The Early Indicator
While the world was under lockdown in October 2020, Wizkid dropped his fourth album, Made In Lagos, which included the song “Essence” featuring Tems. The song gradually built momentum and limited acclaim but didn't really take off.
In mid-July 2021, Justin Bieber and Tay James, his A&R/DJ, were headed to Cabo for Alison Kaye’s (SB Projects) 40th birthday party. At the party, Wizkid’s agent, Mike G, met James, and the idea of getting Justin Bieber on the remix was born. In the past, Justin Bieber has crossed genres with remixes, most notably “Despacito,” to massive success. A few days after the trip, the files were transferred, vocals were cut, and the final version was mixed and mastered, and the remix was released officially on August 13, 2021. Similar to how the “Despacito” remix exposed a totally new audience to a Latin artist, the same became true for Afrobeats, as the remix would become one of the hit songs of the pandemic. Spotify ranked the “Essence” remix in their list of Best Pop Songs of 2021 and within the DJ world, the song was in heavy rotation.
“I think the remix is dope. It’s a nice switch, and it gives it a nice vibe.”
Immediately, the remixed version of the song was a success, debuting with a Chartmetric Track Score of 599 and reaching a peak Chartmetric Score peak of 863 on October 4, 2021, only 52 days after its release. The remix also pushed the original song to new heights and served as a trigger for the song's growth across all platforms, raising awareness, streams, plays, and playlist adds to the point where the original currently surpasses the Chartmetric Track Score of the remix.
The original version of “Calm Down” by Rema and produced by Nigerian native Andre Vibez, was released on February 11, 2022, and started its ascent up the Billboard charts. Approximately four months later, as the song was making an impact on the charts, across radio, and on streaming services, Rema had the idea to capitalize on the track's momentum by remixing the song with Selena Gomez whom he had built a friendship with over the past few years. Based on their consistent discussions and shared love for several genres of music, Rema tossed the idea out to Selena. She agreed, and they worked together remotely on the remix, with periodic conversations throughout the recording process.
“It started that from friendship to colliding our teams together, and everyone is like a big family right now. It was very much organic, and we made it happen, and it’s just so huge. I’m amazed.”
Before the remix was released on August 26, 2022, the original version of “Calm Down” had yet to eclipse a Chartmetric score of more than 1600 despite being released for 196 days. However, once the remix was released, both versions would soon overcome that milestone. This example shows the power of Selena Gomez on the remix as the song took off and has yet to slow down, and boosted the original version as well.
With Selena Gomez on the track, the remix of “Calm Down” entered the Billboard Hot 100 charts (which the original version never did) and peaked at #3 during the week of June 17, 2023. The remix ultimately fell out of the charts in mid-October after a record 57 weeks on the charts, setting the record for the highest-charting and longest-charting Afrobeats song in history.
Selena posted on Instagram, showing her immense gratitude for Rema selecting her for the remix.
As evidenced by “Calm Down” and “Essence,” Afrobeats artists can see major boosts to their songs by creating remixes with Western artists. The majority of Afrobeats songs have moderate to upbeat tempos, which makes the songs more conducive to remixing. The creation of a male/female dynamic on a remix is also a key to success that has been evidenced throughout music history and definitely applies to this genre. Traditionally, Afrobeats music leaves a considerable amount of space without vocals during the intro, pre-chorus, chorus, verses, and outro. This will give a collaborating artist room to not only add a verse but also ad-libs and background vocals throughout the entire track. Fans of the guest artist will naturally support the remix and get exposed to a new artist and a brand-new genre of music that was previously unknown to them. Here are a few select songs and artists that could benefit from this type of collaboration.
This track, which is categorized as Afro-fusion, has a chill vibe with emotional lyrics and strong instrumentation accompanying the background. It is Omah Lay’s most popular song, and it has inspired the extremely popular #sosochallenge dance trend on TikTok. Released on July 15, 2022, “soso” is about to hit 100 million streams on Spotify, and has already achieved that milestone on YouTube (across multiple uploads). There is enough space between the verses where another artist could hop on with an additional verse and make the song even more impactful. Looking at the success of the TikTok challenge and the fact that Omah Lay has had two successful collaborations with Justin Bieber already (“Peaches” and “Attention”), a remix of this song is a prime opportunity for Omah Lay to further break into the mainstream.
“FEEL” has a smooth, summer Afrobeats feel to it and was released in late March 2023, and has since been used in over 631k TikTok posts. When examining the timetable for the remix release dates after the original release dates for “Calm Down” (six months) and “Essence” (eight months), “FEEL” is within the same window for a remix to propel this song into additional success. The song structure for “FEEL” is set up to easily add in a remixed additional verse, with the original song having a verse/chorus/verse/chorus layout during the two minutes and 34 seconds of the song. An extra verse between the first chorus and the second verse would be ideal and allow the song to pop even more. Then, the guest artist could also add background vocals over the second and final chorus to add more texture to the song. Also, Davido was born in Atlanta, Georgia, and adding an American artist would allow him to combine his African and American heritage within his music.
Despite only releasing two official albums, Dua Lipa (19th on Chartmetric's artist rankings) is a global superstar - maybe it’s the Barbie effect! Looking deeper at Dua Lipa’s audience demographics, there are zero African countries in her top 10 countries across her social media platforms. Thus, a potential Afrobeats crossover could be a major moment in sparking her international growth in Africa.
Dua Lipa has collaborated with numerous global artists across many genres, including Elton John (pop), Calvin Harris (EDM), J Balvin/Bad Bunny/Tainy (reggaeton), Miguel (R&B), Megan Thee Stallion (hip-hop), Madonna, Missy Elliott, and Blackpink (K-Pop). With all this experimentation with international sounds and styles, it would make sense for her to try out Afrobeats and her style, range, and essence would be a perfect fit on either of the previously mentioned songs
Like Dua Lipa, H.E.R. does not have any African countries in her top 10 Audience Locations across all social platforms. This is another example of a huge opportunity for international crossover.
H.E.R. has had numerous R&B collaborations that have done very well. She also has a hit with both Afrobeats star Wizkid (“Smile”) and U.K. artist Stormzy (“One Second”). Her international appeal and musical talents make her an ideal artist to hop on a remix and elevate the original song. It is well within the realm of possibility for H.E.R. to sing and play the piano on the remix, which would further enhance the quality of a remix. Continuing to think outside of the box, H.E.R. would be phenomenal on an Amapiano remix of one of her own tracks.
As SZA continues to enjoy the success of her most recent album, a well-timed and curated collaboration would continue her record-breaking run of success. Unlike Dua Lipa or H.E.R., SZA has strong support in South Africa and Nigeria across Instagram and YouTube. This is a vital sign regarding the recognition and potential virality of an Afrobeats collaboration.
SZA brings a long and quality list of collaborations, including Kendrick Lamar (“Doves in the Wind”), Rihanna (“Consideration”), Doja Cat (“Kiss Me More”), Lizzo (“Special"), and Maroon 5 (“What Lovers Do”). The overwhelming majority of SZA’s collaborations have gone on to earn Platinum status, and her body of work brings a high level of visibility to every artist she works with. Her current album continues to set records and earn awards which places her in high demand. SZA’s vocal talent and flexibility mean that she could easily hop on a remix, write an additional verse, and perform it flawlessly in her own unique Afrobeats style.
Having an artist from a different genre of music hop on a remix is nothing new across the music landscape. However, within the Afrobeats genre, the right artist collaboration can make or break a remix. Chosen wisely, it can create a record-breaking track and boost a song to unheard-of levels. This will continue to foster the growth of this genre, which is new to the United States and growing rapidly. Based on the success of these songs, keep an eye out for more popular artists, including the singers mentioned in this article, partnering with Afrobeats artists on remixes and even original tracks. The movement is just beginning, and the time to jump on board is now.
Graphics by Nicki Camberg and cover image by Crasianne Tirado; data as of Oct. 31, 2023.