Tems' debut album is a toast to growth and self-discovery [Review]

Tems ‘Born In The Wild’ embraces her essence and growth as both an artist and a person.

A review of Tems' debut album 'Born In The Wild'

A Nigerian RnB singer whose music leans more towards the sensibilities of the alternative community than of mainstream listeners, Tems’ career saw a sudden jump from that of a talented artist adored by an intimate community of followers to a superstar whose music and name became a recurring part of western mainstream media.

After listeners dived into her catalogue and soared her previous releases ‘Higher’ and ‘Free Mind’ to commercial success, it didn’t take long for superstars to come knocking. In the months that followed, she was featured by Drake and Beyonce. She wrote the official soundtrack for Marvel’s ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ which was performed by Rihanna and would go on to be nominated for an Oscar. She would also pick up a Grammy Award for Best Melodic Rap Performance after being featured by Future on his chart-topping track ‘Wait For U’.

It’s this unprecedented level of success for a Nigerian singer that preceded the release of Tems’ debut album which comes nearly three years after after dazzling her way into the consciousness of a global mainstream audience.

And while Tems' fast-growing fan base feverishly demanded that she tie an album to her monumental rise, the Grammy-winner elected to take her time to introspect and find her voice before charting a course for her continuous ascension.

It’s this sobriety of self-reflection, the desire to heal from past hurts and trauma, and an appreciation of the beauty amidst her surreal rise that shapes her debut album ‘Born In The Wild’.

With this album, Tems answers lingering questions about her artistry and positioning through music that carries her essence and connects with listeners whose love and patronage lifted her to superstar status.

At the album’s core is RnB music grounded in soulful melodies and heartfelt lyrics delivered through a familiar singing style that plays around with conventional melodic structures and forms. Tems also offered more than just the familiar as she explored Afrobeats, jazz, dancehall, and hip-hop to craft an album that conveys the multiple influences that shape her talent.

Tems’ production contributions to the album and her partnership with her long-term producer GuiltyBeatz helped craft a coherent sound that thrived on her sonic identity even as she recruited talented producers such as Sarz, London, Spax, and DameDame for much-needed diversity.

Listeners get to experience Tems’ reflections from the opening ballad ‘Born In The Wild’ where she contemplates the wilderness that is in the world and her efforts in figuring out her place in it.

Whether it be a reflection of her surreal rise in the slow-burning heartfelt RnB single ‘Burning’ or the Sade Adu-influenced soothing Jazz and Pop rhythm on ‘Ready’ where she expresses her readiness to let her light shine bright, we get to experience Tems’ musings with fame and success just as in the conversation with her mother on the ‘Special Baby (interlude)’.

In an interview with Nigerian YouTuber Korty EO, Tems shared her views on romantic relationships and she navigates them in the modern world of romance. She muses over this deeply personal subject on the Jazz Soul of ‘Unfortunate’ and the RnB ballad of ‘Boy O Boy’ where she says good riddance to bad love.

In the interview with Korty EO, Tems described true love as knowing the worst about a person and still wanting them. It’s this all-consuming love that she sings about in the groovy Jazz record ‘Forever’ where she demands to be adored and fawn over desperately. And when the love doesn’t come how she wants it, Tems doesn’t hesitate to put a lock on her heart as is evident in in the mid-tempo bounce of ‘Free Fall’ where she features J Cole who delivers a suitable verse. It’s hard to miss that the composition doesn’t carry the stunning appeal of a single. Hence this writer wonders if a J Cole verse wouldn't have provided more utility (considering that he has been on a 12-month-long run of hit features) on the swaggering sensual dancehall record ‘Turn Me Up’ if featuring him on the 50 Cent-inspired ‘T-Unit’ would be too obvious.

Tems talent is shaped by the music of different generations of artists who have left their marks on different genres. She interpolates Magic System’s era-defining classic hit ‘Premier Gaou’ on the dancehall bounce of ‘Wickedest’ where she embraces her success and her status as a pacesetter.

On the swingy kicks of ‘Gangsta’ she interpolates Diana Kings ‘L-L-L Lies’ as she contemplates contemplations on her success and fame that came with heavy scrutiny while thumping her chest on her ability to blaze through.

She delightfully reimagines the classic Nigerian record ‘Love Me Jeje’ over groovy Afrobeats drums for a song where she visibly embraces her Nigerian heritage by cutely sprinkling a relatable “Nepa” line as the nostalgic rush of Seyi Sodimu & Shaffy Bello’s 1996 hit got Nigerian listeners across the line.

Tems taps Nigerian revered producer Sarz to craft an Amapiano and Afrobeats hybrid on the Afropop love record ‘Get It Right’ where she calls on era-defining superstar Asake to deliver the needed lamba and domestication while retaining her alluring RnB flows.

Since her rise, Tems has offered parts of herself whether it be through interviews and her many monumental concert performances, and now, she’s doing it through the music. On how she gets the strength and inspiration to keep going, Tems gives insight into drawing support from people around her such as her mother and managers Wale Davis and Muyiwa Awoniyi whose words of encouragement form the ‘Voice In My Head (interlude)’.

Above all, Tems finds strength from God as she sings in a celebration of her faith on ‘Me & U’ and ‘You’re In My Face’. It’s with this unflinching faith to continue blazing through the challenges of life that Tems encourages listeners to ‘Hold On’ as her surreal journey and self-discovery continues.

Overall, Tems’ ‘Born In The Wild’ is an album that embraces her essence and growth as both an artist and a person.

Although 18 tracks and 2 features could make for an overwhelming listening experience for the average listener who isn’t fully drawn to Tems’ artistry, the expiration of Afrobeats and Dancehall does provide songs that appeal to the sensibilities of mass consumers. However, for listeners who resonate with Tems’ music, ‘Born In The Wild’ offers in sufficient doses just what they need from an artist who has won their hearts.

• 0-1.9: Flop

• 2.0-3.9: Near fail

• 4.0-5.9: Average

• 6.0-7.9: Victory

• 8.0-10: Champion

Pulse Rating: /10

Album Sequencing: 1.7/2

Songwriting, Themes, and Delivery: 1.6/2

Production: 1.6/2

Enjoyability and Satisfaction: 1.4/2

Execution: 1.6/2

TOTAL - 8

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