Afrobeats Fresh Picks of the Month: Burna Boy, Libianca, Aya Nakamura & More

Last May, Billboard launched its U.S. Afrobeats Songs chart, highlighting some of the best music coming out of the African music scene and impacting listeners in the States. But we’d been paying increasing attention to what’s been going on there for several years now, and the heightened attention has only helped shine a light on a growing generation of performers and songwriters. These rising artists are not only pushing the genre forward, but expanding it beyond its traditional boundaries — incorporating hip-hop, amapiano, R&B, jazz, soul and just about everything else into a melting pot that, for lack of a better overarching term, we’ll still refer to as Afrobeats.

To help celebrate the growing influence and diversity of the music that’s coming out with increasing frequency, Billboard is launching a new, monthly column to highlight 10 of the best new Afrobeats (and its relatives) songs in a given month. That doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty more where these came from — and, for this first column, we’ve pulled some of the best songs from the last few months of 2022 to help kick things off in 2023 — but here is the first collection of some of our recent favorites, with a Spotify playlist at the end to help you get into the vibe. So without further ado, here are 10 Afrobeats tracks that are catching our ears already this year.

Libianca, “People”

Libianca’s breakout single “People” is a stirring cry for help that has been echoing throughout TikTok and reached No. 2 on U.S. Afrobeats Songs. She offers listeners raw insight into her mood disorder Cyclothymia by constantly questioning “Did you check on me? Now, did you notice me?” with soothing, supple vocals and tinkering bells that buoy Libianca from feeling low. From competing on season 22 of NBC’s The Voice to signing with RCA Records and producer Jae5’s 5K Records, the Cameroonian American singer-songwriter is giving Afro-soul music a global platform.  

Tiwa Savage and Asake, “Loaded”

Tiwa Savage and Asake take shots at their haters on “Loaded,” one of the highlights from Empire’s first-ever African compilation album Where We Come From, Vol. 1. The self-praising track blends theatrical string arrangements, amapiano’s syncopated breakbeats, gospel choral melodies and rap’s braggadocio, signature sonic ingredients from Asake’s successful debut album Mr. Money With the Vibe. The African Bad Gyal complements his swagger and addresses a leaked sex tape from last year by deflecting her defamers and teasing, “Na who never f–k, hands in the air!” 

Burna Boy, “Alone”

The African Giant feels powerless and begs God not to abandon him in “Alone,” his standout contribution to the Black Panther: Wakanda Forever soundtrack. Burna Boy kicks off the track with his siren-like humming before sorrowful strings and his desolate vocals take over the verses. And while the chorus translates to a cry for help, empowering harmonies and triumphant percussion back Burna up and make him sound less alone. 

Aya Nakamura, “Baby”

Malian-French singer Aya Nakamura prides herself on being the apple of someone else’s eye on her new single “Baby,” which was released ahead of her fourth album DNK. “Because I’m his baby, wants to be my daddy,” she flaunts in her robust, native French vocals. Nakamura also flaunts her prowess, coordinated gal pals and Y2K-inspired fashion in the accompanying music video.  

Ruger, “Asiwaju”

Afrobeats newcomer Ruger boldly crowns himself “asiwaju,” or champion in Yoruba, in this guitar-driven, melodic offering. The 23-year-old Jonzing World signee rejects his Gen-Z label and promises to “bring hell to anybody wey try test me” in his sharp-tongued bars, deceptively coated with his syrupy vocals. Ruger also looks effortlessly cool while parading around the city with his namesake flag-waving crew and schoolkids in the accompanying visual.

Kizz Daniel, “RTID (Rich Till I Die)”

A breezy, infectious melody; a confident, carefree hook; a major key pop feel: What’s not to like? Kizz Daniel has been growing in popularity for a few years now, with his latest a perfect mood for a summertime afternoon — “I live the life that I love/ I love the life that I live” — that has the type of staying power to last into those months. With the release of its music video two weeks ago, it makes its debut on U.S. Afrobeats Songs at No. 29 on the chart dated Jan. 21, with the promise of warmer days ahead.

Teni, Mayorkun & Costa Titch feat. Ch’cco, “MAITAMA”

Teni had one of the best albums of the year in 2021 in her debut Wondaland, a lush collection of songs that established her as one of the brightest voices to emerge in the past few years. “MAITAMA” picks up right where that album left off, with an earworm of a melody and a propulsive beat that provides a platform for guests Mayorkun, Costa Titch and Ch’cco to leave their stamp. If this is a precursor to a sophomore album, there may already be an early contender for the best of the year.

Zinoleesky, “Personal”

Zinoleesky first caught our attention with his show-stopping verse on Lil Kesh’s 2022 hit “Don’t Call Me,” and his latest EP Grit & Lust, released just ahead of Christmas, is a welcome introduction to a new rising talent out of Nigeria. The whole project is worth checking out — a particular shout out to “Yan Yan Yan” — but “Personal” is another standout from the project, with a clean production leaving the singer/rapper to establish a thesis statement of sorts, and a promising future of what’s to come.

Seyi Vibez, “Alaska”

Seyi Vibez broke out last year with his Billion Dollar Baby album, introducing a fresh voice to the scene. But his five-song Memory Card EP is something else entirely: less produced, more insistent, with a raw feeling as if it simply spilled over from the street onto the record. “Alaska” is as good a representative of the project as any; its stripped-down instrumentation relies more on layered vocals and a stray flute than it does on anything traditional, as it bores its way into the memory almost involuntarily. An absolutely original voice.

Victony & Tempoe, “Soweto”

This song has been around for a minute now, but the song’s smooth, danceable beat, produced by Tempoe, is too infectious not to include here. The track peaked at No. 15 on U.S. Afrobeats Songs towards the end of last year, but its vibe has it leading playlists into 2023, while its playful lyrics and catchy melody have seen it stick around for months on the charts, with no signs of it going anywhere.

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