Editorial: Rema, Nigeria’s Budding Quintessential Pop Star
Rema is not quite the teenage pop sensation yet, teenage pop starlet might be the more fitting description, for now. But he’s really close. All it took for me to become a believer was to see the kid live at his first ever performance. Electrifying. This is the verb I would use to best describe his energy. The boy is so very clearly a star and he being signed to arguably one of Nigeria’s most progressive, homegrown labels almost seems like a no brainer. Still, you’d be right to think it won’t be long before he’s generally accepted as an act that could rival more than his contemporaries at home, he could very well be ready to go toe to toe with a few of his more esteemed peers who have bigger audiences at an international level. That is because he has the one very sought after gift that needs to be in your locker to make an artist tailor-made for this generation; genre blending. He manages this trait with an exquisitely honed edge that makes it seem like he’s been doing this for years.
His entire catalogue consisting of only a four song EP and a handful of single betrays this. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. Watching him switch styles after performing his hip-hop infused cut Why to his Afrobeat inspired Dumebi, all in the space of ten minutes was the perfect showcase of this one gift which he so strongly utilizes.
So why the mixed reviews? Is it that impossible for the internet to rally behind what might be the clearest example of all the things that can go right when an artist with actual talent and opportunity begins to fulfill their enviable potential? Or is it something else? Maybe the fact that he’s signed to a label that might not completely be able to play to the strengths he has, or just straight up decide they know better and steer him in the direction of Betterland? The muted controversy surrounding the Dumebi music video could have been an easily avoidable one if the label had put him around people who truly saw a vision that could get the most out of his unique skill sets. They haven’t and it shows. The video is largely uninspired. However, if we’re being completely honest, as a nation, that is more on us not having the range to truly appeal to a larger audience than ourselves. And it is truly telling, because although Dumebi might be the most memorable tune from the EP, the second song off it titled Why is arguably the hardest song he has out to date. It truly reflects his range of talents. From the damn near perfect songwriting to the intense vocal pitching, to the beat itself, making for an uncompromisingly great song. And with Ozedikuz he may have just found his secret weapon as far as personalized production goes.
Next was the accompanying and grossly underwhelming FADER feature for the video, which also serves to highlight the need for an African publication that actually gives credence to our talents. Because truth be told, most of these magazines don’t care about us, and by us I mean artists from the developing world. They enjoy having the novelty option of tapping into another market, but aren’t interested in seeing it grow or improve. I mean they got the name of the EP wrong, an almost unforgivable oversight when the title is emblazoned right across the Apple Music widget literally linked in the same article.
Not to take anything away from Dumebi, it might be the one of the catchiest songs to hit the airwaves this year. You only need to see how crowds interact with it to know how much of an impact the kid has even offline, which is a rare thing in today’s artistic climes. More people are interested in having a social media following that interacts with everything in their lives but their music. That has not been the case with Rema.
All in all, the 4 song EP is the perfect sample area for the fresh faced 18-year-old from Benin to showcase his versatility and how many sounds he can thrive over. You can already hear how much he’s itching to shed the routine style of Nigerian afrobeats he’s been subtly compelled into making on the most recent joint effort the label put out titled “All is in Order” featuring one label veteran in Korede Bello and a slew of other recently signed acts. And this is not an attempt to throw shade at Mavin Records, they have to make good on each and every investment, just for the fact that there will be other investments in the future that will count on their track record of success to even consider getting signed by an indigenous label, instead of going the independent route. Notwithstanding, his ability shines through and it makes you wonder just how much he could truly achieve with an almost unhinged license to create. Which might be the most exciting thing about the quintessential pop star.