Poverty Die: The unusual genius of the Olamide Chorus

One of the few unpopular Olamide songs has quite the uncanny chorus.

I refer to 2014’s ‘Up in the Club’ from the Street OT album. The song never got a video and so never really got the attention its ingenious chorus deserved. The song’s story is rather standard Olamide fare, in how it alludes to borderline nonconsensual sex and clubs. But anyone who has heard it might remember its chorus:

We up in the club
 My nigga we up in the club
 We be yeye boys ma nigga
 You know say bottles go pop
 We blowing the money,
 the girls go crazy,
 they pull off they top
 Awon olosho ti n happy,
 Inu won ti n dun
 Because they know what’s up

For many hiphop and pop stars in Olamide’s generation, the lengthy chorus is a bit of a rarity. This is a smart move for a single reason: Because much of pop music depends on repetition, the smart artist’s average chorus features a few words which are repeated for earworm effect. But Olamide has flipped the script several times, producing word-heavy songs with extended choruses. (2016’s ‘Owo Blow’ is his 3-verse masterpiece of word-heavy rap with extended hooks.)

On ‘Up In the Club’, he produces a chorus of several lines which work a complicated rhyme scheme, something of the AABCDDCDEC order.

Besides that rhyme, “Yah!” ends each of those lines. Olamide then weaves Yah! into the hook which is made up entirely of repeated shouts of “Alhaja ah!” The effect is a thread of rhymes that form the fabric of both the chorus and the song’s verses. It might not sound like much but somehow Olamide makes shouts into melody. Wrapped in the blanket of Pheelz’s production, ‘Up In the Club’ gives off an unusual pleasure. It might be noisy, but there is some method to the song’s apparent cacophony.

A similar pattern comes up on another of Olamide’s unpopular tracks, this time taken from the 2015 Olamide and Phyno collaborative album 2 Kings.

‘For My City’ is about Lagos, which has to be one of the noisiest cities in the world. The cacophony of ‘Up in the Club’ would be apt, but the song is mid-tempo, as the job of embodying Lagos is passed on from beat to chorus, which has a hook made up entirely of Olamide mimicking the chants from hawkers and bus conductors. Once again, Olamide makes a peculiar melody out of shouts.

Olamide, who came on as a rapper, has famously received much grief for indulging in pop music, a piece of criticism that is often richly deserved, but maybe dipping into pop is inevitable for an artist who seems to be able to spin anything into melody. What is he supposed to do with this ability if not sing from time to time?

In any case, on his new song ‘Poverty Die’, that ability has come in handy. ‘Poverty Die’ blends highlife with Nigerian church music, lacing Kegite music with the violent strain of Pentecostal Nigerian prayer.

Both influences are depicted in the animated video released alongside the single. Cartoon-Olamide’s moves would not be out of place in the average beer parlour, yet the guy sports a white garment outfit, spirits out a bell, and brandishes a cross to wade off the monstrosity representing poverty.

The kinship between today’s Nigerian church and the country’s pop music is represented by the bags of money Olamide is sleeping on when the video opens: Both Nigerian pop and Nigerian Christianity fetishise money and the aim in both spaces is the acquisition of the same thing: “Money when no get focus,” as Olamide sings.

The song’s chorus is made up of chants of “Die”, “Die o!”, and “Poverty Die!” which come up at intervals as is typical with the prayer from a particular church in Nigeria. It could be social commentary but Olamide has repeatedly shown he is obsessed with riches like your average rapper — and perhaps your average pastor.

His interest here and elsewhere is purely aesthetic. When Olamide is dreaming up a chorus, his aim is more experimental pop-poetry than politics. The chief question on Olamide’s mind is this: Can I arrange this sound in a way that produces something melodious, something musical?

As ‘Up in the Club’, ‘For My City’, and ‘Poverty Die’ shows, the answer is an emphatic “Yes”.