'Warrior' by 2Baba Idibia is a necessary lesson on legendary status and expectation [Album Review]
2Baba tries to find a balance between contemporary pop conformity and his pre-2014 self, and it didn’t work.
With a hashtag #20YearsAKing, the 44-year-old who has since rebranded from 2Face Idibia to 2Baba had different events to celebrate the incredible milestone. Successfully, he transcended three generations of Nigerian pop and excelled in all three. In fact, his name is now synonymous with timeless excellence, perseverance and respect.
In our industry, he has become an elder statesman. At different points, he was the band member who decided to go solo, the philandering Nigerian pop prince who couldn’t keep it in his pants, the music genius who gave us ‘African Queen,’ Face2Face and Grass To Grace, the pop prince who could sing but could not perform and the man with quality music and terrible visuals.
He survived them all and co-existed in the same space with the juggernaut of D’Banj. When his album, Unstoppable underwhelmed, he dropped an International Edition that came back and crashed charts. In a lot of ways, his story has been mired in documented moonlight tales of survival.
Over the past few years, he has slowly accepted his increasing veteran status. But then, he still produced ‘Amaka,’ a smash hit from 2018. From then, people speculated about the possibility of an album from 2Baba, but it never happened. Finally, a 13-track album has dropped and it’s titled, Warrior.
While the album is a perfect title for 2Baba’s career that is so synonymous with fighting and surviving against odds and competition, the quality of Warrior betrays everything 2Baba has been known to stand for. By a long stretch, this is 2Baba’s weakest album yet and it represents many things that 2Baba isn’t known for.
On one part, Warrior feels like a fairly rushed project. That’s not to say it was put together over a short period of time, but it's to suggest that it was not recorded with meticulousness and vision. It feels like 2Baba felt a need to give us a project so bad that he simply gave us what feels closest to a body of work.
This is underlined by the subtle, yet worrying sonic similarities between ‘Opo’ featuring Wizkid and ‘African Girl’ by Amaze. Both songs are produced by Blaq Jerzee. Sadly, Wizkid excelled on ‘Opo’ and provided one of the few bright spots on the album, but the similarities to ‘African Girl’ are too hard to ignore.
On the other part, Warrior seemingly tried to rely on and overcompensate with star-power from Wizkid, Burna Boy, Tiwa Savage and Olamide. This was meant to gloss over its glaring weaknesses as a sonic experience and it backfired spectacularly. In fact, it added to the woes of the album because it built expectation.
It underlines how 2Baba and his team are too far removed from the current soundscape where star-power means so little in the context of a quality project. Gone are the days when star-power could automatically gloss over the weaknesses of an album.
The weird thing is that, you see the idea behind all the songs, but most of them fail to convey the right excitement or enjoyment that you would expect from a 2Baba project. Most of the songs lack the soul with which we’ve come to associate 2Baba with.
It seems the legend was trying to compete commercially in this disruptive soundscape with ‘pop songs’ that merge his sonic identity with language and styles of contemporary Nigerian pop. The major problem with this move is that the albums gets stuck in a sonic past while seeming too thematically/lyrically cliche for the current times.
All these then create a warped representation of 2Baba and the album suffered. 2Baba also lacked the vibrancy that we’ve known him for. Yes, we know he has grown. But if those things will disappear, they should be replaced with other tenable things - they were not.
On every 2Baba album, one can discern his state of mind and creative process. But thematically, this album is muddled up between scary attempts at derisory lamba aesthetic and worrying, insufficient glimpses at the real 2Baba.
The album opens up to the title-track and on it, 2Baba rolls back the years to a slower, yet similar beat to the classic love song, ‘I Dey Feel Like.’ Topically, it documents 2Baba’s journey and his intentional defiance - he refuses to fail. This is a good album opener.
‘We Must Groove’ feels like something that could really age well. On its afrobeat construction, rich on trumpets and bass riffs, 2Baba and ‘the anointed one,’ Burna Boy look to once again focus on defiance. The theme feels like one about choosing to enjoy in the face of adversity. 2Baba sings, “Any obstacle on the way, I got bulldozer am scatter away… We must groove o we go groove. As long as long as your blessed to dey function…”
But all of a sudden, we get scatterbrained talk of women and sexy bodies. How did we get here? While the song is still sonic pleasure, this writer thinks it shouldn’t have been a single. It also underlines everything that’s wrong with this album. In the old days, 2Baba wouldn’t have supported an album release with something as commonplace as a superstar feature.
‘Important’ was always a baffling song. With a unique brand of dancehall beat, it ran on flows that were not commensurate. It didn’t work as a single and it’s baffling that it made this album. While the song is not bad, it would have been better for 2011, not now. Kudos to 2Baba for trying to be unique, but it has quite worked out.
‘Carry Dey Go’ is a unique blend of dancehall vibes with afrobeats essence. This song is not bad, but its start is so drab that most people would have pressed ‘next’ before getting to its best part - the hook. Shout-out to 2Baba for that hook by the way. This writer would like to listen to this song on 120 BPM.
‘Kitty Kat’ is quite simply forgettable. As said earlier, Wizkid might have produced this best moment on this album for ‘Opo.’ On a faster version of a style we now know as ‘vibes,’ 2Baba and Wizkid produce a party number to the curves of an African woman. ‘Amaka’ is a smash hit from 2018 - you already knew that.
‘Love Me, Love Me’ is built on another ‘vibe,’ but it’s another forgettable song. ‘Ginger’ has a good build-up, but it fails to climax. The song which is a metaphor for the effects of love would have been good if the beat had changed and gotten dense for its hook. ‘Target You’ is a beautiful jam - a song that feels destined to attract the women.
If Wizkid hadn’t took the moment on ‘Opo,’ ‘Target You’ could have been the best song on Warrior. This is R&B for the gods of ‘wash.’ ‘Oyi’ was released as a single in 2018 and it’s as good then as it is now. “Help me spread the message like Globacom…” is peak 2Baba level of brilliance - goofy, weird metaphor.
‘I Dey Hear Everything’ is a hi-life tune that feels might have been better for 2016 - Olamide came through. It’s still an amazing song, but it won’t have the resonance it deserves. In 2016, it would have been a smashing single. ‘If Nor Be You’ featuring AJ is simply forgettable.
Yes, we might argue that 2Baba is now a veteran with a sparkling record of scary excellence. We might also argue that such reputation will forever heighten any hint of excellence and exaggerate any hint of average music. We will all have a point because we are a superlative-obsessed generation.
However, earlier this morning, I had a conversation with Former Editor-In Chief of Pulse Africa, Osagie Alonge. We discussed the reasons why certain people think Jay Z’s Magna Carta, Holy Grail was bad.
He said, “Music consumption does not just have to do with what is produced - most times. A large percentage of it has to do with the acceptance of the music which has to do with a fan base…
“The album (Magna Carta, Holy Grail) is not as bad as we first thought, but it’s still not excellent. When you’re on that level, people only expect excellence from you… When people associate you with excellence, anytime you fall below that, it feels lower than necessary.”
When you are 2Baba, your fan base is everybody. You have transcended the level of the regular Joe with a stan base. While our standards of excellence for legends like 2Baba means we will overrate their musical shortcomings, expectation is also a material part of music.
Fans will forever have subconscious expectations of a legend with a track record of carving his own path. Those subconscious expectations will forever be about how he should make music and it’s always hilarious how fans are uniform in their reaction when that legend makes music that hits those expectations and when it falls below those expectations.
We saw the uniform endorsement when Jay Z released 4:44. The flipside of that is what we see fans say about Warrior - the album simply gets stuck in triggering sonic nostalgia and producing cliches of contemporary Nigerian pop.
The expectation would have been for 2Baba to once again find his own way to make appealing records or simply go against the pop norm like he did on Away and Beyond. He tried to find a balance between conformity and his pre-2014 self and it didn’t work.
• 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 Track Arrangement: 1.0/2
Content and Themes: 0.5/2
Enjoyability and Satisfaction: 0.8/2
4.5 - Average
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