Nigeria’s Yemi Alade first caught Africa’s attention in 2013, when her catchy breakout hit, “Johnny,” began dominating the airwaves. Since then, the Beyoncé-approved performer’s unmatched work ethic has made her one of Africa’s top female artists— and she’s outpacing most of the men there. Here, we break down the secrets to her rise.
01. She Has a Backup Plan
Alade was still a student at the University of Lagos when she realized she wanted to be a singer. Despite gaining early success, she continued with her studies and graduated with a degree in geography.
02. She Keeps Her Word
Known for her commitment to her craft, Alade never misses a show if she can help it. Even when there was a fire in her hotel right before she appeared at London’s Wembley Arena in 2015, she grabbed her phone, her Bible and a stage outfit and kept it moving. “Whether the building burned to the ground or not, I was going to perform,” she said. “I was ready to die on that stage.”
03. She Was Prepared For Her Big Break – Twice
Alade first tasted fame when she won Nigeria’s Peak Talent Show in 2009. But it would be another five years before she was back on top, with “Johnny.” During the years in between, she remained focused on her music, releasing ten singles and singing at countless gigs for free.
04. She Knows Her Industry is Tough on Women
Alade is one of just two female artists who commonly get labeled the Queen of Afrobeats. The other is fellow Nigerian star Tiwa Savage. “We have to toil ten times harder,” she told The Fader magazine in 2016. “Many times I have been at events with guys where I have the bigger songs, but just because they are guys they’re given preferential treatment. It’s just the way the world has been wired.”
05. She Quickly Adapts to Change
“Johnny,” Alade’s infectious smash about a philandering lover, put her squarely on people’s radar. She had not planned on releasing the ditty, but someone recognized her genius and leaked it, and the rest—including more than 110 million views on YouTube—is history.
06. She Believes No Experience is Ever Wasted
Noty Spices is the name of the girl group Alade joined for two years while she was in high school. The group was even signed to a record label, but it disbanded when its members moved on to university. One of her former bandmates later submitted an application for Alade to enter the talent contest that launched her career.
07. She Seizes Opportunity and Doesn’t Quit
Alade was one of four African women featured on Beyoncé’s “The Lion King: The Gift” album, but the rising star almost missed the chance to be on the 2019 project. Alade was in Los Angeles to record some music for it but lost her voice just days before the deadline. “I didn’t know what to do,” she told ESSENCE. “I could hardly speak. I could hardly sing.” Luckily, she managed to push through and ended up being one of only two artists to appear on more than one song on the LP.