2014. Alliance Francaise, Accra. That was where I witnessed KiDi’s performance for the first time. He wasn’t a headliner for the night. He was one of the upcoming acts granted some minutes of stage time to showcase his gifts to the audience. He performed John Legend’s love ballad “All of You”, putting his spin on the song. Though a good performance, the nitpicking spirit in me was critical of his excessive performance – the vocal embellishments were a bit over the top.
Prior to seeing him that night, KiDi’s name had been floating around as one to watch, especially among students of the University of Ghana, his alma mater. He had carved quiet a good reputation through his campus performances at Moonlight Cafe organized events. It was, therefore not a surprise when he contested in the 2015 edition of MTN Hitz Maker, a music reality show, and won. The platform helped harness his potential by stretching his talents from the RnB/Soul performances that he had become known for. The MTN Hitz Maker platform helped groom him to become a pop star by challenging him to tap into other genres of music, which were not within his comfort zone.
Winning the competition and signing to Lynx Entertainment marked his march towards stardom and the fulfillment of his dream. The transition from an amateur singer to a professional, thus began. Lynx Entertainment, arguably the most successful record label in the last decade, had Mzvee on its roster and would sign Kuami Eugene, second runner up at the 2016 MTN Hitz Maker competition later. For KiDi to prove himself as an artist worth trusting and supporting on a label such as Lynx ( a label which had earned a reputation as a ‘hits factory”), he had to sacrifice a bit of himself, his musical leanings and fit the Lynx model.
Success did not happen overnight. A series of misses was chalked by KiDi in his earlier days. The fans who have supported him through his days at the University of Ghana, felt betrayed by KiDi’s new musical angling under Lynx Entertainment. That is, these core fans were disappointed seeing their favorite artist moving away from the RnB/Soul, love heavy ballads that he was known for, to trying to fit into the Afropop musical climate that was breaking out at that time.
For them, KiDi was “selling out”. These criticisms grew louder when his earlier singles failed to chart. For music watchers, the Afropop lane KiDi was being ‘forced’ to chart was visibly a discomforting one. While KiDi was struggling to fit into the musical paradigm at Lynx, his other label mates, Kuami Eugene and MzVee were witnessing a surge in their musical fortunes.
Time was ticking. Fans of KiDi were foaming at the mouth. The artist, I assume, was getting the jitters. But the label kept faith with him, while directing his next moves. In 2017, KiDi witnessed a silver lining in his career. He scored the biggest break in his career with two singles – “Say You Love Me” and “Odo”. These smash hits elevated KiDi to the front of the music pack.
“Odo”, the afropop bop was a musical collage of varied interpolations of notable songs by other artists. The style – what I would describe as the Kuami Eugene format- gave the song its catchy feel in the sense of knowing the lyrics of the song, thus being able to sing along. The opening line “see me I no get 30 billion”, referenced the memorable lines in Nigerian pop star, Davido’s grand hit “IF”.
Armed with the code to making pop records, KiDi and Lynx Entertainment never looked back. “Odo” was so big that it attracted a remix from Davido and his signed act Mayorkun. KiDi would go on to release other singles like “Adiepena”, “Mr. Badman” and more, employing the same collaging template. His debut album, “Sugar”, adjudged the best album of 2019 at the 21st Edition of the Vodafone Ghana Music Awards had close to 15 interpolations across the 14 songs on the album.
As the success poured, so rained the same, old criticism from fans about missing the RnB KiDi. They called on Lynx to literally offer him the creative freedom to be himself, ply the lane he feels comfortable by creating music that caters for his day ones. But, as it is with business of record labels, and in Lynx Entertainment’s strategy, that time was not anywhere close.
As one of the top 5 performing artists in the country, 2019 saw him riding the wave of his past songs and some newer records, culminating in performances on stages like AfroNation Festival and Detty Rave in December. In January, 2020, KiDi would release one of the biggest songs of his career. “Enjoyment”, an uptempo, afro danceable song with digestible lyrics ensured KiDi had the year 2020 in a chokehold. Nine months since “Enjoyment” was released, the song is still making rounds on radio and raking in streaming numbers on various digital streaming services. “Enjoyment” has grossed a total of 750,000 streams on Boomplay with 4.5 million views on YouTube.
As the unwritten edict in today’s music world stipulates, you don’t let go of the steam you are enjoying as an artist. It is next to suicidal to not follow up with another hot single or a body of work that would keep your name buzzing longer. KiDi and the Lynx team capitalized on this unwritten rule with the release of “Blue EP” under a partnership with Universal Music Group.
“Blue EP” was a vindication of the call by KiDi’s longtime fans who have been clamouring for him to make the kind of music that they knew him for- RnB/Soul type. “Blue” embodied some of these elements. The EP is the best body of work released by the 27-year-old artist till date.
At five songs, “Blue” is a tape that had a song for every listener. It’s short, sonically different, and not boring. Blue EP did not lean heavily on R&B as fans expected. It, however, incorporated different shades of the genre. The lead single of the EP, “Say Cheese” was tailor-made for the ladies. The accompanying video of the “Say Cheese” was crafted for social media, and has amassed 2.9M views on YouTube. Paul (@kojoayitey), an entertainment enthusiast made the following observations about the EP:
“Blue EP” was him (KiDi) taking a leap at experimentation. His ardent fans thought “Blue” was going to be an R&B project, being that he has an R&B formative past and possibly the title a play on the genre. But he delivered an experimental extension of “Sugar”, albeit with a setting laid by beats diverse in nature: “Say Cheese” (Afro-fusion + Hip Hop 8080s prod. by Kayso), “Next Time I See You” (90s R&B prod by Altranova), “End In Tears” (R&B), “One Man” ft. Adina (Afrobeats) and “Freaky Lord” (Highlife). The reception, numbers, and success from his leap of faith means eclectic KiDi is the way. He needs not to box himself”.
As Paul indicated, the streaming numbers for “Blue” is in the millions, about 1.2M streams on Boomplay Music.. It goes to attest to how enjoyable the tape was. The viral moment that underscored “Say Cheese” led to the legendary American producer, Teddy Riley remixing the record.
The enemy of KiDi this year has been COVID-19 which halted any social activity from March this year. This meant KiDi missed the opportunity to perform his two big records, especially during the Easter period. The bookings would have been major which would have translated into financial gains for both the artist and his label.
That, however, did not suffice but the popularity of the two songs – “Enjoyment” and “Say Cheese” (off his Blue EP) – have proven that KiDi could find a balance between making a pop record (Afropop jams) and songs that satisfy the taste of his RnB loving fans when offered creative control.