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