Adekunle Gold Switches Things Up with Afro Pop Vol. 1 – Emmanuel Esomnofu

Prior to the release of Afro Pop (Vol. 1), Adekunle Gold underwent a transition from folksy highlife singer to a more contemporary pop artist. This wasnt immediately obvious, as the musician and his team slowly but effectively worked the early details into the music and image of the AG Baby we know today.

If there was any doubt about Adekunle Gold’s confidence even after putting out three successful singles in 2020, his latest album shatters such assumptions –the man’s on fire. A slim album which runs at a leisurely pace, Afro Pop is a jog rather than a sprint, although it does pick its spectacular moments finely.

‘AG Baby’, the album opener, is built from the bounce of TMXO’s drums, rising to the top with excitable synths and a voiceover which repeatedly croons “AG Baby gimme that bop.”

It’s this simple act of asking which drives the artist to make some of his most memorable songs ever. ‘Sabina’ is destined to be an AG classic, what with the blend of a Kanye West-esque bass line melting into the romantic pleas of Adekunle Gold. It’s similar to “Something Different” in theme, a battle fought on the tumultuous terrain of love stories.

An AG record in 2020 is beautifully aware when it comes to relationships, and it’s no easy feat to compress this range into ten songs, but it’s done. This is achieved through deliberation and collaboration; Afro Pop, even with just four features, achieves much and draws inspiration from the trademark flourishes  of its featured acts.

‘Firewood’, the unlikely but fulfilling duet with Afro Pop’s errant prince Tekno features a “body no be firewood” refrain which hints at censored bedroom acts. Patoranking is the obvious choice for ‘Pretty Girl’, the album’s nod to Dancehall riddim which sees both artists combining for a bop which recalls the tableau of a beach party. Olayinka Ehi plays the conflicted partner on ‘Exclusive’ a complicated and detailed account of two lovers in an open relationship. In one of the album’s most poignant lines, Adekunle Gold sings:

If you’re holding him

Then let go of my hands

It’s this crushing simplicity that decks the intimacies of this album in something larger than itself. ‘Water Carry Me’, for instance, has echoes of the sentimental edge of vintage highlife records even as it interpolates the if-i-dey-lie lyric made popular by Timaya in ‘True Story’. Album closer ‘My Ex’ draws from the familiar tale of sexually seeking out an ex lover, especially when intoxicated. “Never again will I be wasted,” Adekunle Gold swears, the ire of an unpleasant aftermath heavy in his tone.

You will not be remiss in calling Adekunle Gold a dedicated chronicler of modern love affair . Afro Pop Vol. 1 is strengthened by the coherence weaned from several snapshots into one big romantic affair (of course, some are borrowed and not solely the artist’s personal experiences) but this extends beyond songwriting.

The accompanying production is the artist’s palette from which all colors spring. The expertise of top producers like Sess, E Kelly, Pheelz and TMXO provide the music that charts the stories, following an intrinsic urge to experiment but carrying the artist all the way with familiar infusions. So when a song like ‘Exclusive’ comes on, you immediately latch onto the conflict enacted in song by Ms. Ehi and Adekunle Gold, but it’s Pheelz’ production which undergirds the idea, rising to the occasion as most of the beats do. You get these slick neatly written verses on excitable production, threaded by sharp electronic takes on the Afro Pop sound, making the album a somewhat futuristic affair yet grounded in ideals and a sonic setting certainly made by a Nigerian with eyes and ears beyond the country.

Circa 2015, when Adekunle Gold released the One Direction-inspired ballad ‘Sadé’  few would have expected him to evolve so holistically in his art and perception . The proof of the success of this experiment is what situates Afro Pop Vol. 1 as easily the artist’s finest album.

On the 10-track affair, he’s as artistically realized as never before. The decision to front a relatively short album pays off too, as capitalism-enabled saturation ensures we never get enough minutes to properly sink into a an album, not in the ways we did years before, living through lengthy periods and experiences with albums. 

Nowadays, many people are always looking to skip a track and Adekunle Gold, to his and his team’s credit, doesn’t allow us do that with this album.

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