Here are the Big 3 artists of different eras of Nigerian mainstream music since 1999

The “Big 3” is a novel term in the Nigerian music industry that came with the advent of social media and the international success of Afrobeats.

The first set of artists the term will be coined to describe are Davido, Burna Boy, and Wizkid.

Like in Hip Hop, what determines the biggest artists of a given generation is primarily commercial success and longevity. However, other factors often considered are catalogue, brand identity, fan bases, cultural impact, and influence.

After achieving mainstream success in 2011 and 2012, Wizkid and Davido would go on to become two of the biggest names in Nigerian names. While Burna Boy released his breakout single ‘Like To Party’ in 2013, he didn’t get his major commercial breakthrough until 2018 with his hit single ‘YE’. Since breaking into the international scene 6 years ago, Burna Boy has become the face of African music globally.

It’s also instructive to note that Burna Boy, who refuses to be associated with the term “Afrobeats,” has excluded himself from the Big 3 conversation with the Grammy winner insisting that he’s far superior to be included in such a list. However, this hasn’t stopped fans, even his own Outsiders fan base, from including him in the Big 3 next to Davido and Wizkid.

The Big 3 term used to describe the trio is sometimes expanded to a Big 4 to include Nigerian iconic rapper and YBNL label boss Olamide Baddo who held the third post before Burna Boy‘s unprecedented global exploits.

Although choosing the Big 3 of any era is entirely subjective, when one considers the major criteria of commercial success, impact, and longevity, it’s possible to point out the three biggest artists of the different eras of Nigerian mainstream music since 1999.

The Big 3 artists of the different eras of Nigerian mainstream music since 1999.

1999 – 2004

Here are the Big 3 artists of different eras of Nigerian mainstream music since 1999

Tony Teitula, Eedris Abdulkareem, Paul Play Dairo

In the early days of Nigerian mainstream music in 1999, the pop sound was defined by the exploits of talents like the sensational producer and singer Paul Play, Eedris Abdulkareem, and Tony Teitula the last two being part off The Remedies.

While there’s inadequate data of the feats recorded by the artists of this era, with the assistance from seasoned media personality Osagie Alonge, this writer identified Paul Play Dairo, Tony Teitula, and Eedris Abdulkareem as the top 3 biggest artists of that era.

Tony Teitulah soared to superstardom through his era-defining hits like ‘My Car’ and ‘Fefe ne fe’.

Paul Play‘sfirst two albums Dairo Music Foundation’ Project 1′ (1999) and Project2′ (2002) which he made while also producing for other artists, laid a template for the domestication of RnB.

Eedris Abdulkareem 2002 album ‘Mr. Lecturer’ and 2004 project ‘Jaga Jaga’ massively impacted the scene and made him the biggest artist in the country.

2004 – 2008

Here are the Big 3 artists of different eras of Nigerian mainstream music since 1999

2Baba, D’banj’, P-Square

The seminal superstars 2Baba (formerly 2Face), D’banj, and P-Square are three of the biggest artists of their generation, especially between 2004 – 2008 when their music shaped the mainstream.

The trio redefined Nigerian mainstream pop music with their mind blowing music, classic albums, and superstar profiles that travel beyond the shores of Nigeria.

2008 – 2010

Here are the Big 3 artists of different eras of Nigerian mainstream music since 1999

Wande Coal, Banky W, M.I

In 2009, Wande Coal released his debut album ‘Mushin 2 Mohit’ which is considered the blueprint for Afropop music by many.

Banky W popularised RnB music with albums ‘Mr. Capable (2008)’ and ‘The W Experience (2009)’ which enjoyed massive commercial success.

MI Abaga also redefined Nigerian Hip Hop with his albums ‘Talk About It (2008)’ and ‘MI 2 (2010)’.

2010 – 2012

Here are the Big 3 artists of different eras of Nigerian mainstream music since 1999

Ice Prince, Wizkid, Iyanya

The start of the 2010s saw the entrance of a young Wizkid whose breakout single ‘Holla At Your Boy’ won him the hearts of a new generation of listeners. His debut album ‘Superstar’released in 2011 is a decisive point in the history of Nigerian mainstream music.

Ice Prince Zamani came into the scene when hip-hop held sway and with his “cool cat” style, catchy rhymes and hit singles. He became arguably Africa’s biggest artist of 2010 – 2012 winning several awards including the BET Award for Best African Act.

Between 2010 – 2012, Iyanya was at the height of his powers as his vibrant, sensual style of music swept across the country. With hit songs like ‘Kukere’, ‘Sexy Ladies’, ‘Applaudise’, and ‘Mr. Oreo’, Iyanya dominated the scene in 2012, going on to win the 2013 Headies Artist of the Year.

2012 – 2016

Here are the Big 3 artists of different eras of Nigerian mainstream music since 1999

Wizkid, Davido, Olamide

After the release of his debut album in 2011, Wizkid soared to superstar status. A position he will continue to maintain for over a decade.

Similarly, indigenous hip hop star Olamide dazzled with the break-out single ‘Eni Duro’ which he followed up with his debut single ‘Rhapsody’. When Olamide released his second album ‘YBNL’ in 2012, he became a household name and will be one of Nigeria’s most important artists of that decade.

Not long after Wizkid’s monumental entrance came Davido who rocked the scene in 2012 with the release of his mega smash hit ‘Dami Duro’ which rocketed him to the apex of the Nigerian music industry and kickstarted a run that will endure for years to come.

2016 – 2017

Here are the Big 3 artists of different eras of Nigerian mainstream music since 1999

Olamide, Tekno, Runtown

While Wizkid and Davido briefly stepped away from the Nigerian music scene in expression of their global star ambitions, the void they left behind was swiftly filled by Tekno and Runtown whose exploration of Ghana Bounce defined the mainstream.

Tekno’s 2016 hit single ‘Pana’ and Runtown‘s ‘Mad Over You’ were two of the biggest hit songs of 2016 as the duo embarked on a memory run of hit singles.

2017 – 2018

Here are the Big 3 artists of different eras of Nigerian mainstream music since 1999

Davido, Olamide, Wizkid

Davido powerfully returned to the Nigerian music scene in 2017 with an electrifying run of four hit singles that resolved his status as Afrobeats’ foremost hitmaker.

Olamide and Wizkid continued to deliver a steady supply of hit records that helped them maintain their status as part of the Big 3.

2018 – 2024

Here are the Big 3 artists of different eras of Nigerian mainstream music since 1999

Burna Boy, Davido, Wizkid

Since breaking into the international scene in 2018, Burna Boy has recorded several Nigerian and African records on the global stage. Since 2018, the Grammy winner has taken a comfortable position as part of the Nigerian music industry Big 3 alongside Wizkid and Davido with their oligopoly only briefly broken in 2019 when Naira Marley was the undisputed biggest artist in Nigeria.

The entrance of a new set of superstars

Here are the Big 3 artists of different eras of Nigerian mainstream music since 1999

While Burna Boy, Davido, and Wizkid run as the three biggest acts in Nigerian mainstream music, there is a new set of superstars on the horizon.

Since January 2022, Asake has soared to superstar status off the back of an electrifying run that packed several hit tracks and two hugely successful albums.

Similarly, Rema’s current status in the Nigerian music industry is that of the crown prince of Afrobeats as he confidently alluded to in his 2023 EP ‘Ravage’. Since breaking into the mainstream in 2019, Rema has been one of Nigeria’s most successful artists with his hit single ‘Calm Down’ further rocketing him to history-maker status.

After becoming the Nigerian artist with the most monthly listeners on Spotify, scoring Afrobeats’ first 1 billion streams songs on the platform, boasting of Nigeria’s most viewed music video, reaching an unprecedented NO. 3 peak on the Billboard Hot 100, getting into the Guinness Book of Records, and selling out historic shows in India, Rema has become one of Africa’s biggest artists globally.

There’s also the captivating singer Ayra Starr whose feats are also shaping Nigerian and African pop music.

Other notable stars from the new generation include Joeboy, Omah Lay, BNXN, Fireboy, Oxlade, and Seyi Vibez, all of whom have enjoyed impressive runs of success.

Rema recently stated that there’s no longer an Afrobeats Big 3 but a Big 4 in a bold claim for inclusion. While his accomplishment stands tall, Rema’s desire to stand next to Davido, Wizkid, and Burna Boy is a tall order.

It’s this writer’s opinion that Rema does belong in a Big 3 but not on the same list as Burna Boy, Wizkid, and Davido. Rema belongs in the Big 3 of his generation.

While the longstanding dominance of Davido, Wizkid, and Burna Boy continues, there’s a new generation waiting to take up the mantle, and when they are called upon, Rema will be eager and ready to stake his claim for the throne.

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