As for many of us, domestic life for Africa’s biggest pop star has gotten tricky. Wizkid is calling from Accra, Ghana, where he has spent the past several months, somewhat unexpectedly, on account of pandemic travel restrictions that have kept him from returning to his native Nigeria. “I was in Ghana for a two-week holiday and now I’ve been here for six months,” he says in the pidgin cadence of Lagos, the city he calls home. “So I’m just here working, making music, spending time with my family and son. Just taking each day as it comes.”
Unlike most of us, however, Wizkid looks to be living inside an Old Master painting, at least judging by the slice of domestic reality that is visible through our shared Zoom window. Framed by the pristine backdrop of a floor-to-ceiling white curtain, Wiz is draped in a black-and-gold Versace robe, which falls open just enough to reveal the heavy platinum links that adorn his neck and wrist. His “work from home” mode strongly suggests a 21st-century avatar of Mansa Musa, the 14th-century West African ruler whose personal wealth was so great that he disrupted the gold markets of Cairo with the gifts he dispensed along his pilgrimage to Mecca. If not for Wiz’s faintly visible tattoos and the spliff tucked behind his left ear, you’d think you were talking to actual royalty.
In the 2010s, that Black Atlantic wave became a global phenomenon, and Wizkid was the scene’s standard-bearer—a position only solidified when he collaborated with Drake on “One Dance,” which became the most-streamed song in the world. (It was also around this time that Wizkid’s fans stopped referring to him as Little Prince, and instead started calling him Starboy.) By the time Beyoncé released her Black Is King visual album for Disney’s 2019 remake of The Lion King, there was really only one artist she could have called to provide the proper Afro-diasporic stamp of approval on “Brown Skin Girl,” the track on which her daughter, Blue Ivy, made her musical debut.
In a way, it’s easy to see why the nickname Little Prince has trailed Wizkid, born Ayodeji Ibrahim Balogun, since he started making music in the mid-2000s. It’s a career arc that runs parallel with the emergence of Afrobeats as a distinct genre, or at least as a distinct wave within Afropop. The genre fuses the song structures of R&B with the distinctive melodic energy of West African palm wine music, pushing the hard, offbeat pulse of Jamaican dancehall into a more polyrhythmic clave. The s in Afrobeats nicely captures a plurality inherent to the sound itself, which is less a set formula than a constellation of Afromusics, made in West Africa but for an audience that encompasses the whole Black Atlantic diaspora.
“That’s a very exciting question,” he says, sitting up suddenly. “You know, I’ve known Tems…I can’t even actually remember how we met, but I know I brought her out for one of my shows in Lagos. We had talked about working and I went back home to record.” He’s fully animated now. Present. “When I record at home, it’s like I have a crazy situation. I’ll be in a room with like 8, 10 producers, everyone’s got their rooms and we’re just making music. She came through to the hotel and we laid down the idea. It was just effortless. Just lay down the melodies, and she didn’t even think anything of it. She felt like we had to do another record, but I already knew we had magic.”
“I love meeting new artists,” says Wiz. “When I’m in a room with a new artist, it feels like, Oh, my God. It feels like I’m right there when the magic is just about to take off and take form. It’s so exciting to me. When I get in the room with a new artist, it’s like you’re learning from me, I’m learning from you. I even get more excited getting in the room with new artists than my peers or my friends that I know. I can’t explain it.”
He’s loquacious now, having seemingly moved from the mode of itutu to the inspirational mode of ashe: “When I’m in a room with someone like me, there’s expectations. People want to hear, ‘Oh, yeah, there’s these two names, so we definitely want to hear this type of sound on this. We want to hear big work.’ ”
I assume the “big work” he’s talking about is “Ginger,” Wiz’s collaboration with fellow African superstar Burna Boy. In a sense Wiz is right. While the song might stand head and shoulders above other recent Afrobeats hits, for both Wiz and Burna it ranks as a lesser work. It’s the resulting music video directed by Meji Alabi, however, that makes the super-collaboration extra worthwhile. Contained to a soundstage, Wiz and Burna look regal as a fashion show blooms around them. At one point they amuse themselves by playing the traditional West African game of adi on the hood of a cream-colored Benz from the ’80s—only instead of the traditional marbles, they’re using sparkling cut diamonds. The image conjures pure royal excess, the spirit of which would make Mansa Musa proud.
Whatever the next iteration of Ayodeji Ibrahim Balogun looks like post-Wizkid, his work will surely be received by a global audience, awaiting each new release as he pushes the waves of modern style toward something like a new classicism. He’ll continue to explore king-making as a creative act, all while fomenting new artistic friendships. That, to him, is what makes the work fulfilling. “You know, in life we’re growing and we’re learning,” he says, completing an earlier thought. “Nobody knows it all. By meeting new artists, making new friends…we’re just trying to find ourselves.”