M.I Abaga has called his latest release – “Rendezvous” a ‘playlist’. It is not an album or a mixtape. It’s a curated collection of records, with a clear storyline, that carries through all the records.

Although this is a first in Nigeria, it isn’t exactly an original idea. US rapper Drake most likely inspired his decision to do this, with the branding and marketing for his 2017 “More Life” project.

When you really come down to it and examine his career, M.I Abaga is acultural visionary for Nigeria, leading from the front, in sound and ideas. Form democratizing Hip-hop in 2008, he’s dropped three conceptual “Illegal Music Mixtapes,” and his previous album, - 2014’s “Chairman” - featured a multi-layered sound structure, which ushered him into a new space.

This playlist is an official release, updated with help from producer GMK, and singer Odunsi The Engine who served as collaborators and muses.

At 15 tracks and a running span of 55 minutes, it offers a new version of Jude Abaga; one who is at the center of the New Wave of Nigeria’s music culture, delivered by an emerging class of creatives.

Musically, it is a bit of a tour; a riding bus through different stations of Nigerian music, where artists are picked and delivered into a mobile studio for a verse, a hook, or something to add to the growing monster.

No cut on this project has Abaga standing alone. External talent is spread all with emphasis on the home front. AKA and Cassper Nyovest provide firepower from South Africa, while Wande Coal, Ajebutter22, Falz, Dice Ailes, and Yung L, and Ghost (of SDC), are pulled from the mainstream contingent. M.I’s defining moment in choice of supporting cast, comes from his the embrace of the new, experimental artists, pushing a different sound. They include Nonso Amadi, Tomi Thomas, Santi, Moelogo, Odunsi (The Engine), Terry Apala, Straffiti, Blaqbonez, Yung L, U.ax, and Trigga Madtonic.

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Much of the music is designed from that template, with neo-Trap, combining with groovy R&B, before transitioning into soft and lyrically-driven reggaeton. It isn’t his most personal project though. We have to give that to expository “Illegal Music 3” mixtape. It’s also less playful than the “Chairman” album.

This is an extension of his relevance to an age and class of younger musicians and their fans. He’s bringing on Moelogo a track, offering showcases for buzzing newcomers like Santi and Odunsi, as well Nonso Amadi, who shines very brightly on the meta track ‘Playlist’. There’s also space for skits and guiding commentary.

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This entire project describes an evening of enjoyment from M.I Abaga and his boys. ‘Rendezvous’ is simply the meeting place for all of his people to link up. Through this playlist, He leaves the studio after making music, gets home and has a bath. And then he blasts some music, receives his girlfriend who arrives ready to turn up.

She invites her friends over, and they head out to a pre-game spot for drinks. They are delayed, and interrupted by a disruptive Police officer, who gets all the expletives from ‘Your father’. The drive continues in style, they arrive the club in swag, get fake friends try to sour their ‘Popping’, and get their enjoyment up, on the Terry Apala ‘Jiggy’ masterclass. They would finally head home with the ladies (“Can these niggas get sex for free?”), stopping by for some refreshments, before ending the night in the arms of their lovers.

All points in this story are expanded with individualistic records, which feed the narrative with the art and sometimes take on more than the storyline allows.

For radio, ‘Lekki’ is the pick of the crop. Co-produced by HVRRY and Higo, it’s got Falz and Ajebutter22, two commercial additions blending their energy with Odunsi the Engine, for a song about chasing flesh, and the ‘forming’ of Island boys.

‘Kososhi’ has the masterful vocals of Wande Coal applied to Trap, where they pretty much pump their chests and declare their greatness, on the shortest track of the playlist. (“I’m constipated, got shit to do, so nigga don’t waste my time,”).

‘Jungle’ sees Tomi Thomas and Santi playing at full strength, a gesture that is likely to linger for both its enjoyment and its symbolism.

One of the most surprising unofficial guests of the project is Charles Okpocha (Igwe 2Pac), who shows up at the end of ‘One way’ to beat his chest, and comically deliver a lecture on the monetary difference between "the small boys and the big boys.” He wraps it up with his signature line: “Shove it up your ass, get out.” The image of him performing that dance at the end of an M.I record provides comedic flourish and ultimately ups the level of enjoyment “Rendezvous” provides.

There’s also a phone conversation with comic rapper Vic O, offering to kill a lady with flexing, at the end of ‘Jungle’.

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Everybody wins musically on “Rendezvous,” where M.I orchestrates the band and pulls every string. With this strategy, “Rendezvous,” will be re-introducing Abaga to a new set of young fans and listeners, who probably were too young to properly witness and appreciate, his iconic “Talk About It” moment, 10 years ago.

Rating: 4/5


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Get "Rendezvous" on Apple Music.