ThePingOfPong

Pieces on Film, Prose and Music by a Nigerian

Tag: 2face

ALBUM REVIEW: MI RETURNS AS THE CHAIRMAN

One evening early October, I spent a few hours with MI. Africa’s rapper #1—as he called himself on his sophomore—played his then unreleased album for the benefit of outsiders for perhaps the first time.

The Chairman cover I

Clad in ripped jeans and an X on white Rorschach patterned t-shirt, the rapper known by his high school teacher as Jude Abaga described how much of a collaborative effort The Chairman is. To be sure, when I asked about specific producers on certain songs, MI recited a few names—L-3, Sarz, Pheelz, himself—trailed off, and said simply: the team. A team certainly makes it unto the album. Over on twitter, MI released a list of acknowledgments.

The Chairman is a concept album with every song polar paired. At 17 tracks all told, one song is inevitably unpaired. MI solves this by having this lonely song literally titled The Middle. The back cover lists a song on the left and its opposite on the right: so you have Monkey and Human Being, Mine and Yours, Brothers and Enemies, etc. The Middle lies at the centre as does MI’s digitally touched face:

The Chairman tracklisting

The idea of a thing and its opposite runs from cover art through track titles to MI’s verses. You, however, do not need to know this to enjoy the album. As MI offered by way of introduction, “for the cerebral, every song is a mirror image.”

Brilliant but doomed to be uneven as albums generally are, The Chairman is a remarkable piece of crowd pleasing music, aiming to please with its variousness. What follows are my initial thoughts on the 15 tracks MI played during those hours.

The Chairman alt cover

1) Intro: The Chairman begins with a galvanic sigh. A teacher speaks to pupils: “All of you students are poor. You have nothing and you know it.” The response? “Okay sir, thank you sir.” 3 dissenting students are summoned and forced to recant their ambitions after hot slaps. One of them named Jude refuses. “I’m going to be the biggest star.” Another slap and then, “the idiocy of you is amazing to me.”

Acted intros are tricky. The novelty dies off and the intros become a staple for the skip button. Plus the enactment isn’t quite as funny as on Prelude, the introductory skit on MI2—and even that one got tiresome.

2) Monkey: Comedian Chigurl anchors this comic sequel to Flavor’s Number 1. Based on Igbo praise songs, and with lines like “Madam na only me waka come” and “My foundation is not Mary Kay,” MI is a long way from his elite English speaking days on Talk About It. In the studio MI tapped his feet—as will you.

3) Rich: A disco tune starts and then breaks off leading into a Yoruba chorus. When MI sings “we will all be rich” on the chorus, it is neither optimism nor wishful thinking—it is epiphany. After the song ends with a Pentecostal rant, Toni Kan asked, for this song did you miss Brymo?

The response? He laughed briefly and said, “Next song.” He played track 8. As you’d see he wasn’t evading. Here’s something he said:

“This celebrity-ship shit is not worth it because they give you things that you can’t keep for things that you shouldn’t lose.”

 

4) Mine: Back when Wizkid really was a kid, MI featured him on Fast Money Fast Cars—he returns home here. A good song but less effective than Wizkid’s turn on Jesse Jagz’ Bad Girl, Mine emphasises that it has been a while since Wizkid has been good on his own. MI drops a clichéd line: “We need a referee, let’s make this official.” On Fast Money Fast Cars, MI gave a hand to an unknown singer, On Mine, he is arguably cashing off that formerly unknown singer’s fame.

5) Shekpe: Untouched by populism at the time, this is the kind of song that could never make it into Talk About It. With the working class revolution propagated by Olamide and Reminisce, MI has had to unlearn his elite stance. He aptly gets Reminisce to contribute a verse and Sarz to produce—the chemistry between these two powers the song.

An ode to the pleasures of cheap alcohol, the ‘10 green bottles standing on a wall’ rhyme receives a slurry, slangy update. Expect to hear the new version of that ancient rhyme in beer parlours around the country.

6) Another Man: When MI talks politics, he gives it a human face. On My Belle My Head he discussed the plight of the poor via mimicry; on Wild Wild West, he personified Jos, the town of his youth. On Another Man he extends empathy to soldiers. MI proves to be a rapper of his time.

Read full review here.

 

Editor’s Note: This review was written weeks before MI’s The Chairman dropped on October 30. Since the meeting described here the man has tweaked a few tracks. Thepingofpong shall revisit the album.

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NOT TOO FAR BEYOND

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2face fails to soar

How do you convince listeners you are an International Artist? Ask 2face.

Few years ago, he had that fiasco with the R.Kelly ‘collaboration.’ Till today, no one really knows the truth behind that song but we all agree something was not right. On his new LP, Away & Beyond, 2face tries again; the album opener has Huma Lara, an Indian singer. We don’t know her. We don’t care. Meaning, we don’t care enough to probe. So, Mr Idibia wins! He has a foreigner on a track (she is not exactly R.Kelly but she will serve, since her presence is mainly symbolic) and no one will go asking stupid questions.

Or does he? Competition is rife. D’banj and the Igbo twins, Psquare, have bigger stars on their side these days and lesser known Duncan Mighty has a song with an Indian (or an Indian sample.)

If the collaboration angle is controversial, then there is another trick: the release of an International Edition. For now though, we have Away & Beyond in the Ordinary Version. It is ordinary, because the present album never reaches the heights of the man’s initial efforts- the pioneering, game changing Face 2 Face and the reassuring Grass to Grace. And that might be putting it lightly.

The question is, has the Jos born 2face reached a plateau phase? Or is he merely cheating his fans? 2010’s Unstoppable was a failure until the International Edition was released. Is that the plan once again? We wait.

For now, Away & Beyond is a very average album with a few songs standing out. Omo T’osan and Rainbow are good love songs but when you are 2face, the stakes are higher- not only are you expected to outdo others, but also outdo yourself. We have seen this before: Michael Jackson, whose later albums, though commercially successful were dismal compared to the mammoth Thriller. So, though the aforementioned love songs are some of the best on radio today, they are do not come close to African Queen.

Yes, pop music can be cruel.

Ultimately, even without that baggage, Away & Beyond will struggle to be considered a masterwork. Split in two, it is mainly concerned with dancing (obviously buoyed by the success of Implication) and love. The social consciousness that had formed the backbone of his better albums only make cameos here, this is strange as now is the time for such music. It is only in In Your Eyes that a hint of the earlier 2face comes to the fore when he says, “Politicians dem looting…/Christians and Muslims praying for one loving/I see no bombing.” Weak lines and they come out as afterthoughts.

All of this may be pardonable as long as 2face does not bore listeners, which in this age of short attention spans means a tightly packed effort. Sadly, at more than a dozen tracks, about 60 minutes of playtime and consisting of duds, most listeners will struggle to stifle a yawn.

Or at the very least, get reacquainted with the skip button.

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