The Evolution of Olamide
No artist in the Nigerian music industry has evolved like Olamide Baddo.
Olamide's evolution is a smooth journey from fast-rising artist to superstar, and while other artists can boast of a similar trajectory, none has recorded the same success as a label boss.
This article celebrates the artistic evolution of a central figure in the Nigerian music industry. It captures the artistic changes in his music, his brand evolution, his invaluable co-sign, and his unrivalled ability to do for others what he has done for himself.
Artistic Evolution: From Hitmaker to Laid-back Music Legend
When Olamide released his eighth album, 'Carpe Diem', it ushered in an artistic evolution at all levels. At that moment, it was one none of his contemporaries could manage.
His decision to explore pop at a significant level showed a change in style and mindset. Olamide was making a switch from hip-hop royalty who balanced rap with party-starting street hip-hop to a laid-back legend who wanted to make music for the fun of it.
'Infinity', which was the lead single, is a song that wouldn't have been a choice for Olamide before the days of 'Carpe Diem'. But with the album came a change in delivery, thematic preoccupation, and general approach.
Olamide was known for his aggressive rap lines and tailored street-hop cuts that pack a generous blend of party-suitable topics and vulgarity. The Olamide of 2012 - 2019 consistently delivered street hits while occasionally punctuating this run with deep cuts such as 'Melo Melo.'
'Carpe Diem' ushered in an Olamide who has evolved beyond the conscious search for hits.
His music went from packing speaker-rattling baselines to soft, punchy drums that straddled hip-hop and pop. His hard rap bars were replaced with laid-back flows. He cut down on the party topics and vulgarities to more love themes and pop melodies.
The album ushered in Olamide's next artistic evolution. one notably sonically different from his evolution from a young fame-searching rapper to a confident superstar rapper and Street King.
Since 'Carpe Diem,' Olamide has maintained the same artistic path. His follow-up album, 'UY Scutti', is largely mid-tempo with an exploration of pop and dancehall.
From a hitmaker, he has evolved into an artist with no urgency to score a hit and his latest single 'Trumpet' feat CKay captures this. He has simply been making music for his love of the craft. The rarity of his releases and milder marketing approach convey his current position.
While the careers of his contemporaries are still heavily reliant on hit songs, Olamide has been able to make an early switch to a legacy artist without losing his relevance or social currency.
Brand Evolution: From Ubiquity to Scarcity
During Olamide's incredible rise to the top, his music and presence were in huge supply. He released hit songs almost biannually while also shutting down shows every other week.
After 'Carpe Diem,' he has made a gradual withdrawal from the public scene, with every aspect of his life becoming more private. His public appearances have grown few and far between, just as the frequency of his releases.
Physically, his looks have come to match his status as a godfather in the music scene. His style has evolved more into athleisure wear, and his full-blown hair and occasional braids carry the class and style that match his reticence.
His increasing scarcity matches his status as a successful label boss and his position as the most influential figure in the Nigerian music industry.
From Superstar to Label Boss: Nigeria's Most Influential Artist
"Olamide has found the perfect balance between being a leader and a follower. He knows when to allow his experience to lead decision-making and when to allow his artists to take the lead. He knows when to go full throttle and when to coast and allow the universe to catapult the art. Finding that balance is an art, not many label CEOs have that gift and grace"
These are the words of Eze Eezgozie, EMPIRE's VP, Strategy & Marketing Development for Africa & Diaspora, when I asked him for the qualities that have made Olamide a successful label boss.
At the height of their powers, a lot of artists have created their labels to enjoy the freedom of furthering their ambitions and building new talents.
While leading the industry domination of local rappers, Olamide not only made a name for himself but also contributed to the discovery and success of several talents.
Olamide has always played a major role in the careers of his artists. Whether it be calling out the Headies or A&Ring two of the greatest debut albums in Afrobeats, the weight of his contributions simply differs as he evolves.
Young Jonn, Pheelz, Lil Kesh, Adekunle Gold, and Victor are among the talents that have gone through Olamide's YBNL pipeline and shared in his fame while he was at his peak. The success he recorded with them was sufficient to make him a proven label boss, but his evolution runs beyond just his artistry, and even as a label boss, he would evolve into one that took the back seat to let his signings shine.
Olamide's evolution as a label boss saw him partner with music distribution company EMPIRE, and this partnership would play a key role in his success. Eze tells me it was both a creative and business decision for Olamide to take his foot off the pedal and focus on playing a primary role in the development of Fireboy and, subsequently, Asake.
"Yes. It was a creative and business decision to lean back, to ensure he was able to pour his energy into the development and growth phases of his artists and label."
Olamide maintained his status as YBNL's flagship artist while having monumental talents in Lil Kesh and Adekunle Gold on the books, but after 'Carpe Diem', he decided to lean back and let Fireboy take the lead.
Eze says this isn't about the very possible risk of outshining his artist. It was more of a conscious decision to channel his knowledge wisely.
"I don't believe it was about outshining his artists. It probably had more to do with using energy wisely and being the best A&R, marketing, and artist development mind possible."
This managerial evolution would see Olamide successfully lead Fireboy to commercial and critical acclaim and, most notably, to the international success that evaded him as an artist.
In 2022, when he introduced Asake to mainstream listeners with 'Omo Ope,' the accompanying unprecedented domination packed notable artistic contributions that would announce him as an A&R par excellence and the primus inter pares amongst artists-turn-label heads.
With Asake, Olamide delivered a talent that recorded the greatest debut year in the history of Nigerian music. A feat that has successfully taken street-pop and indigenous mainstream music to the international market. And while he didn't enjoy international success as an artist, he has achieved it as a music executive.
It's no wonder Olamide recently appeared on Billboard's 2023 International Power List. It was a celebration of his achievements as a music executive, whose contributions have played a deciding factor in the success of several artists.
On why Olamide has been able to stay relevant, Yinka Obebe, a multimedia personality and the CEO of Pop Central, tells me that Olamide is a true creative who has been able to reinvent new sounds and always has a bigger plan than he lets on.
"Olamide has stayed relevant because he’s a true creative in all senses of the word...His ability to reinvent new sounds has been very key...His ability to spot talents and integrate his brilliance with their success is also a big deal...I think he’s a steady guy who seems to have bigger plans than you can see, and with such people, there’s no way they won’t remain relevant almost in a timeless way."
'Unruly': The Beginning of a New Evolution
For Olamide, everything changed after 'Carpe Diem'. The album ushered in a new chapter. This can be further deduced from his Instagram page, where the album release art is his oldest post.
Just as "Carpe Diem," the phrase coined by the Roman poet Horace encourages one "Seize the day" and "live in the moment," Olamide has embraced his growth and evolved into more than a superstar.
The album was the point at which he started building his legacy, with notable steps across his career as an artist and a label boss. His decision to feature a handful of fast-rising artists (Omah Lay, Bella Shmurda, and Bad Boy Timz) and work with new school producers was a legacy move.
While taking his foot off the pedal, he started building a career with less reliance on street-dominating hits to one where he makes music for his amusement while also giving young talents a lift.
Olamide's collaborations with rising artists have rocketed them to fame (Bella Shmurda, Fave, T.I Blaze, Portable, Asake), and he's the only artist that can boast of having the most important co-sign in Nigerian music without the accompanying pressure of keeping his place by churning out hits.
I asked Obebe what he considers to be Olamide's most important legacy, and he tells me it's giving street music a permanent place in the spotlight.
"His experimental approach and holding up the street culture that most people really have never known or directly experienced, then making that into potentially evergreen music."
On February 5, 2022, Olamide announced that his next album, 'Unruly' was 95% done and would be his last. The announcement created a bittersweet feeling as it ushered in what many believe is the beginning of the end.
As the album release continues to draw near, it's inevitably set to be the beginning of a new evolution, one that furthers his legacy.
When 'Unruly' drops and Olamide withdraws to the boardroom, the music will be savoured, the moment cherished, and the pain of his absence will be soothed by the knowledge that it’s yet the beginning of another chapter—the start of an evolution whose result will be greater than anything we have ever seen in the Nigerian music industry.
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