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Born and raised in the Edo State capital of Benin City, Rema (Divine Ikubor) grew up listening to Afrobeat and commercial rap. He formed a rap group with peers at his church, but his interest in music took an unexpected turn in February 2018, when he uploaded a clip of himself freestyling to an instrumental version of D'Prince's "Gucci Gang." D'Prince saw the video and got in touch, which led to Rema signing with Mavin, the Lagos-based label -- run by Don Jazzy, D'Prince's brother -- that had issued "Gucci Gang." Rema made his commercial debut in 2019, a year during which he released the four-track EPs Rema, Freestyle, and Bad Commando, and was featured on tracks by D'Prince, Thutmose, and Peter Maxx, as well as Mavins, a Mavin label group. "Dumebi," a single off the self-titled EP, fared particularly well in Nigeria and abroad. Rema attracted more attention when another track, "Iron Man," was included on Barack & Michelle Obama's Summer Playlist 2019, tweeted out by the former president that August. In 2020, his EPs were compiled as the Three EP's release.
Rema began calling his sound Afrorave in 2021, blending the Afrobeats style with Arabian and Indian influences. His first full-length, Rave & Roses, arrived in 2022, with guests including 6LACK, Chris Brown, and AJ Tracey. The album spent some time in the charts, reaching the number five slot of Billboard's World Albums chart and entering the Top 200 chart at number 196. One track from the album, "Calm Down," became an unexpected smash hit the following year with the help of a Selena Gomez reworking. Both versions combined to surpass one billion streams and became the highest-charting African song on the U.S. charts to date, entering the Top Ten of the Billboard Hot 100. A deluxe version of his debut, Rave & Roses ULTRA, arrived in April 2023, capitalizing on the success of that breakthrough single. ~ Andy Kellman