WizKid & Tems Capture The Essence Of Summer’s Waning Days
Four years ago, this column posed a question: “Can WizKid Conquer The US Pop Landscape He Helped Create?” At the time, American pop music was sounding increasingly African, in no small part thanks to the smash success of Drake’s chart-topping WizKid collab “One Dance.” With “One Dance” and a handful of other tracks on his Views album, Drake — always savvy about interjecting himself into whatever trends he sees popping off — incorporated elements of the Afrobeats sound (not to be confused with Afrobeat), a catchall term for a network of seemingly infinite subgenres that thrives in cities like Lagos, Accra, and London. WizKid —- born Ayodeji Ibrahim Balogun in Lagos 31 years ago — has long been a superstar in West Africa and throughout the diaspora, and he was a natural choice to lend “One Dance” an air of authenticity.
The African pop scene has continued to influence and infiltrate North American music in the years since. Artists like Beyoncé, Chris Brown, Doja Cat, and Goldlink have worked with go-to Afrobeats producer P2J. Nigerian superstar Burna Boy’s star has risen steadily while releasing three albums in three years for Atlantic, most recently 2020’s Twice As Tall, executive produced by Diddy. Stars like Tiwa Savage, Davido, and Mr. Eazi have made headway as well. There have been crossover hits like London-based Afro B’s “Drogba (Joanna),” critical sensations like Ghanaian-American Amaarae’s The Angel You Don’t Know, and no shortage of imitations. And now, there is “Essence.”
“Essence,” a duet with Nigerian newcomer Tems from last year’s Made In Lagos LP, is WizKid’s biggest hit in America since “One Dance.” WizKid has returned to the middle of the Hot 100 a couple times since his spotlight moment alongside Drake, first as a featured artist on Tinie Tempah’s “Mamacita” and then on Beyoncé’s “Brown Skin Girl.” But this latest track is the first time he’s cracked the chart as a lead artist, and it appears to be on a collision course with the top 10. “Essence” reached a new peak of #16 last week after Justin Bieber jumped on a new remix of the track, which has been tacked on to the new deluxe version of Made In Lagos that dropped last Friday. This week it’s up to #13.
As P2J once told Complex, Afrobeats can’t really be reduced to one sound — “there’s afro-house music, there’s afro-jazz, there’s Fuji, there’s afro-pop, and it’s all under the same umbrella.” It’s not a style so much as a vibe, and Made In Lagos is vibes all the way through. This is party music, but not music for raging. The bass is monumentally heavy; the beats are meticulously complex, built for long nights spent dancing in sweltering tropical environments. Yet there’s a lithe airiness about it all, a feeling of breeze coursing through a swarm of bodies. At Pitchfork last year, Afrobeats expert Joey Akan called the album an exercise in escapism in the midst of Nigeria’s #EndSARS turmoil, a buoyant world of sound unmarred by police and military brutality.
The album’s R&B-focused, dancehall-reminiscent aesthetic lends itself beautifully to WizKid’s casual Auto-Tuned melodies, and a range of guests similarly thrive within the environment. Beyond Nigerian peers like Burna Boy and Tay Iwar, UK grime veteran Skepta, reggae-rap mainstay Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley, and R&B stars H.E.R. and Ella Mai make themselves at home within the soft chords and flittering syncopation. But relative unknown Tems’ hook on “Essence” has been the standout, helping the song become America’s highest-charting Afrobeats export to date. “You don’t need no other body!” Tems passionately emotes over infectious whirrs and clicks from the production duo Legendury Beatz. “Only you fi hold my body.”
In a new Rolling Stone oral history of “Essence,” Legendury Beatz’s Mutay Oniko describes the beat as a midway point between UK Afroswing and R&B. His brother and production partner Uzezi Oniko elaborates, “It was a little bit ’90s and 2000 R&B, I think: Murder Inc., ‘I Need a Girl,’ stuff like that. Afroswing is a bit more melancholic. It’s a bit darker. So we took the drums from Afroswing and then took the Ninetiess R&B melodies.” The combination is intoxicating. For Tems — 26-year-old Lagos native Temilade Openiyi — it was inspiring.
According to Mutay, during a session in the penthouse at the Lagos Oriental, a central hub of Nigerian music, Tems heard the beat and worked her magic: “Tems had a whole idea on it. She did the whole hook. She did everything on it.” WizKid added his own vocals in London a few weeks later, P2J was called in to add some African rhythmic flourishes, and by November the song made it onto the initial Made In Lagos release. But WizKid released three other singles from the album before “Essence” got an official push in April. It wasn’t until spring, when COVID-19 vaccines became available and the pandemic began to let up a bit, that the song really caught fire. It’s been building steam gradually all summer, first cracking the Hot 100 close to the summer solstice. Now, as the last lingering dog days align with the song’s sense of melancholy longing, it has more momentum than ever.
Some of that momentum is related to the new remix with Bieber. All involved claim his appearance was wholly organic, an outgrowth of a weekend spent partying to “Essence” with various movers and shakers at Bieber’s manager Allison Kaye’s birthday party. His gleaming, fluttery yet muscular take on Tems’ hook fits right in, and his presence has undoubtedly accelerated the song’s rise, but as with his turn on Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s world-conquering “Despacito” five years ago, the remix seems likely to be overshadowed by the original track. For all of Bieber’s adeptness and adaptability, “Essence” was already the perfect encapsulation of a feeling before he showed up. It don’t need no other body. And its success may portend further chart success for WizKid, Tems, and their African peers long after the summer gives way to fall.
Olivia Rodrigo’s Sour is back on top of the Billboard 200 for a fifth nonconsecutive week. According to Billboard, the album earned an impressive 133,000 equivalent album units, fueled by the release of its vinyl edition. Sour posted 84,000 in sales, including 76,000 in vinyl sales. It’s the second-biggest vinyl sales week since MRC Data (formerly Nielsen SoundScan) started tracking sales in 1991, bested only by the debut week of Taylor Swift’s evermore vinyl.
Trippie Redd’s Trip At Knight enters at #2 with 81,000 units but only 5,000 in sales, matching his chart peak set by last fall’s Pegasus. Rod Wave’s SoulFly shoots back to #3 thanks to the release of its deluxe edition, followed by Doja Cat at #4. Lorde’s Solar Power debuts at #5 with 56,000 units and 34,000 in sales. After Billie Eilish at #6 and the Kid Laroi at #7, TOMORROW X TOGETHER’s The Chaos Chapter: Freeze climbs back to #8 thanks to a deluxe reissue. Morgan Wallen is at #9, and rounding out the top 10, Aaliyah’s 1996 sophomore set One In A Million reaches a new #10 peak after releasing to digital platforms for the first time. The album tallied 26,000 units and 13,000 in sales.
The Kid Laroi and Justin Bieber’s “Stay” stays at #1 on the Hot 100 for a fourth straight week, followed again by Ed Sheeran’s “Bad Habits” at #2 and Olivia Rodrigo’s “good 4 u” at #3. Doja Cat and SZA’s “Kiss Me More” is back up to #4, while Lil Nas X and Jack Harlow’s “Industry Baby” climbs back to #5. Dua Lipa’s “Levitating” is down to #6, and the version without DaBaby is notably now the one charting. The rest of the top 10: BTS’ “Butter,” Rodrigo’s “deja vu,” LNX’s “Montero (Call Me By Your Name),” and the Weeknd and Ariana Grande’s “Save Your Tears.”
Kim Petras – “Future Starts Now”
This is a truly immaculate rippling-synth disco gem, though anyone trying to avoid Dr. Luke should stay away.
Liam Payne – “Sunshine”
Speaking of spectacular ’70s pastiche, this is close to the level of Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop The Feeling” in terms of joyous wedding dancefloor bangers from children’s movies.
Selena Gomez & Camilo – “999”
I am mostly indifferent about this song, but I appreciate that it sounds entirely like MOR Latin pop and entirely like a lithe, airy Selena Gomez song at the same time.
Griff – “One Night”
Griff is one of the most consistently enjoyable down-the-middle pop acts in recent memory.
BTS – “Butter (Remix)” (Feat. Megan Thee Stallion)
Though the stan bullshit is tiresome, I maintain that this is a very good pop song, made even better by the presence of an utterly confident Megan.
NEWS IN BRIEF
- Justin Bieber is the most listened to artist in Spotify history. [TMZ]
- Tory Lanez’s bail was increased for violating Megan Thee Stallion’s protective order at Rolling Loud Miami. [TMZ]
- Ed Sheeran debuted new songs “First Times” and “Overpass Graffiti” at an intimate gig in Coventry. [Billboard]
- Billie Eilish shared the trailer for her Disney+ film Happier Than Ever: A Love Letter To LA. [YouTube]
- Kacey Musgraves, Twenty One Pilots, Chloe Bailey, Shawn Mendes, and host Doja Cat were announced as MTV VMAs performancers. [MTV]
- Nelly, Breland, and Blanco Brown did “High Horse” on Kimmel. [YouTube
- Lady Gaga announced more dates for her Jazz & Piano residency at the Park MGM in Las Vegas. [News 3]
- Gaga also announced a Chromatica remix album with contributions from Charli XCX, Rina Sawayama, and Arca. [Twitter]
- Here’s a teaser for LALISA, the debut solo album from BLACKPINK’s Lisa, out 9/10. [YouTube]
- Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty Show Vol. 3 fashion show premieres on Amazon Prime Video on 9/24. [Instagram]
- Olivia Rodrigo tells SNL‘s Bowen Yang she actually does know how to parallel park. [V Magazine]
- Joe Jonas has a new song with William Shatner. [YouTube]
- 2 Chainz did not wanna buy candy from these kids. [TMZ]
HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME
HOLD ON, WE’RE STILL GOING HOME
OK, WE’RE REALLY GOING HOME THIS TIME