Asake: The Greatest Breakout Year Nigeria Has Ever Seen

Ayomide Oriowo

December 28th, 2022

The YEAR OF ASAKE, 2022: TurnTable Magazine vol. 003 featuring the No. 1 Artiste of the Year

Few artistes have defined the year in the way in which he has. Even fewer have done it in their breakout year. Few artistes have been as prolific in a year. As widely imitated. As enigmatic. As commanding in front of the camera. As fashionable. As remarkable. Which is why it is time to declare what we’ve all been thinking since the release of his debut album – this is the greatest breakout year Nigeria has ever seen.

Full Credits

Written by: Ayomide Oriowo & Frair Mac

Edited by Ayomide Oriowo

Photography: Oluwabori Emmanuel Theophilus (Themanuel Photography)

Content Direction: Osayawe Ovienroba

Self-styled by Asake

Cover Design: Dunsin Bankole

Full Credits for The Year of Asake, 2022

Director: Ayomide Oriowo & Akpodiete Promise Ogagaoghene

Editor: Akpodiete Promise Ogagaoghene

Videography:  Oluwabori Emmanuel Theophilus, Olayanju Theophilus & Blessing Oreunomhe

Makeup: Sarah Agbaje

Art Direction: Olubode Paul

Production Design: Olubode Paul

Studio Space: Hive Studio

Production Assistant: Blessing Oreunomhe, Oluwanifemi Ogunsona, Ayinla Olajide & Awobokun Oluwanifemi

There he was, dressed in all black, getting his hair made and all eyes in the room set on him.

“How come I only have six plaques? I have up to eight number one songs,” he points out, looking towards his label head and then towards me. The eight number one songs represent his eight singles who had reached the summit of the Apple Music Nigeria (he would later add an extra one after the shoot). With the help of his label head at EMPIRE Africa, I explained the difference between his No. 1 songs in Nigeria, a combination of all music platforms in the country – represented by the six plaques presented to him – and the number one songs on Apple Music, which I showed him using a screenshot.

“Oh, so like Billboard. That is interesting. How do you get all this data? It must be a lot of work.” He seemed genuinely curious to know how TurnTable Charts works.

Stars are magnificent. Pristine in elegance, glorious in splendor, majestic in class, the cradle around which galaxies form. They make up the spine of the universe and from their immaculate formation till their dramatic termination; they represent a glimpse into divinity, reminding us of our place in the system of planets, the vastness of the universe and the possibility of a celestial realm that far eclipses our ephemeral existence. This could also describe Asake's 2022 run; one-of-its-kind with endless possibilities.

What does it take to become a star and go on to determine a year? In other words a superstar. Music as it is majestic, glorious, and pristine as the stars. Pure in its delivery, true in its lyrics and new in feel. After spending years as mere stardust getting refined in the nebula of the streets. Bursting out into flames and possessing the energy of a supernova to right the course of urban street music. Stars begat stars. Despite what is now known about Olamide’s star making powers, the raw materials which he works with are laden with immense potential to explode into supernovas. A decade of YBNL has delivered several superstars, all of whom have used originality as the backbone of their success. From the pre-streaming success of Lil Kesh and Adekunle Gold to the streaming era success of Fireboy DML; the Nigerian label has been synonymous with some of the era-defining acts of modern Afrobeats. Asake is the latest.

In a recent interview with a senior EMPIRE Africa executive, he noted that the vision is for a Nigerian label such as YBNL Nation to be on par with global giants such as Motown or Quality Control or TDE. Asake's 2022 run puts YBNL on that path. The joint venture deal signed by YBNL & EMPIRE continues to look like a masterstroke and it is one of the key vehicles for which Asake could become a global superstar.

Stardust for stardust, song for song, artistry for artistry; Asake displays an uncanny predilection for originality. A fusion of Afrobeats, rap, Fuji and elemental musical strings; his sound carries a feeling of difference to what was previously obtainable in the musical space, contributing something original to the already exhaustive musical body of work.

From his formative years in the musical scene at the Obafemi Awolowo University, (home also to Fireboy DML, Chinko Ekun, Blaqbonez, Fave, Jaido P, Cheque, Bayanni and more) Asake has been known for his energy and craftsmanship on stage. Combining robust dance moves with street appealing renditions. A crowd favorite, he would spend more years than his noted contemporaries in the wilderness of obscurity honing in craft and perfecting his sound (hence his refrain- “I just blow but omo I know my set”).

Like stars, the dream was always destiny, though it tarried.

The year 2022 would go on to be his annus mirabillis. He went on to set the record for the most No. 1 songs ever (6) – breaking a record previously held by another superstar in the form of Davido; the set a new record for most No. 1 songs in a calendar year (Davido held the previous record of 3 in 2020); he has the No. 1 overall Album of 2022, which means Mr. Money With The Vibe is the most streamed album with 292 million streams, and finally the No. 1 Artiste of 2022, replacing Davido who had won the honors in the previous two years. With a battery of potent street songs and infectious melodies, he wormed his way into the music scene and like a burglar in a convertible store at midnight he made away with our hearts

As a freshman in the great walls of Obafemi Awolowo University, I was among the over 5,000 Students who filled up the Amphitheater to enjoy the “Mr. & Miss Fresher Beauty Pageant”. The lineup for the night was made up of student artistes some of whom had achieved star status within the university.

The performances offered what one would expect from rookie artistes until a young man spotting a red and white attire akin to Santa Claus’ famous suit graced the stage with his backup dancers. The atmosphere erupted, and I joined the students who at this point had leaped to their feet to behold the wonder unfolding before my eyes.

I will later learn that the artiste is a third-year student of Theatre Arts called Asake and the song is titled ‘Joha’. For me and many others present, that was the beginning of a journey that years later would culminate in the greatest breakout year in the Nigerian music industry.

However, for Asake, the journey to superstardom began the day he decided to make music. Not before the relentless audience that congregated at OAU’s Amphitheater and surely not in 2022 when he announced himself as the superstar the industry never saw coming.

“I have always known from the first day I started this journey, I didn’t know when but I always knew,” Asake tells me with conviction. A knowledge that his time will come and he will make it count.

An inquiry into the 2022 success of Ololade Asake would begin with the eponymous extended play released on February 16th and the lead single ‘Omo Ope’ released in the preceding month. It was after the Amapiano record that Asake arrested the attention of the mainstream and retained this attention through successive hit songs that disrupted the scene and painted the picture of a central character in an Afrobeats blockbuster.

With his debut EP, ‘Ololade Asake’, he delivered 4 songs, two of which reached No. 1 in Nigeria and swiftly settled listeners into the greatness that was about to unfold. When he teamed up with Spinall for ‘Palazzo’, there was no longer any doubt as to what was playing out. We were up for the greatest one-year run in Nigerian music_. ‘Palazzo’_ heralded the coming of ‘Peace Be Unto You’ and ‘Terminator’, and it was a major turning point for Asake and perhaps the most important song of his 2022 run.

However, Asake doesn’t see it this way. He tells me all his songs are inspired by a dominant feeling.

“All my songs are very dear and important to me. I wrote them at different points in my life. The happy times gave birth to the turn-up songs and the emotional songs came from times when I felt alone and needed to write my thoughts and experiences.”

Asake’s successive hits carried a dominant sonic imprint of Amapiano while he drew inspiration from Fuji and Gospel music he enjoys listening to. These elements are brought together perfectly by his super producer Magicsticks whose famous “Tune in to the King of Songs & Blues” tag is a repetitive jingle in Asake’s songs. This sonic similarity generated chatter of a linear sound that would soon outrun its appeal. Some called him Sungba Man and others Amapiano Man but everyone listened to the songs irrespective of their subjective opinions of its curator and its sheer dominance on the charts was proof. I asked Asake if this mockery got to him at any point and he dismissed the question with a philosophical quip.

“Everyone has their space and time to shine. I don’t get bothered.”

One wouldn’t expect less from an artiste whose style served as the template for mainstream music in Nigeria in 2022. Whether it’s the use of log drums, crowd vocals, violins, or an infusion of Fuji; more mainstream acts borrowed from Asake in an effort to appeal to an audience eating from his palms. Not many artistes can claim to have been sound shapers in their debut year in the mainstream and even for Asake who is as meek as they come, he can’t deny the excitement. However, he tells me he doesn't allow it to affect his work ethic.

“I get excited of course but it happens only in the moment. I don’t let my successes affect my work ethic. I stay hungry and I stay informed because I like to give my people new updates.”

In speaking about the work ethic of a superstar, one might stand the risk of expounding on an academic discourse as there’s a fair assumption that every successful individual maintains an admirable work ethic. However, I am privileged to examine this subject from the walls of Amphitheater in OAU where Asake displayed the work ethic that had him recruiting backup dancers, adorning them in uniform, and spending hours in rehearsals just to put on an impressive 20 minutes performance for thousands of people who couldn’t care less for an emerging talent.

It’s this work ethic that has transcended into his brilliant partnership with Ace video director TG Omori, who has effortlessly encapsulated Asake’s superstar personalities and presented them to the audience in different dimensions. There’s also his producer Magicsticks with whom he has dominated the year and shaped the mainstream sound. I asked Asake that beyond his work ethic what the common denominator he shares with them is and he tells me “friendship.”

“I keep a very small circle and everyone in it I love so much. As much as we are in business, we find time to bond and spice up our creative juices.”

Asake cherishes his bond with Magicsticks and believes the magic they both create is borne out of an understanding both at a professional and personal level.

“I met Magic a long time ago, we blended and started making music and since then it has been good. He understands me as much as I understand him. Magic has become my brother.”

Asake’s run of hits is complemented by motion pictures of colorful characters in which he is the central figure communicating and offering different elements of his superstar personality. While the underlying thread that runs across the videos presents Asake as a fashionista who says very little and lets the frames do the talking, Asake tells me if I look closely enough I will see the message behind each video.

“My videos as you already know are different, if you watch closely you would get various meanings from it.”

Asake maintains that the videos are all stand-alone and the stories don't spill into each other but I find it irresistible not to draw a thread across the videos.

In ‘Omo Ope’, he’s the philandering lavish spending artiste who just came into new money. This makes sense as the song was his induction into the mainstream. His fashion was also not as daring and memorable. In ‘Sungba’, he has garnered more confidence that has him cruising in the city dressed in white and black with his day ones.

In ‘PBUY,’ he is the superstar, riding across the city on a power bike with a super-villain grin accompanied by his followers as he moves across the streets announcing his presence. In ‘Terminator’, he wrestles in a pit in a metaphorical battle for his dominance before emerging victorious and adorning a royal robe that symbolizes his continuous rulership.

In ‘Joha’, he goes to the States where he holds his own against the famous Bikers gang and inducts them into his fold through his fold. And in ‘Organise’, he returns as the Kingpin, King of Boys if you like, who is back to continue giving the street their due and taking what is due to him.

From his songs and their videos, it’s easy to see that Asake can sing, dance, rap, is stylish, and can even crack a good joke when he’s up for it. This makes him a 360 creative and this he tells me is largely influenced by his time as a student of Dramatic Arts in Obafemi Awolowo University.

Asake has wowed fans with his fashion just as he has with his music. While he’s influenced by Fuji music, his choice of fashion is influenced by non-conformist Alternative style. His choice of pairing baggy jeans with body-hugging shirts while wearing grills paints the picture of a world-class fashionista who effortlessly carries the ambiance of a star. On his style, Asake tells me it’s original and internally sorted. It’s an embodiment of his personality – who he is and who he continues to thrive to be.

My style is me and I am my style. I have it printed on my hand STAY REAL; my message is that simple, whatever works for you, just do it as long as you are real with it.”

After dominating 2022 with his hit releases, Asake crowned it with his recording-breaking debut album ‘Mr. Money With The Vibe’, a marker of his confidence and a stamp of his superstar status. The album is a joint effort of his producer Magicsticks and his executive producer Olamide Baddo, both of whom Asake tells me played notable roles in selecting the songs.

Darkness was having a moment until the light came and it was as if it never was. Billboards all over the country and internationally, ticket rushes and sold out shows. All with an EP that reeked of ingenuity and an album for the ages. Each song a memoir of his life in the wilderness, a testament to his trials and a forbearing of things to come. On Mr. Money With The Vibe, he sparkled all the way. Demonstrating his mastery of the craft and putting to bed what some critics termed ‘sameness of sound’ on his songs.

Displaying depth with his vocal modulation and delivery. His ability to emote on each track probably borne from battle scars sustained while taking on life, was a thrilling note. Creatively, lyrically and stylistically; each song arranged in such a way as to reflect the thought process of continuity and seamlessness put into it. Each bleeding into the other to create a continuum truly spellbinding and possessing a lingering effect that last long in the mind of the listener. Priceless replay value and themes that speak to the human condition. The trait that has come to define Asake the most; his energetic style of music delivery and it continues to be a gift that keeps on giving.

“I get inspired by things and people around me. All my songs are from real-life experiences. I wrote the songs from the mood I am in or from the experiences I have. All songs that made the album were selected by me and my team.”

With his debut album, Asake has perhaps proven in a way no other Nigerian artiste has managed before that good music – irrespective of the maker or the dominant language that propels it – will find its audience. Since releasing his debut album, Asake has successfully toured the United States selling out venues, and also the UK where he sold out three dates at the 02 Brixton hall within minutes. I ask Asake how he feels about the international reach of his music and he tells me that like the gospel of Christ, his music is for everybody.

“I make music for everybody and I am glad it is going well and everyone is enjoying it.”

Within a year, Asake has achieved fame and success that takes other artistes more years to accumulate. He has scored a record 6 number-one singles on TurnTable Charts. He has dominated the radio, shaped mainstream sound, released a record-breaking album, and sold out shows internationally. He’s also a fashion Icon in his own right. All these he did in the first 12 months of his breakout year. With this level of unprecedented success comes the idea that he’s moving so fast and offering large pieces of himself such that he risks overfeeding a feverish audience. I asked Asake if this bothers him and he tells me he’s on his journey and it’s one that’s not determined nor limited by time.

“I am on my journey, it’s like a snail complaining about a cheetah moving too fast, it’s the same road but different speed limits, and that’s how I see it. If I can put out 5 songs in 1 week, why not?”

Asake is on his journey and we the spectators are locked in on this journey with him. And while some of us were privileged to come on board before the rest, our destination is the same. This journey which has the superstar Asake as the anchorman has reached its destination in December 2022. The destination where he accepts his crown as the Artiste of the Year. A recognition that like every single event that has unfolded in his career evokes a feeling of gratitude.

“I am grateful and thankful. I feel blessed,” he says.

2022 has been a major year for Nigerian music. For the international ascension of Afrobeats. For the hit songs and artistes that propelled this ascension. But ultimately, for the greatest breakout year in the history of Nigerian music, and behind this is the man, Ololade Ahmed Asake.

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