When we talk about underrated artistes in Nigeria, we do not necessarily mean that these artistes are not good at what they do. Rather, underrated in this context means that, for some reason, these artistes are not valued or rated highly enough.
We have seen many artistes in Nigeria that have come out – and are still coming out – to showcase their talents, with each of them having an individual way of entertainment. However, the audience is a fickle beast, and will only favour those who suit the taste they crave at that moment, leaving others, who might equally be as or even more talented, behind.
In addition, it could be that these musicians were into a certain genre of music that is not as popular as what everyone wants to listen to e.g. alternative, rock or funk. Therefore, no matter how much deep meaning their songs have, or what great efforts they put into them, they will have limited popularity with Nigerians. These genres of music, however, sell extremely well in other countries.
Nigerians seem to enjoy certain trends and beats in music, and as such, many artists choose to follow almost the same style of music-making. And even though they all mostly sound the same, they leave behind others that decide to be different and pursue different sounds.
These, and several other factors, have made these individuals some of the most unappreciated and underrated artistes in Nigeria, despite their glaring quality in terms of talent. And without further ado, let’s jump right into it.
Also, it should be noted that, as always, this list is in no particular order, which means that there is no artiste that is more “underrated” here than others, because the word “underrated” is relative and subject to personal opinion.
10 underrated artistes in Nigeria
I know what you might say, “But Asa is not underrated. Everybody knows Asa naa. How will you call Asa one of the underrated artistes in Nigeria?” Well, everybody knows Asa the same way everybody knows golf in Nigeria; popular in theory, but how many people really play them?
Asa burst into the Nigerian music scene with Eye Adaba, which quickly endeared her to lovers of Afropop music in Nigeria, and she followed it with singles like Jailer and Fire on the mountain, all of which were part of her first album Asa. And since then, she has released four more albums, the latest of which came out this year, titled V.
But even though Asa has released two Platinum-selling albums (Asa and Beautiful Imperfection) and several hit singles, the truth of it is that she doesn’t get as much love and recognition as she deserves. Asa is the type of music artiste whose lyrics evoke a myraid of emotions and deep thoughts, which unfortunately makes it unsuited for jamming at clubs and parties.
Her music is more appreciated by people outside Nigeria, as evidenced by when she won the prestigious French Constantin Award in 2008 as the Best Fresh Talent of 10 singers or groups by a jury of 19 music-industry specialists in Paris.
Unfortunately, Johnny Drille finds himself in the same scenario as Asa, a Nigerian with talent not for the popular Afrobeat genre that is popular in Nigeria, but soul music blended with country vibes. And unfortunately, that’s not what most Nigerians are looking for.And he’s looking at you people like, why don’t y’all have taste?
Drille’s debut single, Wait For Me, got everyone temporarily interested in his style of music that took them back to the days of just simplicity, but it was a novelty that didn’t last. But he didn’t let that deter him, and he has stealthily maintained his class of romance storytelling songs that appear on the fringes of a few Nigerians’ playlists.
Despite these setbacks, Johnny Drille has been nominated for the Headies Award several times and even won Best Alternative Song in 2019 with his song Finding Efe. He is also signed to Mavin Records, but he remains one of the underrated artistes in Nigeria because not many love his chosen genre of music.
Even though he has been around since the 2010s, Brymo remains an enigma to most Nigerians. Is he an artiste? Is he an artist? (artist and artiste are different, in case you’re wondering) Is he a stage performer? Is he an author?
Well, Brymo is all of these, and more, and he is also one of the most underrated artistes in Nigeria, for most of his career. Because even though many only got to hear of him when Ara dropped in 2011 (or perhaps in his guest feature on Ice Prince’s Oleku, Brymo has been around for much longer.
Brymo released his debut studio album Brymstone in 2007; in an interview with Damiete Braide of The Sun, he said he was inspired by R. Kelly and the Backstreet Boys to choose R&B. However, according to him, Brymstone is his worst body of work, but it helped him get a foot in the music business.
That foot, however, only stamped its footprint on a select number of people, because after Ara and its widespread airplay, Brymo has sort of faded into the background, even though he has kept a good pace with his unusual music. That hasn’t deterred him, though, as he even teamed up with members of Skata Vibration to form A.A.A, an alternative rock band.
Even without the label of underrated artiste in Nigeria, one look at Ric Hassani and you can tell that he is a gentleman, especially given his sense of dressing. Then he dropped his debut album titled The African Gentleman in 2016. I mean, what are the odds?
Hassani is a talented songwriter whose works analyze the subject of love and takes the listener through a journey of professing affection, fidelity, toxicity and breakups. However, that is not enough to endear him to a massive fanbase like Naira Marley or Wizkid.
It was also reported that the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) banned his single Thunder Fire You from radio airplay, although according to Hassani, he was glad about the ban because it ironically gave the song widespread publicity.
Nonso Amadi’s obstacle to widespread recognition is at least three-fold; he is based in Canada, sings R&B, and took a three-year hiatus between 2019 and 2022.
For someone who is not based in Nigeria and doesn’t sing the contemporary genre, three years is enough to fall out of the hearts of fans, except for diehard fans.
Nonso Amadi made his debut in 2015 with the EP Alone, after which he released the single Tonight, which got worldwide acclaim from lovers of soulful songs. He has garnered international recognition, and even held his first Homecoming Concert in Nigeria in 2017, and then the single Free in 2019 before his disappearance.
However, he still remains one of the underrated artistes in Nigeria, as he hasn’t earned the many commendations that his works deserve.
If the others listed above think they have it hard due to their chosen genre, then what do they expect Clay to say? Hold my beer? That sounds about right, because while they at least sing in somewhat acceptable styles, Clay decided to go into rock, which has been infamously tagged the devil’s music.
Clay, however, chose to wear that misnomer as her badge of honour; she styled herself “Nigeria’s Rock Goddess” and has consistently topped the few alternative radio charts in Nigeria, as well as several awards across Africa where rock music is appreciated and worked with other rock artistes. She also created the very first post-hardcore song ever made in Nigeria, which featured 1last Autograph.
With her unique vocals and electrifying live performances alongside The Misfits, her rock band, Clay has, despite being an underrated artiste in Nigeria, managed to create a niche for herself in an industry dominated by Afropop.
Barry Jhay is evidence that you could decide to go back to your roots and still not get recognized by your fellow countrymen.
Descending from the lineage of the classical music star and legendary funky Fuji musician, Ayinde Barrister, Barry Jhay decided to deviate from his counterparts who were influenced by foreign acts and chose to follow in the legacy of maintaining the development of Yoruba culture through his music.
His debut single Aiye passed a strong message about the law of karma and was rich with storytelling in the Yoruba language, and he has also produced several other singles like Melanin, Japa, Story and Daddy, among others. However, he remains one of the underrated artistes in Nigeria, because only a few indigenous people are keen on the vibes of his songs.
Reekado Banks started his journey by writing songs as a simple hobby, and thanks to his older brother Temi, an aspiring producer who discovered his book of lyrics, he learned how to make and record music. And from there, he decided to become a professional, eventually signing with Mavin Records after his brother submitted his songs for an online talent search.
He won the Next Rated Award at the Headies that same year (inadvertently starting a turf war between Don Jazzy and Olamide), and his 2015 single Katapot became an instant hit for lovers all over. The track made its way to the top of charts all over Africa and even reached the 5th position on the iTunes Top Songs Chart in its first week.
And even though his debut solo album Spotlight , which followed in 2016, also won the Headies Best Album of the Year, Reekado Banks still remains, quite frankly, one of the underrated artistes in Nigeria. His distinct voice and knack for creating unique and catchy lyrics and melodies is an underappreciated talent in an industry where a groovy dance beat is enough to make a song an instant, albeit fleeting, hit.
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Niniola’s plight is synonymous with that of a talented but soft-spoken person whose boisterous and more popular sibling overshadows. Or at least that’s my own personal opinion.
Niniola Apata started her music career in 2014 with the release of Ibadi, her debut single. Maradona spent 13 weeks on the metro FM chart in South Africa, and she has been nominated for several awards, including a Grammy for her work as a composer on The Lion King: The Gift.
However, despite her talents, Niniola remains in the shadow of her sister Teni, also known as Makanaki, and as such, is one of the many underrated artistes in Nigeria.
Okay, wait, wait. Please don’t tear my shirt, abeg. No, it’s not vintage… na bend-down-select I buy am. I no proud, but I like the shirt like that. If I didn’t tell you that it’s second-hand, would you know?
But that’s by the way; let me explain, please.
Remember how I said that on the list of underrated artistes in Nigeria, some people are there simply because they’re not appreciated enough? Well, Kizz Daniel belongs purely in this category. Never mind his recent stint with the dry-cleaning bus and the Tanzanian incident, this guy gave us Buga.
For this alone, he should be nominated as president, or maybe at least a local government chairman. And this is not the first musical treasure that Kizz Daniel is giving us; remember Woju and Yeba? Need I say more? See now why I say he’s underrated. Perhaps the most underrated of all, even.
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