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On ‘Subaru Boys: FINAL HEAVEN,’ Cruel Santino seems obsessed with looking like a genius, than being a genius [Pulse Album Review]

With better execution, Santi could find himself deep in a love affair with his desired American audience - there’s potential here. But a lot of work and clarity needs to go into whatever he makes next.

Cruel Santino - Subaru Boys: FINAL HEAVEN. (LVRN/Interscope)

In the Nigerian music industry, enthusiasts are usually quick to highlight its shortcomings, but alte demographic achieved some key things in the Nigerian music industry. Some of which are;

  1. Showing us the power in a small, but dedicated fanbase, and all the good things it brings. 
  2. Using Soundcloud to awaken the earliest, most popular idea of music streaming in Nigeria.
  3. Showing us what it truly means to be Gen Z, avant-garde or different. 

While we can’t dictate to creatives, public opinion should influence the mind of a creative. Yes, it would be hard to listen to people who seem more like detractors than unbiased observers, but even detractors can offer you great insights. In the case of Nigeria’s alte demographic, it succeeded in only embracing sycophancy and making an enemy of any critique.

It failed to understand a cardinal rule: Yes, your music might be an acquired taste to the larger populace. But it might still be subpar, even to your desired audience.

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A lot of these alte guys acted like overpraised spoiled kids, who couldn’t handle the realities of the real world, where everything isn’t catered to elevating them upon a pedestal of would-be pristine creativity. Thus, most of them got caught in a riptide of creative stagnation: a sad place, where creatives either go into undocumented obscurity or into hibernation like cinematic vampires.

Yet, the problem isn't a lack of brilliance. These guys are obviously brilliant musicians - not just artists. They just struggle with a dangerous cocktail of ego and stubbornness.

Subaru Boys: FINAL HEAVEN

Santi’s sophomore album wasn’t created for the Nigerian mainstream audience, nor was it created for mainstream American and European audiences. It was created for the type of audience that booed and bounced Drake from a Tyler, The Creator show, because it was promised a Frank Ocean appearance.

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Some genres can be easily understood as R&B, Alternative Hip-Hop, Pop-Rap and Dancehall, Alternative Afrobeats, Synth Pop and Neo-Soul, but this album can be best described as Hyperpop, a Gen Z-led format, which is a product of many pop-oriented genreless/formless sounds.

While topics revolve around frenzied euphoria, love, sex, internalized rejection, heartbreak, psychedelia and more, Santi seems to create certain tracks around figures and themes, which are peculiar to him.

The PEARLS and FINAL CHAMPION seem to be inspired by the frenzied euphoria of an alte open-air rave; BEAUTIFUL CITY seems inspired by an 80s-themed music video, where people dress like pimps, and wear colorful outfits; MERMAID AQUA and a few other records also seem like products of anime/animation. Some of his titles also suggest influences from Pirates movies.

Its biggest assets are the fantastic production it runs on, and Santi’s ability to craft impressive rhythms around his hooks, especially when you don’t listen to what’s being said. Across 21 tracks, no production is even remotely average. They are expansive, dense and balanced.

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The album also produces some incredible cuts: MATILDA, The PEARLS, DEADMAN BONE, FINAL CHAMPION - this writer’s fave, alongside - WICKED CITY and SAGA SHIP - without SUCRE. But at 21 tracks, Santi seems indecisive.

Equally, 'Subaru Boys' feels like Santi’s ploy to transport his listeners to a fictional world of colors, sounds and creativity, but he ends up giving them some migraines and heart attacks, as the spaceship is under attack from faulty execution/servicing.

Santi

On his third moon as Cruel Santino - after Ozzy B and Santi, many believed that Santi was the nucleus of the movement, while Odunsi was its creative heartbeat. Naturally, he is blessed with range as both a recording artist and a 360 creative, who has proficiency in visual, pictorial and audio content. Some have even suggested that he’s also proficient at fashion/style and design.

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Between his debut project, Suzie’s Funeral in 2016 and 2018, Santi embarked upon a pure run, during which he released some impressive singles, including the intellectually accessible ‘Rapid Fire.’ It ignited hope in many observers, that the alte demographic was finally going to break through.

But after the release of his debut album, Mandy and The Jungle, those hopes seemed premature. See, ‘Mandy and The Jungle’ was a good album with some impressive album cuts and great production, but it was always going to be an acquired taste due to its format and formless/genreless sound. It was always going to be inaccessible/incomprehensible to the average Nigerian - people slate what they can’t process.

In itself, that isn’t a bad thing. Across the history of music, we’ve seen unlikely genres like Jazz - the rebellious younger brother of Classical, or Hip-Hop - the sound of the struggle, emerge and become mainstream success stories. And in Hip-Hop, we saw a subset of avant-garde kids from Odd Future, BROCKHAMPTON, The Internet, Spillage Village, Zero Fatigue and so forth, create avant-garde music that the mainstream still struggles to accept.

But they’ve found a niche amongst loyal young people, who don't just resonate with the sound, but accept and understand the struggles of these creative kids. These young people also find comfort in their themes of LGTBQ, drug use, mental health, feminism, identity crisis, personality and more.

With his genreless/formless music, Santi seems like one of those kids from those collectives: an obviously smart rebel of the earth, who dabbles in all those things with extreme creative license and indulgence, while playing with the lines of gender, identity, love, emotion, androgyny and representations of cinematic violence.

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He also creates pro-Gen Z expression, laced with experimental vocals, techniques, cadences and vocal exertions, with quasi-off beat deliveries - WiFiGAWD's was annoying though. For Santi, the goal seems like appealing to the same crowd as those aforementioned collectives.

However, his tendency to craft incoherent lyrics around incoherent, inaccessible concepts, makes his music an occasional hellhole. On his two albums, Santi seemingly tries to submerge his 360 creative tendencies - sound, cinematic storytelling with compelling symbolic characters and arty effects - into a grandiose idea of music with cinematic effects, centred around a progressive story or special occasions.

But for a listener, the idea and his vision are lost. He mires his concepts and stories in excessive symbolism, metaphor and literary/figurative license, that on their own, will require closer observation before proper deciphering. And we might still have a reason to critique his scripting of those stories.

While Subaru Boys: FINAL HEAVEN, has better songwriting and clearer, easily digestible lyrics, the lyrics on each song are still too scatterbrained or insufficient, to truly articulate and properly present his desired concept or overall plot.

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For example, FINAL CHAMPION and Odunsi's 'PDA!' off Everything You Heard Is True, share similar percussive arrangement and rave format, but you can easily pinpoint what Odunsi's song is about. On Santi's part, the same can't be said. Yet, the production on FINAL CHAMPION is better than the production on 'PDA!'

At the root of albums by those aforementioned collectives, isn’t a need to look grand. At the root of their albums lies compelling picture-esque storytelling, laced with figurative expressions and avant-garde sonics. Like Santi, you can catch the odd line here and there, but Santi’s delivery/topics aren’t as great as his flow, rhythm, technique and cadences might suggest.

When you then merge that tendency with avant-garde genreless/formless music that the mainstream can’t access or comprehend, you create a migraine. Even your desired audience will struggle to understand what you’re trying to achieve, and that leads to distance. The true measure of genius is the ability to break down complex concepts into easily digestible bits/formats.

And sometimes, it feels like Santi tries to force his songs into the central theme/storyline of his album.

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In the end, Santi on 'Subaru Boys' seems more like Jaden Smith on SYRE, instead of Tyler, The Creator on IGOR; Kanye West on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy; or Kendrick Lamar on To Pimp A Butterfly. It's clear that he has some grand ideas, but he doesn’t have the ability to execute them for a marriage of sonic and cinematic excellence just yet. And it’s heartbreaking because the insufficiency isn't from a lack of effort.

He usually uses avant-garde pseudo-grand sonic ideas to create a grandiose representation of himself to his listeners, while forgetting the overall necessity of compelling topics.

It’s almost like he gets fantastic avant-grande production and says whatever he feels on it, without rethinking or fine-tuning anything, by thinking about his listeners. The result is usually commendable sonic experiments, visibly backed by grand vision, but lacking in proper execution, which can make Santi's music a promising, but unsatisfactory listen.

Don't even get me started on the sound engineering of the album.

Final Thoughts

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Ckay’s success with ‘Love Nwantiti’ and Amaarae’s success with ‘SAD GURLZ LUV MONEY’ suggest that acts like Santi have a chance, because they’re products of affluence, who have access to major music companies/execs who can have faith and throw money at them. But as each day passes with albums like this, it becomes less likely - not impossible.

Records like FINAL CHAMPION and WICKED CITY could just become TikTok sensations and Billboard success stories. But even those successes won’t validate Santi’s album or invalidate critique. A successful song doesn’t automatically equate to a great album. Zlatan had four hit records on his debut album, ZANKU, but it was still a terrible album.

Moreover, music companies are increasingly about jumping on successful artists with an established following, rather than creating artists from scratch. Those records would have to truly pop before they get that funding.

At best, this album is an acquired taste. At its worst, it’s the problematic result of a flawed visionary, who seems desperate to be perceived as a genius over actually being a genius.

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With better execution, Santi could find himself deep in a love affair with his desired American audience - there’s potential here. But a lot of work and clarity needs to go into whatever he makes next.

Ratings: /10

• 0-1.9: Flop

• 2.0-3.9: Near fall

• 4.0-5.9: Average

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• 6.0-7.9: Victory

• 8.0-10: Champion

Pulse Rating: /10

Album Sequencing: 1.0/2

Themes and Delivery: 0.4/2

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Production: 1.9/2

Enjoyability and Satisfaction: 1.0/2

Execution: 1.0/2

Total:

5.3 - Average

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