It’s hard to talk about 2012 (the year the world was supposed to end) without discussing the dissolution of one of Nigeria’s most impactful creative marriages: Don Jazzy and D’banj’s Mo’Hits Records. 

Seven years after breaking onto the music scene with D’banj’s Tongolo, Mo’Hits Records had become a household name, gotten recognition from international heavyweights like Kanye West and Jay Z, introduced a wide range of Afropop stars and delivered some of what we now consider classic Nigerian albums. While questions surrounding the split remain unanswered, the most pertinent one on everyone’s lips was what Don Jazzy would do, especially after he’d lost the Beyoncé to the group’s Destiny’s Child? 

Armed with the creative talents of his remaining label mates: Dr Sid, Wande Coal, D’Prince, and the hottest female act at the time, Tiwa Savage, Don Jazzy introduced the world to a new musical powerhouse, Mavin Records, in the same year. 

Ten years after rising like a proverbial phoenix, from the ashes of its predecessor, Mavin Records has become one of the most influential labels in Nigeria and Africa. The label has positioned a wide variety of artists across different subgenres and generations as major players in the ongoing infiltration of Afrobeats into the global music space. From icons like Tiwa Savage and Wande Coal to Gen Z game-changers like Ayra Starr and Rema, Mavin is on the pulse of what’s happening now and what’s next when it comes to Nigerian music. 

The first lady phenomenon 

Before there was Niyola repping Banky W’s Empire Mates Music or Emma Nyra holding it down for Iyanya’s Made Men Music Group, Mavin Records gave us Tiwa Savage. 

A bonafide star in her own right thanks to a string of well-received singles like Kele Kele Love and Love Me x3, Tiwa Savage’s addition to Mavin Records was a plus for both sides. Her arrival changed the game with a female artist finally taking up space and going toe-to-toe with the male stars. From live shows to endorsements and chart success, Tiwa has remained a formidable name in Nigerian music, year after year. 

Tiwa’s success with and outside Mavin Records has been instrumental to getting more female acts through the door. Mavin Records made having a label first lady cool, and everyone else jumped on that train. 

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Gambling with the alté scene 

Before Ladipoe became one of the most thirsted-after rappers with hits like Running, Feeling and Know You, he was known within alté circles as Poe, the underrated rapper whose sick flows featured on countless Show Dem Camp records, especially Feel Alright. The transition from underrated to genre leader started when Ladipoe signed with Mavin in 2017 in a surprise move from the label known to sign artists with Afropop-leanings. 

The question of how Ladipoe’s originality would fit into the pop engine was raised several times. While songs like Jaiye hinted at how the creative merger could play out, it wasn’t until 2021’s Feeling, that a sweet spot was discovered, and Ladipoe became a certified hitmaker. 

Johnny Drille is another example of Mavin’s decision to take risks with sounds most Nigerians are still trying to figure out. Over the past few years, the Jon Bellion-influenced Afro-folk singer has organically expanded his audience thanks to the backing of a label like Mavin Records. 

These signings, which helped obscure artists break into the mainstream, have inspired other labels to take a gamble with new sounds, further expanding the soundscape of Afrobeats in Nigeria. 

Gen Z infiltration

From Wizkid to Davido, Nigeria has had teen pop stars before. But it wasn’t until Mavin introduced Ayra Starr in 2021 that the idea of a teen female pop star became a reality. The business of teen female pop stars is one of the most enduring and lucrative aspects of the global music space (Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus, Olivia Rodrigo). Still, for reasons not far removed from sexism, no one thought of investing in a Nigerian female teen pop star until Away dropped in 2021. 

In just over a year, Ayra Starr has become a leader in the ongoing gen z takeover, and it’s not only the music — there’s fashion, social media and endorsements. Ayra’s signing to Mavin was a game changer, but even before her, there was that kid from Benin, Rema. 

2019 was the year of Rema, and there’s no denying it. Seemingly coming out of nowhere, the then 19-year-old stormed the scene with his exciting fusion of Afrobeats and trap. Dumebi, his lead single, topped the charts and ended up on President Barack Obama’s year-end annual playlist. At 22, Rema has become a major Afrobeats powerhouse with a world tour under his belt, features on the recent Black Panther: Wakanda Forever soundtrack and an international fan list that includes Selena Gomez, Jaden Smith and Madonna. 

A diverse but intentional portfolio 

At this rate, it’s safe to say Mavin activates at least one new artist every year. Over the last ten years, the label’s roster has expanded beyond founding members: Tiwa Savage, Wande Coal, Dr Sid, D’Prince and Don Jazzy to include other artists like Di’Ja, Reekado Banks, Korede Bello, DNA, Crayon, Ladipoe, Johnny Drille, Rema, Ayra Starr, Magixx, Iyanya, Boy Spyce, and latest signee, Bayanni. 

While most labels might struggle to create individual identities or prioritise each signee, Mavin has ensured each artist puts out a well-rounded project while maintaining the ethos of their original sound. Each artist has clear strengths and adapts them to fit the Nigerian audience. 

Not all Mavin Records’ risks have paid off — artists like Di’Ja and Korede Bello have struggled to move past the one-hit wonder tag. Regardless, Mavin Records has refused to be complacent regarding the artists it signs and the music it puts into the market. 

While a lot has been said about how the big three: Wizkid, Burna Boy and Davido have helped propel Afrobeats — the music and culture — onto the global stage, it would be remiss not to acknowledge the impact Mavin Records has had on expanding the Nigerian music scene. 

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