By the time his career is over, the man born Olawale Ashimi, popularly known as Brymo would have earned a reputation as one of Nigeria's greatest artists of all time. And yes, you thought right; commercial success will not make or mar his legacy.
There comes a time in our world where music - which ordinarily exists as a capitalist venture for profit - remains in its original and purest form; an art. There also comes a time when that art also becomes unquantifiable/unqualifiable with mere words and adjectives because it constantly evolves with the elegance of unrefined blood diamond.
This description is perfect for Brymo and his latest album, Yellow. The 15-track body of work comes on the back of four exceptional bodies of work - one of those is the undeniable cult classic Merchants, Dealers and Slaves. But when you examine what Brymo has achieved over his career, it's difficult to examine how he could outdo himself.
During an interview on Ebro In The Morning on Hot 97, New York, American rapper, 50 Cent said, "When I look at artists, I judge them on moments. Future for example, his moment was 'March Madness...'" This writer is the same and he finds it difficult not to place one moment above another in an artist's career.
Brymo has delivered glowing musicality and displayed exceptional artistry with his albums throughout his career. However, his best album is widely thought to be Merchants, Dealers and Slaves.
Yes, we should never compare albums by artists because different stages in their lives birth different albums. Yes, Brymo has no album below an 8/10 in his career. But Brymo has challenged himself and fittingly excelled with Yellow - his best body of work alongside what's widely thought to be his magnus opus, Merchants, Dealers and Slaves.
Before this writer waxes lyrical throughout this article, let's get into the breakdown. The album comes in three parts that focus on topics of life, love, humanity, relationships, heartbreak, society and scenarios at different times.
A study of societal occurrences
Brymo opens the album to the wildest occurrence of 2020 in Nigerian music - he was sung-rapping on a trap beat. The track is titled, 'Espirit De Corps,' which is Latin and a slogan which connotes a feeling of pride and mutual loyalty shared by the members of a group. The beat later descends into cloudy ballad.
With it, Brymo analyses the socio-politics of a decaying society where lies, blackmail and mutual implication cause constant pain for its people. Nonetheless, the people in that society continue on their path to assured destruction by crying together when pain occurs from their actions, make up and then initiate what caused the pain all over again.
'Blackmail' can be sonically described as the genres, sophisti-pop and quiet storm (guitars and collision of staccato strings). Its drums are typical to a live performance of smooth jazz. But on 2:47 is a guitar solo that's suited to 90's soft rock. Lyrically, Brymo describes the perils of a relationship defined by emotional blackmail.
One of the partners - presumably the woman - has Stockholm Syndrome and the other is presumably a man who is being guilt-tripped into a relationship has no intention for. Brymo sings from the perspective of the man who 'belongs to the streets.' Nonetheless, the presumed woman who wants the man's love does not make the man feel good enough or secure enough to leave the streets and come home.
In the end, the relationship is stuck in the purgatory of certainty. Both parties who are imperfect ends up being hurt - at least, the man is.
Ozymandias is a DC Comics superhero who is also part of the Watchmen. He has radical ideas about saving the world. At one point, he saved the entire world by simultaneously killing millions of people. While he never mentally recovered from his 'sacrifice,' the world never forgave him for it. History forgot his sacrifice and colors him a villain. Some of these were dramatized in the 2019 TV show, Watchmen.
Ozymandias was a brilliant visionary with a hubris - he was always too confident in himself that he usually made irrational and hypocritical albeit justifiable decisions. On the track of the same name, 'Ozymandias,' Brymo assumes the role of an imperfect man who takes all the love of a woman without giving any back. For him, his vices are, "Smoking js and eating c**chie..."
The same man has now evolved with a wider array of vanity. While the man thinks he's doing good, he has now stopped to see his own hypocrisy. Brymo likens the man to Ozymandias with the lines, "...And the hypocrisy. How I know the rules, easy. And how I break them as I choose, taking her love and keeping her confused..."
While the song is a tale of self-criticism, it is also a tale of commendable self-awareness. As the baroque pop beat rumbles, Brymo admits that, "History forgets all Ozymandias..." before admitting that he needs to change. The tracks ends with, "...It's time the new, the old rule must go..." If only all human beings could be this aware.
'Heartbreak Songs Are Better In English' is another baroque pop song. Lyrically, Brymo assumes the role of a heartbroken man. The first few words examine the toxic nature of patriarchy and 'hard guy syndrome.' Brymo sings about how he wants to emote so he could expresses his heartbreak, but is being impeded by how society would perceive him.
In our society, we believe men should keep emotions boxed inside. Thus, for that reason, Brymo examines the loves, pain, hope and fear as they relate to each other and sometimes inspire each other. While his primary aim is to express his heartbreak and is prevented by mental barriers from his upbringing, he concedes that, "Heartbreak songs are better in English..."
This writers thinks what Brymo means is simple;
- My people think men shouldn't express.
- I am Yoruba.
- Since you won't allow me to express in the way that's natural to me, I'd express in another language.
'Strippers and White Lines' is a sentimental ballad that discusses mental slavery and how it impedes growth. From his perspective as a 'ghetto boy,' Brymo uses 'Strippers and White Lines' as symbolism. While it might be generic, a lot of strippers do drugs. 'White Lines' represents cocaine.
In the second verse, Brymo talks about how he dreams, but the dreams vanishes. For that reason, he could mean that his dreams vanish like a stripper would do a line of cocaine on a regular night. 'Smart Money' is an a capella that serves as a warning or lesson - Brymo uses monkeys and ownership of bananas to preach contentment and being oneself.
'Without You' is yet another ballad that discusses a problematic relationship. Despite the problems, the man still refuses to live life without the woman he called, "Mean and evil." He also hopes the woman reciprocates by refusing to live life without him.
Bottomline: Whether the five songs in this part are linked is unclear to this writer.
An appraisal of societal figures
'Woman' opens up this part. It is a neo-soul song that's defined by the bass riff on those drums. Lyrically, the song seems like a dedication to Brymo's partner whom he always talks about but never reveals. Wait, they are married now? Well, that doesn't matter as the song has a hook with heartfelt 'Till death do us part' kind of promise.
The sweetest part of the song is, "Lay down your guard, commit for our matter. Where you go, I go go like the snail and the shell... The worst don go, na the glory remain..."
'Black Man, Black Woman' is another neo-soul song that examines the gender roles and peculiarity in the society. Brymo discusses the advantages, disadvantages, hypocrisy and pain of being of both genders. The first verse examines the black man while the second verse examines the woman woman.
'Gambu' is pop-infused soul and blues track sung from perspective of a woman in love with an imperfect man with a reputation. While she admits that she might fall victim of his bad reputation, she chooses him regardless. The song is encapsulated on one like, "Person wey befriend dog, go chop sh*t, but I go still dey follow you if you swim for sh*t..."
'Rara Rira' is an alternative pop song with a folk percussion. The song is from the perspective of carefree people who admit everything that could prevent them from enjoying life and living on the edge; responsibilities, broken dreams, lack of money and more. Nonetheless, with all those problems, they throw caution to the winds, go to party, drink and enjoy life.
'Rara Rira' is an onomatopeia that's meant to remonstrate and connote the high and merry of the good life in words like 'Koto Koto' would connote rubbish to a Yoruba person. 'Brain Gain' is a pop song that's built like a Gabriella Clmi or a Duffy song. It is defined by a beautiful trumpet solo. It examines what Nigeria needs in a society that lacks the necessities of life.
To Brymo, it's one thing and that is 'Brain Gain' - which is the might of astute mental capacity. But instead, the Nigerian society of having gains, Nigeria experiences Brain Drain on a daily.
This third part opens up to 'Adedotun.' Brymo sings like Yoruba panegyric singer or a moonlight storyteller in a remote Yoruba town. With his lyric tenor voice type, Brymo coasts like a 60-foot yacht in Bahamas or like Lionel Messi on another one of his trademark solo runs. But instead of a pitch or water, Brymo runs on distant violins and a bass guitar.
Lyrically, Brymo appraises the earth, its struggles and it's blessings before using Adedotun and Oyindamola to represent the average man and woman in the society. He then tells Adedotun and Oyindamola that God will feed them like he feeds the birds of the sky.
'Orun N Mooru' is Yoruba. In English, it literally means, 'Heaven is heated.' However, 'Orun N Mooru' is a proverb that means something is happening - usually, that 'something' is bad. The song is a ballad that criticizes gossip. Lyrically, it tells the story of gossip by chiefs against their king. The chiefs claim the king is broke and is being taken care of by his queen.
Somehow, the king heard the comments of his chiefs. Thus, he promptly called them to his palace and maintained his cool. While confronting their king, the chiefs got scared having got caught in their own mess.
'A Feedu Fan'na' is this writer's favourite song on Yellow. The story feels personal because Brymo makes references to his grandmother. 'A Feedu Fan'na' is Yoruba. In English, it literally means someone who creates fire from coal. But in essence, Brymo uses his words to celebrate himself through the symbolism of culinary art.
He referenced the art of cooking the traditional Nigerian way - firewood, three stones and an open pot. The story which Brymo tells here is one where he's blowing air into the fire under the pot with his mouth or a handfan. The air he blows into the fire got so intense, it raises dust into the stew he's trying to cook.
In essence, Brymo tries to underline how good he is as blowing fire for that kind of cooking and how it endeared him to the older people. Thus, instead of feeling ashamed of it, he declares that people should refer to him as 'A Feedu Fan'na' - which means the one who starts the fire - whenever they see him in the street.
All the while, it becomes clear on the second verse that this song might be metaphor that Brymo hopes would call people to arms. On the second verse, Brymo sings in Yoruba that we have accepted rubbish for too long as a people. Instead of lying down, he hopes to plant a fire in our hearts to reject suffering.
Thus, he's not starting a literal fire, he's 'A Feedu Fan'na,' the starter of the proverbial fire in the minds of people. The only thing missing from this song is a Kwam 1 verse. Nonetheless, it's still one of the best songs this year.
'Abu Ya' is one of the few Lindsey Abudei appearances on a song since her critically-acclaimed 2016 album, And The Bass Is Queen. On this one, she sings in Igbo. 'Abu Ya' is Igbo and it means, 'His/Her song' in English. On the song she tells a man not to forget who they were and what they meant to each other.
Shout-out to Marketing and Communications Consultat, Chuks Odoh for the translation on 'Abu Ya.'
It's only for reasons of sentiment that this writer is not proclaiming Yellow to be Brymo's best album yet. This is an album that deserves an accompanying movie. While Brymo has always made cinema-worthy music, Yellow is his album with the highest number of cinematic songs. In its essence, Brymo - as always - finds appropriate production to tell stories or share poetry on love, vanity, vices and society.
While the album is essentially built on resonant topics cut from the larger society, Brymo uses symbolism and metaphor to breakdown his topics. There is also the aspect of the astounding penmanship and the monumental MikkyMe Joses. If there ever was a producer who deserves plaudits, it's him. His production is similar to Jack Antonoff's - beauty in smooth gruffness.
It will be hard for another album to top Yellow in 2020 - very hard. In fact, this writer struggles to see another album attaining this level of musicality. At times, Brymo finds beauty in his upbeat expressions. Other times, he forces to appreciate the beauty in his melancholy. Other times, he is like Sidney Sheldon with the detail of appraisals.
Thank you for this album, Brymo.
• 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
Songwriting, Content and Themes: 2/2
Enjoyability and Satisfaction: 1.9/2
9.7 - Champion