If you had to pull up a starting point for the rise of Nigerian singer Omah Lay, born Stanley Omah Didia, you’d have to go back to 2020. That year, he began work on his debut EP Get Layd and one of the initial songs he recorded from that project was “Bad Influence.” On the surface, the gloomy record, which features haunting piano keys and a dance-friendly bass, is Omah Lay’s account of a relationship he had with a woman he labels as a bad influence. However, in an interview with OkayAfrica, Lay described the song as much more than that. “It was inspired by a whole lot of things,” he said. “It was me coming to Lagos, being exposed to a new type of life, a lot of things around me, and putting all that experience together.”
Omah Lay, who is only 24 years old, is native to Ikwerre, a city in Nigeria’s Rivers State. He was born into a musical family as his grandfather, who died in 1977, played instruments for the singer Celestine Ukwu. Lay’s father also played the drums. When the afrobeats scene was beginning its worldwide rise in the mid-2010s, Lay began pursuing a true career in music. However, his initial goals weren’t to be an singer. “I wanted to be a rapper,” he says in a 2020 interview with NotJustOk. “I was part of a rap group, my name was Lil King. I really liked Drake and his flows so I wanted to be like that.” That dream didn’t last too long as Lay would eventually pivot into afrobeats and begin songwriting and producing for a number of artists in Nigeria before releasing Get Layd.
By the end of 2020, “Bad Influence” became more than a breakout hit for Omah Lay. It was one of the biggest afrobeats songs in Nigeria. The song was the most-streamed Nigerian song on Apple Music that year, and it gave Lay the launching pad to increase his popularity and prove that he was far from a one-hit-wonder, and that same year, he released his second EP What Have We Done. Lay exhibited great growth and artistic improvement on that project, and it was one that arrived just six months after Get Layd. What Have We Done is propelled by the very catchy “Confession” and the equally addictive “Damn” which was later remixed by 6lack.
Propelled by the success of What Have We Done and the records on it, Lay’s popularity would only increase in 2021. He entered his name into the afrobeats song of the summer conversation by releasing “Understand” that summer. At this point, Lay had established himself as one of the members of afrobeats’ newest class. While names like Wizkid, Davido, and Burna Boy helped to elevate afrobeats to a point where artists all over the world sought to work with them and even put their own spin on the genre, new and younger acts arrived to show how wide the sonics of afrobeats could be stretch. Now, Lay finds himself besides names like Tems, Buju, Rema, CKay, Fireboy DML, Joeboy, Ayra Starr, and more in a class that’s full of life, color, diversity, and above all, potential.
Lay’s 2021 was fairly quiet. Outside of “Understand,” he stayed low in a year that was truly remarkable for afrobeats. Wizkid’s “Essence” became the highest-charting Nigerian song while CKay’s “Love Nwantiti” trailed not too far behind. It’s not to say that Lay missed his opportunity to have a part in the monstrous 2021 year. In fact, Lay might be checking back into the game right on time where much of the confetti has cleared, giving himself a chance to once again shine and relish in his own spotlight. Additionally, there’s no doubt that an equally-successful year is in store for the genre in 2022, just take a look at Rema’s excellent debut album Rave & Roses album as confirmation.
It’s probable that Omah Lay will grace the world with a new project this year, and he’s off to a good start so far. Last month, he teamed up with Justin Bieber for “Attention,” his first record since 2021’s “Understand.” The song arrived after Lay contributed to a remix of Bieber’s Grammy-nominated song “Peaches.” While connecting with Bieber for a song is a moment that few artists would experience, Lay didn’t allow the moment to change his approach to the record and he made sure to stay true to himself on it. “It’s basically about sometime in everybody’s life, you’re lonely,” he said about the song to Billboard. “You can’t just always have somebody all the time. Especially as an adult. That was actually the headspace that I was in when I made this song, a little lonely.” He added, “I want the people that are going through the same thing to feel like I was talking to them. I’m human. I’m just like them. I feel exactly the same way they feel.” So far, the song is making a splash in the US as it currently sits at No. 5 on Billboard’s newly-launched U.S. Afrobeats Songs chart.
We’ll have to wait and see what Omah Lay’s next move is, but if one thing is guaranteed, it’s that it will surely leave us satisfied and appreciative of his artistry. He’s given us music to dance to and that to connect with emotionally, both of which he’ll continue to do through the countless records he releases in the near and far future.
Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.