If you don’t know KDDO’s name, you definitely know his music. As one of Nigeria’s most successful producers working today, KDDO, formerly known as Kiddominant, is a key force behind the United States embracing contemporary African pop music tagged “Afrobeats.” Taking a cue from its musical forefather Afrobeat—the genre fusing highlife and juju music, from Ghana and Nigeria respectively, with Black American jazz and funk that Fela Kuti and his drummer Tony Allen pioneered into a global force in the 1960s and 1970s—Afrobeats has also taken the world by storm.
KDDO produced global superstar Davido’s “Fall,” the hit song released in 2017 that later caught fire in the U.S., becoming the longest-charting Nigerian song in Billboard history and the first Nigerian music video to surpass 100 million views on YouTube. Counting American producers Timbaland and Polow Da Don among his many influences, KDDO has risen to the top through his ability to blend sounds from his native Nigeria with hip hop, R&B, house, pop, and more. His global success, however, has not come by accident he shares.
“As young as I can remember, I always wanted to make global songs. When I first started making music, I was making rock songs and I was in Africa,” he laughs. “I really made it my goal, my dream, to make an Afrobeats song that would cross over into the global market and in America especially. So I definitely planned it but to what extent it was going to get really big I never knew.”
Since the breakout of Orezi’s “Rihanna” and, of course, Davido’s “Fall,” KDDO has been a solidified hitmaker for the last ten years. Wizkid’s “Alright,” Aka’s “Fela in Versace,” and Mayorkun’s “Mama” are among his many certified bangers. Even his once slept-on records like Chris Brown’s “Under the Influence” from 2019, which is enjoying a resurgence thanks to choreographer Nicole Kirkland's dance ode on YouTube, are being recognized.
Not just content with being the man behind the music, KDDO has stepped into the spotlight with his own EP, Too Late Too Lit, featuring fellow Nigerian artists, such as Davido, Jidenna, and Mayorkun. Part of his formula for success is keeping how people experience the music top of mind. “When I'm making music, I always like to just picture that part of the song where people are going to be singing their hearts out in the club,” he says. “I like to take my time with my stuff. I don’t let anybody rush me and I’m really passionate about fusing cultures,” he adds, as evidenced in his latest release, which fuses Chicago house music, South African and West African references.
As a producer and artist who grew up outside the U.S., finding success in this market wasn’t easy, shares the Nigerian superstar, who now lives in L.A. In fact, when he first came to the U.S., via Atlanta, he noted that there was no African music in the clubs. That absence, he says, drove him to make the change. In fact, he created the demo for “Fall” in the States.
“It's hard to break into the American space with the taste palate here” he explains. “The UK is a very diverse community. You have a lot of people from the Islands, Africa, all that, so people can really understand each other easily. . . America, it’s just that people listen to a lot of hip hop, a lot of pop; there's [music] that people already listen to here and it’s not easy to bring something that’s outside of [that.] You have to really understand where you’re coming from in the American market.”
Having the experience of successfully conquering the American market is precisely what KDDO brings to his new partnership as the the creative director and brand ambassador for Star Lager Beer—a Nigerian staple dating back over 70 years. “KDDO’s ability to bring together people from different backgrounds made this an easy and natural choice,” shared Star Beer USA President May Chioma Odiakosa of the brand's U.S. expansion. “Whether it’s a business meeting, or a party, he fits in naturally and that’s who we want representing this brand,” he added in a press release.
KDDO, who has an equity stake in the brand, feels that synergy as well. “Star is a Nigerian company; it’s like the number one beer company in Africa. Being a Nigerian that grew up in Nigeria, I saw the growth. I experienced Star back home. I really love the brand and the company,” he says.
With his own EP making its way and more projects as a producer on deck, music is not the only gift KDDO is giving the U.S. “[Because] my music has obviously crossed over from Africa into America, I feel like I'm in a really nice, unique position as somebody who has done something to cross over from our continent to America to bring a product like that to [the U.S.].”
Ronda Racha Penrice is the author of Black American History For Dummies available now.