The enigma of Jesse Jagz's 18-track debut album, 'Jag of All Tradez' [10th Year Anniversary Review]
In 2010, I was one of the Hip-Hop lovers who bashed this album. For that, I owe Jesse Jagz an apology.
Before the album dropped, it was supported by two singles, 'Pump It Up' and 'Wetin Dey.' Now, make no mistake, those songs were good, but it was also a confusion for Nigerian Hip-Hop. Like his brother, Jesse Jagz is a Jos-bred rapper who came to Lagos with a reputation as an emcee for all intents and purposes.
Back in the day, some circles will even argue that he was a better rapper than his brother, MI Abaga who has now transcended the realms of regular music making into bonafide greatness.
When MI Abaga also moved to Lagos and started making more commercial rap music and found a way to abridge the gap between English-speaking rap and the Nigerian mainstream to continental success, it hurt his reputation back home.
Jos, Plateau State is known for his cult-like adulation of Hip-Hop as both a music genre and even more as a culture. The average J-Town person has some affiliation with Hip-Hop and the Abaga brothers were no strangers to that. But when Jesse Jagz dropped the more lead singles to his debut album, Jagz of All Tradez, not only the J-Town Hip-Hop community kicked up a fuss.
MI Abaga admitted this during the timeless Loose Talk Podcast episode, Greatest Episode You Ever Did In Your Life. In Lagos and across the country, Jesse Jagz had built up such a reputation for a rapper without a sizeable stash of music staring the public in the face.
The effect of the golden era of Hip-Hop
Hip-Hop is arguably the most influential genre in recent history of Nigerian music - let's say over the past 25 years. All of Nigeria's pop stars were once affiliated with the Hip-Hop culture that reverberated across the world in the late 90's and the early 2000s. Around this same time, Nigerian groups were largely influenced by Hip-Hop and some of them were Hip-Hop groups.
In the early 2000s, Nigeria's mainstream pop sound was majorly determined by Hip-Hop - except you were making galala, konto or other forms of the localized dancehall/ragga sounds. It was a system in disarray and the Nigerian soundscape dictated by Hip-Hop in some ways as we tried to find a mainstream pop sound.
By the late 2000s and as Nigeria found its mainstream pop sound that lasted it a decade, Nigeria also had a golden era. Between 2006 and 2010, Nigeria saw a ridiculous amount of successful Hp-Hop releases - a blueprint which MI Abaga represented a perfection of and benefited from. Thus, Hip-Hop communities were cult-like and they had lofty standards.
Jesse Jagz was thrust firmly into the height of that era. Thus, the expectations were high. After the weak reception of his singles by the Hip-Hop community, the sung-rap style of 'Wetin Dey' found a place in the heart of the Nigerian mainstream. By the time the album dropped, Jesse Jagz was a popular figure as both an individual act and as one of the burgeoning collective, The Choc Boiz.
Together, they redefined what it meant to be successful rappers in the Nigerian mainstream and beyond. But with Jesse Jagz, it was the start of an unassuming journey that's sometimes treated unfairly because of a worrying weight of expectation from fans.
Jag of All Tradez
While speaking with an OG Nigerian rapper on this album some days ago, he said, "That album will never get the plaudits it deserves because of the rubbish standards and expectations of the Nigerian Hip-Hop community." In the same vein, former Editor-In-Chief of Pulse Africa, Osagie Alonge thinks, "Jag of All Tradez is an amazing body of work that will never be treated fairly."
Meanwhile, legendary Nigerian rapper, Modenine represented the opinion of the Hip-Hop community. He famously used some very negative words to describe the album and his words were accepted as fact. It also didn't help that Jag of All Tradez is long and very experimental as Jesse Jagz squeezed every ounce of unique, sonic pop experience out of himself to gift fans.
Right now, Jesse Jagz doesn't add the album to his discography. He acts like the album was a Chocolate City album and not his. Word at the time speculated that it was not Jesse Jagz's choice to make such a commercially driven album filled with pop songs.
Three weeks before this anniversary, Pulse Nigeria reached out to Jesse Jagz for an interview during which topics on the album could have been examined , but requests were expectedly declined. As a matter of fact, this writer's calls have remained unanswered. However, we shall speak our truth on such an enigmatic album.
The truth of the matter is that, Jag of All Tradez is an good body of work that never got the fair listen it deserves from the Hip-Hop community, sections of the mainstream and possibly, Jesse Jagz himself. Throughout the 18 tracks and one hour, nine minutes that make up Jag of All Tradez, Jesse Jagz became a unique version of himself.
When he 'sang' with his background as a rapper, he found a unique sung-rap palette often aided by an auto-tune hue or a vocoder to deliver his lines. Asides that, his beats were a beautiful selection.
Even on what might be deemed weaker songs like the ragga vibes of 'Number One' or the guitar-heavy R&B-based boom bap of 'My Brother,' or the Pussycat Dolls-esque, Brymo-assisted 'Love U,' something stood out. The strings and Brymo elevated 'Love You,' 'My Brother' is a beautiful tale of dense introspect and vulnerability while 'Number One' will have its market.
On the album, Jesse Jagz actually rapped
Out of the 18 tracks on Jag of All Tradez, 11 of them were songs on which Jesse Jagz actually rapped with the soul of an rap artist - he didn't sung-rap, he actually rapped. The only difference with what a 2000s 'Hip-Hop Head' would deem a 'Hip-Hop song' is the different beat type. Usually, Jesse Jagz rapped on fast-paced beats or typical dance tracks - even when they are slow.
Jesse Jagz and his debut album just suffered the fate of a worrying negative reception from people who never gave the album a chance - including the artist himself, apparently. Asides that, a song like 'Jesse Swag' was an actual trap song that was ahead of its time with an amazing hook.
Cohesion, Production and Replay Value
Asides that, when you listen to Jag of All Tradez 10 years after its release, you realize that it's always been an amazing album - one of the few long albums without fillers. Asides that, the album is beautifully A&Red - all the tracks were sequentially arranged to sell an experience to the listener.
This is mostly aided by the impressive production on the album. Either Jagz was doing trap on 'Jesse Swag' or folksy Hi-life on 'Sugarcane Baby' with the head of a loverboy which is exactly what Show Dem Camp are doing now with their Palmwine Music series or going fast-paced on the Northern string-based pop of 'Pussy Cat,' the beats seem cut from one multifaceted origin.
That origin is the mind of Jesse Jagz. Asides that, the replay value of this album is ridiculously high as it was caught on the end of two generations; the end of the golden era of Nigerian Hip-Hop and the earliest stages of Nigeria's most dominant era of pop music.
A song like 'Intoxicated' feels like it was made yesterday. It is to Jesse Jagz's credit that all the songs on Jag of All Tradez are aging like fine wine. While this might be hindsight or nostalgia talking, anybody who gives this album a fair listen will feel all these emotions. In 2010, I was one of the Hip-Hop lovers who bashed this album. For that, I owe Jesse Jagz an apology.
Then of course, there is the classic track, 'Nobody Test Me' that will be a 'jam' in 2050.
Jag of All Nation: The Faults
While speaking with Ayomide Tayo, popular Pop Culture Journalist and Senior Editor at Opera News, he highlighted some faults, "The reception was bad and that was the beginning of the end of Jesse Jagz at Chocolate City. It showcased his versatility as a producer, rapper and pop artist, but he was not well branded and marketed and this was coming off the days of MI Abaga's 'Talk About It.'"
Asides that, Ayomide Tayo also thinks the reception the album got was partly a problem with the roll-out. He says, "I wouldn't say the reception was bad, I would just say people wanted more from Jesse Jagz. And again, the way the chose singles... The first single was 'Pump It Up' when there were songs like 'Sugarcane Baby.' He later pushed out 'Jargo' and 'Nobody Test Me,' but the problem was set."
All these point to the commercial push that Chocolate City gave Jag of All Trade which might have led to the putting some fans off even before the album dropped. Asides that, the first batch of CDs to drop had audio and quality issues.
Ayomide Tayo also feels like 'Nobody Test Me' did not present Jesse Jagz in the greatest light. While he admits that Jesse Jagz might have had the best verse on the song, he thinks Jagz was overshadowed. That said, Ayomide Tayo is one many people who will be right to think that regardless of the quality of Jag of All Tradez, it will be surpassed by the brilliance of Jagz Nation and Jagz Nation Vol. 2.
While Ayomide Tayo maintained that the album will suffer for its lack of a cult following, he agrees that the album has aged well.
• 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
Tracklist and Arrangement: 1.3/2
Content Direction and Delivery: 1.4/2
Execution, Enjoyability and Satisfaction: 1.3/2
Replay Value: 1.2/2
7.0 - Champion
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