AQ is like Joe Budden. Earlier on in their respective careers, they made music that found a place but lacked some ingredient that nobody could especially pinpoint.
As both rappers have grown older, they have found peace and clarity. With those factors, both rappers have found success. It's also amazing that respect for both rappers outside the core Hip-Hop circles only came as both rappers grew older. It's also amazing that financial success came for both rappers as they entered veteran status. In a lot of ways, they're also both underrated.
In the early 2000s, AQ was famous for being the young troublemaker that established rappers subtly respected for his balls. In 2005, he released his debut project, Listen and Overstand. While the rest of that decade saw AQ release projects and complete tertiary education, the hunger to be respected was palpable in his 2010 voice as I fortuitously played his project, The Past, Present and Future.
I remember reading on Nairaland that the album sold over 10,000 copies. Nonetheless, AQ's next body of work was titled, Make Your Favourite Rapper Look Stupid. As he rapped on 'No Pensions,' he was still 'chasing the proverbial hit,' but he seemed like what he really craved was respect. In the end, his was a case of getting subconsciously caught between a rock and hard place.
While AQ mostly moved as an independent act, his story is similar to another rapper's own. This rapper was born several thousand miles away. On a July 2016 episode of Brilliant Idiots Podcast, Joe Budden narrated to hosts, Andrew Shulz and Charlamagne tha God, he signed to Def Jam in 2001, but shortly after Kevin Liles and Lyor Cohen left and LA Reid who didn't like Budden became C.E.O.
Budden fought his way out of that deal for a more flexible deal with an indie label only for that indie label to be sold to eOne. This round brought Budden back to square one - a slave to 'the game' and the demands of music capitalism. That was when the music started changing with the Mood Muzik franchise.
While the details of both rappers' careers have different peculiarities and happened in different terrains, both rappers are top notch MCees who struggled to be perceived as they wanted to be earlier on in their respective careers. Both rappers also conformed to the whims of music capitalism to find their place in the stars, but got viciously spat out.
The game made them toil, but when they both stopped trying too hard, the music got significantly better. The production caught up to their ambition and people started to take notice. More importantly, the respect came. For Budden, it happened around Mood Muzik 4.5 while AQ had his moments with the grim lyricism of Son of John mixtape.
But as they have both aged, they have found success that's built on their knowledge of the music industry, not significantly from their music. Their respective successes around the music then aided their music and its reception outside their respective core fan bases and target markets.
Equally, as they both found success around the music, they both decided to supposedly quit the music. While Budden totally quit the music, AQ who earlier claimed this would be his last effort as an artist has dumbed it down to "My last album" - not necessarily his last act as an artist. But overall, both men have started getting money as visionaries, execs and moguls in their own right.
On March 20, 2020, AQ released his eagerly awaited 10th solo project, God's Engineering. The album rides a ridiculous brand of Hip-Hop production to produce a thematic cross between heated contemporary introspect and adult contemporary Hip-Hop. Its emotional drivers are love and pain as they inspire each other.
These themes are then expressed through the perspective of a veteran who is privileged to see the game from behind the proverbial curtain. He then addresses pent up issues with earned confidence, braggadocio, vulnerability and cockiness that sometimes present as pettiness and overt self-obsession.
The best part of this album though is how AQ did something that eludes a lot of pairs; he discussed his vanity for women and drops comical lines. Some of those came on afro-pop sounds and others came on the modern obsession of the female species; horoscope. This trait helps make AQ less serious than he used to be and makes his music easily digestible.
Whatever you want to say though, this one of the top 3 albums Nigeria has seen in 2020. We've been waiting for this album since January 2019 and unlike Jay Electronica who had a longer window to produce something special, A-Q produced worthy quality at a time where his brand of Hip-Hop could have easily gone under the radar.
On the morning of March 21, 2020, a friend hit this writer with a message on Instagram. He raved about God's Engineering. Within three hours of waking up, he had played the album three times. More importantly, nobody is safe from AQ on God's Engineering as the veteran finally accepts himself with all his faults in a complicated industry that asks too much of him.
Here is a breakdown;
AQ - Intro-Vert
In an amazing play on words produced by BeatsByJayy, AQ uses his album intro to discuss his introverted tendencies with damning introspect. The beat, which is cut from the late 2010s emo is driven by thudding drums, a distinct base line, guitar chords and a vocal sample fitted for the tragic end to a epic movie aids A-Q's catharsis.
Before this album dropped, A-Q hopped on his Instagram page to unload about losing his dad and two brothers. Now, with his mom who is ill, he's crying for help with emotionless machismo while presumably screaming inside. He raps, "My responsibilities are more than my deliverables..." just after rapping that he blocked his own sister.
He's not complaining, he wants no pity, but those pent up emotions make him combust and nobody is safe - MI caught a body over his relationship with OAPs. While AQ tries to sell them as independent narratives, the drama in his personal life fuels his will and need for introversion.
He might be a natural introvert who just wants to make music, but his defiant need to be left alone is telling in the line, "It is my life not yours..." Nonetheless, AQ doesn't care about hit records anymore - that much is clear.
AQ - Egg Rolls
Running on guitar chords suited for 2000s R&B and thudding trap drums, AQ uses 'Egg Rolls,' as a symbolism for his life in the struggle and the doubts that came with it from all sides. AQ uses 'Roc' and 'Rock of Ages,' impressively for bars that liken him to Jay Z and aim to paint him as a man who believes in God.
AQ aims to paint this song as a song of victory, but all I ear is pain. From all sides - including family and his women, AQ used to hear doubt. He raps about how his mother was worried and thought he was crazy as he chased a rap career. While he raps about how he, "Full ground like 10 toes," he still deals with trust issues from those around him.
AQ - NEPA
This track is an exciting as it is amazing. On a beat that seems like reworked version of 'Hmmmm,' a lossie which AQ dropped in 2019 - which led to a beef between him and Fresh L, AQ is petty and boisterous. He takes aim at the flimsy success that so-called rappers brag about. He disses their numbers and fashion sense.
He raps, "Small rain, NEPA don take light..." as he mocks their reliability and calls them 'Yahoo boys.' He also disses beef-obsessed rappers who will never truly achieve greatness. If I were a betting man, I'd say some of these lines are meant for Fresh L and Vector.
The wildest part of this song, which is also the Elephant In The Room is, "Lyricist on the roll, but I'm not trying to end up like Mode..." AQ hails himself, but watches hard not to be another cautionary tales. So instead of chasing clout and Hip-Hop endorsements, he chases success. Modenine gave his all to Hip-Hop, but Hip-Hop wasn't fair to him. Whew...
AQ featuring Oxlade - You Must Feel Am
Produced by BeatsByJayy, this was the lead single for God's Engineering. Featuring songbird, Oxlade, Pulse wrote this of its release, "'Feel Am' is a wide view on things worth the attention of the average Nigerian. The beat is afro-pop with the soul of Hip-Hop." The hook is fire and this song could be a sleeper hit, if pushed properly.
While AQ tries to make the song less serious in tone, he didn't succeed. He did discuss his love for women, but then tells people to be wary of STDs and other evils. While this song - like the ones before and after it - almost deceive us on the overall purpose of this album, they're a stop-gap. They're like the happy moments of a mind suffering clinical depression - this is an analogy.
AQ featuring Tomi Thomas - Zodiac Killer
Produced by BeatsByJayy, AQ continues on his stop-gap with the trademark, melodious vocals of the immensely talented Tomi Thomas.
A-Q uses horoscopes and star signs to describe the different women. Except you believe in star signs, you might just be better off focusing on the character traits of these women. Whatever you do, don't mind AQ. You don't want all that 'mercury in retrograde' and 'feeling your vibration' madness from star signs women.
Nonetheless, AQ did well with the creative bars around the character traits of women from different star signs. That must have taken a lot of work and research.
AQ - Mama Said
Running on something that feel like a fastened D12 beat, AQ falls back on his path of masked pain. This time, his canvas is nostalgia. Remember, AQ had voiced how his mom doubted his success from the rap game on 'Egg Rolls,' but this time, he celebrates his mother, the teacher. In a chilling rap solo, AQ owns Olumba and BeatsByJayy on this one.
While the previous portrayals of his mom have been through the painful mirrors of doubt and frustration, he uses the pain to remember her impact on his person. In one fell swoop, AQ also disses other rappers who were not lucky enough to have such good mothers. Oops.
On this one, we also realize that AQ's government is, Chinedu.
AQ - It's Complicated
By far, this is the weakest song on God's Engineering. AQ struggled with the beat as he tries to run with its intensity. He got sucked into the beat's electricity and tries to match it with accelerated flows. It works significantly, but AQ should have mixed up the flows. Nonetheless, the song is a thematic discourse of the complications in AQ's personal life and career.
AQ discusses paranoia and brags about his business acumen, but fires shots at a rapper with a drug habit and disses the Marlians.
When I say weakest song, I don't mean it's a bad song. But by the lofty standards of this album, 'It's Compicated' is AQ's weakest performance. His lyrics have substance, but his flows sometimes get floored by the beat.
AQ - Men Slept, Jesus Wept
On a beat with a chord that mirrors the intro of 'Road To Perdition,' by Jay Electronica and Jay Z, AQ delivers the best song on this album. The song goes back in time and brings back the bullish AQ. Again, he tries to mask the pain, but I see a man addressing important issues as a result of reaching a level where he cares no more.
Why did he care no more? Success? Yes, but not entirely. We are products of systems that nurtured us and our life's experiences. While AQ hits success, his personal life also looks turbulent. For that reason, he lashes out, but not pointlessly like everyone else. He addresses important issues on how MI Abaga helped him and he helped Blaqbonez.
He then raps about hos Loose Kaynon loved the movement and joined it. As the vocal sample shapes the piano chords that characterizes the beat, AQ narrates how Martell Cyphers were his idea that he initially made for Monster. He then finally addresses why he went at Vector's head on, 'Distractions 2.'
AQ claims he had been ignoring subs aimed at him on different songs till Vector rapped on 'Judas, The Rat,' that he put AQ on. He then reveals Vector called Raezy Winston (of Rhythm FM, rapper and convener of Hip-Hop shows himself) to tell him to pull the plug on Martell Cyphers. Vector probably asked Raezy to tell AQ to pull the plug because of the Hennessy Cyphers.
When Crown was released, it birthed a title track that won AQ Lyricist on The Roll at Headies 2019. It is also one of the best posse cuts of our time. 'Who had the best verse on 'Crown?' has been a heated debate amongst fans. But here, AQ addresses the issue and claims he doesn't care about anybody when it comes to these bars.
If I were a betting man, I would say this shots are inspired by how fans say Ghost of Show Dem Camp had the best verse on 'Crown.' Relationship between Ghost and AQ seemingly hit the rocks in 2019. However, at the 2019 Coronation, Ghost was present till the end and even presented the biggest award of the evening to Dammy Dizzy.
At the end, AQ then addresses Fresh L as he raps, "Twitter rappers jumping in my mentions. When it blows in your face, it won't be an idiomatic expression... Don't come to me with a d**k in hand, bring a business plan... Call Loose Kaynon all you want, everything goes through me..."
The 'beef' with Fresh L goes back to when AQ released the single, 'Hmmm' and fired shots at alte acts. On the song, he rapped, "Dressed up looking like Ben 10, looking stupid in the name of alte..." The line triggered supposed rapper, Fresh L who wanted to avenge his clan as per Avenged Sevenfold.
During the back-and-forth, AQ revealed that Fresh L called Loose Kaynon during the beef. Fresh L refutes these claims, but AQ reiterates the claims.
AQ - A Class Act
Anytime AQ and MI Abaga collaborate, it's quality rap. With this, AQ and MI Abaga state their dreams on an emo beat that's suited to XXXTentacion. They also read out their manifesto to reciprocate the energy they get from people in the game of Nigerian Hip-Hop. In a way, this is the second weakest song on God's Engineering.
Oh wait, AQ is dropping merch? Nice. Again, the battle scars breathe the pain, "I bleed bars, seen war, been scarred, now I want to see God..."
AQ - No Pension
The second-best song on God's Engineering sees AQ speak through the vision of the disadvantages he's had to deal with. While speaking about the fugazi of Instagram, he raps, "Instagram tells you half the story, the other half is what you asking of me... Dear Lord, please take this passion.."
AQ gave a lot to the rap game, but while he was grinding, another war was brimming under. This war is one of control. While AQ battled hard to break through and become an exec, he now faces another detraction in form of streaming. While streaming has improved the fate of music, it's also issued an unfairness on artists in markets like Nigeria.
AQ understands the concept of control which a platform like Apple Music/iTunes represents. AQ likens streaming and the internet to how the American government allegedly put crack in black neighborhoods in the 80's. He then intimates this is the new form of colonization.
But then, AQ is also tired. He wants the passion to be taken off him - he doesn't really want it off, but the expression of such grim wishes shows mental fatigue in a man. This is his admission and realization that success is not enough.
In the same vein, AQ fires shots at the media and then warns the new acts on the power of chasing hits. But did he really warn them? Not really. He speaks from his pain while hoping it helps someone. However, his tone shows that he's resigned to the control which the internet represents. This song deserves an entire article - it's one of AQ's best songs ever.
The best point AQ makes on this song is about curation. This content will age amazingly.
AQ - Loyalty vs Honesty
This song could have done with a Payper Corleone feature. A fitting end to an enigmatic project, AQ builds characters around loyalty and honesty. I hear the spoken word is done by Zee Salaudeen.
What does 'God's Engineering' mean?
One question that remains is that; by 'God's Engineering,' does A-Q refer to himself as a 'god?' Throughout the experience that make up, AQ is the author and finisher of the narratives. The stories are built around his approvals and disapproval. He's judge, jury and executioner as he bares all.
It is then arguable that 'God's Engineering' might as well mean AQ's Engineering or better yet, Chinedu's Engineering. That would mean Chinedu probably sees himself as a god. But on the other hand, it could be a double entendre. In this case, it would mean that Chinedu believes he's a vessel of the creator, so he's speaking as he's afforded.
Thus, the title could then mean 'God's Engineering' is manifesting through Chinedu, a god amongst men.
While this album presents A-Q as a man at peace, the lines of his peace are threatened by life's drama. In his acceptance of the ills of his struggles as a young artist, there's an obvious pain to what his struggles took him through. It hurts so much, he can't promise the young artists they won't experience same things, despite telling them what to do on 'No Pension.'
Despite finally being the guy with a fresh driver for his new SUV, he is dogged by the demons of personal life. After losing his dad and two brothers, he deals with his mother's health so much he wants to run away on some days. In his voice is a vapid pain that never goes away. Even when he finds ephemeral joys in light-skinned, horoscope-obsessed women, the pain is evidence in his voice.
He tries to manage it and paper the pain with braggadocio, but it didn't work. On 'Intro-Vert,' he raps, "I just blocked my sister.... My responsibilities are more than my deliveries" just before he brags about his microphone skills and marketing plans.
This is an album that years of love-inspired pain has birthed - love for family, Hip-Hop and women as well as the pain those things birthed. While it is also a celebration of his eventual success, the rapper himself doesn't see much to be celebrated.
For a long-time, A-Q had to play by industry rules. He had to conform to standards that did not conform with his values or personality. For a long-time, A-Q marooned the crooked roads of the Nigerian music industry with a nose of needed con-formative pretence. But now, he marshals his own path with the ideation that comes with peace.
For a long time, AQ had to fight, but now he's tired. He swarm in the tides, but he says 'no more.' While his story is one of immense success after a marathon that didn't seem to have a destination, his peace is more a product of fatigue. He's tired, so he restrains from those punches at the game. Instead, he seeks to understand himself to accept his life as it is.
That acceptance is imperfect, but as he raps on 'Intro-Vert,' "It is my life not yours..." He is able to conform to his imperfect life because of his success. It is a victory, an incredible one. However, it is an enigmatic victory.
That said, his is a tough act to follow - not everybody will survive the industry and life like A-Q. Only a few escape to tell these tall tales - he knows that and doesn't present his life as a specimen for anyone to follow. He understands that most people have to play that long game of pretence till they fall out of favour - even with success.
That said, AQ, we feel am. The world is with you, Mafo. We hear you, Chinedu. You are not alone.
• 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
Content and Themes: 1.8/2
Enjoyability and Satisfaction: 1.5/2
8.5 - Champion