Later today, super-talented Nigerian singer, songwriter and producer, Runtown will commence his 'Sound God Africa Tour' at a Trace Live special which which will hold at Terra Kulture.
This writer has two words for that, 'About time.' Whatever the case may be, it's going to be a good night to celebrate Runtown with his array of hit records.
The tour will take him to 18 African countries. This follows the release of his lukewarm 6-track EP, Tradition. Right now, Runtown is on a comeback trail that he's furtively embarking on as he tries to initiate a seamless brand. That's good, but the guy who took risks with sounds is now reluctant to do risque things.
How did he get here?
In 2015, Runtown released his debut album, Ghetto University. On November 4, 2016, Nigerian superstar released his classic hit single, 'Mad Over You.' Even he could not have predicted what the song would become just under a month later.
In the thick of December 2016 festivities, the song's place as the biggest African song was sealed. Despite being of slower pace than the usual gbedu, the song was a soundtrack to everything from concerts, to parties, to weddings and even 'toasting phases.' The 'wash' in that song is so strong, everyone naturally resonates with it.
His stock went from the guy who might or might not have written 'Aye' for Davido or the talented guy who gave us, 'Domot' or even the guy who took a risk with 'The Banger' to a bonafide superstar on a continental level. His life transformed and his music with it. The song then trickled down into hits for Sarkodie and iLLBliss.
For people who have followed the artist born, Douglas Jack Agu from the days of 'Party Like It's 1980,' they also felt like they had a win. But then starting 2016, his label situation with Eric Many became ill-fated and a source of negative publicity. More than that, it halted his inevitable ascent to the top of African music.
Four injunctions were filed and granted to prevent Runtown from releasing music, performing at shows and to keep him with the label after he had declared his intention to leave Eric Many. There were also alleged instances of threat to his life.
While judgement was finally granted in Runtown's favour in January 2019, a damage had been done. Runtown was a victim that became a survivor, but precious time had been wasted. He came back into a Nigerian music industry that was witnessing a change of guard amidst tight competition.
The industry has also been witnessing an evolution of sound. Still, Runtown minimally thrived with single, 'Unleash' on which he featured Fekky. The song was released in August, 2018. This came in addition to three beautiful loosies in, 'For Life' 'Oh Oh Oh Lucie,' ' and the infectious bop, 'Energy' which Runtown dropped during the trying time.
But then, those songs marked a pattern. Runtown continued the sound he found with the melodies of 'Mad Over You.' While the percussion of 'Mad Over You' predominantly originates from the trendy Ghanaian al-kayida sound with a pon pon twist, its melody is what a few people now recognize as, 'vibe.'
What is 'vibe'?
'Vibe' is an unofficial sub-genre of afrobeats/afroswing that entails lo-fi, mid-tempo and woozy dance melodies that could soundtrack a calm evening. Usually the pace of 'vibe' beats range between 95 beats per minute (BPM) to 110 beats per minute (BPM).
The accompanying percussion or drum arrangement can be from any genre - that's the beauty of vibe.
Despite their seeming differences, all Runtown's songs since 'Mad Over You' have all been 'vibe' sounds. For example, while 'Unleash' and 'For Life' or 'Energy' ordinarily sound different to each other, they all give off similar feelings because they're cut from the same cloth. To all of those beats, there's an underlying woozy string.
Those songs are slight variations of each other. Arguments can be made for why this writer is wrong, and they might be persuasive. However, Runtown has pigeonholed himself to 'vibe' and it might be hampering him. While nobody does vibe like Runtown, it is seemingly clogging his path back to the A-list act with hits.
Talent is not the problem and Runtown will never release music that will people will just ignore, but there's now a predictable pattern to Runtown's music. He might have found this sound because he wanted to be unique and for ease of creative processes, but this sound has run its course. It needs to be mixed up.
That said, there's a reason to sympathize with Runtown
For reasons beyond his control, he had to pump brakes on his incredible career. Now, he's back in a much-changed and unpredictable soundscape. At this time, it's hard to simply take risks in the Nigerian music industry.
Many-a-time, your risk might blow up in your face, especially when you try to jump on a trendy sound. You have to be calculated. While talking to this writer, a Nigerian artists jokingly called it, 'turbulence.' Even with heavy push, songs from Tiwa Savage and Wizkid have struggled to truly resonate with Nigerians.
However, as much as you cannot just jump into the pool and swim without a life-jacket, artists also need to be constantly reinvent, lest they fade out. So, being an artist is hard. But then, hits must be made and time waits for nobody. You either craft hits or risk irrelevance. Thus, even as hard as it is to take risks, you must take risks.
That goes for Runtown. He has pigeonholed himself to this 'vibe' for too long. A change beckons and he needs to jump on that train. It's time to break out of the 'vibes.'
We fell in love with him because of his diversification. At the start, 'Party Like It's 1980' had EDM effects. 'Domot' conformed to the gbedu of the time with a unique twist. 'Bend Down Pause' was galala music that made us ask, 'who is this guy?' 'Gallardo' was just hard to classify, but it was an instant hit.
As if that was not enough, he again constantly reinvented for 'Lagos To Kampala,' Kwaito-inspired, 'The Banger' and then the slowed down madness of, 'Mad Over You.' But now, it's come to a halt.
His experience in and out of court might have impacted him negatively and maybe affected his creativity, but the worst is over, Douglas. It's time to start crafting the hits again.
Right now, it seems like he's scared to take risque decisions with the music. Who can blame him? That's like four singles with only mild to minimal success. Artists will tell you that it can be hard creating under these circumstances, but standing still is not the solution.
You have to try different things till it works. Not least when you have Runtown's level of talent and fan base. The vibes are too safe and Runtown needs to start taking risks again.
Runtown's always going to be relevant till he decides that he wants to step away from the spotlight. His tour will inevitably be successful. The worst is over. But we need those bangers again. One way to do that is to slow down on the 'vibes.'