When was your first “it” moment? You know that instant when you heard a brilliant new artist and you remember exactly where and when you were as the hairs on your back stood? That moment when you instantly knew that you were witnessing the birth of a bona fide star? My first “it” moment was at Bar Fusion on Cottingham Road, Hull in December 2010 when the DJ put on a track called “Don’t Dull” by a rookie Nigerian artist called Wizkid.
I had never heard of Wizkid or his music before, but less than a minute into the song, my friends and I found ourselves on the dance floor gassing our heads off to this unknown song that absolutely slapped. This was a hit and we instantly knew it. Nine years later, history has been made but I have never forgotten that feeling of stumbling into pure musical talent and knowing that you are witnessing history.
The intervening period has seen no shortage of new artists promising a lot and delivering what ranges from very little to a fair bit. I had not felt that rush of excitement when discovering a new artist until I stumbled across a song called ‘Dumebi’ earlier in the year. I was having lunch at a restaurant and the music video came on. Five minutes later, with my food still untouched and losing heat, I was furiously Googling ‘Rema’ because “Wow, who is this kid?!”
That was my second “it” moment.
Profiling a Star
18 year-old Rema (real name Divine Ikubor) would probably not be thrilled to find himself on the cover of Tush Magazine being mentioned alongside ‘the other guy’ yet again, but the comparison is inevitable. Both scored their breakout hits as teenage protégés of established industry figures. Both quickly became every Nigerian (perhaps African) schoolgirl’s sweetheart as well as a guilty pleasure of the 24 – 40 year-old female demographic on the back of charming, boyish looks. Both started out with playful, age-appropriate music with a hint of naughtiness, and both had/have a big future ahead of them.
The similarities end there though. Instead of a flamboyant, hard-nosed product of the street, Rema cuts a more aloof, somewhat reserved figure that only comes alive when the music comes on. Having grown up in a middle class family in Benin where he honed his musical ability in church, free of the stress and craziness associated with Lagos, it is clear that Rema is a supremely talented, confident and unhurried young man with a laser focus on building his career. On a cursory observation, he is not the guy to get into twitter spats or public feuds. He wants to do all his talking in the studio and on the charts, and thus far there has been a lot of that.
His debut EP which had 4 songs spawned two hit singles Dumebi and Iron Man, whichbothcrossed the psychologically important mark of 1 million YouTube views in a matter of weeks. More impressively, just a few months into his frontline career, he is already building a substantial continental fan base. In an industry that is moving toward global convergence with increased genre-hopping, this places Rema in a unique position to explore new territory and open previously locked doors for young Nigerian music acts. He certainly has the talent to justify the optimism, and then there is the small matter of the music industry juggernaut that is behind him.
Coincidences Don’t Exist
Rema is not the first talented young artist to burst on the scene in a blaze of talent and promise. Where others rapidly plateaued or fell by the wayside however, his case is very unlikely to go the same way, and this is because of two words – Mavin Records. In Don Jazzy and Tega Oghenejobo, he has arguably Nigeria’s most seasoned duo of music business managers behind him. Unlike other talented young acts who rose to prominence through stage appearances and album features with established artists, Rema was announced to the world in a snazzy Instagram video, complete with music videos and an entire EP prepared ahead of time to plug into the burst of publicity.
The message was clear – this guy is a star already, check him out!
Thus far, he has lived up to the hype in terms of public reception, song airplay, chart positions and personal brand positioning. None of this is down to luck or raw talent. Mavin Records has put an incredible amount of work into creating the (un)finished product. In fact, to understand how Divine the church boy from Benin morphed into Rema the budding African pop superstar, one needs to dive into his personal history a bit.
Reportedly obsessed with music from an early age, Divine started his musical career at the ripe old age of 11, rapping and singing at churches across Benin. In 2018, he appeared on the radar of Jonzingworld Records CEO D’Prince. The record executive, who is Don Jazzy’s younger brother and a founding member of the defunct Mo’Hits Records heard of a promising young talent who could rap and sing in equal measure, with smooth, velvet looks and the voice of a sweetheart.
D’Prince sent Rema a DM via Instagram and Rema was on aboard a flight to Lagos and the rest is now history. His vision was to create a shared management deal with Mavin Records to bring him to the limelight as more than just another talented artist who would achieve moderate success and find a comfy plateau. What he wanted was to maximize the kid’s full range of abilities – from singing to dancing, to modeling to rapping – so he could become a one-man creativity and marketing machine in the mold of a typical Korean pop idol.
A few months later, following an intensive period of coaching, studio work and a rebrand that saw him adopt the stage name Rema, Don Jazzy announced him as the latest addition to the superstar Mavin Records roster. He joined some of Nigeria’s biggest names in music including Tiwa Savage, Aphrodija, Korede Bello, Johnny Drille, Dr. Sid, DNA Twins, Poe and D’Prince. If he was ever fazed or star struck by his stratospheric environment, he never showed it. Honed by years of practise, Rema consistently delivers onstage and in the studio as though he is an industry veteran.
On an individual level, Rema is at a stage in his career where he has the opportunity to become as good as he wants. He has the sexy boy-next-door appeal of a 2012 Davido, the undoubted talent and confidence of Burna Boy with none of the visible ego, the consistency of Kizz Daniel and the stagecraft of a young D’banj. Don Jazzy must look at him and lick his lips at the thought of breaking into the lucrative global streaming market. Of course being Don Jazzy, he has already planned for that scenario.
It is no coincidence that the deal with Rema came shortly after Mavin Records signed a groundbreaking partnership deal with Kupanda Holdings that injected investment into the label for a new phase of continental and global expansion. At a time when African cultural elements like food and music are making an unprecedented breakout in global markets led by young Nigerians, Rema is at the vanguard of a new generation of Nigerian talent that is positioned to open doors and change the game permanently. Speaking about Rema some months back, Don Jazzy had this to say:
“Rema is a formidable young artist: with his skill and versatility, he has a unique place in the future of Afro beats. At the same time, we’re excited to launch our first imprint deal with Jonzingworld.”
If like you ever slept on an emerging music phenomenon until something finally forced you to sit up and take notice, then you definitely want to take note of Rema right now.
This kid is going places.