"Actor no dey die" goes a popular phrase among Nigerians. The saying underlines the cinematic attribute of the movie's hero coming out victorious no matter how dim his chances are.
The hero in an action film (pun intended) might be on his knees, with the villain about to give the death blow, but thanks to fate the actor is able to snatch his hand from the jaws death and come out unscathed.
Critics, bloggers, and some fans (myself inclusive) started tagging M.I as a 'has been' after failing to drop an album in four years. The abominable 'King James' (which I now refer to as King Judas) didn't help M.I's ratings.
It truly looked for the short black boy who re-wrote Nigerian rap history in 2008 that his days were numbered. But since art mirrors life, I guess it is safe to say "actor no dey die" as M.I defies odds and produces a comeback album of sterling quality.
17 tracks long, The Chairman is based on the concept of opposites (poor/rich, desire/fulfillment, brotherly love/betrayal, zero/hero), accompanied with a haunting hum at the beginning and at the end of the album.
M.I is conscious to know that he has made some mistakes along the way, and addresses his flaws on the centre-piece song on the album 'Human Being' featuring a brilliant 2face (that we hardly hear these days) and Sound Sultan who is the Ryan Giggs of Nigerian music.
On 'Yours' featuring Milli and Debbie he raps about fans tearing him down, when they were the ones who made him a successful artist in the first place. He also wonders why his first manager is criticizing him on the Internet when he made him a star.
The introspection continues on 'Brother' featuring Nosa and Milli. The Choc City exec comes to spill his thoughts on Jesse's exit from the label, and how he is trying to steer Ice Prince into becoming a better man and rapper. He apologizes to Ice if he offended him while trying to look out for him, and tells Jesse that the door is always open if he wants to come back.
These moments of vulnerability have never been seen from M.I on this scale. He opens his closet and cleans house which makes this album honest and refreshing to listen to. Gone are the grandiose concepts that littered his previous album. You get a hint of subtle brilliance when you listen to the album as the songs are solid and easy to digest.
M.I achieved this by primarily doing away with over the top lyricism for simple, direct and effective writing. On the album opener 'Monkey' featuring Chi Gurl, he uses pop references (Patience Goodluck Jonathan's infamous "there is God" rant on TV, and phrases from the comical Nigerian athlete's 'I never experered it' YouTube interview) to remind people of his humble beginnings and how he overcame adversity.
He goes inspirational on the next song 'Rich' featuring Koker as he recollects his rise to fame, while the hook serves as a prayer to those on the come up. The sermon excerpt at the end was a tad bit unnecessary but the song in all is an inspirational song.
While M.I's simplistic writing helps make his comeback album a success, his 'easy-does-it' approach bites him in the ass a few times. The most notable one occurs on 'Mine' featuring Wizkid when he remarkably says "did you smoke something? 'Cos hi (high) girl." Luckily this embarrassing line doesn't mar the song as Wizkid's mature chorus helps keep the song afloat. The opposite of this song 'Yours' featuring Seyi Shay is another remarkable love joint from M.I.
Production wise this album is well layered, constructed and organized. The cool sax on 'Bad Belle' featuring Moti Cakes which sounds like it came out from a Sin City movie is one of my favourite production highlights on the album. It helps you not notice that M.I jacked Drake's 'Worst Behaviour' vibe.
M.I also borrows a 2 Chainz line for 'Millionaira Champagne' which should be a club jam different what we hear in these parts. Apart from Ice Prince's verse, Sarkodie's machine gun flow, and M.I's chairman raps makes this song a radio friendly song without sounding too commercial.
A song like this shows that M.I is aware of what is happening in contemporary rap. It's no wonder that he features the lords of Yoruba rap, Olamide and Reminisce on the album. On the Sarz produced joint 'Shekpe', Reminisce delivers a street-worthy chorus on the song. His verse could have been slightly better judging from his long track record of stealing the spotlight. 'Shekpe' is a humorous song that is opposite of Kendrick Lamar's 'Swimming Pool' in the sense that it embraces alcoholism.
'Middle' featuring Olamide sees M.I dissing those who make up rap lists without having the credentials. It's the standout song on the project literally because it has no opposite track.
There are 19 guests acts on this album. Such a high number of guest artistes can derail an album, but because M.I sticks to his core concept, it works. The guest artistes fit like round pegs into round holes. This is illustrated well on 'Enemies' featuring Patoranking, and 'Bullion Van' featuring Phyno and Storm Rex, the latter being M.I's way of assuring he remains relevant in the Eastern bloc.
The thematic approach has its drawbacks. 'Wheel Barrow' featuring Emmy Ace and Beenie Man is a baffling attempt at creating a Dancehall jam. It doesn't work at all, and should have been left in the Loopy Studios hard drive. 'Beg' featuring Loose Kaynon and Morell doesn't add or remove the track. It does nothing for the project.
These blots are not enough to spoil M.I's comeback work of art. By retracing his steps, being honest, and opening himself to new ideas, he has regained his lost energy.
M.I's new album 'The Chairman' is that moment of inspiration that pushes the hero into the zone where he defies death. On Jude Abaga's third studio LP, he repays for his sins, and less than stellar releases within his barren spell.
Chairman is an inspiring, entertaining and a brilliant body of work from a master who has regained his magical touch. Rap is big business these days, and M.I is back as the chairman of the board.
Rating- 4 out of 5