WHAT WOULD JESSE DO?
After making Jagz of All Trade, easily one of the best albums in a decade that saw good albums you could count on one hand, Jesse Jagz disappeared, only showing up as a featured artist and producing songs on a handle of albums.
The man is back, now armed with a new sound and, er, a few wraps of a smoky intoxicant. It is a curious step: how do you make a great, if uneven, album, and then abandon it for something untested? But perhaps, it was always going to lead us here; here, being Redemption, a song so unusual, online commentators had to shop for western artists to compare him to. A perusal of relevant blogs and websites brings up two names: Snoop Lion (the artist formally known as Snoop Dogg) and Damian Marley.
The comparisons are clear. From the former: the Hip-hop to reggae turnaround; from the latter: the bluesy reggae flow, the intensity and consciousness; from both the appearance of the aforementioned intoxicant. Still, there are enough differences to render the comparisons a tad off. Calvin Broadus’ transformation to feline from canine has barely left the realm of the ridiculous. Damian Marley, whose career hit a purple patch with Welcome to Jamrock, did not embark on a path different from what appears to have been in his blood; his career is one straight path of reggae goodness.
It is not a matter of only finding the west worthy of emulation. Right now, Jesse Jagz’s makeover has no Nigerian model. No one has revamped his sound by so many degrees as the man has done. What we have is growth or well, unilateral increase in most Nigerian artists; Jesse’s is not so much growth as much as a superimposition. If that sounds like a function, primarily, of packaging, it is because it is so. In the video, the low cut hair from Jargo and Wetin Dey has been replaced with nappy dreads; the erstwhile designer clothed torso is bare; the chic classy models fit for runways have given way to chain-smoking girls fit for violence; even the colour of yore is muted for gray tones; his face, which he once referred to as scar-face, often filmed in shadow now confronts the camera— ladies and gentlemen, Jesse Jagz will now show scars.
But is this all a show?
His background has been researched thoroughly. His parents are still alive, his dad is a pastor. He grew up in Jos, hardly, at the time, a rugged place. His brother schooled overseas. Because of his brother, the rapper MI, he is overexposed and some people would not be buying this new change. At this point, unless someone uncovers a traumatic episode in his childhood, nothing can explain the man’s change of heart and music.
Some listeners are sceptical of the change and for good reason. It has long entered into Nigerian lore that pastors’ kids are never really paragons of Christian values. Yet no one starts chanting ‘Haile Selassie’ after years of praising Jesus without some encounter.
One may quickly discarded this as just another person seeking some thrill from a nominal change if the music did not quite speak for itself and for the man. When MI released Talk About It leading the charge for a new direction of hip hop, it would have been easy for his younger brother— a decent emcee as he proved on Blaze—to follow the beaten track, but what he produced was an album de-emphasizing his gifts as a rhymer, instead he experimented with singing, and showed his talent as a producer capable of handling several genres. It seems, in retrospect, that the man has always preferred the difficult path.
The singles from Jagz of All Trade, Wetin Dey and Jargo were significantly different and potent enough to deserve endless spins on radio, but anyone paying attention would aver it could easily have spawned more singles. Few people realise that Chocolate City’s Brymo best work is from that album singing the chorus of L.O.V.E, a song if released as a single would have made that man a star before Ice Prince’s more popular Oleku. Another act Eve, who appears to have disappeared from the scene, also missed the bus to fame when the incredibly underplayed, underrated My Brother didn’t make it to radio.
These were songs that might have made Jagz of All Trades a mainstream success rather than the much venerated but underplayed status it has today. The details of his departure from Chocolate City remain unexplained, but few would be surprised to learn it is connected to the relative lack of publicity his debut received.
Now the music, first heard on the uneven Murder Dem subsequently refined, and defined on Redemption once again speaks for itself and renders the packaging needless. The song starts with a brief reggae chant without beat where he affirms “all the news you hear about Jesse Jagz ah air it out”, but the song is not reportage, it is commentary. The second verse paints a dystopia, where politicians are mauled as in revolutions and he refers to his album as ‘revolutionary cd / get your own copy.’ In one line he has called himself a revolutionary and self advertised; who knew profit and revolutions go together?
It is this contradiction, the freedom of the music to speak for itself, the abrupt change and eclectic influences on his music that makes Kanye West the artist he ought to be compared to. (His Wikipedia page already makes this comparison.) The American has recently released his sixth album, Yeezus, an album as different from any in this day, as it is different from anything in the man’s own discography.
Mr West incorporates some reggae into his album, while it would, from the evidence so far, form the body of Jesse Jagz’, but like it would have been impossible to see Yeezus from College Dropout, so it would be difficult to predict Redemption, and perhaps Jagz Nation Vol 1: Thine Nation Come from the club ready tune of Wetin Dey from Jagz of All Trades.
Yet the progression sounds inevitable. Even then, for both artists, it is unclear if the audience would welcome the change.
In 2013, the packaging is different, seemingly irreconcilable with what we know about the man. But the music, the sound, the lyrics save him. Redemption rewards listening even without the video.
By the end of that video, he is stroking his beard as he faces the camera, looking like he knows something the rest of us do not. At this point who is to say he doesn’t?
Editor’s Note: Written before the release of Jesse Jagz’ JagzNation Vol 1, a version of this piece appears on the Dstv website.
Photo credit, tooexclusive, thenet, notjustok