In 2019, releasing a body of work has become an afterthought in the face of quick consumer-driven music gratification.
We are in the era where singles reign, and there is barely enough time to sit down and listen through a 45+ minutes project, but thank God for those who understand that albums do still matter and not just albums for ‘releasing an album/project’ sake, but taking the challenge of producing a good project that tells the unique story of where the artist is at a specific moment.
There is a real skill in creating an album that captures your emotions, where each song sparks a life of its own and perfectly builds a connection with its fanbase. That ingenuity and dedication to craft a body of work that invites the listener into each song and draws them through the journey cannot be replaced.
For many like me, we belong to that era that prefers the meal in full with all the spices adding up and well served, so we let the taste linger before giving a verdict on the cook rather than just rushing to pass a judgment on the talent after just a bite, or different bites from divergent recipes.
2019 has been a great year for Nigerian music, and just before the end of the year arrives and the mainstream and pop vultures rinse the music down to only those ones that made the loudest noise, here is my collection of five projects that I enjoyed listening to in my catch-up time and feel you should also check out.
ill Bliss — ‘ILLOSOPHY’
Ill Bliss is one of those artists that has not just found his niche but also mastered the art of being the ‘Boss’. He says exactly what you wish you could say, but even better.
With his authoritative way of rapping, Illy comes across as a teacher who has earned his stripes trying to get a message or a political point across instead of just rhyming, but not only is he a master of lyrical craftsmanship, Illy rhymes from his heart and on ‘Illosophy,’ his latest body of work, the heart fights through the pain as he raises his glass to pour a toast to his friend and fellow member of the Thorobreds, B-Elect, who passed away earlier in the year.
From the tape’s opener, ‘Player to a Coach’, produced by Majorbangz, Illy takes his elite position as he talks about ‘‘Billionaire pose’’ and other sacrifices that have led him this far, he gives it all to God on ‘Ruler 2’, a joint that embellishes the legacy of B-Elect.
‘Lie Down Dia’ and ‘Osadebe’ are grandiose stunting songs. The former laid on a bouncy beat that can fit into a Lagos club playlist while the latter, more laid back, dropping industry lessons as he casts himself as the gifted mind of God.
He provides the perfect hustler’s anthem on ‘Die There,’ a standout track, tapping inspiration from a slang that became famous on social media a while back. ‘Grown Man Rap’ features the late Elect as they roll back the years, with ‘Thankful’, a convenient curtain closer.
Ill Bliss’s greatest weapon is his presence behind the mic, that confidence and maturity behind his persona that creates a balance even in instances when his lyrics can’t and ‘Illosophy’ fully exemplifies this; the ideology behind his existence.
Illosophy by Illbliss
Album · 2019 · 7 Songs. Available with an Apple Music subscription. Try it free.
Lady Donli — ‘Enjoy Your Life’
Lady Donli is one of those talents that I have followed her progress keenly for years and edged bet on her success, even though I wasn’t sure how ‘success’ would be defined in her context.
Would it be through the eyes of her handful fanbase that lined up a few meters from the stage as she performed the more popular of her songs, ‘Ice Cream’ at the Gidifest stage in 2018 while the larger audience at the back looked on with less interest? Would it be measured by the growing numbers of her followers on streaming platforms and her social media pages? I wasn’t particularly sure, but if there is one thing that I was certain of, it was her talent, she could literally do anyway she wanted, from, soul, R&B, Afro-soul, poetics or even Jazz and somehow find a way to make it sound nice, she is that good.
Her feature on ‘Lagos Gyration’, the intro of the more established act, Mr. Eazi’s ‘Lagos to London’ album, served the first taste of her new artistic direction.
Experimentation, cultural influences, creative growth, love, her take on societal issues, and solid production are platforms upon which ‘Enjoy Your Life’ is built. As my friend and fellow scribe, Motolani Alake describes here, ‘‘one way to truly enjoy your life is a freedom to explore,’’ and that is exactly what Donli tapped into to create a truly worthy debut offering.
On records like ‘Suffer Suffer’, she not only tells her story but also confirms her new mantra, ‘she came to enjoy,’ while ‘Cash’ conveys the desires of the regular Nigerian youth.
Other personal favorites off the album include, ‘Answers’, where she responds to naysayers and critics, ‘Never Ending’, ‘With The Kindness,’ a reunion with Tomi Thomas and the banging Cavemen assisted, ‘Corner.’
‘Enjoy Your Life’ feeds off Donli’s experiences and expressive desire to produce something unique with each song crafted with a jovial yet mature sound, originality and connectivity to the one before it. At the end of 15 songs, I had a clearer picture of what ‘success’ meant in relation to Lady Donli’s musical path. She has treaded gloriously on a ground where some have attempted and failed; creating a conceptual and timeless body of work that caters to her core fans without alienating a new audience waiting at the door. Donli has created a top-shelf material on her own terms, we are just blessed to be a part of it.
Daramola — It’s a double pleasure to deceive the deceiver
My first encounter with Daramola’s music was in 2017 when I sent in a review of his debut project ‘‘The Last Time I Tried’’ as my entry for the Critic Challenge, where I finished in the Top 10. The album had singles like ‘Lotto’, ‘Palmgroove Estate’ and ‘Traffic,’ songs that made you want to fall in love even when you’re all by yourself.
Since that time, Daramola, singer/producer, son of foremost gospel singer, Gbemi Olaleye, who began making music in 2006, has gotten married to his long-time partner Karen Inder, signed a deal with Sony Music Publishing and now released his sophomore project with the intriguing title that sounds like a sub to the ‘devil’, which he says best describes his emotions at the time.
Daramola’s dominant topical influences are love, all shades of it including heartbreak, evident in songs like pre-released singles, ‘Don’t Waste My Time’ [D.W.M.T], and the EDM inspired ‘Lagos City Wave.’ There is also ‘Satisfied’ with Nonso Amadi, a song that sounds like ‘Lotto 2.0’ and ‘Don’t Be Mad @ Me.’
Then there is his Christian faith evident on ‘Bring Me Down’ which ends brilliantly with lyrics from the popular Yoruba church hymn, ‘‘Jesu ti mo mo, apata ayeraye’’ [Jesus, the rock of ages]
‘Fiyah’ is his weak attempt at scoring a radio single, and there are talks of battling his struggles on ‘New Drugs.’
‘It’s a double pleasure’ doesn’t stray too far from the beauty that is ‘TLTIT’ thematically, but this time it is more expansive and more from a place of accomplishment rather than pursuit and uncertainty. The album delivers a coherent expression of an artist fully confident of his skillset and armed with a message rather than just seeking to get his listeners to partake in idle entertainment.
Vader x TGM — ‘Lagos In July’
Budding rapper Vader, winner of the Hennessy Class 2017, who has had a lot to say lately, teams up with his friend and We Talk Sound honcho, Dolapo Amusat aka The Geeky Midget on this four-song offering, ‘Lagos In July,’ a collaborative effort that curates and succinctly summarizes the experiences of two individuals from the South Western state of Ibadan, who in recent years have made the commercial capital their new home.
While Vader is a talented wordsmith, TGM is an intelligent workhouse and his foray in front of the mic was not one I could have anticipated.
‘Jide’s Posters’, a reference to the ubiquitous madness that was witnessed during the gubernatorial election period, is the tape’s highlight as TGM boasts, ‘It’s good for y’all rappers that I don’t rap fulltime,’ going on to roll out his credentials. ‘Under Bridge’ is another one that excites, a harrowing documentation of the hustle of living in a place like Lagos and how ‘Underbridge’ is the new landmark to get to anywhere you want to. It ends with TGM narrating a sad tale of getting robbed on the way to an interview.
Vader’s relatable imagery and delivery are also quite razor-sharp on ‘Lekki Water’ and ‘Yaba Left.’
‘Lagos In July’ is not a bad way to tease an upcoming album. Descriptive, well-delivered and one with that twinge of familiarity that hits you in the right way.
Tonton Raymond — ‘Life on the line, Vol 1’
Tonton is the latest addition to the long list of rappers on the scene. The Writer/poet literally puts his ‘Life on the life’ on his introductory 5-track EP, channeling his anger, pains, and background to tell his story.
‘LOTL’ is not the perfectly executed debut offering, but what struck me while listening was the sincerity of his emotions and how tangible they were. From that sharp and consuming feeling of hurt on ‘Lost Bodies’ to ‘Patient in Ward 2’ where he agonizingly narrates stories of how he caught an infection while being a work-horse, was rushed to the hospital and got sloshed with memories of his previous journeys through wards where he lost both his parents, while also speaking up on the poor state of healthcare.
The supreme towering song on the EP is ‘Know You’, which features Mon Lee and Eve Urrah who adds some celestial touch to the hook. Laid on a lo-fi beat, there are times I felt like this was a Boogey record rather than Tonton on the verse as he rapped beautifully about his troubled love-life which was being kept a secret because of their religious differences. ‘Love is Loss’ is a good follow-up record as it serves as the perfect offspring of the preceding track.
There is still so much to improve upon, his delivery at times dangled in between him actually rapping and delivering a spoken word session, but if there is one thing Tonton got right, that is the conveying of his personal feelings into something wholly understandable and connectable, which at the end of the day is what true and great art is really all about. All that is left to say is, thank you for letting us into your life.