Dem Mama don blow?

There was a time when a comparison could be made between reggae great, Bob Marley and Timaya. Some would smack at that evaluation seeing nothing but the dreadlocks and then subtle blasphemy. But there is something compelling in expanding the audience of a one-time regional music. Marley took the music of his small Caribbean country, Jamaica to the world; Timaya’s task was considerably easier in taking the rhythms of the Niger-Delta to the rest of Nigeria. Before Marley, reggae existed, ditto Port Harcourt music before Timaya. However, with the entry of both musicians into the respective genres the status quo was forever altered.

Sadly, unlike the late great maestro, with successive albums Timaya’s ambition to be ‘the king of commercial,’ has undermined any further critical comparisons. The romance with the good life has caught up with his music; the man that had produced an album based on a series of rejection, poverty and the militarization of his homestead, is hardly the same man that brags about owning a Camry 2.2 and dating Nollywood actress, Empress Njamah.

It is understandable to some extent even if one would rather hear good music; on 99 Problems, Jay-Z said “Rap critics that say he’s money, cash, hoes/I’m from the hood stupid/what type of facts are those/If you grew up with holes in your zapatos{Spanish for shoes}/You’d celebrate the minute you was having those.” It should not frustrate anyone, Timaya seeks your empathy.

Yes, those two men are as different as those before and after photos of health ‘miracles’. Still he has remained connected to his roots by keeping faith with the group Dem Mama Soljas, a group that derives its name from Timaya’s first hit. Now, with LLNP, Timaya has given it a chance to, to use hip-hop parlance, blow.

Or has he? LLNP (social media shorthand for ‘long life and prosperity’ and taken from the first song) with its 20 songs is monstrous and Timaya is on a whopping 11 tracks and has his name in a caps dwarfing the group’s. This means the album under review could pass for a solid Timaya solo album with the other songs as bonus tracks or skits. Scrapping most of them would be the best action. But if that was done, how can Timaya claim to have done something for his friends?

That misguided magnanimity is the Achilles heel of this album but it plays into Timaya’s hands as nearly all of his solo spots in this musical cavalcade are highlights. The only member of the group that actually manages to come close is TJ 2solo, who had a memorable verse in the song Dem Mama Anthem[Cutlass] featured on 2008’s Gift and Grace. The other 2 artists are mostly interchangeable clones of the self-professed Egberipapa 1. Despite the similarity in the individual vocal styling that frequently turns the songs into a buzzing cacophony, there appears to be a structure to the group, a method to the madness, if you will: Timaya is head honcho and does anything he wants, TJ 2solo and Wrecoba are rappers while Allenian is the crooner. It is also the nature of the group that these divisions are far from rigid and often morph and overlap.

The songs themselves are set to beats that are very similar since most are produced by the relatively unknown YoungD. Upcoming producer Phyno gets 2 spots and acquits himself admirably. However the consistency of the beats is due to the mainly rhythmic percussion that forms the foundation for a lot of the songs except for the quasi-techno beat on Wrecoba’s Replay which for its oddness is a very enjoyable song if the listener can switch off the lyrics. Themes revolve around the newly found fame for the less prominent members while Timaya is still combating all his ‘enemies’, celebrating his success in spite of them and emphasizing that he came all the way to Lagos and thrived.

Not renowned for his vocal or lyrical prowess, Timaya’s success is largely due to his street credibility- he really was a plantain boy- and his ability to spin otherwise weak lines into enjoyable melody around powerful thumping beats and he does it excellently on two tracks here, All the Way and Another Man Work, Another Man Chop- tracks that have already become party staples. The other members have this ability to a lesser extent. And you have to be thankful for this ability for without it, between the near-inane lyrics and simplistic end-of-line rhyme pattern; this album and almost all of Timaya’s oeuvre will be unlistenable.

Examples abound: on She No Mind, TJ 2solo says, “Her love na quality, she go give large quantity,” and on Upgrade: “ Today I’m feeling like hiphop/the people lick me like lollipop/2solo me/I’m climbing to the top/and you know I will never ever drop” which are laughable lines but make some kind of under-educated sense; Wrecoba says on E No Easy, ‘No be one day job, no be two day job,” thankfully he stops at three.

Allenian serenades a lady with “Na you dey make my head dey swell/with your wonderful kind/my name dey ring a bell…me and you…we too jell/it’s like I’m locked up in a cell/for my life there’s no more Jezebel,” beyond the need for a rhyme, it’s incomprehensible how the biblical figure merits a mention; not to be outdone, Timaya says on Dem No Like Me a track done with Ras Kimono reliving his now classic line, Timaya says: “Dem say my first album was a fluke/but every time I keep coming with the hook/see next thing they call me a crook/this type of my talent I no read am inside book.”

Hardly thought provoking and spoken out loud, the lines are very silly; which is why that they work in the respective songs is commendable- nobody can make you forget about absurd lyrics like Timaya and his cohorts.

For pure joy, the songs Sololi, Upgrade and Razz are worth several listens- on their best days these guys have a gift for crafting choruses and hooks of beauty. On generic days, they rework the formula from better cuts. LLNP contains both types of days. Fans will sift and enjoy; others will skip.

If you are, however, looking to be convinced by the Port Harcourt boy’s competence, wait for his solo output where his admittedly marginal musical merits are not overburdened by his magnanimity- Dem Mama Soljas is no The Wailers after all.