Starboy, First of His Name: The SFTOS review.

“I originally meant for this to be a first listen review but experience has taught me in more ways than one that even the best of Nigerian albums takes time to grow on me. Worse still, no other artist exemplifies this limitation more than Ayo Ibrahim Balogun a.k.a Wizkid; it took me several months before I started appreciating AYO for the work of art it is and Superstar had to wait even longer than that.

Therefore, in the spirit of knowing thyself, I decided to chill out and take time to assimilate the album first rather than risk letting impulse hijack my words. So here I am, ten days after the first of many listens, ready to do my best critic impression.”

First time I came across Wizkid was during my freshman year in OAU. I had just gotten some new songs for my old iPod and on my way back from lectures one evening, “Fast Money, Fast Cars” shuffled itself into my ears, and by God, it was beautiful. I wasn’t even a peddler of Nigerian music back then (maybe except for TuFace’s) but there was just something distinctly hypnotic about Wizkid’s voice on that particular hook that made me sit up and notice; his voice purer than bodies baptized in River Jordan while M.I weaves in between like a young messiah come to save hip-hop. Banky must have felt the same way too because shortly after Wizkid signed to Empire Mates Entertainment label and the rest they say is history.

Never before in the pages of our music industry has any home grown African artist written history the likes of which Wizkid has in the past few years. His evolution has been televised for all to see as he went from hustling studio sessions in downtown Surulere to sharing the same breathing space with the biggest artists in the world. Courtesy of a life-changing feature on Drake’s ‘One Dance’, Wizkid became the first Nigerian to appear at the top of the Billboard Chart after the song peaked at number one spot for a record 11 weeks. He’s since signed a mega deal with Sony Records, had a tryst with Justin Skye, almost won a Grammy (Skales must have been relieved), actually won three Billboard awards, and word around blogs is that he’ll be joining Future on his HENDRXX tour. All in all, it’s been breath-taking supernatural success; the kind that makes you wonder whether or not a secret room exists in his mother’s house that nobody must enter. Banished now are those memories when he was a fresh faced kid running errands for MI and co.

But as the saying goes, success is Siamese and Condemnation is its better half. You just don’t accumulate this much fame without incurring a lot of backlash too. Don’t believe me? Ask Mike Jackson. Ask the Kardashians, or even Speed Darlington. I’m sure they’ll agree.

In Wizkid’s case, his biggest critique is a school of thought back at home, disgruntled fans that think in his pursuit of international superstardom, he’s gone the commercial route and stopped keeping it real. Apparently he’s tweaking his sound to suit the “other” people and he’s amounted to nothing but a sellout. Never one to take things lying down, Wizkid chose to reply with a subtle fuck you in the shape of his E.P title; “Sounds From The Other Side”, he christened it as if mocking the very debate in question. But then again what did you expect from a kid that grew up in streets of Shitta.

Is it true that he’s changing sound? Yes, absolutely.

Is that such a bad thing? I wouldn’t think so, as long as the music is still very good. The only problem is the jury is still out on this. While there were standout guest appearances on Runtown’s ‘Lagos to Kampala’, Tinnie Tempah’s ‘Mamacita’ and Justin Skye’s, ‘You Don’t Know’, the promotional singles that preceded SFTOS didn’t do Wizkid’s any favours. Daddy Yo was watery at best, reminiscent of ‘Daddy Yankee’ at the heights of his powers and ‘Come Closer’ despite being really good music, received a different kind of backlash thanks to Drake who pulled a double Houdini by not appearing on any of the two videos. Many Nigerians felt this was tantamount to a shove in the chest and the whole thing devolved into widespread brouhaha on social media that’s eventually overshadowed the quality and undeniable success of the song.

The guess the truth is its quite difficult to manage expectations when you’re arguably the biggest commercial export of Nigerian music which is why going to this album, the chips were stacked pretty high against Wizkid. SFTOS will be his first project since international stardom beckoned and he signed his mega Sony deal so there’s added pressure to deliver. There’s also the not so small matter of finding a much needed equilibrium in sound to appease irate fan base at home and appeal to the new ones he’s courting overseas. Talk about being in a tight spot. But like wise old Uncle Ben said, “With great power comes great responsibility” and I would think that if there was ever any Nigerian artist right with the momentum to rise above all this, it’s Starboy Wizzy.

Walk with me.

1. Sweet Love.

This is palm wine and asun spot on a Friday night music, while patiently waiting for Aduke to show up with her big coconuts. I remember it took me less than 10 seconds during the first listen to get hooked on this. The traditional drums threw the first punches, before soft jazz assaulted my consciousness and when Wiz’s vocals finally crawled into my ear drums, I laid there on my bed, transfixed and mind blown. This sounds like its a continuation from AYO and just like on Jaiye Jaiye and Ojuelegba, Fela Anikulapo’s influence is quite apparent yet not forced. There’s a quick sample of Shakara (Oloje) where Wizkid almost wrecked the whole thing by needlessly toying with auto-tune but thankfully it was gone just as quickly as it came. The track ends with a show stealing jazz sequence at the end of the track that would have had Fela himself shuddering from pure delight in his deep slumber.

I think its quite telling that on the first song from a project meant to explore musical expressions from the overseas, Wizkid decided to kick off with something closer to home. Talk about not forgetting where you came from eh?

2. Come Closer (Feat Drake)

One of the earlier mentioned singles that were used to promote the E.P and a testament to how far up the ladder Wizkid has climbed. Thanks to MTV Base and BeatFM, I’ve already heard this so many times before the album release, the lyrics have practically laid eggs in my brain. Notwithstanding, it was still refreshing to hear it in the context of the mixtape. Amidst all the music video controversy people forget how significant this moment is for music. Here are two artistes with vastly different cultural inclinations, at the peak of their respective careers, coming together to usher in a new sound. Props.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=xUetSQlxOWY

3. Naughty Ride

Produced by the trio that is Major Lazar, this one starts out with a clap sequence strangely reminiscent to the one on Busta’s Make it Clap (children of the early nineties raise your hands if you remember) and there’s even the whole Sean Paul dutty rock vibe throughout the track. Wizkid shows he’s well in touch with his classics with a catchy sample of Diana King’s ‘Lies’ but it was the quick hook about a certain ambivalent Yoruba girl that gets me everytime.

Can I get my keys o Sade/You say you go leave o Sade…

All in all, its not the best song on the album, lyrically it’s repetitive but it still manages to captivate attention every time it plays.

4. African Bad Girl

This one is bound to be a perennial favourite with DJs everywhere. Wizkid and Sarz have always had great chemistry, dating all the way back to his STARBOY days. There’s this story I once heard about how during his early days as a producer, Sarz came up with this Beat of Life that was sampled from Samba music. But as wavy as the production was, no artiste could successfully hop on it or keep in time with the tempo. That was until Wizkid came through to the studio, 30 minutes or so later he had done what many before him couldn’t. Better still, the song went on to rule the airwaves for months and I have a feeling that this song too will thread the same path. The production is a mashup of electro/techno pop and percussion to make a futuristic sort of pangolo music that is usually associated with the Ajegunle part of time but that didn’t stop Chris Brown from breezing through like a hurricane. He delivered arguably the standout features on the E.P, flawlessly blasting pidgin as if he was from Isale Eko while earning my respect along the way. This track here is one for the keeping. No Eric Benet.

5. Daddy Yo

It is not really a terrible song but there is a such a disconnect from originality here that a hundred listens haven’t cured. I doubt a hundred more will.

6. One For Me

The sunniest song on the entire album – at least as far as the beat is concerned. This is classic Caribbean love song, one that is bound to have you thinking of beaches, bikinis and coconut juice in no time. While you can always count on TY Dolla $ign to deliver the goods, this is yet another one that won’t leave lasting impressions on the sands of time. On a different note, the backup vocals at the end sounds a whole lot like Justin Skye. I wonder if this was recorded before they ‘broke’ up.

7. Picture Perfect

If SFTOS is the matrix, then Wizkid must have taken the red pill before recording this because this is absolutely psychedelic. Like on Ojuelegba, Wizkid explores a whole another side to his music nobody has heard before and it’s all the better for it. The record is made to be slightly melancholic; the reverberation of the piano chord with drums and his eerie vocals is both humbling and expansive. At two minutes thirty seconds, this is the shortest song on the entire project but one of the best regardless. When this ended, it was just how I felt when Michael Jackson died 8 years ago…gone too soon.

8. Nobody

Not a big fan especially when the autotune kicked in. If I had to delete a song to free up storage, this will undoubtedly be one of the first casualties.

9. Sexy

As if he’s to make up for that horrible last track, Wizkid steps in with another contemporary masterpiece. Sarz must have eaten goat meat before making this song because this people, is the greatest of all time. It sounds very much like Pakurumo from Superstar with the heavy talking drums and the backup band vibes except way better and more refined. This is the type of song to go crazy to at your next Owambe; Ladies with the komole (or the twerk or whatever works for you people these days) and fellas with the Agbada Swerve.

10. All For Love featuring Bucie

Wizkid has experimented several times with house music before to outstanding results and this is no different as he teams up with South African songbird Bucie (who is supposed to be retired btw) for what is my favourite song on the album. There is a lot of competing energy between the two of them; Bucie’s vocals are powerful, but not overpowering and for Wizkid there’s an extra layer of timbre in his voice as he spins tales of love unrequited. There’s that touch of that melancholy from Picture Perfect and again it makes the song all the more beautiful.

11. Dirty Wine (feat. TY Dolla $ign)

TY makes his second appearance on the album but despite a decent feature and nice accompanying production, the whole thing feels rather underwhelming. This sounds like it has the potential to grow on me with more listens but for now it’s nothing more than another song suffering from poor lyricism and born out of a desire to fill up the empty slots on the album.

12. Gbese

Ever felt like a collaboration could have been much more? This is largely underwhelming and. Thank God most of the songs on this E.P don’t sound like this lest Wizkid for don enter gbese.

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At forty minutes and some, SFTOS is fleeting, diverse and fun for most parts. It is the purest distillation of the current state of Wizkid, a perfect blend for old fans and forward thinking futurists. The result is art, maybe not louvre-worthy but a multicultural masterpiece nonetheless, and one that should hang on your playlist for the foreseeable future. Mouth to ear resuscitation is what Wizkid does best and on SFTOS, thanks to an ensemble of international acts and homegrown producers behind him, he delivers a project worthy to be called album of the year.

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