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Friday, January 16, 2015

2014 in Review: ‘Ayo': The Album That Should Have Come First

Hindsight is great. It provides the conducive atmosphere for one to piece puzzles. Go back and listen to Wizkid’s 2011 debut ‘ Superstar’. On the album artwork, he’s wearing a baseball cap and a black shirt under a patterned shirt. The ploy is clear. He’s not limiting his audience. Of the 17 tracks on the album, a mere 3 are Yoruba titles. There’s obviously still a lot of Yoruba but he’s making that classic move of trying to draw the listeners in. It’s that technique Kanye West says would have changed the perception of ‘Yeezus’ had ‘Blood on Leaves’ been the album opener.

Come to 2014 and Wizkid’s follow up is titled ‘Ayo’. There’s a little bracket pointing out that ‘Ayo’ translated into Yoruba means ‘Joy’. The album artwork is set in a village and the protagonist and his dancers are decked out in traditional gear. You see, when you’ve succeeded in making yourself relevant, there’s no need for pretensions. We’re going into Yoruba territory. This time, there are 4 Yoruba titles whilst 2 tilt towards an Igbo influence.

I’ll stop all the Psychoanalysis and get straight to the point: Wizkid’s latest body of work is a disappointment. All the pushback and delays might have heightened expectations but the feeling is one of an artist who has gotten too comfortable and subsequently regressed. Or perhaps, it’s the Arsene Wenger conundrum: an act coming on the scene and showing themselves to be close to genius but as time passes, others catch up or they stagnate and start to look antiquated. Make no mistake about it; Davido, Patoranking and Phyno are running him close as the most in demand artistes this side of the world.

What are the low points of ‘Joy’? The manner in which it was released seemed a bit desperate. Like a decision that was made one morning without too much thought which would betray what had seemed like a meticulously planned project. Almost half the songs that make the album had been floating about for a while. Then, there’s the fact that he was already copping flak before the album came out for releasing song after song that sounded the same. To then, fill the album with all those songs seems a bit ill conceived. Once is never, twice is always. There’s also the fact that a lot of the content is repetitive. Tola Sarumi captured it succinctly when she said of one of the stand out tracks ‘Mummy Mi’Mummy Mi is a decent track on its own, but dude drops a line to his mother on almost every other song on the album.” It doesn’t help that the sentiments he’s expressing are pretty much the same. On ‘Jaiye Jaiye’, he said ” Mo fe ko le fun Mama mi”. On ‘Mummy Mi’ he’s asking “Se ile lo fe? I go buy two for Ghana”. It’s a heartfelt song and all but just imagine all the fun Freud would have in drawing conclusions.

To understand and judge the album well, it’s essential that there’s an understanding of what the album was supposed to do. When Don Jazzy and D’Banj curated the Mo Hits compilation album, the aim was to introduce the likes of Dr Sid, D Prince, Wande Coal and K Switch. ‘Ololufe’ accentuated Wande’s stardust and when ‘Mushin To MoHits’ became one of the great debuts, the Jazzy-Banj vision came to fruition. For ‘Ayo’, Wizkid’s motives were never clear. As nothing other than a Pop album, it functions well. He’s claimed that this is his last album on the Banky W led EME label. Could it be that he just brought together a bunch of already recorded and well circulated songs topped off with some B List guests and handed it to serve as nothing other than a contractual requirement? Even if, it’s still a blot on his record.

It’s strange that the act would choose to create a sense of disconnect. Weirdos like me would always find things to nitpick at so it seems crazy that he would knowingly choose to enable us. It makes no sense that on a song titled ‘In My Bed’ he proceeds to shout out figures like Fashola, Saraki, Marwa, Tinubu and Otedola. Does he want them in his bed? Why not just do an Ayefele type song for that? A lot of the subject matter is hackneyed. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t suggest that Wizkid alter his style drastically and start trying to sing like Timi Dakolo but it surely can’t be too much to ask that a little more went into the writing process. Saeon claims ‘Boogie Down’ was done in half an hour (As an aside, why is it that artists always claim they finish tracks in 30 minutes? Why always 30 minutes? Do they expect us to be like “Ooh! Aah! Did you know it took so so and so only 30 minutes to do that song?”) It’s all well and good doing the party freestyle thing but the fact that ‘Joy’ is probably the best song on the album and it seemed to be the best written is a great indicator that there’s so much that could be better. This album might have been great if it were made by Skales or D’Prince but Wizkid is someone we’ve come to expect a lot of.

To also inform the sense of being underwhelmed, Mr. Balogun has spent the past year hobnobbing with proper gliterratti. He is affiliated with Tinie Tempah, hung out with Harry Styles and tweeted of Rihanna complimenting his sound. Time for the album and all we can get is Tyga, Wale and Akon. This might have been cool if he didn’t already have hotter songs with two of those acts. There’s also the fact he had been in bullying mode in the weeks prior (when he and Davido had their little tiff). To boast of selling out arena’s and then releasing a substandard piece of work weeks later paints the picture of someone that perhaps could do with a slice of humble pie. Essentially, this is the album that should have come first. “Superstar” would have been so much more apt as the sophomore effort. In the spirit of looking back, it’s pertinent to note that the review of ‘Superstar’ to feature on Nigerian Entertainment Today suggested “Wizkid compressed albums 2 and 3 of his career into one CD”.

Originally published on The Culture Custodian


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