On Friday, October 4, 2019, Nigerian rave-of-the-moment, Rema released another 4-track EP, ‘Bad Commando.’
It came with rudimentary sounds capable of making a young artist attractive to a larger audience. It is Rema’s most experimental project yet. It was also risqué. Produced by OVO’s Oliver El-Khatib, 1Mind, Altims and Hunter, genres include, latin pop, trap, synth pop/hi-life and trap.
It was his third in six months. The first two EPs were Rema EP and Rema Freestyles EP. While this writer felt the EP was weak, he said this, “MAVIN is a smart label that recognizes what it has on its hands – raw gold and dollar signs.
“They know the artist he is. They know that limiting him to afrobeats is doing both themselves and the artist a disservice. The branding continued with carefully selected shows and concerts where he was adored by his fellow generation zers across Nigerian schools.
“Rema EP was billed to be his introduction into the Nigerian soundscape/mainstream. It led to astronomical success – more than Jonzing/MAVIN ever anticipated. Although the EP had a trap song and sonically experimental sounds, its songs were still sounds that tied into the Nigerian soundscape – it thrived. What came next was Rema Freestyles EP.
“It was a package of Rema’s four best trademark shotgun seat freestyles – before ‘This Fame’ and ski masks. Again, it garnered a niche following, but without a defining hit. However, one could tell that the Jonzing/MAVIN motive wasn’t necessarily to get a hit from the EP – not for lack of desire though. They were experimenting and building Rema’s brand.”
At the end of an article about how Burna Boy has become central to the rise of afrobeats, this writer also wrote that, “The subtle yet aggressive positioning of Rema has commenced. He will crossover, but when he does, he won’t be making afrobeats. His range is greater than that of anybody before him.”
MAVIN and The Moves
On February 20, 2020, Rema released two singles, the synth-dancehall titled, ‘Beamer (Bad Boys)‘ and the trap, cloud rap tune, ‘Rainbow.’ The tracks had nothing to do with afrobeats. In fact, if they informed of anything, it’s that MAVIN is positioning Rema like Scooter Braun positioned Justin Bieber and like Lil Wayne positioned Drake.
While Bieber was a teen pop sensation, he came to America to become everything that a teen pop sensation hadn’t done at the time. Equally, when Lil Wayne signed Drake, the artist embraced the ‘screwface central’ idea central to his hometown of Toronto, Canada – from the onset, we saw that he was not just coming to rap.
Rema‘s two new singles are a product of months of positioning across Europe and America. He has moved being in the studio with Diplo and Scooter Braun to appearing on Colors TV to perform ‘Bad Commando while clutching a teddy bear. He was singing a song about being a bad boy while clutching something that will endear him to a younger female audience – branding.
On Halloween, he took a picture with Jaden Smith. He got a hoodie from Oliver El-Khatib of OVO. A few months later, he got on a song with Thutmose, the American-born artist of Nigerian descent. Just before he released his two new singles, he dropped a remix of ‘Dumebi‘ which features Becky G – an American artist who has recently started aligning with her Latin-pop heritage.
On the remix, she sang her verse in 100% Spanish. What is happening is not just Rema gearing up for a debut album, we’re witnessing the potential rise of an artist who is being presented as a global pop sensation. The goal for MAVIN stopped being about afro-pop stardom the moment they released Rema Freestyles EP and Bad Commando EP.
In fact, they don’t care if Rema is big in Nigeria or not. They are experimenting with an artist who also has the stomach and work ethic for the positioning. A day before he released the new singles, word on the street says he’d just gotten back from America. A few hours before he appeared on and performed at The Headies, he’d just gotten back from a 16-hour flight – he is just 19.
What we’re witnessing is not an artist who is on the rise, what we are witnessing is the intentional positioning and the beginnings of a potential global pop star. While ‘afrobeats to the world’ might have made MAVIN dare to dream, it will only be the vehicle that gets Rema noticed. Rema will not be an afrobeats star when he truly crosses over.
‘Beamer’ and ‘Rainbow’ are not singles – they are chess moves in the grand scheme. In fact, Rema‘s upcoming debut album won’t equally be a goal, it will be just be one chess move in the grand idea to make Rema a global pop sensation – another experiment. While it’s unclear if he has an international record deal, something tells this writer that MAVIN isn’t working on its own.
The positioning is too powerful that he thinks someone else is working with MAVIN to execute its vision – someone like a foreign label.
Yes, Rema only has a very niche media presence in America and the UK, but he’s growing and the scary part is that MAVIN is not in a hurry. They are content with this positioning to take as long as it takes. They are not even in a hurry for Rema to become a Grade A star in Nigeria. The end goal is what matters and they are building the house brick by brick.
Just after Rema released ‘Beamer,’ he had a sit down with Zane Lowe on Beats 1. Yes, it’s does not look special – a lot of people have done it. But you see, it is special. If you can study what’s been happening with Rema, you know this is just another step in the positioning that has already co-opted FADER.
Yes, we have criticized a fair bit of the alte acts for ignoring Nigeria for international acclaim. However, the difference with Rema is that he is not just a privileged kid throwing money at media coverage with average music. He is a genuine talent who has made a little mark on the mainstream of his country with a larger gaze and a sizeable branding with the backing of a good label.
When Lyor Cohen came to Nigeria and former Pulse Senior Editor, Ayomide Tayo told him about Rema, his response was, “Don Jazzy’s boy? I know him (scoffs).”
What does Rema have over Wizkid, Davido and Burna Boy?
Wizkid and Davido are victims of time. When they made their sojourn to the west, it was not ready to take a genuine chance on an afrobeats star. Asides that, while both acts are talented, they don’t have the required expansive sonic palette and their artistry can seem pretty limited at times – especially Wizkid.
With Burna Boy, he has an expansive sonic palette that makes him mark any song with the beauty of his artistry. This is best exemplified by what Burna Boy did on Phyno‘s ‘Link Up.‘ However, the problem is that Burna Boy‘s artistry is excessively defined by afro-pop that his only hope is to criss-cross dancehall. Rema does not have that problem. ‘
With Rema, MAVIN has been experimenting and testing with him from day one. Their dream for him might have been very Nigerian at the start, but by the time people took to ‘Why,’ it probably informed Rema Freestyles EP. It was probably at that point that everything changed. From then on, the dream stopped being about afrobeats stardom.
They realized that the boy had a uniquely expansive sonic palette, powerful versatility and dense artistry that’s informed by the situation of his birth and the times he grew up in. They realized that as a Generation Zer, Rema grew up in a different time and the sound and fashion that fed him were never just afrobeats – he’s an avant-garde trap kid who grew up listening to afro-pop.
When Piccolo signed him and Alpha P, Rema was a rapper who could also sing. MAVIN knew that and they have started moving with him different.
In a 2019 article by this writer about Rema and his pseudo-alte outlook, this writer wrote that, “Rema was born in year 2000. He is bang in the thick of Generation Z existence. Thus, his hairstyle, dark-coloured outfits, funny choices of earrings and necklace, and interest in emo music (his song ‘Why’) are just peculiarities of era he finds himself.
“As for his music, Rema is the new heartthrob of Nigerian mainstream. He is like an act that appeals to both alté and shepeteri. His self-titled EP is sonically experimental, lyrically sparse and genre-flexible – all elements of alté.
“Yet, his biggest single at this time, ‘Dumebi’ is core afrobeats and far from alté. Nonetheless, what I feel is his best song, ‘Why’ is basically a trap/emo song from the generation of SoundCloud rap. He sounds like XXXTentacion on the song.”
The point is, Rema and his artistry have not been excessively marred by afro-pop and afrobeats. This is due to the circumstances of his birth.
What can stop Rema?
At this time, a ‘bad’ debut album – by Nigerian definition – cannot stop Rema because Nigerian appeal isn’t the goal.
In fact, his album will be anything but even 50% Nigerian. It will be another experiment towards a grand goal. The only thing that can stop him is if MAVIN oversaturates his career with excessive diversity and make it hard for him to truly be known for something. Right now, he makes trap, afro-pop, dancehall, hi-life and so forth. Soon, he would make moombahton and latin pop.
MAVIN has to be careful that he has an identity at every step of his career. A career without an identity is hard to sustain.