Rema Is Leading the Next Generation of Nigerian Pop – Pitchfork

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Born Divine Ikubor, Rema grew up in Nigeria’s bustling Benin City, near the country’s southern coast. He was forced to mature early on, after his father died from asthma-related issues when Rema was only 8 years old. Then, in 2015, his older brother passed away as well. He was forced to go to get a job to help out his mom, who worked as a trader of wholesale goods. “I was lost after losing my brother,” says Rema, suddenly stoic. “I had to change the way I talk, the way I act, and fight to make it in society.” He fell in love with music at his church, which took a split service approach—adults went to one session and teenagers another. He used that freedom to start a rap group, enlisting some of his fellow young churchgoers. “We had to do it all on our own because the adults weren’t ready for that yet,” says Rema. Slowly, the grownups came around to his group—but only after he added certain elements. “Everyone just listens to Afrobeats here, so we had to attract them with costumes and dance moves,” he says. “It’s where I learned that if I want to impress someone I have to do what they like plus what I like.” In 2018, a bored Rema randomly decided to drop a front-seat freestyle to Afropop star D’Prince’s “Gucci Gang” on social media. The post got around, and Rema soon received a DM from D’Prince himself. The teenager was quickly flown to Lagos to record. “At the time I only had trap songs, so when [D’Prince] put me in the studio with an Afrobeats producer I was scared,” Rema explains. “But I just mixed my trap vibes in and didn’t force it.” D’Prince took the music to his older brother, Mavin Records founder Don Jazzy, and Rema became the powerhouse label’s latest signee. “I was screaming ‘Yes, oh my god yes!” Rema recalls, looking like he’s about to burst into tears of happiness all over again. “The biggest label in Nigeria wanted me.” Recently, Rema released a follow-up EP that offers polished versions of his trap-leaning Instagram freestyles, displaying his effortless composure when faced with any style of beat. It quickly shot to the top of his home country’s Apple Music chart; as of this writing, four of the Top 10 most streamed songs in Nigeria are Rema songs. Reacting to his skyrocketing popularity, the young singer laughs in disbelief and exclaims, “What can I say, I’m a superstar!”