STATE OF THE INDUSTRY
It is fitting that the first voice you hear on Banky W’s EME compilation album, Empire Mates State of Mind, is Wizkid’s.
He is one-fifth of the group—not that you will know from listening to the album. On an album comprising nineteen songs and three skits, the man is on eleven tracks; three of these are solos. That tells a story: EME’s Empire Mates State of Mind could pass for Wizkid’s sophomore.
As with all of Wizkid’s output till date, the album is blissful, brainless, and undeniably melodious. It also comes with another signature of Wizkid: replete as it is with the man’s limited lyrical vocabulary, consisting almost entirely of banal nouns; feminine pronouns; and ready-made ubiquitous monosyllabic verbs: women are implored to shake, move, roll, grind and wind.
Considering the amount of physical activity these unnamed women are implored to undertake, it is to Empire Mates’ credit that the album features unarguably the most consistently impressive array of beats in an album of such length. That is down to the selection of mostly rising producers—save for Cobhams on a single track.
These producers, especially Sarz and Spellz, whose better cuts feature a background chanting, are on more tracks than a few of the members of the group and arguably perform well in supplying these frivolous-singing, often freestyling warblers with catchy beats.
The prominent members of the group, Wizkid and Banky W, show subtle shifts in their concerns. On album standout, the irresistible Roll It, both artists urge a lady to do the eponymous act, but while Wizkid restricts it to the dance floor, Banky W assumes the cocky Lothario persona—”she says she has a boyfriend- cool story!”—and before long the scene has shifted to the back of his car. Banky regurgitates this persona throughout.
The other members of the group, Skales, Shaydee, Niyola and the idle DJ Exclusive—it is hard to tell if the mysterious XO Senavoe is really a member—get chances to shine but these are brief and mostly swept away by the bubblegum majesty of Wizkid’s hooks.
Skales does his best to hold on—show me another rapper who can rap and who can sing, he queries. But multitasking isn’t an advantage when the competition is Wizkid. Again, he mentions the other man on Wetin I Want, inevitably drawing attention to who he is not.
The other members don’t try wrestling with the magnificence of Wizkid’s easy charm: if Wizkid is heir to Wande Coal’s Yoruba pop throne, then Shaydee is his latter-day kin and clone. Niyola, is an original; her solo track Don’t Go There is the unconventional of the lot what with its euro pop sound and feathery caressing of both Yoruba and English syllables. It is a loss she is not on more songs. For now it is hard to tell what DJ Exclusive does for the group to warrant his name on the letterhead. Banky W, as everyone knows, is overseer.
The deluge of unserious lyrics calls for breaks and ‘balancing’. Breaks on Empire Mates come in form of a funny storyline in three episodes featuring comedian Basketmouth and the balancing is just the one song, Change—a title more ironic than they must have realized. Change shows the less confident Wizkid who is never comfortable singing seriously. The song is the musical equivalent of a corporate social responsibility campaign by an immoral corporation.
The prominent features here—dance-ready beats; infectious hooks and choruses; slack songwriting, “I dey sing any song- do re mi fa so la ti do”; light, often crude, explorations of the carnal—go beyond this album and are mainly symptoms of the times.
In fact, the Empire Mates’ state of mind is the music industry’s current state of mind. EME has only managed to use the prevailing paradigm to their benefit, so that whatever vituperations flung at the album should be directed at a culture that has made an album with no great musical, aesthetic or moral ambition a highlight of the year in music. And while we wait for better times, when perhaps conscious music will receive its due, it may be prudent or at least practical to spend the time dancing to this album. No one else has made a better album of the situation than EME.
You decide if that’s a good thing.