On 'Cult!' Paybac examines his complex relationships with the elements of his 'Nigerian' life [Album Review]
For his fourth body of work in just two years, Paybac uses the symbolic representation of life as a totem to address inter-relationships in his life and the larger Nigerian society.
In the modern Nigerian society, 'Cult' is of a negative connotation. That's what your parents call you when you grow a beard, pierce your ears and tint your hair as a Nigerian teenager. It's what members of the infamous Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) pretend you are to extort you.
On another point of negativity that doesn't relate to (victim) profiling, cultism is one of the biggest problems ravaging Nigerian youth. In other forms of cabalism, it is also one of the greatest impediments Nigeria faces on its way to growth and improvement. On March 27, 2020, Nigerian rapper, Paybac titled his sophomore album the dreaded word, CULT! - yes, he added an exclamation mark.
No, he's not a cultist. For his fourth body of work in just two years, Paybac uses the symbolic representation of life as a totem to address inter-relationships in his life and the larger Nigerian society.
On it, he uses historical materials, political metaphors and pop culture references to describe even his complex relationships with elements of his life.
To Paybac, the Nigerian polity is one whole machinery oiled by the warm-blooded organisms that make it up. Thus, one arm of the polity relates to another. In that sense, the problems ravaging ordinary personal relationships (on 'Boy Band') in lack of trust grows to plant seeds of corruption that affects the entire country (on 'F*** A Politician,' for example).
To all the songs, there is an interlink to which the bottomline relates to how Nigeria creates a faulty legacy from its inability to maintain core values of positivity. There are also times which Paybac uses politician figures, pop culture references or quotes to reject how people negatively perceive him.
To me, the album is basically saying, if you cannot maintain a friendship or pursue a girl honestly, how will you not grow to become a societal menace? How will you trample upon positive legacies of people like Aguiyi Ironsi? While the foregoing is an afterthought, the album could also be simply perceived as the diary of an average wide-eyed Nigerian millennial living life in Nigeria.
Like this review, the album could sometimes be wildly opinionated in its quest to safeguard the legacy of some, successfully interprete the roles of certain societal elements and criticize the existence of certain societal elements. It's also quite interesting that this socio-politically charged album comes in the thick of Nigerian complacency in the face of COVID-19 pandemic.
However, at the root of the album and to my digestion of it is the idea that to everything we do, there is a legacy. What our legacy is will usually depend on how we live and sometimes, our legacy remains at the mercy of others to interprete. CULT! itself is an album that's open to opinions and sometimes seems an ad hominem.
Nonetheless, the execution of it and those aforementioned elements of its creativity makes the album top quality. In fact, this is the best body of work Paybac has ever released. If The Biggest Tree had better mixing, overall artistic execution like on CULT! and better production, it might rival CULT! but it doesn't.
Paybac took his time to work on something that will stand the test of time. While speaking with a legendary Nigerian journalist, he noted that, "This is the kind of artist Nigerians can invest in. He has the ability to garner a cult following. If he has just N2 million to support this work with videos, he could be on to something."
It's the truth. This album is solid.
Here is why;
'Aguiyi Ironsi (Through The Mud)' opens CULT! to a classic reference - a criticism of the African tendency to suffer and smile. That was Fela who noted that, "People don't have to smile in a bad partnership..." It's a manifesto for the heavy socio-political themes on CULT! By delivery, Paybac is both himself and the roving spirit of Aguiyi Ironsi.
The legacy of Aguiyi Ironsi is a delicate and wrongly represented one. Nigerians lump him up with the rest of the corrupt politicians. While he might not have been clean, he is unfairly portrayed. History shows that Aguiyi Ironsi was a good man - a lone/omega wolf - who existed in the time of vicious alpha wolves and he got consumed in the holocaust that kills also those wolves.
There is also the tale that Aguiyi Ironsi was metaphysically fortified. The story goes that when he died, he had to be dragged through the mud and killed brutally because guns and machetes didn't work.
Thus, he struggles to set himself apart from the faulty legacy of the others. For Paybac, he finds parallels between himself and Ironsi. To him, both of them are wrongly perceived and portrayed. Both of them have also been dragged through the mud. The three moving parts of this song - Ironsi, Paybac and Fela's opinion - are tied by Paybac's refusal to be wrongly portrayed.
Instead of getting kept down, Paybac comes back throwing punches. Instead of keeping quiet as he had been forced to, he swings at the Nigerian politicians who have no passion for the job. Instead of being like the people Fela criticized for suffering and smiling, Paybac refuses to smile. This song sees Paybac try to rewrite his own legacy by changing his perception - unlike Aguiyi Ironsi.
Its beat sounds like a B.O.B loosie - guitar-heavy with layers of eerie strings. Those ominous strings also point to the entire direction of this album - little positivity and significant highlight reels of the negative Nigerian society.
'Boy Band' was the lead single for CULT! and it was released in 2019. Again, it opens up to a Chinua Achebe quote, "Being Nigerian is abysmally frustrating and unbelievably exciting..." From the perspective of both a rapper and Nigerian in Nigeria, Paybac highlights the power of his personal relationships and the lack of respect he gets from people.
To him, he makes music to be respected. Again, back to the title, 'Boy Band' and 'CULT!' are built on the concept of togetherness. While they can both be negative; one has a usually positive connotation while the latter is inherently negative.
This time, Paybac finds the power of togetherness in his 'Boy Band' - his gang, and his fans. The song then examines Paybac's relationship with his fans and supporters. That beat is also interesting - built on classic South-South Nigerian folk, it's defined by its trap percussion.
'Glamour Girls' featuring Jazzz Attah also highlights an inter-personal relationship. But this time, it's not overly to societal or political. Instead, it celebrates a girl named Blessing who lives in Surulere, Lagos. The song finds links to the Kenneth Nnebue classic, Glamour Girls. The film which highlights the lifestyle of a few 'high class' Lagos girls in the risque life of transactional relationships.
It stars Eucharia Anunobi, Zack Orji, Liz Benson, Dolly Unachukwu, Ernest Obi, Ngozi Ezeonu, Gloria Anozie, Pat Attah and Sandra Achums. The movie propelled the beautiful women in its cast into diva and sex symbol status that teenage boys obsessed over. On Glamour Girls, Paybac likens Blessing to Liz Benson, a star of the Glamour Girls franchise.
'Nigeria Suk My D*k' is the 'Mood For Eva' of most Nigerian millennials. This one describes Paybac's rocky relationship with his country. The phone conversation that opens the song and Paybac's cold shoulder underline the frustration with which he breathes as a Nigerian. The beat is a minimalist alternative trap that cooks up sharp piano chords.
'F*k a Politician' comes just one day after Nigerians quoted news that Bola Ahmed Tinubu donated N200 million to Lagos State for the fight against COVID-19 with, 'He transferred money from himself to himself.' The rocky relationship between Nigerian politicians and electorate is secured by mutual contempt - sometimes subconscious.
Here, Paybac brings it to the fore. Again, centred on relationship, Paybac describes his relationship with Nigerian politicians. It's not quite unexpected as Paybac belts out "F*k a Politician" while the trap song rumbles with the intensity of King Kong. Something also makes me think this song was recorded before Buhari won his second-term in office.
Paybac raps, "Chairman talking second term, but he's already dying..." This album has been in the works for a long time.
'Lupita' features Barelyanyhook and its this writer's favourite song on CULT! The song and its themes - not as much its BPM - reminds this writer of 'Seeds of Faith,' off Paybac's debut album, The Biggest Tree. On it, Paybac describes his relationship with the elements of the Nigerian society that concern him and how those things drove him to depression.
To highlight that, a part of the hook reads, "Young Naija n***a, I been rocking she'll toes I got 3 stripes that's Adidas..."
Lupita Nyong'o is the Oscar-winning Kenyan actor who is a star of Hollywood. Often, she is used as the standard of African beauty while she's also subject to the hypocrisy of black appreciation across American media. On this song, Paybac ties into that idea of hypocrisy and the attraction of success as he proclaims himself a "Black star like Lupita..."
The beat itself feels like a Noah '40' Shebib emo/R&B beat. Oh and, Barelyanyhook ate this beat up. His technique as he discusses a short version of discovering his talent at 17 to hitting trials in 2017 is gripping. What a song to highlight one's perilous relationship with society.
'Afroskanking' is such a monster boom bap production that borrows from afrobeats elements. I might be wrong, but I think the Ngozi Chimamanda-Adichie cut at the end of 'Lupita' is material to this song. On that sample, Adichie tells a French person that people in Africa consume her books. Thereby, she asserts her blackness that's often doubted.
In similar fashion, Paybac uses 'Afroskanking' to assert and endorse - his relationship with his - blackness. He's boisterous and bullish about his optimism for success.
'Nana's Interlude' is a boom bap beat that premised on guitar chords of a 70's rock song. Paybac uses the song to highlight his relationship to what seems a West African woman. He asserts his love for her. While the song is touching, CULT! could have done without it.
'Masquerade' is a bop, but in the overall spirit of CULT! it sticks out even worse than 'Nana's Interlude.' The project could have done without it and its vanity is subtly wrongly placed.
'Waterside' features Blaqbonez and it's an ode to love. Built on a sample of what seems cut from a classic folk song by Oliver De Coque or Victor Uwaifo, Paybac highlights his relationship to a faceless and nameless woman and tells her to meet him at the waterside. Blaqbonez is the perfect rapper for this as they both 'wash' their respective 'women.'
'A Tree Grew In Lagos' is Paybac's ode to (his relationship) with Lagos and his perspective of getting made through the pressures of Lagos. Paybac is the tree that embraces the struggle and grew in Lagos through the warped out strings merge with the legato strings. This song also points back to the title of Paybac's debut album, The Biggest Tree - a diary of mental health struggles and personal struggles.
This time, Paybac is once again a tree. While on The Biggest Tree, he was the tree ruminating through life, he ruminates through Lagos on 'The Tree Grew In Lagos.'
'Devil In The Detail' documents Paybac's love-hate relationship with meticulousness and finicky concepts. Here, he speaks it through the female obsession for detail in make-up. That beat switch on 01:04 is amazing - what a legato string. 'Money In All My Pockets' examines Paybac's relationship with money.
On the one hand, the song is Paybac's dreams of a ideal life. On the other hand, he also discusses the perils of chasing money blindly. Nonetheless, the hook suggests that Paybac just wants the money and doesn't care about the cliche that 'Money doesn't buy happiness.'
'Nigerian Dream' opens up to Cardi B's viral comments that liken Nigeria to Disneyland. She then urges people to also visit Nigeria. In this social media era, The 'Nigerian Dream' is traveling to a western colony and tweeting your love for Nigeria from that colony - but that was before coronavirus. oops.
Here, Paybac's 'Nigerian Dream' is heavily informed by the subject of abject leadership and corruption the Nigeria is embroiled in. The strife has informed Paybac's 'Nigerian Dream' to fulfill his vanity just one time on the streets of Lagos; visit clubs and be a spendthrift in an opulent lifestyle. All these opulence will be funded by one thing; the famous 'government money' or corruption or embezzlement or 'National chin-chin.'
Paybac's idea of the 'Nigerian Dream' can then be defined as having access to the corridors of political power from where one can create a legacy of corruption by putting one's family members in major offices. That first verse is amazing. And then, that Viveeyan doesn't just sound like Beyonce, she is probably Beyonce's 'offspring' of some kind.
She doesn't just sing like Beyonce, she has the same voice type - mezzo soprano - with the same expansive vocal range and octaves. She also carries that peculiar Beyonce ability to be vocally dramatic and pronounce words with aggressive emotion in a bid to enforce lyrics and get you invested. No, it doesn't stop there, she also has a Houston, Texas accent. Well, this isn't weird at all.
If someone tells me Viveeyan also has 13 octaves, I'm calling Shawn Corey Carter. The song is picture-esque perfection as Paybac and Viveeyan describe peculiar situations of the artist son of a corrupt politician, calling the name of God through embezzlement, cheating while getting called, 'sharp' and more.
'Activ8' was a single released pre-release of CULT! To be honest, I think 'Activ8' should have been the album opener. 'Nigerian Dream' would have been fantastic as an outro. Nonetheless, 'Activ8' is topically expansive as it houses Paybac's relationship with his dreams.
First off, this is an amazing body of work that is near-flawless. It's also amazing that Paybac carries 15 tracks on his back with only two songs seeming out of place. While that takes some marks off Paybac and his execution of this project, it doesn't really matter in the grand scheme. Paybac has done something special as a rapper and as an A&R.
He should also look into being A&R for other artists. He hand-picked his features to perfection - they were all brilliant without overshadowing him. It's also credit to Paybac that it never seemed like his features carried him at any point. Nonetheless, Barelyanyhook stands out. That album art is also ridiculous.
Even though its symbolism seems too mired in excessive conceptualism, its aesthetic is something to behold.
What Paybac needs now is a budget for videos. This guy is not slowing down anytime soon. Chances are his next project will be even better. But with all themes examined, one thing this album puts forward to me as a listener is a question, 'As a Nigerian millennial living in Nigeria, what do you want to be?' I guess the answer is left to me and to the people who are watching me.
• 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 Tracklisting: 1.8/2
Content and Themes: 2/2
Enjoyability and Satisfaction: 1.6/2
8.8 - Champion