The Billboard Hot 100 debut of Wizkid’s “Essence” in July became the culmination of a nearly yearlong global expedition, after the song arrived on Made in Lagos, the Nigerian artist’s second album under RCA Records and his own Starboy Entertainment imprint, last October. RCA executive vp A&R Tunji Balogun recalls first tracing the track’s growth from beyond Africa to the United Kingdom, where Wizkid has a strong performance history and radio presence. From there, “Essence,” the sultry downtempo song featuring singer-producer Tems, crossed over to the United States as the country slowly reopened in spring, with Balogun noticing a sizable increase in streams every Saturday as more parties took place.
“That song has become emblematic of being back outside,” he says. “Then, a narrative on the internet started about the song being the song of the summer — and we took that energy and ran with it.” Adds Wizkid: “We just came out of the craziest pandemic … Afrobeats just spreads love around a room when you play it.”
The label rereleased “Essence” as a single in April, accompanied by a music video filmed in Ghana that has over 18 million YouTube views. Balogun says its Hot 100 debut (the song currently sits at No. 67) feels “extremely gratifying” and underlines how pairing a flagship Afrobeats artist with a rising star like Tems, also from Lagos, is “breaking barriers globally.” The hit also topped Billboard’s World Digital Song Sales chart and entered the Billboard Global 200, becoming the first song on the tally to contain vocals in Nigeria’s Yoruba dialect.
Wizkid has had U.S. success before, as a collaborator to Western superstars: His feature on Drake’s “One Dance” became both his first Hot 100 entry and No. 1 in 2016, while this year, he earned his first Grammy Award for best music video for his collaboration on Beyoncé’s “Brown Skin Girl.”
“This is the first time where it feels like a song is competing on the level of a similarly promoted song from Western artists in the pop genre,” says Balogun. “And I hope that’s the lasting influence of the record — that it opens doors for more people with different styles and different textures.”