Thanks to TikTok, Asake is Afrobeats' Next Global Star
by Beverly Bryan, a Third Bridge Creative contributor who writes about music and culture
Early last month, Asake’s debut album Mr. Money With the Vibe broke out so swiftly and decisively it was shocking. On September 9, two days after its release, the Nigerian Afrobeats artist placed a whopping six tracks on the Apple Daily Top 100. Since entering the Billboard 200 at No. 66, Mr. Money is now the highest charting debut album from Nigeria. And in his home country, he is dominating both the Spotify and Apple Top 10.
Asake, given name Ahmed Ololade, is part of a rising generation of street pop in Nigeria, a subgenre representing a grittier side of Afrobeats. As the name suggests, the sound is closely tied to the streets of Lagos and the city’s famously frenetic energy. Street pop leans into traditional elements of Afropop but infuses it with hip-hop attitude, and with a recognizably Nigerian accent. It’s not aimed at international audiences, or even all Nigerians, which is why Asake’s rise is so surprising. His knack for chronicling streetlife and his polished, hooky sound strike a winning balance between authenticity and pop appeal.
The 27-year-old singer and songwriter only started releasing music in 2018, making his ascendance in Nigeria’s music industry almost unprecedented. No African artist has achieved this level of breakout success so quickly. Comparable artists—Wizkid, Burna Boy or Mr. Eazi, for example—released several albums over a period of years before scoring international hits and establishing dominance at home. Even labelmate Fireboy DML released two albums before the success of his single “Peru” in 2021.
The only truly comparable career arc for a Nigerian artist is that of CKay. The remix of his 2019 album track “love nwantiti (ah ah ah)” went massively viral on TikTok in 2021 and became an international hit. He went on to become the first African artist with 20 million monthly listeners on Spotify. Virality on the video sharing platform is something Asake, Fireboy DML and CKay all have in common, and it may be the key to the success of all three. Fireboy DML’s “Peru” remix with Ed Sheeran was a TikTok hit that is still trending, with 73,800 posts.
Asake’s “Bandana,” a collaboration with Fireboy DML released in July, initially looks like the former’s most significant hit. It’s his most popular track on Spotify, with over 14 million streams. The single “Terminator” and album tracks “Organise” and “Joha” appear to be the current heat-seekers. The current No. 2 Apple Music track in Nigeria is his silky, Auto-Tune soaked “Joha,” which has the currently popular #johadancechallenge hashtag on TikTok to thank for its position. But a closer look reveals that an earlier single’s TikTok trajectory may have been a much more important watershed moment on his path to success.
“Peace Be Unto You (PBUY)” is a stirring, minor-key Afrobeats anthem that, like many of Asake’s songs, folds the busy rhythms of Yoruba Fújì music and the uplifting keyboards of South Africa’s kwaito-derived amapiano into his street-pop recipe. The lyrics, which are in English, Yoruba, and Arabic, express confidence in his continued success and express an intention to stay focused on his goals now that he has achieved a certain level of fame. Released on June 16, the song promptly went viral and is now featured in more than nearly a million TikTok posts that have collectively been viewed more than 102 million times.
The song got a boost from the hashtag #pbuychallenge. The hashtag mostly consists of TikTokers passing judgment on others via the bridge, which issues a sharp warning in Yoruba. The Muslim prayer and Arabic refrain of “as-salamu, alaykum,” meaning “peace be unto you,” seems to have become a rallying point for Muslim fans who used the song in Eid transformation videos. Asake is Muslim by birth and does not shy away from his religious identity in his music or public persona. It’s not an accident here that the song came out during Eid in Nigeria. Fújì music is typically associated with the holiday.
The release of “Peace Be Unto You (PBUY)” coincided with the announcement of his debut album and absolutely raised his online name recognition. In the month of June he went from 28,000 TikTok followers to more than 76,700, his fastest period of growth on the platform, and those numbers only started to level off after he hit 100,000 in mid-July. The “Peace Be Unto You (PBUY)” video, released at the same time as the single itself, gave him a bump of about 20,000 followers on YouTube. It’s his number three track on the platform. His Spotify followers grew by 38,083 in June with the biggest single-day jump coming on June 16. His growth across the major streaming and social media platforms would snowball in the following months. He now has more than 333,000 followers on Spotify and 2,195,926 monthly listeners, and “Peace Be Unto You (PBUY)” seems to have set all this in motion.
If Asake is Afrobeats’ next breakout sensation, it may be precisely because of how well his music plays on TikTok. His tracks, videos and consistent personal style all seem tailor-made for maximum virality. He rarely appears without a striking pair of sunglasses and some trendy footwear, such as insulated Yeezy boots or platform Crocs. Full, top-and-bottom gold grills are a recent addition to his brand. He’s not big on sleeves.
It’s worth noting that the cases of Asake, Fireboy DML and CKay breaking out on TikTok are all of recent vintage—all have arrived since 2019, which also happens to be the year that TikTok started investing financially in getting Africans to adopt TikTok. The investment has been paying off. TikTok is growing quickly in Nigeria. Popular African dance styles are especially at home on the platform and the combined power of viral dance challenges and infectious Afropop helped create plenty of pan-African and global hits from the continent in the last few years.
Asake is only the most recent African artist to get a major boost from the video sharing app. Besides CKay and Fireboy DML, Afrobeats superstar Wizkid’s 2019 single “Joro” got a major bump in 2021 from the #jorochallenge, which required TikTokers to wine their waists to the song while keeping a bottle balanced on their heads.
Danceable, lighthearted, viciously hooky and characterized by addictive rhythms, Afrobeats is the perfect genre for TikTok, and we may soon see more rapid ascents like Asake’s. As more African musicians adopt the platform and the international audience becomes more familiar with the genre, prepare to hear more infectious tunes in the vein of “Peace Be Unto You”—including hits penned by Asake himself. He’s gathered a vocal fanbase on and off the platform in a short period of time and knows how to leverage the medium, proving that Nigerians on TikTok are here to stay.