Culture

Afrobeats Culture: How Music Legend Fela Kuti’s Style and Sound Inspired Jay-Z and 5 Other New-age Artistes

BY Abena Dzaka October 3, 2023 2:13 PM EDT
Photo Credit: Facebook,com @Fela

Many recent musicians who lean toward the more exhilarating African sound which has come to be known and accepted as Afrobeats genre of music have looked up to many musicians in the past and present including the legendary Fela Kuti.

Although numerous Afrobeats songs have been sampled, the iconic Fela Kuti leads the list of artistes who have influenced many be it sound or style of music. The Let’s Start crooner created amazing music that was measured by activism, culture, and life.

Even though the pioneer of Nigerian Afrobeats music, has passed away, his music along with its aesthetic continues to influence a number of contemporary Nigerian and foreign artistes including Drake, Jay Z, and Nas, who have at a point used the Shakara hitmaker as a source of energy in their music.

Sampling is one of the many ways that the trending Afrobeats genre has had its moments. However, a good sampling must blur the lines between nostalgia and the new wave while promoting seamless cross-cultural fusion genres like hip-hop, pop, and jazz. Music sampling reveals a pan-continental appeal that has inspired musicians from around the world to use Nigerian tunes while producing music for a worldwide audience. A sound that was once only regarded as a local sound has subsequently traveled outside the shores of Africa and is now impacting the global music landscape. As a result, it is common for Western artistes to use samples from Afrobeats music or collaborate with African musicians in the genre.

Here are six international musicians whose creative paths have been guided by Fela’s songs:

Jay-Z: “Roc Boys”

Surprisingly, American rapper and music entrepreneur Sean Corey Carter is one of the notable musicians who is known to have drawn inspiration from Fela Kuti’s works. Many music lovers may also be unaware of the fact that Jay Z sampled the instrumentals from Fela Kuti’s song Water No Get Enemy in his Roc Boys tune. He is also the producer of the Broadway production of “Fela,” a musical honoring the Afrobeat legend.

Nas ft. Alicia Keys: “Warrior Song” (2002)

In 2002, Nas sampled Fela Kuti’s 1972 hit, Na Poi on his Warrior Song which was a single on his highly regarded sixth studio album, God’s Son. For one of the greatest hip-hop artists of all time to sample Fela’s classic is a great win for the African music genre and the continent. Nas’ high-energy work saw him collaborating with Alicia Keys on the project.

Bilal

This American singer-songwriter has sampled Fela’s music twice, demonstrating his devotion and love for the African legend and the Afrobeats genre. Sorrow, Tears and Blood, featuring Common and Zap, is a version of one of Fela’s most popular songs that appeared on Bilal’s Love for Sale album. Mama borrowed some lyrics from Coffin for Head of State by Fela from 1981. Additionally, Dead Prez, Talib Kweli, and Jorge Ben joined forces with Bilal to create a new version of Fela’s Shuffering and Shmiling.

Drake: “Please Forgive Me” Movie

Of course, Drake is not the only well-known performer today who has been influenced by Fela. The ‘father of Afrobeats’ Colonial Mentality appears in the short film Please Forgive Me which is one of the genre’s prominent moments. The song is from his 1977 album Sorrow, Tears, and Blood and was composed in response to the 1976 Soweto Uprising.

J. Cole: “Let Nas Down” (2013)

Let Nas Down, a song by J. Cole from his 2013 album, Born Sinner, is modeled off the Gentleman song by Fela Kuti and The Afrika 70. The Yoruba phrase “Mi Gbo” is repeated throughout the song, giving it a strong Fela Kuti flavor.

The Roots: “I Will Not Apologize” (2008)

The 2008 song I Will Not Apologize by The Roots features a sample of Fela Kuti’s Mr. Grammarizationalism Is the Boss. The Legendary Roots crew’s track was perfectly finished by Fela’s raw bassline assists, which supplied the ideal flavor to a big song.