ThePingOfPong

Pieces on Film, Prose and Music by a Nigerian

Month: November, 2011

MI2: Mission Improbable?

Ahead of the forthcoming Illegal Music II, the ping looks back at MI’s MI2-The Movie.

Mister Incredible goes to Hollywood

Sophomore Slump or Comeback of the Year is the title of a Fall Out Boy song, and that is the question to be answered by every artiste after a successful debut. Jude Abaga more commonly known as MI is one of such, though following the innumerable collaborations- from the average ( TY Mix’s Omo Naija) to the sublime (think the Choc Boiz’ Anthem)- comeback is not quite the term. But there’s no question about the pressure he must have been to deliver the goods second time around on his own.

The Great Feast

How does he respond to this pressure? He tries to invite everyone to the feast that is the MI2 album. The first five songs all have featured artistes and if Talk About It was a little highbrow, MI2– with its several pidgin choruses- strives not to be.

Quickly, despite its subtitle it is not a movie but it has a movie theme that is frequently abandoned and this is good news for it becomes a distraction after the novelty wears off. The album opens with an audio ‘movie’ that features a kidnap and the funny politically incorrect line: “We don’t release those we kidnap, we are not Nigerians.” The movie- and thus the album- starts with the New Line Cinema score (copyright issues). Movie buffs would readily recognize the sound from the Rush Hour movies.

The music (finally) starts with Action Film featuring Brymo who provides a fitting chorus to MI’s wordplay: “so gifted he must know Santa.” MI’s flow has urgency to it like he knows he has to impress us quickly and he manages to. Still, the album doesn’t take off until highlife singer Flavour appears in the song Number one, where despite singing only the chorus and a bridge both in praise of MI, he jostles for supremacy even when Mister Incredible spits gems like, “They must be high like Aloha”. Flavour’s delivery is a reminder that be it politician, magnate or artiste, Igbo highlife reserves the right to effective praise singing.

Flavour isn’t the only recognizable artiste in MI2, there’s Timaya and Tuface, the latter features on a track previously released but with new lyrics for MI to play with: “Try to be nice and you feel Toni’s pain.” He drops gems, “Life is bisexual- anybody can blow” still both tracks do not add up to the sum of the artistes.

The track Beef sees MI responding to the misguided attempt of Kelly Handsome to start a feud. Truth is, it was never really a contest. That MI has devoted an entire track, after the beautifully dismissive line in the Nobody Test Me, “Only one Kelly that I know- Kelly Rowland,” to the man raises more questions about MI’s range of topics on the album than it delivers the coup de grâce to a largely irrelevant singer.

MI who has said previously that he doesn’t need “to spit in vernacular because the flow is so spectacular,” eats his words repeatedly during the 70 minutes of the album but especially in the three vignettes of suburban Nigeria that make up the song My Belle My Head, and it is unlikely he develops bellyache, as production on the track is near faultless, the rap on the song is melodious and his pidgin is wickedly witty: “Hunger hook man for neck, shey na bowtie?” but the song suffers from a lack of street credibility. Lack of this had seen Jay-z taunt Nas in Takeover: “You ain’t lived it, you witnessed it from your folk’s pad, scribbled on your notepad and created your life.”

Though he spits in first person about caring for his poor mother- “make I turn slave, Kunta kinte-” and in cajoling a young man on the road to spare some change, you just can’t picture the short black boy in that circumstance. This is why a lyrically inferior track like Timaya’s Plantain Boy, would resonate more with the average Nigerian. The schoolboy in Mushin, the bus conductor in Benin and the longsuffering hawker in Abakaliki know the difference between rapping it and living it. It’s a fine song but it is not likely that those he’s trying to invite to this banquet would be tempted.

It also suffers from reluctance to push for higher social consciousness- a police officer in the third verse threatens incarceration rather than the accidental discharge that has become a staple of today’s headlines. But, these would only matter if the catchy tune does not distract which admittedly is difficult.

What You Know

“Write what you know” is a sentiment relayed to the aspiring fiction writer. On evidence presented by this album, it is good advice for rappers: on the song Wild Wild West, The Jos crises receive treatment and what a treat. In production, delivery and lyrics, the intention and execution merge perfectly. Here, the movie theme contributes to the meaning of the song as the beat has a sweeping quality, precisely the kind one would expect in a movie scene showing a desolate landscape. And in a voice laced with love and bitterness MI- who grew up in the place- delivers solemn poetry:

“J town,

I miss how you were

Tell me how did this occur?

My memories of peace are a blur

And you were so pretty I swear

Driving through the city thinking

This is not her

She seems so strange

When did she change?

Blood in the streets, smoke in her sky

Can’t feel her heartbeat no hope in her eyes

Orphans, coffins

Bastards, caskets, mass burials

How we gonna move past this…”

No clever wordplay is delivered in the two heartfelt verses on this song and the sobriety is an achievement.

 Honourable Mention

Amidst the posturing (and navel-gazing in Imperfect Me,) there’s the love song- which is pretty much obligatory in today’s LPs- One Naira. Waje, who excels in cameos shines in the midst of MI’s profession of love and fidelity: “I no go chop outside, no picnics.”

Other notable tracks include Undisputed and the punchline laden Represent with the Choc Boiz.

Commercial Appeal

 Talk about It thrived commercially on the strength of Safe, a song that relied on the brilliant play of lyrics from popular songs. Despite the stellar production of the tracks, no one song in MI2 has that potential. The album needs a grand video to push it. Chocolate City can’t afford to play it, ahem, safe.

 Verdict

Even Brave heart had a late start,” he says on Epic. Well, as MI2 is not a classic record, fans would hope the reverse isn’t true for the Incredible Meister- that he hasn’t peaked too early.

NB: This piece was first published December, 2010 in This Day.

Darey’s Double Dare: Taking The Harder Way

Daring Darey proves doubly difficult

No matter the nature of your grudge against the artist Dare/Darey, he cannot be accused of not trying hard enough and this in an industry replete with half-baked acts giving half measures.  Surely, such assiduousness must be commended.

But commendation is not sufficient for an artist with what you can tell is a huge ambition. Commendation may be good, but appreciation is way better. Critical acclaim plus commercial success is the Holy Grail in the business. What better way to embark on the pilgrimage than with Double Dare, a double disc consisting of nearly a score of songs? Indeed listeners, lovers and unbelievers have an array of songs to pick from: you don’t like this song? Here, try this one; you don’t like this disc? Try the other one. Yes there’s enough variety to suggest any listener would find one to like- up tempo, mid tempo, slow. However there is enough of Darey’s insistence on muscular singing that suggests that new converts would be hardly won over- that particular quality of his music that lends an unwanted consistency to his efforts. Even a song that is intended to woo a woman- Never Say Never– ends up sounding like a motivational track and in life, the protagonist would be accused of coming on too strong. Darey might actually be an acquired taste.

The first disc (called Heart, the second is facetiously called Beat) opens with the Sisi Eko, a delightful song, featuring the least of Darey’s vocal fussing, with Yoruba lyrics in Jazz style- Obey via Sinatra; a song that has Cobhams written all over it as there is no other producer working in Nigeria with a better handle of mellow foreign music. From the high of this song, Heart immediately drops to an astonishing low with the misdirected remake of Sweet Mother, the Nico Mbarga classic. The song is just hideous, outrageously so. It is unclear if it is meant as a tribute to the late prince or as a paean to his deceased mother. Frankly, no one should be pleased with its execution. Quickly it veers into the supposedly sexually playful, Don Jazzy produced Stroke Me (supposedly, because nothing is ever playful sung in Darey’s manner) but it isn’t until the song Close that the more effective singer finally appears thankfully. It is one of the highlights of the Heart segment of the double disc with its powerful choral denouement. The others are the aforementioned Sisi Eko and Don’t let Me Know and to some extent Cure The World.

Included in the middle of the songs is the acoustic version of the abum’s first single and hit, I Like The Way You Are. The idea behind including acoustic versions in studio albums is to show listeners that the artist can do live performances without enhancements and to lend a sense of intimacy to the recordings, for Double Dare however, it is filler. The end of this track has the artist reeling some ‘impromptu’ lines that are jarring and corny- Rukky, you’re not a rookie/but your name is Rukky. Seriously?

It doesn’t take long to realize that, though the apparent plan is to show different sides to Darey, ostensibly Heart is the soft side and Beat is the edgier, risqué Darey, the quality of a majority of the songs, especially those on Heart belie that idea and the double disc package seems to be more economic based than musically inspired- an aural extrapolation of Nollywood’s predilection for unnecessary sequels. Considering the better production and actualization of the tracks on Beat, it is clear this album was intended to show Darey letting his hair down after the relative soberness of his previous album Undareyted. That album was concerned with love; this is concerned with parties, swagger and sex: “we gon make love like I wan give you belle”, he croons on Belly. So that the Heart portion is little more than an appetizer for the main course Beat.

As the singles so far released are exclusively from the Beat section, the agenda is clear. A production company less intent on hoodwinking customers would have made the songs on Heart, bonus tracks and pruned the fillers to give a single solid LP. Taken together, the album is under an hour and half and it features 2 remixes and an acoustic rendition. The excision of these extraneous bits reduces the album’s duration by a quarter of an hour. Stretching the material into two discs is a ridiculous decision. It is highly likely the unwitting, cash strapped customer after scratching his/her head is crushed upon discovering the crowd pulling, sophisticated The Way You Are and the pleasant Ba Ni Kidi are on one disc. That isn’t smart marketing by any standards- one risks annoying fans. There are no marks for this kind of ‘visionary’ move.

Darey doesn’t go alone on this album though none of the artists that had guest spots on unDAREYted made it here. Again, it is noteworthy that Heart does not have any guest spots, while Beat has P-Square, Mo’Cheddah, Timaya and Chamillionaire. Peter and Paul are on Provider where they have plans of loving a girl in “3D- mind, body and soul easily”. Darey almost overdoes it when he says “You don’t need glasses to see what you mean to me”. It is a surprising collaboration and more surprising is that these strange bedfellows produce a song of considerable beauty. The only female guest in this testosterone fest is Mo’cheddah who plays her favourite role, the cocky petulant seductress on the faux-country track Turn Me On and ends the song with, ahem! a coital moan. Another theoretically awkward collaboration with Timaya, Back To Sender, plays out well though less effectively than Provider. Chamillionaire features on the remix to The Way You Are spitting two verses about which it can only be said to incorporate some Nigerian dialect in a competent rap.

Taken together, Double Dare has its moments most of them on the Beat disc and several having Cobhams Asuquo in production capacity- the heartbreak song Pillow, if one gets past the unusual eponymous narrator, works wonderfully though a more sober beat might be appropriate; the sexually boastful Belly; the Cobhams produced Like A Movie has a remarkable beat that is almost undone by some lazy derivative lyrics: “Your future is my past/In this game you can never last/I’ve been there and I’m back/Is this the thanks I get/see I’m dangerous/this ain’t new to us”; both singles Ba Ni Kidi and The Way You Are.

Unfortunately, with the amateur songwriting; tense singing- it may be hard work but listeners want it to appear effortless; fillers; marathon duration- only the diehard fan can listen to this from start to finish without a break; and questionable packaging, he has made it difficult for these gems to get him to the Promised Land.

Perhaps, rather than dared, Darey should be admonished: “Relax, man. Really.”

Everybody Loves Ice Prince? Really?

Panshak is no Raymond

For a while, there has been a subdued debate on the prowess of Ice prince. It was not an argument that could be shouted from rooftops since its major proposition was that the man could rival fellow label mate MI, on the microphone. It was not an entirely outrageous position to take, after all the man had excelled in pretty much all of the cameos he has been in and the only thing in his way, it seemed, was the set hierarchy in Chocolate City: MI>Jesse Jags> Ice Prince> Brymo. An order spelt out by the head honcho himself on Represent.

That paragraph is composed in the past tense intentionally. For the man has put an end to the debate himself.

Is Ice Prince MI’s equal? The answer is a definite no. He is not remotely close. It was easy to be fooled that he might be able to compete were he in another crew with a less clear-cut order what with his swagger and decent flow. The brief bits on Samklef’s Molowo Noni, the Choc Boiz’ songs and his own Oleku created an anticipation that when he finally gets his chance on the Chocolate City roster he would give us a full regimen of what had previously been administered in minute doses.

Fate has other plans though for Ice Prince is a choker. There were signs- the most infamous being the freestyle session at Tim Westwood where he ‘freestyled from his phone’. The public mostly ignored this as not every emcee is gifted at freestyling. “He’d come good,” we thought when he has time to craft lines to the beats of one of Nigeria’s finest producers Jesse Jags.

Well, he has deflated those hopes with an album that refuses (or cannot) decide what it wants to be.

Ice had Chocolate City’s previous releases as template for ambition: the first MI album Talk About It was an obvious game changer with its sophisticated beats and weird skit titles, Jesse Jags’ Jags Of All Tradez was eclectic, designed to show his range with a slight advantage to his production ability, MI2 with all its shortcomings was a hyperactive effort with one eye on commercial viability.

These albums had an agenda and fulfilled them to a reasonable extent. Everyone Loves Ice Prince(ELI) is different: it is an amorphous entity unsure, uncertain of what it wants to be. Between the homage of awkward album opener I Remember to the boasts on Oleku; the weak rapping on the Kelly Handsome-like Juju to the singing on Find You (Drake’s Find Your Love, anyone?); the championing of his skills to the lines taken from Kanye (“You should be honoured and bow to greatness”)and Frank Ocean (“We made it sweet baby Jesus”); the African beat on Superstar to the quasi-reggae on Magician, a lot of the intended effect gets lost.

Even his normally reliable lines fall flat. Excerpts: “You like that movie magic cos you got much action,” “Your body too smooth like lotion,” “Life is going fast so I’m making my slo mo”, “You gat wings, Imma lend u my feathers” “Life is a picture, you better get your photo”, “You must be a producer, you make my heart beat”. Seriously, wtf.

Less than impressive production means these ridiculous lines are bare, out with no place to hide. Even Oleku reveals ridiculous lines after the high of its beats. How can anyone explain “Too many songs, but mine is latest”?

The album doesn’t work and might have benefited from A-list artistes but with the exception of Tuface, Wizkid and the rest of the Choc Boiz, the guests are almost entirely obscure which might have been a smaller mountain for a more vast artist- Jags Of All Tradez had unknown vocalists Eve and Lindsey both of whom produced rapturous choruses. For ELI, Ice gets Sean Tero whose career never did take off and some other less than familiar names. When either one of the interchangeable guests, Yung L and J-Milla say earnestly “You sing for me girl like Mozart”, it might take superhuman might not to push skip.

Still, this album is Ice Prince’s. He has been pegged back by this less than average debut. Considering how long it took him to get his record out in the first place, taking into account the schedule of Chocolate City, it might be another Olympiad before he gets a chance to redeem himself. Already, some are saying deliberate sabotage on the part of his Chocolate City superiors.

Unreasonably it seems but there are questions: how come MI2 had for Number 1, its highlife song the best of the new Ibo crooners, Flavour while ELI gets the less competent Wizboy for By This Time? Whose idea was it that Ice Prince anchors most of his own choruses? Why is Brymo not on another song based on the success of Oleku?

Indeed in an album where everyone involved must hang their head low, the real winner is MI who after the mismatch that was Kelly Handsome has just emerged unscathed out of a battle that had potential without even taking a shot. Hip hop heads would have to wait for a worthy opponent.

As for Ice Prince, hopefully the delightful cameos would continue and perhaps he just might think twice before proclaiming everyone loves him on his sophomore since, as his debut has proven, he is no Ray Romano.

A Blog Is Born

Here is another of those online creations that allows every narcissist their day in the sun. Surely, we don’t need another. Perhaps.

However, this blog does not intend to be a nuisance so it is not instructive, it would not tell you how to become rich or offer hyperlinks that lead to instant millions(and maybe an ipad!). What it proposes to do is to bring up topics for discussion. The focus would be books, music and movies, but it would also contain things that happen to catch the attention of the ping. Hence some mundane bits are likely to come in the coming weeks.

We will have a good time, just come back frequently and leave a comment if you may.

Enjoy. Welcome to the ping of pong.

Un Blog de Sel

Je pense, donc je ne suis personne.

radio ife

streams for the love in you

Jalada

A pan-African writers' collective.

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