ThePingOfPong

Pieces on Film, Prose and Music by a Nigerian

Tag: Wizkid

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.

ALBUM REVIEW: BANKY, WIZKID & CO’S EMPIRE MATES STATE OF MIND

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.

EME- Empire State of Mind

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.

EME Crew

As they were. L-R, Shaydee, Wizkid, Niyola, Skales, Banky W

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.

R&B What?

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.

R&B-Wtf?

R&B-Wtf?

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.

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