A year after the release of Woman of Steel, her most cohesive body of work yet, Yemi Alade rolls in Empress. This new 15 track project follows in the footsteps of the afore-mentioned. It is an Afrobeat album with elements of R&B, pop and highlife (same traits that ran through Woman of Steel). This isn’t strange because in an online conversation with “Wetalksound”, a Nigerian publication documenting music culture Yemi Alade revealed that putting together Empress took about two years and she was already working on the album when Woman of Steel was released.
The album opens with True Love, a stellar Afro-pop number anchored by Vtek. It is a joyful opener that commands the tone of the album, a repetitive chant for positivity – leave the negativity for back – the line rings across the track.
The songstress has always possessed the charm for making lively music, so True love doesn’t come as a surprise same for tracks like Dancina and Turn up. On Yoyoyo she samples the popular Nigerian praise and worship song “I have never seen the Lord changing” and incorporating lines from the song in the tracks pre chorus sings “brother have you seen him, no no no no i have never seen a boy like shege.”
The subject matter on this song doesn’t quite add up because on the first verse she can be heard calling out a phony male character love interest while on the second verse she seems to be taking a jab at an alleged “runs” girl. She leaves the track hanging in that regard.
Mami water is a groovy highlife/Afropop track while Boyz and Control are both bold tracks; the first is a bouncy anthem where Alade announces her predilection for a particular kind of Boy – beardgang, chairman, landlord, sweet guy ah eh say we dey find fine boys she choruses boldly.
It exhilarating to hear women getting audacious in their songs with daring lyrics; catch Tiwa Savage dropping sexual innuendos in her tracks every now and then, or Niniola getting all raunchy and unapologetic about it, now it is Yemi Alade telling us on this track the kind of Boys she likes.
On Control she sings about being in charge, na me dey hold control, i dey press control. As the album title suggests, an Empress is a woman of great power and rank; an empress, Yemi Alade uses this track to further solidify her stance and the position on this project.
Alade’s attempt at r&b is quite impressive coupled with silky songwriting, tracks like I choose you ft Dadju which has some element of pop sees the singer belting out equable vocals, she’s vulnerable and head over heels for her lover.
Weekend is a never heard before R&b material from the singer and chews up any other track that falls into the r&b sphere on Empress. The Iambeatz track sees the singer yearning for the attention of her lover with assisted vocals from British singer & songwriter Estelle. The mid blaring of the saxophone that closes the track is a YES.
A stand-out memorable collaboration would be Rain featuring the Mzansi Youth Choir, a South African show choir, which has performed with notable figures like Shakira, opened for D’banj at Global citizen concert and also closed a concert with Beyoncé. Rain is beautifully sung with Alade chipping in Zulu lyrics and blending in her vocals with that of the choir.
Lose my mind, Deceive and Temptation are all good Afropop collaborations that serve as fillers on the album, even Ice serves this purpose.
The album closes with positivity; the lively Double Double is a charming bop from start to finish. The overall production on this album is pleasing (shouts out to Vtek, krisbeatz, Phil Keyz and IamBeatz).
Empress treads cautiously in the same light as Woman of Steel (Alade’s previous album) with no surprises. The songwriting could have gone through the roof but it is still a laudatory effort from the songstress especially considering the fact that her songwriting skills were lambasted by critics at the beginning of her career. With Empress,Alade continues to push African music (Afrobeat) driven by her love for Pan Africanism to the world. Empress is lively with the theme of love, dance, happiness and positivity, these are areas where Yemi Alade thrives in.
** Bolaji Akinwande is a music and culture writer living in Lagos.