Bella Shmurda battles the conflicts of youth with deep takes on ‘High Tension 2.0’ [Pulse Album Review]

‘High Tension 2.0’ feels like Made In Lagos for the Nigerian streets/mainstream.

Bella Shmurda - High Tension 2.0. (Dagbana/OneRPM)

Certain stars are born, but other stars are crowned. In December 2019, Bella Shmurda was one of the opening acts at Zlatan’s infamous year-end show at the Balmoral, Federal Palace hotel, Lagos and he was one of the highlights of the night.

The moment ‘Vision 2020,’ a bubbling under street sensation until that point blared out of the speakers, a number of young Nigerians, especially those at the foot of the stage went into a frenzy. Many were said to be students of the Lagos State University, where Shmurda schools.

On that night, it became obvious that Shmurda had something special - even his name was memorable because Bobby Shmurda was in prison at the time. In January 2020, he released High Tension, his first EP. Thereafter, his team took him on a nationwide media tour that introduced him to different markets.

While ‘Cash App’ crooner’s sound has since evolved, he remains his ever-philosophical self. On High Tension 2.0, Shmurda gets more philosophical, examines deeper topics and reveals more of his thought process that beguiles the perception of his ‘street’ brand in the public eye.

On ‘Out There,’ he is a voice of reason to inspire the tired troops of hustling men on the tough streets of Nigeria.

He even says some deep stuff, “For the game, you are meant to lose/Don’t you make your temper lose/Be true, Oluwa got you/Don’t you forget who you are/Don’t you hear the fallacy/Brought you back to Lucifer/T’on ba fun e jor ma lo fa/Appreciate the little you got/Give thanks to jah for the life and love/Share you have with the poor/You know life na turn by turn…

From his perspective on ‘World,’ he gets even more philosophical with a perusal of the societal ‘decadence’ in the wider - presumably - black society.

He also delivers incredibly deeper lines like, “If I ever lie to the world, I can never lie to myself/If I ever lose to the world, I can never lose to myself/If I ever run from the world, I can never run from myself/Even I don't see nobody, I will always see myself…

On ‘Rush,’ he also discusses the inevitability of his success despite how naysayers perceive him before he discusses the dynamics of time and chance in relation to the inevitability of death. That is two tracks before he adulates himself and crowns himself ‘Champion.’

This isn’t the first time Shmurda will get philosophical either. On ‘High Tension,’ ‘Ginger’ discussed the decline of his mental health as he struggles with finding success in music and staying in school just as Olamide’s ‘Triumphant’ was his testimony. ‘Vision 2020’ was a socio-political critique of the Nigerian government.

‘Upgrade’ from ‘High Tension’ also tells a story of a young woman who got into the fast life as a Student of Lagos State University (LASU), lost her way and lost her life while ‘Cash App’ tells a story of the Nigerian underworld of internet fraud.

Nonetheless, his philosophical quips and deeper undertones will be perceived as preachy and fake by some listeners. For example on ‘Soldier,’ Shmurda advises people in Yoruba that, ““T’on ba fun e jor ma lo fa…”

In English that means, “If they give you, don’t smoke it.” One would assume that he’s discussing the dangers of psychoactive drugs, right?

But six tracks later on the amazing pop record ‘Party Next Door,’ Shmurda declares that “Life is just one chance, I hope you ball sometimes…”

He then proceeds to sing in Yoruba that, “Mo ma shaye, mumukumu, fafakufa, aye ni mo n je o…

In English that means, “I will enjoy life, smoke and drink anything together because I’m living and enjoying life…

In there, there is a conflict of perspectives that invalidate each other. But some will peg it to the inevitable conflict of youth, where morality battles with a need to live, enjoy and express.

On ‘Rush’ Shmurda sings, “Dem asking me, why I’m always getting high, me I never reply coz highway that’s my way…

‘Highway’ could be interpreted in two ways; one from a perspective of nonchalance and a need to live the fast life which he advised people against on ‘Out There’ and the other from the perspective of ‘getting high’ as a coping mechanism for the pain. To be honest, one can also put his powerful expressions down to drugs giving him inspiration to express, despite its dangers.

However, his open admission to using psychoactive drugs does not invalidate some of his deeper thoughts, especially as they relate to society even though certain people might peg it all down to a need to sound ‘deep.’

It also feels like Shmurda is aware of his own imperfections, thereby saving him from accusations of hypocrisy. On ‘World’ he sings that, “If I ever run from the world, I can never run from myself/Even I don't see nobody, I will always see myself…

The biggest conflict of all seems to come on ‘World,’ where Shmurda sings that, “Men marry men, women marry women…

To him, it’s a sign of the end of the world as prophesied by the book of revelations in the bible. He also spoke of gay relationships as an ill of the world. While that might be his truth - as is the case for most Nigerians in a highly conservative society - an artist with his ceiling and superstar potential should be more aware than that and his team should have done better damage control for this EP.

That expression will be perceived as tone deaf by many people. However, Shmurda’s primary audience will not give a flying f***.

One of the main attractions of this EP is Shmurda’s dynamic expression of love and sex with attractive vulgarities and sexual innuendos, disguised as premium wash.

Far Away’ is sweet wash with the tendency to end in sweet sex. ‘Lako’ is a potential anthem for the streets, due to its explicit use of penis and vagina while ‘Soldier Go’ is a more vulnerable track where Shmurda questions the loyalty of his lover.

‘High Tension 2.0’ feels like Made In Lagos for the Nigerian streets/mainstream. Across the album, there’s a midtempo, maximalist sound. But while Wizkid’s sound was more Caribbean with Afrobeat and Highlife influences, ‘High Tension 2.0’ is calmer Afro-pop music with a difference for the Nigerian streets.

While ‘Made In Lagos’ has the faster-paced ‘Essence’ with foreign/alte influences, Shmurda has ‘Party Next Door.’ Producers on both albums must also take credit for how they manipulate guitars and horns to make melodies.

More so, ‘Lako’ shares a similar riff - without the bass guitar elements - Wizkid’s ‘Sweet Love.’ While ‘Lako’ is more Afro-pop, ‘Sweet Love’ is more Afrobeat. Also noteworthy, ‘High Tension 2.0’ has far better songwriting and stronger themes with a wider gaze.

‘High Tension 2.0’ has high calibre replay value and it’s an improvement on ‘High Tension.’ On 2.0, Shmurda covers more expansive topics. He is also a more vulnerable artist who is not scared to make mistakes in his quest for realness while he also makes quality, resonant music on an album with no fillers.

This EP will also produce its fair share of hits. Shmurda looks like he could be here for a while.

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

Album Sequencing: 1.5/2

Themes and Delivery: 1.6/2

Production: 1.8/2

Enjoyability and Satisfaction: 1.7/2

Execution: 1.4/2

Total:

8.0 - Champion

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