With ‘Yabasi,’ Basketmouth is the surprise package of 2020 in Nigerian music [Pulse Album Review]

Just when this writer thought the contenders for the best Nigerian albums of 2020 were all but settled, Basketmouth drops ‘Yabasi’ and it’s brilliant.

Basketmouth - Yabasi. [FreeMe Music]

‘Yabasi is Igbo for onions. In literary expression, onions are a metaphor for multilayered or dense phenomena that requires probing to be understood or unraveled. Essentially, the album is a soundtrack for his upcoming TV series, Papa Benji. The show’s protagonist is a bar owner who attracts people of all kinds to his spot.

This phenomenon was addressed on the title-track, ‘Papa Benji’ featuring Flavour and Phyno and ‘One Bo’ featuring the amazing Umu Obiligbo. They respectively sit at tracks six and eight on Yabasi. While most songs from official soundtrack albums are seldom played in movies, a lot of the songs on ‘Yabasi’ feel cut from and crafted around scenes and arcs from the TV show.

‘Pepper Soup,’ ‘Myself’ and ‘World People’ are too topically specific and aligned to be random. Those topics are also not common on Afro-pop.

Basketmouth is not an artist, nor did he perform any song across the 10 tracks and 30 minutes that form ‘Yabasi.’ He is an A&R - a smashing one at that. With ‘Yabasi,’ he shows an acumen for cohesive, progressive music formation that’s so often missing from Nigerian music.

‘Yabasi’ is not just a surprise package because nobody ever thought Basketmouth would make an album, its quality is also a surprise package - the biggest shocker of the year. For years, people had spoken in lofty, hallowed adulation of Basketmouth’s ‘music head’ tendencies and this is the confirmation of all that.

One producer, Duktor Sett produced all the tracks on the album. Until now, many people didn’t know who he was nor that he produced most of Efe Money’s post-BBNaija singles/records. But here, he’s a step away from that sounds as he steps into a colorful world of sounds, characterized by Highlife, Palmwine Music, Folk and Afro-Fusion.

The tracks that truly underline Sett’s prowess are ‘Pepper Soup,’ ‘One Bo’ and ‘Hustle.’ On those tracks, Sett produces a spectacular brand of Afro-fusion. While horns, guitars, elements of Igbo Folk and toms collide like they moved at the prompt of an orchestra's wand, Sett distinguishes those sounds with the drum arrangement they come with.

The last time this writer heard such fusion, he was listening to ‘Penkele’ by Moelogo featuring Davido and Sarkodie. And guess what, those drums echo Trap and Drill arrangement. Nobody saw it coming, especially on ‘Pepper Soup’ where the drums land with the authority of thunder.

If you are a true music lover and you hear that first drum on ‘Pepper Soup’ as the beat switches with Duncan Mighty’s savvy, you would ask, ‘What the hell was that?

While Ice Prince delivers an impressive verse, Duncan Mighty’s line, “Dem nor dey stand give woman belle… Life show me pepper, I use am do pepper soup…” sticks to one’s psyche. It also means that the album starts on a musically high note, but on a sombre, introspective note from a thematic perspective, filled with nuggets, idioms and proverbs.

To underline the unsavoury parts of life, the downsides of human character as it relates to vengeance, Duncan Mighty then sings, “As you bite me for head, you nor mind my hair, na so I go bite you for nyash, I nor go mind your sh*t. Person wey nor dey sh*t nor dey smile…”

‘Pepper Soup’ could have done with a Falz verse though.

As the album progresses, you would praise Basketmouth’s A&R skills for his sonically cohesive album sequencing and how he chose to start ‘Yabasi’ with ‘Pepper Soup.’ The problem comes with the topical album sequencing. For example, ‘Papa Benji’ should have come before ‘One Bo’ on the album. Topically, ‘Hustle’ could have also been better suited to track two.

‘Papa Benji’ seems introductory to the character, Papa Benji while ‘One Bo’ seems like an appreciation of the character’s lifestyle. The track which follows ‘Pepper Soup’ is the Highlife track, ‘Myself.’

Oxlade starts the song off with a similarly sombre style to ‘Pepper Soup.’ He then buttresses with the perspective of a spent, tired, frustrated and mentally fatigued man with no inspiration. He sings, “I can’t kill myself, otumokpo nor work for me, I go do the one wey work for me…”

Befittingly, Basketmouth lands the prime candidates for music of this type. Where Wizkid misses a step, Basketmouth doesn’t - he shows his knowledge. It’s also quite interesting that Ghost starts his verse with, “Made In Lagos, you know. Problem nor dey finish…” The only problem with this track is that Tec’s verse isn’t exactly on topic.

‘World People’ is a happier record on groovy, melodious Afro-pop, but it lyrically continues the lamentations from ‘Pepper Soup’ and ‘Myself.’ At this point, one has to ask if Papa Benji’s life and mental health are intact.

The difference is that ‘World People’ takes aim at the human tendency for cheap gossip. Flash, who seems like an Oxlade with less Falsetto sings, “Which kind world wey we dey, wey man go dey, wey world people nor go complain…

While BOJ seemed to be singing on topic, he redeems himself with, “Make dem nor go see me finish…”

‘Hustle’ follows a similar trope with its realistic take on life, which does away with rosy packaging. The album isn’t all ‘A Taxi Driver On His Death’ though.

Sometimes, the mood is neutral. ‘Life’ is an Afro-Highlife record characterized by Afro-Pop percussion with elements of Igbo music percussion. It sees Chike deliver a riposte, “If you give me love, you nor give me life…” The track seems crafted around a problematic love affair, which makes the man fed up enough to speak out. Shout-out to Zorro.

Other times, the album is about more heartwarming topics like love. ‘Ride or Die’ is a Wizkid-esque love song with two appropriate features, LadiPoe and Waje. Solemn promises were made, ‘wash’ was engaged and one woman was taken down. Patriarchy wins again…

‘December’ is a declaration of love aboard a seeming Yoruba Highlife record, which features Aristokrat act, Ceeza Milli. The sound feels like one that you would associate with the late Dipo Sodipo. Milli performs admirably, but he approaches the song like a contemporary artist from the Afro-pop cloth.

An older act would have approached this track differently and would have been better suited. At the end of the album is a clamour; a yearning for peace on, ‘Udo.’ Peruzzi is stellar and so is iLLBliss.

FreeMe deserves a shout-out for its work on the album. While it was noted earlier in this review that ‘Yabasi,’ this writer would go on a limb and say the more sombre records on this album are crafted around Papa Benji’s life.

This would not be dissimilar to how Kendrick Lamar crafted songs around T’Challa’s life and character arcs on the official soundtrack for Black Panther.

But more importantly, ‘Yabasi’ underscores how Folk music genres like Timber-heavy Highlife, Afrobeat and Palmwine music are slowly gaining a stable in Nigerian music. First it was Show Dem Camp, then it became The Cavemen and their rising stock.

Then Wizkid crafted ‘Made In Lagos’ with heavy influences from Afrobeat, Highlife, Palmwine Music and Dancehall. ‘Ride or Die’ also feels like a Wizkid record off ‘Made In Lagos.’ In fact, it shares a similar percussion with ‘Essence’ featuring Tems. Onyeka and ‘Hustle’ melodies.

Basketmouth should also consider doing A&R jobs for other artists. His selection of his features is largely impressive. Just when this writer thought the contenders for the best Nigerian albums of 2020 was all but done, Basketmouth drops ‘Yabasi’ and it’s brilliant.

Ratings: /10

• 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: 1.3/2

Songwriting and Themes: 1.6/2

Production: 1.8/2

Enjoyability and Satisfaction: 1.8/2

Execution: 1.52

Total:

8.0 - Victory

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