The other artist to insert his initials into the acronym R&B was R.Kelly who titled his greatest hits collection The R in R&B. It was a different era and the man had a point: he had a series of successful albums in the ’90s and by the early ’00s, with work encroaching into rap, he also produced some successful songs.
It was pretentious but yes, the man had a point.
Over here, in a clime that has hardly seen good, talk more of great R&B, inserting your initials into the genre is not just pretentious but fraudulent. But maybe Banky W only meant the title of his third studio album, R&BW, literally—come on guys, it’s just clever alphabet-play!
(What is in an album name anyway? Recently, we have Vector’s Second Coming but being far from a saviour we know it is literal. Brymo has Son of the Carpenter– extolling his earthly father’s vocation. And in the most severe case of literal-itis, Iyanya titled his sophomore Desire… well, you get the idea.)
Banky has been more effective as an eager seducer, the type who desperately flirts and brags to have his way as distinct from the smooth talking, charming type. He is capable, durable, lovable as he stated in his first album, he is the ‘bad man that wants to follow you go’ on his sophomore.
Enough of all that, he now wants you to be his lover—though he gives two options, Yes or No, clearly only one is correct.
If there was some consistency in his player persona on both Mr Capable and The W Experience, there isn’t any on R&BW where it is more a case of throwing several moral positions at the wall and hoping one sticks: he is the Lothario- or “bedroom warrior” as he calls it. On some tracks, the faithful lover in another, a responsible man contemplating the life of his unborn child, revelling in his rockstar status- “more paper, more groupies”- in another and finally begging or thanking God for mercy. It is tiring.
Outside of music, Banky W is something of an activist, not that you would know from the songs here- there is no song like Change, the ‘political’ song on the album from his EME collective. The only time a political angle is introduced here, on the thumping African and Proud featuring rappers from South Africa, Kenya, Ghana and Vector, he says, “…blowing money like I’m running for president.” The line is not remarkable enough to becloud the bigger picture especially as it ought to ruin his entire activist credibility if anyone was really listening.
The song itself is notable mainly for Vector and Sarkodie’s verses, not for supremely intelligent lines but for a rapid if brilliant delivery that manages to ride the beat impressively with the former packing half a dozen Hollywood references, from Rocky through Face Off to Django Unchained.
L-Tido and Camp Mulla appear to complete the geographical, rather than the lyrical topography- in a misstep the Kenyan female singer sings lines that make you think perhaps she thought she was invited to a love song.
Apparently, Banky W doesn’t know any North African singers.
These decisions made for extracurricular reasons has the album include the semi-Christian song Mercy, an (almost) all inclusive African song and a wedding song- this last spurred in recent times by Sunny Nneji’s success with Oruka, and solidified by P-Square’s No One Like You. And subsequently exploited by a thousand artists and often merged with the obligatory love song as in MI’s One Naira.
In overkill mode, Banky W has two such songs- or maybe one, the other is a remix- on R&BW crafting a verse for EME mate Niyola on the second, a verse to be sung, ostensibly, by a blushing bride. The only drawback to the proposed marital bliss is that both Yes/No and its sequel feature the admonition/warning/question ‘Be my lover,’ a line too desperate to be cute and too gross to be seductive- with the original song winning in the creepy sweepstakes contest.
The recognisable lover-man from his prior albums, shows up in the subtly produced, subtly sung and appropriately titled Low Key released several months before the album, either still potent enough to be one of the album standouts or surrounded by below par tracks to still matter; and in Good Good Loving with a remix featuring Tuface whose presence merely adds sheen to an already good song. Both songs are stand-outs.
A lot of the successful songs owe as much to the producers as to the artist: Yes/No is produced by the mostly infallible Cobhams who once again blends traditional elements innovatively; perennial contributors Spellz and Sarz do good work on Good Good Loving and Low Key.
The singing contributors are not as important to the album’s integrity: MI’s verse on More is instantly forgettable; Skales on Magic is amateurish, Tuface gets by on a novel delivery.
On To My Unborn Child Lynxxx continues his narcissist crusade, hoping his offspring terrorizes the girls- he doesn’t consider having a daughter. Sammy or Shaydee or Rotimi sound like an earnest, awkward choir learning to harmonise on the straight up sex song, Say.
Most listeners would consider the absence of Wizkid a huge loss, but it is perhaps not so- one of the least successful songs on The W Experience was the Wizkid collaboration Tanker.
For an album proclaiming its R&Bness in its title, it is perhaps ironic that Banky W is more compelling rapping than singing. And evidently he knows this: on a 16 tracker album, he sings entirely on less than half; the rest see him rapping or performing a hybrid of some sort. In fact, Nigerian music has not witnessed a true R&B act since the curious-case-of-StylPlus. So perhaps it would be apt to call this album pop, rap, hip-hop, afro-pop- anything but Rhythm and Blues.
But then it would be hard work inserting himself into the genre’s letters, maybe unless the artist, real name Bankole Wellington, unearths an obscure middle name. For now, for Mr. W, misleading listeners proved easier.