Asake makes grand entrance with ‘Mr. Money With The Vibe’ [Pulse Album Review]
According to Jones, Hip-Hop/Rap Music’s real roots lie in African praise-singing and panegyrics, which then got transported across the atlantic during slave trade. Gaunt slaves on rich plantations would then sing these songs for togetherness and a sense of ‘home,’ before the elements of those praise-singing started to be repurposed to document their struggles during and after the slave trade.
Jones tried to draw parallels between the sing-talk style of African panegyrics, to how Hip-Hop/Rap music became a version of melodic talk/chatter on beats. For those who might ask, an example of panegyric in Yoruba is oriki or ewi or ijala. In Igbo, you can see when kings are getting hailed in movies, before they step out in the morning.
Fuji and Were/Azan
While the slaves became American citizens, panegyric remained the same. But this time, something similar to panegyric - for style - became the roots for Fuji music. It is generally accepted that Fuji originated in - mostly - Ilorin and - to a lesser extent - Ibadan, two Yoruba cities with a strong muslim demographic.
It is also generally accepted that the vocal texture and technique that forms the unique vocal exertions and melodious vocal manipulations of Fuji artists, find roots in ‘Were’ or ‘Azan,’ the early morning call-to-prayer that muslims engage in during Ramadan. It is used to galvanize people to wake up, eat and pray, before they engage in fasting for the day.
In 2022, Nigeria’s newly minted star, Asake released ‘Palazzo,’ the first single after his debut EP, Ololade Asake. For music heads, it instantly felt like a blend of Amapiano by percussive elements and progression; Hip-Hop by way of the drum patterns/arrangement; sung-rap, by way of his technique and delivery; and Fuji by his vocal texture and vocal exertion.
Many tried to classify ‘Palazzo’ as Neo-Fuji, Fuji-Fusion, Fujipiano and Amapiano-Fusion, while some even wanted to hilariously call it, ‘Afro-Fuji,’ for ignorant reasons. But Asake’s music is just a cumulative of uniquely Nigerian (Yoruba) elements in music - even the Hip-Hop/Rap part, going by Quincy Jones’ assertion. The roots and elements of what Hip-Hop/Rap has become, finds similar sonics in what birthed Fuji.
In fact, the opening seconds of ‘Dull’ is delivered like a panegyric or Yoruba ewi or an Ifa hymn.
Such is the richness, depth and variations of Asake’s music, united by what it means to be Nigerian, and a Gen z Yoruba boy, who was born into a lower middle class or lower class reality in the late 90’s. His music also shows that beyond how his music is an unintentional intersectional product of African music history, he is an intentional product of many influences.
On every track, Asake employs a multisyllabic rhyme schemes, that is know to rappers like Kendrick Lamar and Eminem. Despite singing like a Fuji artist, he flows like a rapper. Perhaps, we should also draw inferences with how Fuji and Rap music are both premised on using a speaking approach to create music.
Asake, the dreamer and the achiever
To the average consumer, Asake’s music is simply feel-good party music. But when you check its fine lines, he just documents his reality, through carefully crafted narratives and personas. It just happens that his reality makes us dance.
On every track across his debut album, Asake is either a dreamer or an achiever. And sometimes he is both, expressed through his belief in God.
In instances like on ‘Dull,’ he manages to speak like an achiever, who was a dreamer, and yet, continues to dream.
While ‘Mr. Money’ and ‘Omo Ope’ are premised upon lavish spending and clubbing, ‘Omo Ope’ seems like both a case of escapism and self-reward, after years of dreaming and grinding.
Even though his music is rooted in Yoruba culture, there is a multiplicity and duality to everything on his debut album, Mr Money With The Vibe. Some tracks might seem similar in style, topic or approach, but no track repeats the same topic in totality. Even when he is just a dreamer or an achiever, there is still a multiplicity or duality to his approach. If he showcased muslim culture on ‘PBUY,’ he also dressed like a pastor in its video.
If he talks about his Celestial “Sutana” and “Malaika” on ‘Terminator,’ he appears to speak Arabic in the opening seconds on the song’s first verse.
If he called, ‘Sodiq,’ a muslim name on ‘Organize,’ he attends confession in the video for ‘Bandana,’ and speaks white garment church language in ‘Ototo.’ He might have even admitted that he was raised in the Celestial Church on the same song. Perhaps, he recognizes that either he is a dreamer or an achiever, he is simply a product of God’s grace in any version. Interestingly, the structural formation of 'Nzaza' is heavily influenced by midtempo church music.
If he references his dream phase on ‘Dull’ and ‘Ototo,’ he is a grateful achiever on records like ‘Dupe’ and ‘Nzaza.’
If he references “Oshomo,” a slang of 90’s origin on ‘Organize,’ he references ‘Jogor’ - a newer slang - on ‘Dull,’ his album opener.
The only common denominator on the album is that it’s essentially a grass-to-grace story, that mostly crests on the ‘grace’ part. Asake has a strong understanding of himself, his personality and his audience, and it reflects in his approach and lyrics.
‘Dull’ and ‘Ototo’ speak a similar theme from a place of plenty, while looking back, but in different ways. The latter speaks to individuality, by way of not-so-rosy roots. He sings, “Man come from a place wey bad, pray to [God that] I will never lack, but man’a born winner…”
He then breaks into individuality, by singing in Yoruba that, “We all have different destinies and paths…” He vouches to carry nobody’s destiny for them, and urges people to follow their respective paths.
On the opening track, he admits that he has made it, but vows to the old gods and to money, that he will never ‘Dull.’
But his understanding of his street-wise, mainstream audience reflects in how he starts ‘Ototo’ with. “Iya won, iya won… ati baba won…”
In English, that means, ‘Their mother, and their father…”
The same thing reflects in how he goes from philosophical musings on ‘Dull,’ to the story of Jibola, who “Jogor” and earned himself trouble from the “stubborn.” That is basically a story that anybody who grew up in inner-city Lagos can relate with. By the way, “Jogor” means to be high or drunk.
An average Yoruba person might not even understand Asake’s lyrics because they are so drenched in slang and street-wise quotables. In fact, a lot of the spendthrift lifestyle that he documents through visual opulence, is very peculiar to Yahoo boys - and that’s his reality, damn any arguments around morality, from people who enjoyed crime-infested music from American Rap.
And speaking of philosophy, Asake is also capable of depth. The opening seconds of ‘Dull’ feels like a proverb, while the second verse on ‘Ototo’ has very philosophical angles. And if you understand Yoruba, a lot of his nods to religion - especially christianity - have heavily philosophical leanings and meanings.
A lot of this is tied together by how Asake’s music projects a lot of personality. Sometimes, the personality belongs to him, while the others are carefully crafted ones, which suit the purpose of a particular song or even a moment or one 10-second burst at a time, in the overall fabric of a song.
For example, in the opening seconds of ‘Palazzo,’ he embodies a Yahoo boy who has a type and another guy, who tells a story about a selective woman. In the same vein, the post-chorus of ‘Organize’ embodies someone who sarcastically addresses a gregarious, overzealous and obnoxious person.
There is also the personality he embodies in the second verse of ‘PBUY.’ There is also the way he delivers ratchet love songs on ‘Muse’ and ‘Sunmomi,’ to show his softer side.
Asake: Mr. Money With The Vibe
There is something for everybody on 'Mr. Money With The Vibe.'
It’s pretty ridiculous that ‘Omo Ope,’ ‘Sungba,’ ‘Trabaye’ and ‘Palazzo’ are not on Asake’s debut album. Yet, it looks like it will produce at least two more hit records, maybe more. It’s a nod to his form at this time, and possibly his confidence, and that of members of his and EMPIRE’s team.
Other artists would have spammed the album with those songs to game numbers, and would have increased the length of the album to 16 tracks.
Asake still did it with ‘Sungba (Remix),’ but it’s understandable, as EMPIRE seeks to export his talent. At 30 minutes, the album can be repeated twice inside one hour. Moreover, it’s a floss that he can reach the top of the UK Apple Music albums chart without those songs. It’s also a careful avoidance, to prevent cynical observation, that he loaded his album with already successful singles, and then some. I would have called it lazy.
Sometimes, it feels like Asake’s album is a product of songs that he recorded years ago. It feels like he’s been ready for this run for at least one year now, and he just needed the right opportunity, platform and backing. Runs like this are no fluke, especially when the artist delivers primarily in Yoruba, on any type of beat, while he effortlessly switches to English and Pidgin.
He has had to survive onslaughts from Burna Boy’s and Fireboy’s albums, as well as Kizz Daniel’s ‘Buga.’ And he’s just resumed his run like nothing happened. With the help of a synergy with his producer, MagicSticks, they have toyed and experimented with the limits of certain genres. The result is an adventurous sound.
While his opening four tracks have heavy Amapiano rhythms, a non-cynical listener is not bored because the sounds are so explorative and broad. Magicsticks has used Asake as a moodboard to test run all his cool ideas, and it just happens that Asake was also ready for someone like MagicSticks - Nigeria’s producer of the year, 2022.
The best thing that this synergy achieves is the cohesion of his album, and track-on-track album sequence, segue and progression - especially within the first five tracks, and then from ‘Nzaza’ till the end. The album doles out experiences in spells. The only standalone moment on the album is 'Muse,' but it even has 'Joha,' a track which seeks to maintain the energy, as a co-breather.
The album also plays with different genres, which establishes Asake’s range, beyond just Amapiano. For example, the Afroswing ‘Reason’ is the greatest litmus test of range that Asake passed on this album.
There is also the way MagicSticks plays with ‘Joha,’ and merges Amapiano with Juju/Tungba or how he fuses Kuti Afrobeat with Amapiano and crowd vocals on ‘Organize.’ The result is an Pop album that excels on perfect musicality, afforded by its production.
For example, ‘Nzaza’ is loaded with violins and piano while ‘Organize’ - which also has brilliant guitar chords and woozy cloud strings - and ‘Dull’ excel on horns. In fact, ‘Dull’ is an eclectic song. On most of the beats on this album, there is nothing to add or remove.
However, ‘Nzaza’ would have been the perfect closer for the album, considering its topic. That said, it is also understandable that it wasn't because of the aforementioned spell between 'Nzaza' and 'Reason,' which was calm and introspective, considering topics.
While ‘Muse’ is the weakest track on the album, it’s no filler. Considering how the album is optimized for streaming platforms, it could have also done with one or two more features: Olamide on ‘Nzaza’ and a South African DJ feature on ‘Sunmomi,’ to launch into that market.
Russ will bring in a loyal, premium and predominantly white streaming audience to Asake, and rake in streaming numbers, but he was slightly underwhelming - not disappointing - on the song. Thus his feature feels more like an audience acquisition strategy, than a music decision, so it's understandable.
This writer might have preferred a Latin-Pop act on the song. It also works for streaming optimization.
In the end, Asake has released Nigeria’s best album this year so far. I don’t envy the Headies, who will have to figure out whether Asake is Next Rated or Artist of The Year or both. ‘Mr. Money With The Vibe’ feels like another one of those great debut albums that Nigerian music has seen since 1999.
It definitely has the potential to become a classic.
• 0-1.9: Flop
• 2.0-3.9: Near fall
• 4.0-5.9: Average
• 6.0-7.9: Victory
• 8.0-10: Champion
Pulse Rating: /10
Album Sequencing: 1.6/2
Songwriting, Themes and Delivery: 1.8/2
Enjoyability and Satisfaction: 1.8/2
8.8 - Champion
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