A-Q’s ‘God’s Engineering’: A Review
In a career that has spanned 15 years, A-Q has earned his place as a Nigerian Hip Hop great. His early career had him play the hot head, rapping with so much fury and going against anyone who dared spit on his mic skills. In 2020, A-Q hasn’t changed a lot, but with a community and culture to tend to, he’s developed the essential skill of nuance needed to navigate his position as a leader.
The previously mentioned community began on a macro level when A-Q developed a friendship with M.I Abaga, arguably the greatest act in the genre. And with the backing of Chocolate City, he’s leveraged his smartness and knowledge of the game by moving into the position of a label executive (at 100 Crowns), signing Blaqbonez and Torna.
A-Q (in)famously sold an album for fifty Naira, and that project was reported to have moved about 10k units. Moving into the latter stages of his music career, that business acumen seems to have sharpened with time, as A-Q positions himself to be an influential center within the Hip Hop scene. That influence is even more solidified by God’s Engineering, an album which, on many occasions, A-Q has said was his last. While rappers seldom deliver on such claims, a last album will always be a dare to end on a high note, especially if one has enjoyed a stellar career as the rapper born Gilbert Bani has.
“You Must Feel Am,” GE’s pre album single, seemed to be A-Q’s subtle brag. An album that has been announced since August 2019, fans have kept steady wait for new music; and alongside budding Afro fusion star Oxlade, A-Q delivered a slice of his ever developing artistry. The song finds A-Q as a subtler rappers, engaging his themes playfully, and with Oxlade’s magical voice as backup, could make for a TV darling.
The album proper opens with BeatsbyJayy–produced “Intro-Vert” which expectably has A-Q rapping about personal travails and familial concerns. On the latter parts, A-Q raps “Somebody please tell M.I Abaga, I don’t wanna tweet more/ I don’t need more Instagram followers; I don’t want OAPs as friends/ I don’t wanna jump on popular trends…” For an opener, “Intro-Vert” is a laser sharp song, one which states A-Q’s mission to remain just as he is – a middle finger to political correctness. While A-Q’s bars, as ever, retains a steeliness to them, an understanding of a wider pallette of sounds has him rapping over minimal beats with R&B reminiscent keys, and this makes for more effect.
“Egg Rolls” moves with a Trap bounce that A-Q’s previously harnessed in songs like “Hmmm.” On this, A-Q reflects on darker pasts, when “he couldn’t buy egg rolls,” his lyrics featuring a motivational edge to them. “Nepa” plays to the same energy. Relating the careers of certain rappers to the country’s infamous power suppliers, A-Q takes good aim. Case: “All that drip might fill up streams/ But you will never be as great.”
Tomi Thomas–assisted “Zodiac Killa” is a dive into the murky world of exes, as Q’s storytelling plays to the astronomical, as suggested in the title. A stunning guitar (played by Tomi) drives the underlying music of the production – such songs, alongside “Mama Said,” bears testament to A-Q’s musical growth. While in previous albums, such songs which heavily appropriate other sounds find their way, Q’s artistry hadn’t matched the level of versatility. On GE, he seems a man anew, making rap songs that, so importantly, make you forget you’re listening to a rap song. On “Mama Said,” the message takes center stage, as the veteran rapper uses the podium of a mother to reveal hard-hitting truths. One of such truths, as A-Q raps, is knowing when to stop.
It’s sure to be on the minds of older rappers. On MI’s Yung Denzl, the shrink asks him the step off or be shot down rhetorical. After 15 years in the rap game, A-Q would, expectedly, want to relish his opportunity to move the culture past himself. But here’s the problem: he’s still as sick a rapper as ever. Even better now.
Whether he’s rapping of the overwhelming quality of life (“It’s Complicated”) or delivering an OG tale of how the rap life and business intersects (“Men Slept, Jesus Wept”), or sparring alongside M.I Abaga (“A Class Act”), A-Q sounds focused in a way he’s seldom been before. And the well-documented concerns about his delivery seems to have propelled him to become better. Aesthetically, it plays to GE’s replay value that its beats are minimalist, and that the rapper has upped his game so he doesn’t rely on the brashness that has accompanied his previous works.
“No Pension,” possibly my favorite, offers an insight into A-Q’s mind, as regards the Hip Hop culture and its commercial prospects. As his position demands, A-Q grapples with such themes a lot, as he aims to do one better for the culture. The Coronation event, possibly the biggest of its kind, is one of such ventures by which A-Q elevates the genre – more than just rapping, A-Q puts in the work, everyone knows. “Loyalty vs Honesty,” GE’s closer, continues in the path of that discussion, as A-Q’s analytical approach to lyricism comes to the fore; one verse and a spoken word piece, and a thread’s is connected between both ideals.
God’s Engineering is A-Q’s 10th solo project in a career that has seen him (arguably) rise to the Top 5 greatest rappers of all times in these parts. But what makes God’s Engineering tick, more than its content (we’ve always known Gilbert has a sick pen), is its enjoyability – delivery, beat selection, and all. I dare say, out of A-Q’s projects, GE has the most replay value. What this means is, ten years from now, when we listen to this album, we’ll see how determined this rapper was, aging in reverse, rapping with the hunger that earned the cornrow-rocking A-Q the reputation of the bullish rapper who many loved to hate, but respected nonetheless. More points to the game he’s played that right now, he can proudly hit his chest as a winner.