A Critical Look at Tiwa Savage’s Roc Nation Deal

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Ikenna Bede

There is no doubt that Tiwa Savage has stamped her name in the annals of entertainment as one of the few female artistes to launch a successful solo career. She stormed the music scene in 2010 with her infectious hit ‘Kele Kele Love,’ and ever since, she has kept the hits coming.

Tiwa has managed to creep into the heart of many Nigerians with her eclectic oeuvre of hit songs fashioned for just about anyone. In a male dominated industry, she has managed to clinch major endorsement deals, won major awards and wowed thousands with her sweet melodies; a rare quality she shares with the vocal trinity of the 80s (Onyeka, Christy and Evi).

Recently, Tiwa, accompanied by Don Jazzy, embarked on a trip to New York in a bid to conclude talks on signing her to Jay Z’s label; Roc Nation. The label houses stars like J. Cole, T.I, Emeli Sande and Shakira.

Following the launch of the rebranded music streaming site Tidal in 2015 (with Jay Z as major shareholder), Jay Z initiated the hunt for an African presence on the platform. Tidal faces strong challenges from giant streaming music sites like Spotify and Apple music; in an effort to increase subscriber base, he at the time commissioned his cousin to carry out the feasibility studies in Nigeria.

To this effect, Tidal also pulled the ‘exclusivity’ card; a move that has greatly impaired first week album sales projections of big stars like Rihanna (Roc Nation) and Kanye West (G.O.O.D. Music) – both co-owners.
This is the first time a Nigerian act will get such a deal. D’banj enjoyed little to no career advancement after signing to G.O.O.D music. The signing of D’banj to G.O.O.D music followed his not so amicable departure from Mo’hit. In order to avoid law suits as D’banj was a co-founder, Don Jazzy established Mavins Records which absorbed Tiwa as its first lady.

Tiwa getting signed on this massive platform sure opens doors for other female acts in the game. It also creates an imaginary line drawn to vividly differentiate her meticulously curated brand from other upcoming and few established local acts and mostly room for up-and-comers to thrive without sensing any immediate pressure.

Exposure is one thing Tiwa will experience: Gaining access to be opening acts for the likes of Alicia Keys or perhaps Beyonce would be a huge milestone in her career. As a gifted songwriter, she would have many artistes trying to work with her. Who knows? She might get one of her old songs sampled as in the case of Rita Ora sampling Nneka’s song on her ‘RIP’ track.

Also, one can only wonder why Tiwa wants to get signed-off Mavins to Roc Nation. Could it be due to her failed marriage? Avenue to grow as an artiste? Or just for the fame and attention it creates? Following trends, most artistes who formerly were popular seem to be in a limbo after being signed to an international label. Notable acts includes B.O.U.Q.U.I. (Xist Records USA) and Brymo (Tate Music Group USA)
Tiwa is arguably the ‘Beyonce’ of the Nigerian music industry although she faces subtle competition from the likes of Yemi Alade and Seyi Shay; would signing this record deal draw her closer to the Nigerian audience who already identify with her style of music, thus maintaining her relevance? Would it help her to flawlessly fuse Nigerian music genres and Western influences to create a global appeal and put Nigerian music on the map? Or simply put her off as faking her artistry and being overzealous?
Many have threaded this path and have failed for the simple fact that once Nigerians identify with one’s first work, they expect you to grow but never to change.

Another question to be asked is why Roc Nation really wants Tiwa signed. Scouting so hard to pick our very best, but to what end? The founder of Roc Nation is a major player in Tidal music streaming services and is more than eager to expand his subscriber base. Handpicking Tiwa who we already identify as a music goddess would be ‘perfect avenue’ to lure African subscribers.

How does this work, one may ask? If Tiwa releases an album under Roc Nation, it becomes a ‘Tidal exclusive,’ forcing loyal fans to join the Tidal platform, in effect increasing subscriber base. If Tiwa fails to pull the African audience to the tidal platform, will it lead to dropping her?

Tiwa is a household name in Nigeria and known in select African countries, so would exclusivity do the trick? It’s more like a limitation to her, from this standpoint. Another problem; how many Nigerians would be willing to subscribe to Tidal in this era of free music downloads?

The high rate of piracy may spell doom for Tiwa; physical forms could be bought and then multiplied by a music pirate thus flooding the market with cheap illegal copies. Also, free music sites in a bid to increase traffic to their sites will not hesitate in uploading her entire catalogue for free download, thus resulting in poor sales for Tiwa in her home country.

Her work at Roc Nation might be of critical success (undoubtedly), but when sales figures come in low; that translates into failure. Failure to impress the Roc Nation /Tidal family may lead to termination of Tiwa’s contract. But can she deliver on the global scene based on sales?

Could Seyi Shay or Yemi Alade have been a better option? Tiwa had international exposure as backup singer to stars like Whitney Houston but so has Seyi Shay who played lead vocalist to the now defunct British girl group ‘From Above,’ assembled by Mathew Knowles.

Yemi might not have adequate international exposure as the former two, but she sure has a stronger presence and mostly accoladed for her depiction of ‘African influences’ in her songs. Did Tidal consider these options?

If Tiwa successfully pulls off the release of her first album with Roc Nation, what does the future hold? The struggle by international acts to churn out albums is real. Rihanna under Def Jam Record released seven albums within a very short period of time in order to renew her lopsided contract. Can Tiwa survive this kind of pressure? Time will tell.