Wizkid's latest effort sells itself as a team effort. That is, the Starboy Entertainment family, and not just him. Released with the prospect of a follow-up tape, the project leans into label honcho Wizkid's openness to collaboration. It features, among others, Jamaican Dancehall artiste Chronixx, and producer London, who is responsible for some of the finest genre-bending beats which has struck gold for Rema.
The release of Soundman Vol. 1 has and will be received amidst critics, with some skepticism, understandably. For his insatiable fans, it is Wizkid on seven new songs.
To understand this work is to split criticism between the perspectives of both parties. For this is Wizkid, whose place in Nigerian music history is earned. And his latest moves, which come almost ten years after his introduction, should be carefully considered.
Wizkid, 'Starboy', and Soundman Vol. 1 EP Review
A decade of doing music at the top level, as we'll agree, is no mean feat. And while Wizkid has two years to reach a decade in his career, he is – to borrow J. Cole's apt phrasing – a middle child. An elder, but not quite like; not a 2Baba, but also not on the turf of the younger guard, many of which he's inspired. Wizkid famously led the charge to what would become the "Afrobeats to the World" movement, conquering Nigeria, the continent, and then, outside, charting highly in foreign countries, and selling out the 02 Arena twice, becoming the first African artiste to do so. Wizkid's achievements are impossible to dismiss. One would think that going by this, his music would be massively consumed, and with little questions.
This is not the case, obviously. Voices of discontent arise; fans too, persist in fueling celebrity rivalry by bringing up The Other Guy, who is taking huge leaps musically. The Other Guy, while leading his own charge, has blown holes open in Wizkid's music, often deemed formulaic and bland.
It will be folly on the critic's part to assume that Wizkid is deaf to these concerns. Working on a project, two roads inadvertently are open to Wizkid: feed his fan base with the much he can come up with, or rise up to up to the challenge of critics by outsourcing songwriting work, and churning out more lyrically satisfying content.
On Soundman Vol. 1, he chooses the more traveled road, the one which promises the prosperity of streams to wet his mouth.
"Jam" features Chronixx, whose syrupy vocals complement that of Wizkid (and in the beat) –the Starboy takes the song home, its sexually charged mood captured in the cockiness in the lines: "If you got a lover in your life, then why you acting like you don't know/ you know say na Wizzy be the man wey make you shine all night/ if you got a lover who can give you the charge when you low-low/ tell me the reason why you're steady blowing off my line... "
The mood of the opener is warm, a lively introduction that plays into Wizkid's rather notorious ability to hold a groove. Enriched with trumpets and drums, it works into Wizkid's preference for eclectic Afrobeats production. From the first song, the project shapes up like a Wizkid-curated effort. He is obviously positioned to be the star; this observation is solidified in "Blow," which features Blaq Jerzee, who delivers in a voice that echoes of Duncan Mighty. Wizkid complements the Highlife-nuanced bop, a vocal demonstration of why "Fake Love" works. "Baby make I yarn you different tori" begins his short verse on the song, promising lyricism. Wizkid, albeit, takes the easy way out, grasping onto the catchy hook.
This is a classic conundrum for 2019 Wizkid: as much as his music relies on the atmospheric, his voice, sweet and sharp, makes a good vehicle for well-written lyrics. His verse on "Brown Skin Girl" is the finest testament to this. His fans, naturally less demanding, hail Soundman Vol. 1 as a fine lyrical effort. Although Wizkid has had a few of those lately, it will be unfair to say he isn't working up his angles, particularly on this latest effort.
"Mine," the halfway track, is a highlight. Over soft drums which evoke a chill Sunday afternoon, Wizkid sings of longing, his voice perfect in harmony with the laid-back Reggae bop. By far the most satisfactory song on the tape, its closing seconds unleashes a Spanish guitar dazzling in its frenzy, set against the familiar backdrop of the Kel P beat.
Another producer shines. London-assisted "Electric" is a chill vibe, with Wizkid doing some vocal lifting on it. Although the production and the artiste seem in tandem, the too-familiar nature of the song depreciates its replay value.
That concern wouldn't be shared about the last two songs. "Ease Your Mind," as its title suggests, features grand production anchored on chopped key arrangements and soft pleasant drums. The occasional trumpet sprinkles dusty gold all over the record –the instrument, by virtue of its appropriation in Afrobeats, works well into Wizkid's didactic verses. The song's preoccupation (money) pulls up to the front like a star player, promising to deliver on its popular culture appeal.
The allure of the financial is, once again, indispensable, as it graces the prayerful "Thankful". With Wizkid placed in familiar music territory, his comfort –when paired with the hedonism captured in the "suffer dey kill person o" line – sees Wizkid, much like Lady Donli on "Cash," emerge as a youthful pastor –wicked swag and all – who faces the crowd (in this case, the listeners) and prays money into their pockets. Who wouldn't reply with a thunderous amen? (In this case, multiple plays on this song.) It's all based on belief.
And the fans believe; they do, so much in Wizkid and his music. They worship his art, and they pronounce his legacy at every chance. The latter can't be denied, but the former is questioned. Wizkid, as if recognizing his shortcomings in providing his fans with ready-made answers by way of structured songs, released Soundman Vol. 1.
But Wizkid is bigger than us all, music critics and what-nots, he seemed to be saying, even on its title, which connotes that it still favors the musical over anything else. Most of the songs feature the familiar Afrobeats production created by his lineup of producers – of which Sarz is missing. The long-time Wizkid collaborator would have made quite the input behind the boards.
Therein presents the nagging concern on Soundman Vol. 1: that the production isn't boisterous enough, and often too familiar. While that is, well, too bad, most listeners clicked play for Wizkid, and on most songs, their stan-ship is rewarded. The critic who demands the WurlD (pun very intended) from Wizkid should hold nothing against the listener who curses out on his/her woke observations. To them, Wizkid's musical presence is much more than just lyrics. And that's all fact, no cap.