Joeboy has the handbook of making sleeper hits. And let me tell you this: sleeper hits are the best kind of hits. They function like slow poison, lingering in the atmosphere, waiting for the right time to attack. The singer has been on an upward trajectory since he crept into the hearts of music listeners with his smash hit single, Baby. He sings like a lover boy, a devoted lover boy. His music is a sweet blend of RnB and Afropop.
Contemporary Afrobeats allow artists to do things their way. For Joeboy, his strategy is straightforward. He is particular about making short songs. And the reason for this is simple: when people hear the song, they’re inclined to listen again. And again. This strategy has worked effectively for the singer. Social media is rife with jokes about the shortness of Joeboy’s songs.
Joeboy is currently in a healthy place in his career, and deservedly so. He has stayed resolute in the pursuit of his dreams, and one song at a time, he’s turning his dreams into reality. After teasing fans for a long time, he released his debut studio album, Somewhere Between Beauty & Magic, in February 2021. The album generated attention for some time, then it seemed to die down. Out of nowhere, some songs on the album started picking up, finding their way back into airplay, and then like it happens with Joeboy’s songs, people began to catch the virus.
It is traditional (for me) to take you on a journey through an artist’s story. But before that, let’s have a brief conversation about sleeper hits.
What Is a Sleeper Hit Exactly?
According to Ultimate Pop Culture Wiki (What?!),
“In the entertainment industry, a sleeper hit is a product (a book, film, song) that achieves success, gradually, with little or no promotion.”
There are numerous examples to cite. Movies like Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, Forrest Gump are sleeper hits respectively. The most typical example to cite, however, is Lizzo’s Truth Hurts. She released the single in 2017, but it didn’t gain attention until 2019, when the song was featured in the soundtrack of a rom-com movie, Someone Great. TikTok later picked it up, and the line “I just took a DNA test, turns out I’m 100% that bitch” became a slogan for TikTokers. The song went ahead to debut at number 50 on the Billboard Hot 100. And then it topped the chart. The music video has, so far, garnered more than 250 million streams on YouTube.
Okay. Now that we have gotten that out of the way let’s talk about Joeboy: from the days of his humble beginnings to the days of monolithic streaming numbers.
Joeboy’s Cover of Shape of You & His Discovery by Mr Eazi
At the point where an upcoming artist is looking to get attention from the audience, he attempts different creative approaches. For Joeboy, it was a cover to Ed Sheeran’s hit single, Shape of You. Joeboy poured his emotions into the cover, and it just seemed to connect with people. He was a student at the University of Lagos, studying Human Resources. The visual content of the cover went viral on Instagram, sparking a conversation around the young talent.
It was the video of the cover that caught Mr Eazi’s attention. He reached out to Joeboy three days after, and a pact was formed. Mr Eazi announced Joeboy as a flagship act for Empawa Africa, a music distribution and label services company, in 2017. It was the required platform for Joeboy to skyrocket. It was as if Eazi passed him the baton.
Releasing His First Official Single, Faaji
It was in late 2018. The Afrobeats industry was seeing an explosion that brought forth new sounds. Joeboy, the latest Empawa (/Banku Music) signee, released his debut single, Faaji. On the E Kelly-produced track, the demure singer featured Mr Eazi. With the grant he received from Empawa, he shot a music video for the song.
Only a handful of music lovers were following his career earnestly when he dropped Faaji. He still needed to prove his worth (to the world) as the chosen one.
Getting His Big Break with Baby
Joeboy entered the mainstream like a thief in the night. It happened so suddenly, and people had already filled their bellies with what they were being fed before even knowing what it was. It was a mystery to most. He released Babysometime in March 2019. The song did not immediately pick up buzz, but when it finally did, it became an unquenchable fire.
Produced by Dera, Baby is an Afropop/RnB song that highlights Joeboy’s proclivity to go to any length for his lover. It’s a mid-tempo song, with a BPM (Beat Per Minute) of 105. Like mould on stale food, Baby grew so quickly on people. It soon became an anthem on the streets, and in any establishment that provided entertainment. It made its way into several playlists on streaming platforms. Baby was gigantic. It was the right statement that he needed to make to break down barriers.
Releasing a visualizer for the song was also a major factor in its success. The visualizer racked more than 45 million views on YouTube.
Releasing His Follow Up Single, Beginning
I have to confess that I was slightly worried when Joeboy announced that he was dropping another single after Baby. The song, Baby, set a standard so high that it appeared impossible to beat. When Beginning was released in August 2019, it showed signs that it could play in the same league as Joeboy’s first single, Baby. It told a better story than Baby – a story that anybody could easily relate to. In the song, he declared that he was starting to fall in love with a girl with whom he shared a friendship.
Beginning, produced by Killertunes, helped Joeboy continue in the path that Baby already carved. It didn’t start blowing up until a couple of weeks/months after. It became a certified hit, receiving maximum media attention as well as fan love. The singer was able to successfully embroider his name on the fabric of the Nigerian music industry. But he didn’t stop there. He parlayed his newly-found fame and spread the seed of his music across the continent, and it germinated robustly. Joeboy became a recognized phenomenon in Ghana, Tanzania, Kenya, and many other African countries. Actually, he was already getting buzz in East Africa since he dropped Baby, even before the song blew up in Lagos.
Next Phase: Featuring Mayorkun on a Single; Love & Light EP
As his popularity increased, and he was steadily becoming a household name, Joeboy catalyzed his music career with a feature from DMW act, Mayorkun. The two allies joined forces on the song, titled Don’t Call Me Back, sharing great chemistry and giving each other the chance to exhibit their individual musical talent. Joeboy seemed to have undergone a change from the lover boy persona to a bad boy, instructing a certain lady not to bother calling him back when she spots him with another chick. The song was produced by Beats By KO.
Joeboy released his debut project, an EP titled Love & Light, in November 2019. It contained 5 tracks, including three singles he had released previously. The two others songs were All for You and Blessings. They would eventually become hit songs, especially All for You, which miraculously found its way back to the audience. I began to ask myself questions like “Who is Joeboy’s Baba?” “How does he do it?” I was eager to know the brand of the soap he was using.
He continued that run into the next year, jumping on features and leaving behind his trademark.
The Year 2020: Joeboy Killing Features & Album Speculation
Joeboy didn’t release his first single of 2020 till April. Before then, he featured on Ckay’s Love Nwantiti remix alongside Kuami Eugene. His first single, Call, came in April. Was Joeboy back to being a lover boy? I pondered. You see, before dropping Call, Joeboy was already on one of the hottest songs at that moment, DJ Neptune’s Nobody, which also featured Mr Eazi. The hook attached itself to everyone’s mouths, not letting go so that wherever you went, you heard someone sing it at least once or thirty-six times.
Just like a volcanic eruption, Call exploded and seeped into the crevices of the mainstream. He quickly supported the rapid success of the song with a music video (that was directed by TG Omori). With the release of the song came the hint of his debut album.
2020 was a bit rough for many creators due to the Covid-19 pandemic. One would expect that artists should be unmotivated and unwilling to do anything major. Joeboy subtly announced the coming of his debut album, Somewhere Between Beauty and Magic (SBBM) after releasing his second single of 2020, Lonely. The singer has the gift of painting a picture of interesting love stories. On Lonely, he sings about going after a girl he has a thing for and apparently, it was a mutual feeling.
He closed the year with an inspirational and feel-good song, Celebration. It was produced by Type A. It was aimed at lifting the spirits of people who have gone through a tough time because of the pandemic, which Joeboy has once claimed is his purpose as an artist.
Starting 2021 on an Elevated Level, Releasing SBBM
When Joeboy released the visuals for Lonely, he also announced that his album would be dropping in February. The video came at a time when Lonely was reentering music charts. Who be this Joeboy guy? It was as if his music was a staple, and people could simply not live without it.
Somewhere Between Beauty and Magic was released on February 4th. The album contained 14 tracks. Joeboyimmediately seized the charts, with his songs scattered across the Apple Music Top 100 Nigeria. Only that they didn’t last long. Although a couple of songs like Focus remained, there was a higher expectation for the album. However, Joeboydidn’t seem to be pressured. Obviously, his Baba must have given him a peek of the future.
Just a few weeks after the album dropped, Focus was gaining impulse, competing for a spot in the top 10 on Apple Music. Soon enough, Police arrested the attention of the audience. I started hearing people talk about how they had been sleeping on the song. Then the conversation shifted to how the album had hidden gems. Joeboy holds in his hands the formula to make sleeper hits. It’s a given at this point.
Now, Show Me has joined the race. I cannot possibly overstate how much the song is enjoying airplay rotation. Every time I use Uber, I hear the song at least once. What’s the trick behind this? What does Joeboy know that others don’t? The sky is the starting point for him, and it appears like the singer has more tricks up his sleeve.
Since his very first single, Baby, Joeboy has been on a streak of sleeper hits. He holds the mainstream by the collar, calling the shots, and making it do his bidding.