As I prepared for this weeks’ post in Weekly Music Commentary, I searched for words that would properly describe the featured artist. One word in particular might be appropriate because it closely resembles his stage name. Yes, singer/songwriter WizKid started out as a “Whiz Kid”. According to Merriam-Webster dictionary a whiz kid is a person who is unusually intelligent, clever, or successful especially at an early age. Of course, that definition might be applied to a significant number of young people around the world. However the term is normally used to describe a child prodigy. With that knowledge we can better appreciate that the term “whiz kid” may describe very few talented young people.
In psychology research literature, the term child prodigy is defined as a person under the age of ten who produces meaningful output in some domain to the level of an adult expert performer. Child prodigies are rare; and, in some domains, there are no child prodigies at all. Prodigiousness in childhood does not always predict adult eminence. In the realm of music, some notable examples are Wolfgang Mozart and Felix Mendelssohn. In modern times Stevie Wonder certainly would fit the definition and description.
Does our featured artist WizKid fit the description of a whiz kid? The best way to find out might be to look at his life and musical beginnings.
Ayodeji Ibrahim Balogun, better known by his stage name Wizkid was born July 16, 1990 in Surulere, a residential and commercial area of Lagos. He grew up with twelve female siblings. In a 2012 radio interview with Tim Westwood, he said that his father has three wives. Some might consider that a disadvantage, but Wizkid used his female dominant surroundings to help him further his musical career. From them, he “learned to listen to what women go through,” he says. “I also have a lot of female friends and pay attention to their stories. So a lot of my songs are inspired by the thoughts and feelings of women.”
Wizkid started singing at age 11 and went by the stage name Lil Prinz until 2006. During an interview with Adesope of Factory 78 TV, Wizkid described his life in a nutshell. He said he formed a group called the Glorious Five with a couple of his church friends. The group managed to release an album prior to disbanding. Wizkid later met OJB Jezreel, a record producer who prevented him from recording for a year. While visiting OJB’s PointBeat Studios frequently, he watched 2 Face Idibia record songs for his Grass 2 Grace album. He was also present during the recording sessions for Sound Sultan’s début album, Jagbajantis. Wizkid cited Naeto C as one of the people who mentored and coached him when he was 15 years old. Wizkid also told Factory 78 TV that his parents weren’t receptive of his music from the onset. In order to gain his father’s trust, he had to work hard and spend lots of time in the studio. Wizkid co-wrote Banky W’s “Omoge You Too Much”, a song off The W Experience album. He also worked with Naeto C, OJB Jezreel, Ikechukwu, and M.I while developing his craft. In 2009, Wizkid inked a record deal with Banky W.’s Empire Mates Entertainment. In mid-2009, he dropped out of Lagos State University (LASU) to focus on his craft. He later attended Lead City University, but dropped out after completing two sessions.
Like many talented young musicians, early guidance is an important part of their developement. WizKid’s relationship with OJB Jezreel and Naeto C were very important, providing him with part of the steady influence necessary for his musical success. The young artist enjoyed other influences while young. Also as a child, WizKid listened to the music of Nigerian Afro-Beat masters King Sunny Ade and Fela, the latter remaining a key musical influence on him. Bob Marley had a regular place on the family turntable and remains an artist WizKid turns to for relaxation. Through friends, he got introduced to American MCs who were making an impact in Nigeria such as Bow Wow, Master P and Snoop Dogg.
After dropping out of college, the time came for WizKid to work on his début solo album Superstar. The work started years ago by his team of influencers was about to pay off in a big way. Superstar incorporated elements of R&B, dance hall and reggae. Although the album had a main Afrobeat sound, the sound of the aforementioned genres are clear throughout the album, specifically on “Tease Me/Bad Guys”, “Gidi Girl” and “Slow Whine”. The album’s themes deal primarily with starting from the bottom and reaching to the top, i.e. from grass to grace. The album lived up to its hype in the end as it garnered the Best Album of the Year award at the 2012 Nigeria Entertainment Awards. It was nominated for Album of the Year and Best R&B/Pop Album at The Headies 2012.
Wizkid quickly became one of the top acts in the world and worked with artists from various countries and musical genres. He was established not just as a popular Nigerian musician, but a well-known artist around the globe.
On April 5, 2016, Wizkid became Nigeria’s first artist to emerge on Billboard’s Twitter Last 24 hours chart following his guest feature on Drake’s afrobeat-infused “One Dance” single, which charted at number 21 and in May 12, 2016, the song reached number-one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, a position it kept for 10 non-consecutive weeks. The single went on to become an international smash hit, topping the charts in 15 different countries, including the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, France and Germany. The single thereby became Wizkid’s first number-one single as a featured artist in these territories.
Earlier this year, on July 14, 2017, WizKid released his third studio album Sounds From The Other Side. Now a true international superstar, Sounds From The Other Side would be available everywhere. A 2016 performance at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center at a sold out arena show of African pop music let American audiences know WizKid was
coming to take his place amongst this country’s pop élite. Just because he’ll be releasing music on a United States based label doesn’t mean WizKid is changing his approach. “I’m not diluting things to satisfy an American audience,” he says firmly. “Africa is my heart. I really want my Nigerian fans, my core fans, to get it.” Fans around the world also “get it”.
I guess the descriptions of “whiz kid” and prodigy fit as we look back on WizKid’s start as a young musician and eventual growth to mega star. With all the accolades, it seems WizKid is sticking with the music that got him to the top. Just a regular WizKid.