The Nigerian music industry has been marked by different eras, ranging from the early days of Highlife, Palm Wine music, Juju, and Afrobeat. Every generation of musicians has had one thing in common, they were all backed by powerful Record Labels. This post highlights the most impactful and major record labels in Nigeria.
This article is specifically written for prospective artists who would like to venture into the music industry or those who are curious about how the music business operates. Before venturing into the Nigerian music industry, you need to have a good understanding of how the music business works. One of the hard tasks for upcoming musicians is how to raise funds, this is where record labels come in. This article will help you understand the importance of Record labels and the services they offer to their artists.
Importance of record labels in Nigeria
Record Labels are companies set up to invest in musical talent, the main aim of any record label like any other business is to make a profit. A record label provides every resource the musical talent needs to make hit records. Resources include a budget for recording and producing music, hiring the best team available for the artist, studio sessions, marketing, and promotional runs for the released music. A contract is signed between the Record Label and the artist, the contract dictates the terms and conditions of the business agreement. This includes the duration of the contract and financial remunerations.
In the early 70s, most record labels in Nigeria were owned by International companies. Some of the most notable record labels available then were EMI, CBS (now Sony Music), and Polygram and they represented a majority of Nigerian musicians in that era. Musicians like Onyeka Owenu, Femi Kuti, Ras Kimono, and many heavyweights were signed to these international record labels. However, things took a turn for the worse due to the Nigerian Political climate and some of these record labels left, marking the end of an era for the Nigerian music industry.
The 90s saw the emergence of a music industry that lacked proper structure and major music record labels in Nigeria. What was left was artists struggling to make music by whatever means was available and promote it themselves. The era also saw the rise of a few Nigerian-owned independent record labels. The labels were put together by music enthusiasts, radio presenters, and some investors. Leading this movement was the Kenny Ogungbe owned Kennis Music.
Labels like Storm records, Chocolate city, and QuestionMark were created in that era. What these new labels lacked in resources and international affiliations, they made up for in understanding how the music business works. Fast forward to 2021, there are many record labels in Nigeria, with more being created by musicians who feel they have outgrown their parent record label.
The Nigerian music industry even without a proper structure and help from the Government is one of the most successful industries in Africa. The industry boasts a colossal amount of internationally acclaimed musicians and multiple international awards. These feats would not have been possible if a few record labels in Nigeria had not taken the leap of faith to build from the ground. These labels would go on to invest in musicians that would eventually pave the way for the current generation of musicians.
1. Below are some of the most impactful music record labels in Nigeria:
Kennis Music was founded in 1998 by Kenny Ogungbe, a radio host at Raypower FM. Kennis Music under the direction of Kenny Ogungbe and Dayo Adeneye was the powerhouse of Nigerian music in the 90s. Some popular artists signed to Kennis Music were The Remedies, 2face, Sound Sultan, OJB Jezreel, Essence, Blackface, KC Presh, and a host of many top-notch artists. Artists from the label ruled the airways in the 90s with most of the label’s early success coming from the group The Remedies.
The musical trio of Eddy Remedies, Eedris Abdulkareem, and Tony Tetuila thrilled Nigeria’s with hit songs like Sakomo, Sade, and Belinda. The group fell out after their third member Tony Tetuila was kicked out of the group. Tetuila remained signed to Kennis Records and released diss records targeting his former group members and label mates.
Kennis Music had more success in the early 2000s with 2face, who became the label’s flagship artist. More success would come for the label through musicians like Azadus, Sound Sultan, and Jaywon. Over the years the Label saw a steady decline due to the fact that many of its important musicians were leaving the label. Currently, Kennis Music is nothing but a mere shadow of what it once was, with its only notable artists being Joel and Eedris Abdulkareem. However, Kennis Music remains historically one of the greatest labels to ever come out of the country. It paved the way for many other labels. It discovered and supplied a great number of musical talents to the music industry.
While Kennis Music ruled the Nigerian music industry from the late 90s to early 2000s, Storm records were the Kings of the mid-2000s. Founded in 1991 by Obi Asika, the label boasted of musicians like Eldee, Naeto C, Darey, Sacha, Jazzman Olofin, Ikechukwu, Pype, and Gt the guitar man. Storm records had the hip-hop side of the industry on lock with some of the best rappers in the industry as at that time. Rappers Naeto C and Ikechukwu were some of the first Nigerian musicians to win the MTV Africa Music Awards.
The magical combination of producer Don Jazzy and singer D’banj gave birth to classic albums like No long thing and The entertainer under Mohits Records. Mohits was founded in 2004 by Don Jazzy and Dbanj. It was one of the most iconic labels in Nigeria until the end of 2012. The Label expanded its artist roster when they signed Wande coal, Dr.sid, D’Prince, and K Switch. Mohits was officially dissolved in 2012 due to disagreements between Don Jazzy and Dbanj. Don jazzy went on to start up his new label Mavin, taking Wande Coal, D’Prince, and Dr.sid along.
2. Major Record Labels in Nigeria in 2021
In no particular order, below are 4 major record labels in Nigeria in 2021
Mavin Records was founded and it is currently one of the biggest music record labels in Nigeria. Its heavy roster comprises artists like Rema, Ayra Starr, Ladipoe, Crayon, and Johnny Drille. The label was formerly home to industry heavyweights like Wande Coal, Tiwa Savage, and Reekado Banks. Mavin Records in recent times focuses on discovering, signing, and nurturing young talented musicians.
Chocolate City was founded in 2005 by Audu Maikori, Paul Okeugo and Yahaya Maikori. It is home to some of the biggest hip-hop stars in Nigeria. The label started its foray into the music industry by signing singer, songwriter, and producer Jeremiah Gyan. Together they released the critically acclaimed and successful album, Na Baka.
Chocolate Cite discovered and signed powerhouse artists like Djinee, Asha, M.I Abaga, Jesse Jags, Ice Prince, and Brymo. In the late 2000s, Chocolate city was the headquarters of hip-hop music in Nigeria. The 2008 rap album “Talk about it” by its flagship artist M.I Abaga changed hip-hop music and is still in my opinion one of the greatest rap albums ever made in Nigeria. Chocolate City has produced multiple award-winning musicians and is still relevant in the industry today with artists like Blaqbonez and Dice Ailes.
Empire mates entertainment was founded in 2002 by R&b singer Banky W and Tunde Demuren. The label became notable for its catalog of young pop sensations however, its greatest contribution to the music industry would come in the form of one of the greatest Afrobeats artists in Africa, Wizkid.
E.M.E Entertainment signed Wizkid in 2009 alongside label mate Skales. Wizkid became the face of the label after dropping his successful debut single “Holla at your boy”. He followed up the feat by dropping more successful singles followed by his critically acclaimed debut album “Starboy ”. After the departure of Wizkid, Empire Mates went on to sign other artists who were not as successful. This led to the eventual death of the label. The label currently operates as a Media and Management agency.
YBNL was founded by rapper Olamide in 2012 as an independent record label and it is now one of the major record labels in Nigeria. YBNL has produced some of Nigeria’s biggest music stars. Some of its notable signings were Adekunle Gold and Lil Kesh, who both had successful albums. In recent years the label has had to kiss many proverbial frogs before landing on the prince. After a run of unsuccessful signings, YBNL discovered and signed its current flagship artist Fireboy Dml. Fireboy has released two critically acclaimed and multiple award-winning albums for the record company. Olamide has also gone on to release several award-winning albums under the label.
The Nigerian music industry has had to battle a dwindling economy, neglect from the government, and war with piracy in order to pull itself out of the dark and into the light. Several Nigerian artists are now signed to international record labels and have won multiple international awards including the Grammys. Nigeria has positioned itself as one of the strongest music industries in Africa.
All these great feats would not have been conceivable if record labels in Nigeria like Kennis Music had not taken the decision to invest personal funds in the music business. These labels laid the foundation for the present generation and made mistakes that the current generation learned from in order to become better.