Nigerian superstar, Davido is a music head. If MI Abaga had produced his verse on time, 17-year-old Davido would have had a production credit on Modenine’s 2010 album, ‘Da Vinci Mode.’ He’s not the greatest talent ever, but his understanding of music will always stand out and help him to level certain playing fields.
These traits and love for music also mean that he understands his flaws as an artist. Instead of flopping on records, he openly seeks songwriting help and works hard to find solutions. These traits also make him a great A&R - legend has it that Davido knows a single from the get go.
Across his career - from ‘Back When’ down to ‘FEM,’ he builds his singles on resonant lines that can easily imprint on people’s psyche. These are lines that one can repeat without even realizing.
As he told Ebuka during his BlackBoxInterview, his background might have aided some parts of his surge up the ladder of success, but it’s not the sole reason why he made it - and that’s facts. These days, Davido is a legend. He has surpassed all the limits and has become an international superstar.
Any time you think he’s slowing down, he rises up like the phoenix to casually beat the odds yet again. His album, A Good Time, got plaques in South Africa, Canada and the US.
ALSO READ: Davido - A Good Time [Album Review]
But through it all, Davido has never been able to produce an album of overwhelming quality. His debut album, Omo Baba Olowo was polarizing. For better or worse, one of his best traits is honesty and he admits that his EP, Son of Mercy was bad enough that he doesn’t listen to it.
Like ‘Omo Baba Olowo,’ ‘A Good Time’ was polarizing, but it contained a myriad of smash hit singles. ‘A Better Time’ comes hot on the heels of ‘A Good Time.’ If ‘A Good Time’ was meant to soundtrack a party, ‘A Better Time’ was meant to celebrate where he currently stands in his life.
On ‘The Best,’ he sings, “Suddenly from good, I’m better…” He’s become a father to three children, a fiancee to Chioma Rowland and a man adored by many across the world.
But equally, the timing of the album also projects something pungent. Hip-Hop posits that if you release an album or a Re-Up on the heels of another album, it either means the former album is so good that you feel confident to release another one or that the former album is polarizing/bad/mixed that you need to right those wrongs.
In a way, ‘A Better Time’ also projects that Davido realizes that even though his legend is sealed, his legacy might require more bodies of work. In the first eight years of Davido’s stardom, he only released two bodies of work - one album and an EP. In the last one year, he has released two albums.
A Better Time: Chioma and Ifeanyi
The album art shows the face of his son, Ifeanyi for the first time. In a way, it subtly aligns with Davido’s quest to show that he is a different person who is capable of making better music. The title and the art are based on a perception of improvement and advancement.
He seems to appreciate his fiancee on a song like ‘Holy Ground’ featuring Nicki Minaj. He sings, “She call me brother, I call her sister, too. Mama so fine, she got like six tattoos. If she was a city, she be Timbuktu, my holy ground wey me I run to…”
What really gave him away that he might be talking about Chioma was, “Activate undercover, so let me know. She say, "Nwannem biko" activate if you wanna“ If you remember, Chioma is Igbo - or maybe it’s just because an Igbo person wrote the song.
He also seems to be talking about her on ‘Jowo,’ and especially ‘Very Special’ and ‘Heaven.’ While ‘Holy Ground’ and ‘Jowo’ have their appeal, they also seem dated. They come on that archetypal Speroach/Fresh VDM mid-tempo sound, complete with the familiar use of toms and legato strings.
Those songs might have had a better chance of universal acclaim if they had dropped in 2018. Nicki Minaj was also as disappointing as Lil Baby was on ‘So Crazy.’
‘Very Special’ is not very unique, it reminds one of ‘1 Milli.’ But if properly marketed with a wedding scene in its music video, the song could soundtrack weddings for the next one year.
It’s nice to see Davido openly declare his love for a woman. Incidentally, two of the three best songs on ‘A Better Time’ seem to be about Chioma. On ‘Heaven’ Davido produces a swashbuckling performance on Amapiano - a genre that has floored many-a-Nigerian artist.
By far, it’s the best song on this album and one of Nigeria’s best songs of 2020. Its beat is amazing and its songwriting perfectly serves a purpose.
“It’s like you fell from heaven, you make me feel so naked…” is such a beautiful line. The vocal chops that form the soundtrack are as impressive as anything you’ll hear. And that hook… oh, that hook.
But for all the positive PR around Ifeanyi’s photo on the album art, we didn’t get cogent content that correlates with that area of Davido’s life.
It feels like Davido jumped more on the positive PR that a picture of his son will give him than to properly make a song that reflects that reality. Putting a picture of your son on your album art projects an emotion and expectation that certain bits of content should back up in the album and Davido couldn’t produce that.
A Better Time: Love tunes
‘Sunlight’ shares a similar percussion with Davido’s ‘Like Dat’ and it also likens the radiance of a woman to sunlight - that’s high praise.
While the melanin line suggests that he could be talking about Chioma, the song also feels like the stage where a man is asking a woman out - the same fate births ‘La La.’
On ‘Sunlight’ Davido sings, “Gyal I'm beggin', please. Just give me one tease of your na…” On ‘La La,’ he sings, “I was sitting in the corner, you were at the other corner. I was sipping on palmwine (Yeah), but e get as your body dey papa me o I got to shoot my shot o…”
While ‘Sunlight’ has a lot of potential, it lacks the finality of a great record. On the other hand, ‘La La’ is a good song that could prove too risky as a single. Shout-out to Ckay for those adlibs though…
‘The Best’ featuring Mayorkun feels like an inevitable hit. It’s also noteworthy that Mayorkun once again made reference to Betty Faraday on ‘The Best.’ She is his friend who inspired the single, ‘Betty Butter.’ That line, “Shey you sing pass Wandе Coal (Pele), Celeb o, Ehen o, Falsetto…” is also mad hilarious.
A Better Time: The Lifestyle
Davido was born into affluence and he’s also earned that right of affluence. Certain songs on the album project that lifestyle. ‘Shopping Spree’ is one of the three best songs on this album. While the Bashment record is mellow in its cogent use of cloud strings and it projects the affluent lifestyle, it is rooted in love and sex.
Young Thug sings, “Keep bendin' up with the vibe, yeah. Fuck me like a slut and be the wife. Articulatain', said she tryna ride… She put that shit on, panties in a bunch…” Davido also sings, “Toba go na to carry you go. Forget you fine, ooh. My gbedu final, put it inside, ooh…”
‘Shopping Spree’ has all markings of an international hit that women would love, but it could have done with a female feature.
A Better Time: Singles and Marketing
Leading up to ‘A Better Time,’ Davido released ‘FEM’ and ‘So Crazy.’ The former was a diss song at Burna Boy and it wasn’t a good song at all, but anybody with a brain knew that song was going to be a hit. It had resonant lines and Davido’s team can market almost anything.
Inevitably, the song became a hit and it even became the hottest Nigerian song during the EndSARS protests. ‘So Crazy’ was a slightly better song, but it still falls short of the required level of brilliance. American rapper, Lil Baby also delivered a subpar performance on the song.
Nonetheless, Davido’s star power, the quality of the music video and Davido’s marketing means the song is more likely to be a hit than not. When the album finally dropped on November 13, 2020, it was yet another bag of mixed feelings. On one hand, it feels like it could produce more than three hits.
Those aforementioned facts - marketing, star power and quality videos - mean ‘Something Fishy’ feels like an inevitable Davido hit. The song is as average as any track and it sounds like ‘Mind,’ but its hook is too resonant.
A Better Time: Downsides
The quality of an album will never be determined by the number of hits it is able to produce. An album is about the experience it’s able to conjure for a listener, not the number of pop records one can enjoy from it. Sometimes, that model might be what is required, but that tactic definitely didn’t work on ‘A Better Time.’
Instead of making ‘A Better Time’ feel like a cohesive unit, it succeeded in making it sound like a bunch of randomly recorded songs jumbled together into one album. The problem isn’t that Davido’s effort to recognize good songs isn’t appreciated. It’s also not about the fact that he doesn’t know what he’s doing.
It’s about the problem of whether Davido’s approach to making albums is the appropriate way to go. As Pulse Nigeria noted on the first review, Davido seems to approach songs for his albums like he approaches singles. Fitting these songs into an album then produces a jarring experience.
The production on this album is good and its songwriting is even better. While it might not be the greatest and asides the odes to love, the songwriting is largely unsubstantiated, there is not a lot of ‘vibes’ on this album. It shows that Davido sought the help of songwriters and he actually says things in a coherent manner.
A Better Time: Throwaways
At 17 tracks, ‘A Better Time’ is too long. It feels like Davido’s music-loving side that constantly wants to recreate what he’s heard in his own way has bloated this album.
While marketing could turn ‘Tanana’ into a hit, it is a filler and the same goes for ‘Birthday Cake’ with Nas and Hitboy, ‘Mebe’ featuring Mugeez and ‘Oh My Way’ featuring Sauti Sol. ‘Birthday Cake’ feels like a passion project and it’s the most baffling track on this album.
While tapping Mugeez and Sauti Sol make sense from a strategy and optics point of view for Ghanaian and East African representation, this album didn’t need both tracks. Even worse, Sauti Sol has become the cliche African feature. Mugeez delivered a really good performance though.
The Amapiano record, ‘I Got A Friend’ featuring Mayorkun and Sho Madjozi hangs curiously in the balance because it’s actually a good song. Like Mugeez and Sauti Sol, Sho Madjozi helps ‘I Got A Friend’ make sense from optics and strategy angle - she brings the South African representation.
However, it’s one-too-many Amapiano records.
In a lot of ways, Davido and Drake are actually similar. They find a way to warp conversations of album quality in their favour. In the long run, A Better Time will be like Drake’s Scorpion - produces a number of smash hits from a bloated and underwhelming album experience.
And yeah, it’s time to stop working with Speroach or at least tell Speroach to evolve. ‘A Better Time’ feels like ‘A Good Time’ with ‘Son of Mercy’ problems. In the end, this bread still nor be Agege sha...
• 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: 1.2/2
Songwriting and Themes: 1.4/2
Enjoyability and Satisfaction: 1.1/2
6.0 - Victory