The Nigerian music industry is a theatre of drama which interestingly, is what keeps it vibrant and interesting. One of such dramas we have seen and will continue to see is the never-ending conflicts between artistes and their record labels.
For some, it is a tale of from grace to grass while for others it’s a success story. Let’s take a look at the fate of some artistes who parted ways with their record labels.
Is D’banj losing the Koko? Renowned for his hit songs, “Tongolo” and “Why Me?” Dapo Oyebanji, popularly known as ‘D’banj, was the rave of the moment in the music industry during his stay at Mo’ Hits Records, which he co-owned with the talented beat-maker, Don Jazzy.
Prior to his dramatic departure from the label, he topped charts and reigned unstoppable like a rabid dog on rampage but was cut short immediately he parted ways with Don Jazzy.
Like flowing water on a sloppy hill, his music career went down the drain like a musical greenhorn who lacked talent and guidance in an industry that doesn’t tolerate mediocre.
Since his exit from Mo’ Hits, only Emergency has been a hit track out of all the songs he has since released. In recent times, there were speculations that he was considering jumping on a musical collaboration with Don Jazzy, which never came to fruition. Even his single featuring Wande Coal and Harry Song has been a failure.
Chidinma, winner of MTN Project Fame season 3 is seen struggling to survive after her exit from Capital Hill. She has been quite dead musically since her exit from the record label. The Kedike crooner did not renew her contract with the label after its expiration in 2015.
Till date, both parties chose to keep mum about the affair, after amicably parting ways.
Since her mysterious exit from the Clarence Peters & Ill Bliss led label, she went to hibernate in far-away France, where she was rumored to be repackaging herself to make a comeback into the music industry.
After leaving Capital Hills, it became evident that irrespective of her talent, her exit from the label negatively affected her music because since then she has hardly released any reasonable amount of singles nor appeared at industry shows either as a guest artiste or a surprise act.
Iyanya still finding his feet at Mavin after MMMG split. Iyanya’s decision to leave MMMG came as a shock to most of his fans and music pundits; he left everyone in suspense as to why he parted ways with his ownership rights at the label.
Till date, nobody can say what precisely caused his exit from the label as both he and Ubi have since kept mum on the matter. Since his arrival at Mavin Records, compared to what he released in quick successions at MMMG, he seems to be on the slow lane.
In the past, Kennis Music was the undoubted leader of the pack. At it’s peak, everyone who commanded a following off pop music was signed to or affiliated with the label. Between its creation in 1998 and the departure of artistes like Olu Maintain, it released classics albums by 2face, Lagbaja, The Remedies, Plantashun Boiz, Azadus, Tony Tetuila and more.
Their success would motivate Nigerians like Jude Abaga, Bankole Wellington and Dapo Oyebanjo in the diaspora to come home, and the creation of the fourth generation of Nigerian labels — Chocolate City, Empire Mates Entertainment and Mo’ Hits.
Fast forward by a decade and of these three, only Chocolate City resembles a functional label. The circumstances that led to the Mo’ Hits split are public knowledge and in its wake, an arguably weaker Mavin Records was borne.
EME, on the other hand, has withered due to what seems like a loss of steam and a change in priorities for the label head, Banky W who is more likely to shoot a video than direct a musician’s career nowadays.
Today, Nigeria’s biggest artistes are independent, signed on their own labels or on international deals that do not preclude their freedom at home.
After leaving EME, Wizkid started a new chapter with Starboy Worldwide, inspired by one of his monikers. Davido emerged as an independent artist, first on the family project, HKN, before floating his own label, Davido Music Worldwide.
Both artistes are signed to RCA on the international scene but at home, they own theirs.
Until recently, paying for studio sessions and finding personnel like a studio engineer and a beat-maker was the artist’s first challenge.
Today, artists like Runtown can record music in their rooms with nobody around and send to young producers who will refer to YouTube as their mentor.
Today, publishing music is as simple as uploading a file on TuneCore, CDBaby or other platforms and pushing to streaming on services like Apple Music, MTN Music Plus and Spotify.
The same can be said for marketing. Pushing a song in Nigeria has long been a reason to find sponsors or concede ground to a label.
Today, a carefully curated university tour, an innovative social media presence and a consistent slew of well-marketed amateur videos will serve the same purpose.
In the end, labels are not NGOs and the trail always ends where the money sits. As M.I, who is now Chocolate City’s CEO said in that infamous episode of Loose Talk, “The economy is hard and labels are dying”.
Nigeria’s recession has affected nearly every sector of its economy and while it is one of the few bright spots, the entertainment industry has taken heavy body blows.
A history of highly publicized disputes between artistes and their labels has also changed the way many artistes view a record deal.
The artiste’s first concern is usually making enough money to sustain his art and then himself. Usually, pressure from the label forces the artiste to sacrifice one for the other, gentrifying their sound to appeal to the few places where Nigerian music makes money.
With no such pressure to consider, artistes are publishing their music and telling their stories in their preferred medium on their own terms. The result is that the scope of what Nigerian can sound like is getting wider.
Artistes are now more reluctant than ever to sign deals with labels who appear to have little to offer, especially as they have front-row seats to the growth of their peers with next-to-no mainstream backing.
Where does this end, you ask? Is there a chance for the Nigerian label to resurrect?
Perhaps, but only if it understands the times it exists in.
The promise of an advance and wardrobe allowance is no longer enough to get an artiste to sign a contract.