CULTURE: CIPHA SOUNDS VS. AFROBEATS
If there’s anything that gets Nigerians more mad than Ghana Jollof, it’s Wizkid slander. A few days ago a video snippet hit the web of former Hot 97 DJ Cipha Sounds on The Road podcast discussing Afrobeats, Wizkid, and being the “first DJ to play Afrobeats”. The video which surfaced on TCS was met with comments like “ Thunder fire his mouth”, “Wizkid know you?” to “Jealous Hegoat”. But to be fair, he did... on mainstream radio, right? Or shall we say New York mainstream radio? Now that seems more accurate. If he wants to carry such claims on his head, he can be our guest. But to say no one was playing Afrobeats before him is far from true and simply shows his lack of knowledge of the genre and the movement of Afrobeats in the US. In the video snippet, Cipha displays his ignorance when he says people are unfamiliar with Afrobeats, the artists, and Afrobeats has no face I mean to a degree his statement is correct to an extent, right? Would anyone properly identify Wizkid walking down the street? Probably not.
However, Cipha Sounds falls very short in his claims and finds himself loud and wrong in several ways. For starters, the statement on the industry’s want to make Wizkid “Africa’s Sean Paul” isn’t the doing of Wiz or his talents. But the industry’s inability to thoroughly understand and research the vast sounds coming from the continent to properly promote, label, and work with an artist. Before the Drake co-sign, let’s go back to 2013 when Rick Ross jumped onto P-Square’s “Beautiful Onyinye”. 27M plus views on YouTube but then again, no one knew us then, right? Mainstream artist came to us not the other way around.
If we care to go back 3 years ago when “One Dance” was released, the industry practically labeled “One Dance” as an Caribbean infused record because it was easy and honestly speaking the western market is quite lazy when it comes to labeling sounds. If you’re looking for African music, 9 out of 10 times it’s listed under “World music” or “Caribbean music” which does the Afrobeats genre a huge disservice by not allowing the genre to stand on its own or develop as a sound. Afrobeats music is often played by western DJ’s alongside Caribbean music in sets during parties or mixes which simply goes to show the lack of knowledge or research of the genre at the hands of DJ’s. Afrobeats is a genre that is approximately 10 years old.
But even then it wasn’t “Afrobeats”. If anything it was “Afropop”—popular contemporary African music. And even then it wasn’t Afropop. It was just really good popular music. No one knew where it was going but all we knew was it was good and quite frankly I don’t think some of these artists saw it themselves or cared to categorize it at the time. Due to the rapid growth of the genre, the popularized West African sound found itself named “Afrobeats”—a fairly young term and given in 2008/09 by DJ’s in the UK. As for the statement that no one knows Wizkid and he is no Sean Paul. I don’t think Wizkid cares to be a “Sean Paul of Afrobeats". His resume says otherwise, Ciroc brand ambassador, face of Moschino in 2018, graced the runway of Italian fashion brand Dolce & Gabbana, featured on Drake’s “One Dance” (which to our knowledge was a Wizkid record), and had Drake and Skepta on the remix to his 2015 hit single “Ojulegba”, held his own festival called Made In Lagos, capsule collection collaboration with NIKE, and just recently Daily Paper.
With 10 years into the game, Wizkid is hands down an OG to the genre we know and love called Afrobeats. Cipha refers to Sean Paul’s sound/genre as “Reggae” which is off and coming from a DJ and music pundit is incorrect. Sean Paul would fall into the category of Dancehall if anything. The commercialization of his sound isn’t really the doing of him but the industry. Which goes back to the point of the industry’s failure to properly categorize sounds. No shade to Cipha, Hot 97, or Power 105.1, however, you constantly prove your ignorance to the genre when you play only 4 African artists. There’s more to Afrobeats or African music than Joanna, If, Fall, Come Closer, One Dance, and Ye (if we’re lucky).
In 2017, South African rapper Casper Nyovest was interviewed by the Breakfast Club where his music was misidentified as Afrobeats by DJ Envy. Who was quickly corrected by the SA rapper and told him he’s a Hip Hop artist. Statements like these are able to be made because those unfamiliar to the African music scene fail to educate themselves or familiarize themselves with music outside of what they already know. But why would they know of anyone else, when folks like Cipha carry a “If you’re not big here, no one one knows you” complex. Another statement that Cipha said that needs examination is “No one was checking for Wiz” which false and humorous being that ever artist that has came to Nigeria has always found themselves coming to Wizkid or Davido. In 2012 when the hit single “Azonto” came out, Chris Brown came to Ghana to perform and where he was joined by Wizkid which is when he learned the dance which he then carried back to the states and did on BET’s 106 & Park and said verbatim “I did not create this dance. I picked this up when I was in Africa”.
Their relationship aided to the creation of the long awaited single "African Bad Gyal". Let’s not forget this past weekend at the BET awards when Tyga was on the red carpet and gave a shoutout to Wizkid. Some may ask why is this relevant. However, let’s take a trip down memory lane to 2014, when Wizkid’s second project “Ayo” dropped, the then Cash Money/YMCMB artist Tyga was featured on the remix of “Show You The Money”. This was before the West got wind of the Afrobeats sound. So when it’s said no one knows these acts, beloved say you don’t know these acts or better yet those in your circle don’t know these acts because quite frankly it’s just not true. As for the statement that there’s no face to Afrobeats, why must there be a face? There’s no one face to Rap or any genre. There’s a bunch of top artists who aid in amplifying the sound. But that can be found in most genres. If we were asked to name the top rappers in the game, the list would be long and would probably exceed 10. We’d probably name Drake, Kendrick, Cole, Nicki, Meek Mill, Future, and more. However, Cipha is justified to make such stupid and ignorant comments when there are not many of us calling shots or in the position to amplify African music yet alone to define it. We find ourselves in spaces where we are punching air if we dare hear the DJ play Flavour “Nwa Baby” in every Soca set or trying to understand why they think it’s a cool nod to play One Dance as if that is the only Afrobeats song ever made in history.
Cipha’s comments should be seen as a slap to the African music scene and those in the US who have made it their mission to champion the sound and put in front of those that matter so the mass can hear the vast and unique sounds from the other side of the world. However, this should also be a time to acknowledge and congratulate those who have been aiding in getting the Afrobeats scene to where it is now stateside. It is not for us to use this time to go back and forth on whether his comments are dumb. That we know! But let’s use these statements as a reminder that we have a lot more to do when it comes to Afrobeats music.
In the words of Shirley Chisolm, “If they don't give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair”. We have a lot of work to do and a long way to go. This is just the beginning.
Africa to the world 🌍