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'Afro Pop Vol. 1' is Adekunle Gold's best album yet [Album Review]

Afro Pop Vol. 1 doesn't jump at you, it's a slow burn that will age like fine wine…

'Afro Pop Vol. 1' is Adekunle Gold's best album yet. (EMI)
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His sophomore album, About 30 got mixed reactions from critics. While About 30 was still rooted in Folk and Highlife, Adekunle Gold intentionally infused the album with pop music and it got critics conflicted. Still, Adekunle Gold didn’t stop - he kept releasing pop music with Afro rhythms.

By mid-2019, he had fully transformed his sonic and stylistic brand. His fashion was more avant-garde and androgynous while he sang in more English on Afro-pop beats. Some of his 2019 singles like, ‘Young Love,’ ‘Kelegbe Megbe’ and ‘Before You Wake’ up were the sacrificial lambs on the way to how Adekunle Gold wants to be perceived.

Just after COVID-19 tensions began to douse, Adekunle Gold returned with, ‘Something Different’ and ‘AG Baby.’ What happened next was an acceptance of his new being. With that acceptance came praise for his commendable, ‘rebrand.’ After a 12-month delay, he released his third studio album, Afro-Pop Vol. 1 on August 21, 2020.

Adekunle Gold should be proud of what he achieved. Afro Pop Vol. 1 is an exhibition of a sonic vision. The music reveals an astute musical understanding and ridiculously dense production in sonic poise, arrangement and multifaceted inspiration.

Adekunle Gold achieved the fusion of Afro-pop with Electronic chops and dense vocal episodes that powerfully dominate and elevate regular songs like, 'AG Baby,' 'Okay,' 'Here For Ya,' and 'My Ex.' For the most part, this album wasn’t even mixed like an Afro-pop album - its sound engineering feels very European.

Lyrically, the album is only slightly expansive as it mostly focuses on love, but when he made a dash for more commercial vanity on, ‘AG Baby’ or ‘Okay,’ he squarely aced it. Those songs are a lesson in a fusion of sounds. ‘AG Baby’ is built on Afro-pop percussion, but its melodies are slowed down Electro-pop strings.

Then, the mixing of Nailah Blackman’s vocals feels like when Bebe Rexha sings on a David Guetta song. Adekunle Gold’s delivery also retains the Africanism alongside those guitar chords and saxophones. Per delivery, this song might be Adekunle Gold’s finest hour as an Afro-pop act.

However, the best song on Afro Pop Vol. 1 is, ‘Okay'. Like ‘AG Baby,’ it discusses the life of Adekunle Gold, but where ‘AG Baby’ is a more vain track filled with braggadocio, ‘Okay’ discusses braggadocio from a perspective of indestructibility. It’s basically a giant middle finger to his detractors. He then crowns himself, “AG Baby is your daddy…”

Still, he discusses love from different perspectives. The Tekno-aided ‘Firewood’ declares a need for love and affection on Highlife.

With an amazing hook on Afro-swing, Adekunle Gold declares love for a faceless woman on, ‘Here For Ya.’ With the Electronic vocal chops for hook and its melody, a video with a New Orleans-esque carnival scene could serve this song well. As cute as, ‘Water Carry Me’ is, its declarations of love are awfully reminiscent of what a Yoruba demon would say.

Any woman who believes a Yoruba man who says, “If I lie for your love o Dinah, water carry me go…” is on her own o. Now that this writer’s attempt to be funny has passed, let’s praise that pon pon percussion and the Ghanaian influence on, ‘Water Carry Me.’

‘Exclusive’ is yet another offering of Pheelz’s range as a music producer. If this song were found on Chainsmokers album, nobody would have been surprised. Yet, it's still African. Adekunle Gold should also take a bow for his willingness to take these risks. The song mirrors a conceptual conversation between two people in a relationship.

The girl says that the guy talks to girls online, while the guy suspects the girl. ‘Something Different’ and ‘My Ex’ continue the love stories on the rocks. The character Adekunle Gold embodies on ‘Something Different’ got played by a ‘demoness’ while ‘My Ex’ sees Adekunle Gold embody a male character who reels from messing up a good thing.

While ‘My Ex’ is a good song, its hook is too bare - it could have done with more melodies. The Spax-produced record needed something special there. But all in all, Afro Pop Vol. 1 sees Adekunle Gold get more confident and even cocky.

Asides constantly repeating his famous intro, ‘AG Baby Is Your Baby,’ he goes deeper to call himself, ‘Daddy’ and even said, "But you already knew" after saying, ‘AG Baby Is Your Baby’ on, ‘My Ex.’

Songs like, ‘Sabina’ and ‘Pretty Girl’ are squarely Nigerian. ‘Sabina’ is the quintessential Afrobeat track that sees Adekunle Gold try to rebuild a love story that he ruined. The Ragga sound on, ‘Pretty Girl’ is the most avant-garde song on this project. Ably supported by Patoranking, Adekunle Gold gets flirtatious as he appreciates a sexy woman.

Afro Pop Vol. 1 doesn't jump at you, it's a slow burn that will age like fine wine… If Adekunle Gold had Burna Boy’s PR, Afro Pop Vol. 1 would probably be Nigeria’s frontrunner for a Grammy nomination. The album is so Western/European yet so African.

This is not to say Afro Pop Vol. 1 is better than Twice As Tall - it’s not. What Afro Pop Vol. 1 has over Twice As Tall is that futuristic, experiential Afro-pop sound - a better fusion of African music with a Western/European appeal without dumbing down on or forcing Africanism at any point.

Afro Pop Vol. 1 also does it effortlessly that if you are not a music person, you might not notice.

Addition: Successfully crossing over is about having a sound which retains that African essence which gets foreign audiences interested while also having something that foreign audience can relate to. Crossing over is not about making great music, it's about making appealing music to the desired audience. And of course, appeal has grades.

That said, Afro Pop Vol. 1 has two weaknesses; tracklist and an overkill of that ‘vibe’ percussion which forms the basis of, ‘AG Baby,’ ‘Okay,’ ‘Something Different,’ and ‘My Ex.’ It feels like Afro Pop Vol. 1 is excessively stuck on that tempo when it desperately cries out for tempo variety.

On the tracklist angle, this writer feels it should have been this;

AG Baby

Firewood

Pretty Girl

Here For Ya

Water Carry Me

Exclusive

Okay

Sabina

Something Different

My Ex

This way, Afro Pop Vol. 1 would have told a sequenced story from Adekunle Gold’s understanding of self to his need for love, to then finding love before ruining it with trust issues. Then as he licks his wounds and thinks about what the relationship could have been it all ends with, ‘My Ex.’

Ratings: /10

• 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: 1.0/2

Songwriting and Delivery: 1.8/2

Production: 1.6/2

Enjoyability and Satisfaction: 1.6/2

Execution: 1.6/2

Total:

7.6 - Victory

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