On April 17, 2020, Nigerian rapper and DMW artist, Dremo released his sophomore studio project and third project in two years. 'Codename Vol. 1' was released to minimal acclaim in 2018 and 2019 saw the release furtive, 'Icen B4 Cake.'
When the album dropped, it confirmed what many had known for about a year; Dremo surprisingly has a burgeoning stan base going. Don't get me wrong, the Dremo-esque conversations on April 17, 2020 were not organic - not least when Davido gets in an awkward conversation with YCee on the day over Dremo.
Some Nigerians erroneously believe Dremo is one of the greatest wordsmiths in Africa. Such is the bloated sense of judgement of a stan towards a fave on Jack's Twitter. However, we know the truth - Dremo is a talented flipper and wielder of impeccable flow schemes. His breath control is impeccable to a level that even when he's saying nothing, you are impressed.
It's not like Dremo himself cares much for the endorsements and being called one of the best wordsmiths, anyway. If anything, he vehemently refutes any of those claims on the opener to Codename Vol. 2, 'STFU,' a vindictive middle finger to those who don't understand what he represents or his purpose in life.
What Dremo is growing into is an entertainer - a Nigerian version of Pitbull of some sort. Dremo, like his LatinX counterpart have a way with impeccable flow schemes. Either he was rapping with Paul Wall in 2005 or crafting the high-charting 'Culo' with Lil Jon or making 'Shake' with Ying Yang Twins in the earlier days, Pitbull always had two things;
- An impressive flow scheme that catches your attention.
- An ever-improving ability to craft pop hooks and catchy parts of pop records.
Like with Dremo, those were the early days for Pitbull. When Pitbull finally hacked it with Rebelution in 2009, he became unstoppable. The only thing keeping Dremo from getting on that level is Dremo's understanding of who he is and working towards solidifying and owning it as well as a need for listeners to catch up and appreciate him (Dremo) for who he is.
On Codename Vol. 2, Dremo always found a way to catch his listener's attention with something; his flow scheme, his growing mastery at delivering great rapped hooks or a corny line. He also performed impressively with his effortless switch of language - sometimes, he switched from English to Pidgin. Other times, he's switching between Yoruba, Pidgin and English.
I still don't think Codename Vol. 2 is an exceptional album, but sometimes, we need to judge an album for what it is and what it could be, not what it or its creator should be. Dremo is growing - it's easy to see. It's also easy to see that he's putting work into finding what works for him. Dremo is not MI Abaga, he's not Vector - even though they share similarities, he's not also YCee.
He is Dremo, a different type of rapper who is finding his way through a tough situation. Sometimes, we don't give him enough credit because it must be tough being him. He's finding his path towards his own artistry and defining who 'Dremo' is. But sometimes he needs to help himself on that quest by simplifying his own music and making it a more digestible experience.
It's still early days for Dremo, and there is a lot of time. But before we get excessively philosophical, let's get to it;
Codename Vol. 2 opens up to the trap tunes of 'STFU.' The song feels personal - like it comes from a place of pain. It seems Dremo is tired of proving anything to anybody. Instead, he's finally accepting his role as a rapping entertainer - the identity crisis is drying up. In the same vein, Dremo is dismissive of any lofty ratings from the Hip-Hop community.
He raps, "You must to feel am" and then fires shots at those firing shots at his ability to rap while stating his M.O. If that means not being a good rapper, then to Dremo, so be it. He raps, "So when you're talking about the best rappers in Africa, leave my name out of your mouth, please and let me focus on wetin dey put food for my mouth..."
The song hits some half-hearted cases of braggadocio and some corny lines, but, "Like gaari, e nor need promo..." is such a good line while, "Me I'm at the backseat of my Mercedes receiving 'Eddie Murphy, yo...'" is such a lazy line. But then there's conundrum, if Dremo doesn't care about rating, why does he call himself. "The greatest of all-time" on the same song? Anyways, this beat is amazing.
'Take Time' comes next and let me tell you something, Dremo ate this track up. As the beat bangs out its trap drums to Scott Storch-esque piano chords, Dremo reads out the riot act with the vindictive tendencies of a communicative John Wick. He is vicious and aggressive as he distances himself from wannabe competition.
That Tonto line is risque, but Dremo should be proud of this rapped hook. "Shey you dey whine me..." and how it comes out beautifully on this beat. This song would be amazing for a climax scene in an action movie or a cop chase scene in a heist movie. So far, this album has showcased an aggressive and angry Dremo.
The trend of anger mixed with braggadocio continues on the pop tunes of 'Pepper.' Dremo shows that he's accepting himself with the allusion, "Rapper wey dey sing song." Asides that, he reiterates what he's been trying to say since this album started, success is the only thing that matters to him, nothing else. That skit at the end is wildly hilarious, Dremo why?
'Who's Your Guy?'again sees Dremo on his vindictive 'p.' As he did on 'Take Time,' he's again trying to set himself apart from another person or group of people. Some will call this song elitist, but the storytelling is as commendable as the rhymes are corny. The beat loops in Afrobeat trumpets into a faster-paced version of Afrobeat or Afro-funk.
On 'Pray,' Dremo remembers his Church background - he's a pastor's son. For the first time, he also gets off the angry, aggressive and vindictive version of himself and gets in touch with the Chronos. He says a prayer for people this writer presumes are his fans. On another project, this track would have made a fine intro. But on this project, it should have been the outro.
That said, shout-out to Dremo on the way he's effortlessly switching between languages of delivery - he should be proud of this. 'Alasheju' is a Gqom song. 'Alasheju' is a Yoruba abuse for a person with no limit, moderation or discipline. As a pop song, this is typically scatterbrained for thematic presentation, but Dremo tries to tie it down with his hook.
'Konjinaba' is the short form of 'Konji na bastard' - a very apt observation for these trying times. With the shepeteri beat that's built on owanbe percussion, Dremo tells the story of sexual escapades. As the king of experiential lewdness in Nigerian street-hop, Naira Marley comes in and does not let himself or his lofty reputation down.
'Gugudemap' throws it all back to 2000s trap complete with the snap and appregio piano chords. 'Gugudemap' is an onomatopoeia-based creative use of words. It's basically the Nigerianized-way of saying. 'Google the map.' Again, Dremo shows his burgeoning ability to craft rapped hooks - this writer would like to see him do it on major rap records.
On it, Sinzu, Lil Frosh and Idowest do some justice, but Lil Frosh did justice on his verse. This song deserves a video and it could be some good TikTok/Triller content. 'Ghetto Luv' is an Afro&B song on which Dremo tells love stories as Peruzzi absolutely aced that hook - Jesus Christ! 'Mabel' is the lead single off Codename Vol. 2 and it might not have been the best choice musically.
However, this writer might be wrong. He was wrong with his prediction with'Kpa.' That said, it's a Davido feature, so it's understandable. 'Sweet Pain' is an afrobeat song complete with the drum arrangement and melodies. Flowolf is really starting to catch people's attention and this is another amazing showing of his talent - he sounds like BOJ.
Make no mistake, this is a song about sex. However, that line, "Nor be say she say she be bad employee, but I go like to fire am...' is lazy and corny. 'Sharp Sharp' brings us back to the banging Hip-Hop beats and a rapping Dremo. The song is diary of a opulent lifestyle as afforded by metaphors of stick-up. Falz, what a verse - this man has not stopped killing hooks since 2019.
The only problem with 'Sharp Sharp' is its placement on the tracklist. Substitute 'Pray' for 'Sharp Sharp' on the track list and this tracklist might have gotten perfect marks on that end.
First off, the A&R on this project is good. Codename Vol. 2 might not spawn major hits, but Dremo is perfecting his ability to make good bodies of work - minus Icen B4 Cake. Asides the problem with aforementioned placement of 'Pray' and 'Sharp Sharp,' the track aids the listener's experience.
Dremo is also finding himself while showing signs of finally getting over problems of his weak foundation.
What is that weak foundation?
Dremo was thrust into the DMW life with expectations of a pop star too early. It messed with his artistry and identity as well as how people perceived him. When he was handed a record contract, he needed a development contract. At the time, he should have simply been finding and perfecting his art as a rapper while garnering a dedicated fan base.
He is the type of artist who would have benefited from that curve. He would have found his identity and from there, he would understood his own artistry and then, he would have been able to experiment adequately. At DMW, he was a young rapper who had to make pop records and that messed with his trajectory.
Asides that, he's been juggling too much trying to find that hit instead of simply making music. The pressure with which he was moving was apparent in his music and that sometimes makes his music leave a bad taste in the mouth. You knew he had talent, but it's been hard to pinpoint him down to something.
Back to Codename Vol. 2, this album also exhibits that scatterbrained approach. However, for the first time, he's showing early signs of being able to deal with everything he's juggling. He's finally getting the hang of it and making commendable projects while at it. What he's trying to do with this project is very vivid if you give the music a chance.
The track list also aids the experience. Codename goes from trap heavy rap songs that showcase an angry, aggressive and vindictive Dremo to talking about sex and vanity on pop records to love songs. The first time I listened to this project, I thought it was slightly worse than it is. However, I was wrong.
Nonetheless, I'm still not sure Codename Vol. 2 will get Dremo from where he is to where he wants to be - a huge pop star. But then, that could be a blessing - Dremo's journey is a process and his growth as an artist is now getting apparent. He's now going through that learning/development curve he missed without even realizing it.
Good thing is that he has time and he could yet become that pop star that he want to be. He just has to pace himself, let himself breathe and make music he actually likes. That said, it's unlikely that Codename Vol. 2 will have high replay value. People who like it are unlikely to go back to it from time to time - it's good, not memorable.
Dremo is good and he's growing - he's not there yet, but this writer is excited to see where he goes from here. He's one of those artists who might need time. The sad thing is just that as listeners, we have short attention spans and we never understand the part of an artist's journey.
We need to be more sensitive, I need to be more sensitive.
• 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
Enjoyability and Satisfaction: 1.1/2
6.0 - Victory