The 3 ABSOLUTELY HOTTEST Record Labels of 2012!

Davido Ndani TV with ToolzThe music industry here in the USA saw some really interesting times. Spotify launched officially in the USA in 2011 but gave us staggering figures in 2012, EMI sold to both Sony/ATV (EMI Publishing) and Universal (EMI Recorded Music), respectively. There was the dispute over royalty fees and Pandora leading the way in trying to get lower royalty rates for musicians, and so much more interesting and huge moves.   While all of these have been ongoing in the USA, what has happened to Nigeria’s music industry?

How about we start with the three (3) hottest record labels of 2012?

For AML purposes, I measure the “hottest” based on several criterion:

1. Deal making /joint ventures to expand the label and create more value both to the label, artists and Nigeria’s music industry eco system as a whole.

2. The consistency and the level of marketing and promotions undertaken by these labels throughout the year to  be in our faces and brand both the labels and the artists they represent.

3. The distribution. Yes, a lot of noise was made in terms of marketing and promotions but how far and wide were the music products (mp3s, albums, clothing merchandize, music videos, reaching others?) able to reach the end use i.e. the fans?

There were other factors but for brevity sake, I’ll stop with the above. Without further ado, the 3 “hottest” record labels of 2012 are:

1. HKN Records owned by 20year old executive Davido: HKN boss, Davido, just turned 20 years old a few weeks ago. However, while at 19 years, he made one thing clear this 2012, there is a new school of music entrepreneurs who cut past the bureaucracy, and they definitely define the future of Nigerian music and sounds.

There have been two key paradigm shifts in Nigeria’s music industry: 1) Thanks to the turn over rates of artists at the veteran label, Storm Records, many artists now believe they can manage their own labels. So we see popular artists managed labels which has given more incentive for many musicians (popular or not) to launch and operate their own labels; 2) there is a new school of artists, young fresh blood, that are dictating the direction that the music industry goes. (These young ones ) embrace and understand technology better than the old school labels and artists and they include persons like 19 now turned 20year old Davido of HKN Records.

Indeed, managed by the very young and serious business minded Asa Asika (relative of Storm executive Obi Asika) , HKN “destroyed” 2012 with total domination in almost every category. Again, when label heads in Nigeria tend to be  in their late 20s into early 30s onwards, 19year old Davido showed up and owned 2012.

Under his leadership and his management team led by Asa Asika, HKN opened 2012 with relatively good music videos and before 2012 was over, delivered at least five (5) videos. HKN toured Africa, performed in the UK and also Malaysia and just never stopped pushing.

Very often, in Nigeria and Africa’s music industry, there is never a consistency in delivery of music. Artists can give you an Mp3 today but for the rest of the year, they are no where to be found, leaving fans hanging. For HKN, they gave the continent and the African diaspora here in the USA and Europe various hits time and time again. The artist Davido was also so accessible and visible to the media all year long. I lost count of his numerous interviews including his brilliant album review segment with Factory 78.

He also finally closed the year winning many awards, performing in numerous concerts across Nigeria, and launching a successful (freshman) album; and distribut(ing) all of his works using the digital medium. There has been no word on the distribution of the physical copy of his freshman album (O.B.O) across Nigeria. However, if what we have seen in 2012 is anything to go by, I expect HKN to be very successful in that regards and possibly sign a distribution deal with one of the big names in Africa or equally big but unknown name in Africa who can make sure his product (O.B.O album) gets to every fan who desires it in 2013.

A job well done, for a 19year old recently turned 20, and his label is definitely #1 on my list of hottest record labels of 2012 coming out of Nigeria.

2. EME Records owned by Banky W, Segun Demuren, and co.: They steal my #2 spot. EME was on fire. They killed it on endorsement deals (Pepsi), joint venture/brand partnership deals (Akon/Konvict) and most importantly, consistency and great delivery. While it seemed like only Wizkid was the center of attention, the team regrouped to make sure they had diverse streams of income coming in from the rest of their artists to sustain the EME brand.

We may have started with Wizkid on our lips but we closed out with Wizkid, Skales and Niyola. They released their EME album with the whole EME artists and a few friends.They got their lump sum fee from Spinlet for the digital exclusive release on Spinlet platforms, while they set about pushing the EME brand along with their artists.

They also made some major inroads through their relationship with Akon/Konvict with meeting some popular hip-hop names in the USA and working with them in the studio through their artist Wizkid. In between all of that, they dropped some well executed music videos including the heart warming “Change” that was responsive to the socio-political issues in Nigeria, including Boko Haram, among others.

Lest we forget, EME also showed they were a brand that cared and were more than just making music and taking money from fans. Banky W was at the heart of immersing himself in the advocacy related to the #OccupyNigeria fuel subsidy movement. In addition, with all the political shennanigans between Nigeria’s performance rights organizations (PRO) COSON and MCSN, he chose to stake his claim with COSON (alleged sole PRO in the country) and hold a leadership role in the organization.

All was not smooth and spotless for EME, however. Beyond the workload and intensity of staying focused and delivering a brand experience synonymous with excellence, they had some hiccups starting with the Spinlet/EME Album digital distribution deal which saw fans angry at them, but mostly Spinlet. They also toured the USA but failed to follow through (two years in a row) with their promised Oakland concert which left a nasty taste in the mouth of  their Northern California fans.

However, they laid low and when that drama was over, they pleased and gained more fans, and completed their USA tour at the NEA Awards in September in New York. They also won awards left, right, front, center and back. The EME crew also orchestrated one of the best marketing/promotions/pr campaign we have seen in the industry, so far, with their relationship with Ropo Akin/Cokobar in the UK. They trusted Ropo Akin to deliver and he sure did with a well executed concert that amplified the Wizkid and EME brand.

Finally, they just closed out the year with the EME Baddest concert in Lagos, and managed to link up their star artist Wizkid with Chris Brown, on stage, at the Chris Brown Concert in Lagos. It will be interesting to see what they do in 2013.

I have a feeling Skales will be the money machine for EME in 2013. I also keep hearing from insiders and also in the news that Wizkid keeps talking about fronting his own record label. That ought to be interesting if that happens.

3. Square Records owned by Jude, Peter and Paul Okoye: I share my practical experiences gained over the course of twenty years in the fashion and entertainment and legal industries, here on AML, by using examples in Africa’s music industry on what not to do. One such example certainly has been Square Records.  However, for every issue I take on that challenges or explains how things could have been handled better, let’s not get it twisted that the Okoye men who run Square records are really on their hustle and making things happen.

This 2012, the label delivered time and time again. They collaborated in France with Matt Houston with a remix of their hit track ‘E No Easy.’ They followed up with a Rick Ross collaboration that was nothing short of fabulous for African music lovers worldwide. Further, coming off the launch of their “Invasion” album last year, they signed a music distribution deal this 2012 with Universal Music Group in South Africa, and spent 2012 performing extensively across Africa with a little stop in the UK, among other countries.

While they suffered a huge set back with the personal loss of their mother, and a bad publicity on their divorce with rising star May D.,  it did not seem to slow the Okoye team down. Indeed, it will be interesting to see what they serve up in 2013.

The above are my three hottest record labels of 2012. Who do you think should have been included as top 3? What’s your top 3?


Africa Music Law™

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Credited for several firsts in the fashion and entertainment industry, Uduak Oduok (Ms. Uduak) is a fashion and entertainment lawyer, speaker, visionary, gamechanger, trailblazer, and recognized thought leader, for her work on Africa’s emerging global fashion and entertainment markets, and the niche practice of fashion law in the United States. She is also the founder of ‘Africa Music Law,’ an industry go-to music business and law blog and podcast show empowering African artists. Her work in the creative and legal industries has earned her numerous awards and recognitions, including an award from the American University Washington College of Law for her “legal impact in the field of intellectual property in Africa." She has also taught as an Adjunct Professor at several institutions in the United States. For more information, visit her at

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  1. Foza says:

    My top 3 would be EME (for immense consistency), Trybe (for well branded revamping and acquistion of talents) and HKN(I would go with your analysis)

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