This piece is part of Rolling Stone’s second annual Grammy Preview special issue, released ahead of the start of first-round voting. We spoke to some of the year’s biggest artists about the albums and singles that could earn them a nomination — or even a statue come January — and delved into the challenges facing the Recording Academy, providing a 360-degree view of what to watch for in the lead-up to the 2022 awards.
In some circles, “Essence,” a global smash by the Nigerian Afrobeats star Wizkid, was the only serious contender for the song of the summer. A Justin Bieber remix released in August surely didn’t hurt the case. “He loved the record, and I just wanted to hear what he would do on it,” says Wizkid of the Bieber collaboration. “And I heard it and it was dope, so why not?”
“Essence” and its remix undoubtedly raised Wizkid’s profile abroad, but he’s been making bright Afropop for more than a decade, and Western stars have been taking notice for years. In March, he took home his first Grammy, for his role in the music video for Beyoncé’s “Brown Skin Girl,” a Lion King: The Gift track on which he’s featured; before that, he appeared on Drake’s 2016 hit “One Dance.” With his fourth studio album, Made in Lagos, Wizkid solidified his standing as one of Africa’s most notable artists, with a vision and reach that stretch far beyond his home.
Made in Lagos is still as popular as ever as it approaches its one-year anniversary. How did you work to make this an album with longevity?
The most important thing, and the first thing that I focused on, was just making good music. If you make good product, people are going to love it. I made the album at such a great time in my life. I’m a father. I have three kids that I love so much. My first son is 10, my second son is five, and my last boy is about to be four. Everything was just different for me; how I see life and how I move in general is just different. It was very important for me to make quality music and something that feeds my soul. That’s all I focused on.
You sound really happy. What elements of your success do you find most fulfilling?
I’m a big family guy, so just being able to take care of my fam … that’s the highest goal for me. That fills my soul more than anything else.
Made in Lagos includes featured artists spanning genres and geography — Projexx and Damian Marley from Jamaica, Ella Mai and Skepta from the U.K., Tems, Burna, Tay Iwar, and Terri from Nigeria, and H.E.R. from the U.S. How did you approach collaborations on the LP?
Just getting in the studio with other artists that make good music was very important. Damian Marley — it’s always been a dream for me to work with him. Having that amazing song [“Blessed”] on the album is just a blessing.
You’ve been touring Made in Lagos in North America. What can audiences look forward to in your live show?
Just art. You’re coming to see art and you’re coming to enjoy yourself.
So is it going to be like a party? Can I wear my heels, or should I wear some dancing shoes?
At a Wizkid concert, you come as however you like. You can come in your heels. You might go back without shoes. You end up taking off your shoes and dancing.
“Essence” became the song of the summer in so many corners of the world. Was this your vision for it?
There was no vision. … I remember that day. I had, like, six producers in the room. I was recording the last song on the album, and, yeah, Tems came in the room; we made that together. It was just easy, man.
Do you feel a responsibility to elevate African artists? You have Tems, who was a relatively new performer, on the album. You have Terri, an artist on your Starboy Entertainment imprint, on the album. Does that feel like a duty to you?
Yeah. It is part of me, man. That’s me. I’m Nigerian, I’m African. I ride for that. And I live there. I grew up there. That’s me. So it’s only right for me to always make amazing music with my friends, people that I grew up with, and, like … if the world can pay attention to one artist from Africa, why can’t they pay attention to all? That’s the mentality I’ve got.