REVIEW: Olamide's 999 EP is a Credible Rap Project That Positions Him as an OG
Olamide's 999 EP Review
Much of Olamide's career has been spent appealing to the sensibilities of his core fans. Like every money-fueled venture, the business side of music cannot be done away with. For the YBNL honcho, his fans come in twos: the lovers of the singing Olamide and the lovers of the rapping Olamide. While many a fan will swear by whatever music Olamide puts out, not many are willing to admit that his more rapping offerings get less love from the streams, buys, views, radio spins.
Rap is dying. A sentiment that's been echoed just about everywhere, it is condescending at its best. At its worst, it is pointing a finger at artistes like Olamide who, over time, have incorporated the indigenous in their rap songs. Purists will think of Olamide's rapping as sub-par, especially in comparison to his English-speaking contemporaries. "Local Rappers," Reminisce's song which featured verses from Olamide and Phyno. The song was set in a period of tension between different kinds of rap listeners. With the trio's declarative bars on the Tyrone beat, they offered their two cents on the disregard for their rapping.
All three rappers have gone the milky Pop way ever since. They've achieved remarkable success. Olamide, even in the path blazed by the likes of Wizkid and Davido has come to emerge as the third person in the Pop Trinity (he's only recently usurped by Burna Boy in that category). Questions still arise pertaining to Olamide's rap credibility: are we just stuck on past glory? Going by his dive into the sonic waters of genres other than Hip Hop, it was a question many had no problem with asking.
Last month, we the folks at NotJustOk shared our 40 Rappers of the Decade (2010 – 2019) list. Olamide was number one, much to the bewilderment of some rap fans. Once again, his Pop leanings found its way into the discussion. I would imagine, to most of these listeners, their idea of rap remains unchanged from the Mode9 Esque punchline-heavy affair. I would imagine that most of them don't consider "Woske" a rap song when in all actuality, it is. Olamide's impressive songwriting is on display; the song, while possessing EDM elements is driven home –thematically, that is– by Olamide's lines, delivered technically via his rap tendencies, something he never truly lost.
2020 finds Olamide as a 10-year old veteran who's pretty much-done everything. From here on, it's easy to be lazy with dreams. But Olamide, if he's a poster for anything, is an embodiment of street-gained wisdom. And wisdom, from the look of things, would be to release an album. A lesser artiste wouldn't get away with a 9-track project so early in the year when the big guns were yet to start firing. But Baddo, assured of his place, put out the 999 EP without much noise, only beginning the rollout about 24 hours before the proposed release date on Monday evening (February 10th).
As tension mounted and fans counted down the hours, more radical fans got on social media, trending much Olamide-related news. That the album seemed to be "strictly rap" had the people loud. Celebrities alike went on their Twitter handles to shower praise Olamide. Almost 48 hours later, Olamide's eighth solo album has been the toast of streaming platforms, shooting to the 'trending' categories, easily accessing a level of commercial success Pop stars are known for.
Opener "No Time" compliments the cover art (which has a sketched Olamide in colors of dare and glory, a blunt on his lips and a gun slung behind his back impossible to miss). Both articles are cool in the way of the one who goes by Baddo. Like the art, "No Time" is a zeitgeist, with Olamide rapping over a slow – albeit warm– production. While it works as an opener, it is by no means the best option amongst the songs that could fill the role. "Warlords," a punchline-fest, would have served better; Olamide's verse would have to be tweaked though –it is easily the least impressive verse. Phyno and his signees (Cheque and Rhatti) came correct, their verses reaching the comfort spot in the beat where the host flounders.
Leading up to its release, 999 was lauded as a conscious effort by Olamide to "put on" upcoming artistes. Sometimes, the hunger of these acts on a record with a legend is all the fire the song needs. "Dance with the Devil," featuring Sosa E and Jackmillz is one of such songs. With one of the more impressive production on the project, the trio of rappers delivers admirably, especially the first two. Although Olamide begins his verse with a bar ("I be like Gidi traffic; I go crazy for no reason") that could feature as one of the worst rap lines of the year, he quickly redeems himself with a string of words which move at the intensity of his persona. Jackmillz is featured again on "Demons" which, with its Auto-Tune and Trap production, could pass as a Roddy Ricch song; Olamide seems to have kept an eye on Southern America's Trap sound on this project. Seeing as Ricch's "The Box" remains one of the most-streamed songs in the country, the sound has no doubt made a fan out of many young Nigerians (which form the bulk of Olamide's fan base). Jayboi-assisted "Mojo" is another excursion down the Trap path. As always, the up and coming act came with the fire.
"Wonma!," tactically placed in between four songs on either side, is a return to Olamide's Pop sensibilities. While its placement is understandably aimed at commercial balance, critically, it threatens to throw things off course. I thought it too heavy a dance track (if any was needed for this project). But of course, its undeniable dance hall pull, the call and respond structuring, and a TG Omori visual will prove me wrong. "Prophesy" and "Rich & Famous" close the album. The former, which features a sped-up Olamide delivery, is perhaps the most sonically-pleasing song on the project –it ticks quite many boxes. On the closer, Olamide relates the trappings of the superstar life with anecdotes which belie his wisdom in this music business. The lengthiest song on the project, it is also the most realized, as Olamide, in an obvious show of skill and inspiration, raps verses that aren't directly linked to the outlandish quality of his person.
Olamide knows the game. 10 years into this, his consistency is backed by his desire to evolve and, at the same time, stay true to his roots. Timing is also key: the buzz this album will set off will deafen its squeaking weaknesses. That's the power of a perfectly timed release. Development-wise, it shows that Olamide is morphing into a kind of Jay -Z. On 999, the thread connecting both men don't end with the similarity of the "Warlords" beat to "No Church in the Wild." It extends thematically to the project on which, Olamide, more like an elder statesman, features a host of budding young talents –these slots may very well kick off their career. "Billion Talk" credits his 5-year-old son Milly as a feature. Just as Hov had his daughter Blue Ivy on "Legacy" which shares a similar theme of financial freedom and all that.
These point to Olamide's purposefulness. He's engaged every bit of agency to make sure that even if he dropped a below A1 project, the reception would be anything but. The fans will sure rap and dance to "Wonma" in a bar on a Friday night. But 999 isn't The Great Rap Album stans would make it out to be. But it's ambitious, and as many a person would tell you, it's a sexy concept. 999 is sexy. At this point we have the nine songs to return to; surely after more spins, we'll be able to come up with more adjectives, for better or worse.