With “Born in the Wild”, Tems has crafted a deeply personal soundscape – Michael Kolawole

Love, in Tems’ world, is intimately linked to uncertainty, constantly requiring affirmation, grieving, or defence. Her breakout singles, “Mr Rebel” and “Try Me”, harp on those.

They are also evident in her critically charming EPs, For Broken Ears and If Orange Was A Place, where she sings about toxic relationships and freedom from them. Across the 18 tracks on her debut album, Born in the Wild, Tems reflects on the foibles of love and existentialism.

“Love Me Jẹjẹ,” a reimagining of Seyi Sodimu’s 90s Afrosoul classic, and “Me & U”, are heartfelt odes to unconditional love. Tems is bold and assertive in these songs. The joy in her voice is palpable as she demands wholehearted love from her man. “I need your lovin’, so fresh, so clean / Love me in and out, unfailingly,” Tems sings on “Love Me Jẹjẹ”, portraying a desire for pure, steadfast affection. In “Me & U”, she focuses on the introspective and personal narrative of love, longing for mutual exclusivity and connection. “All I want, only me and you,” she chants repeatedly on the song’s bridge.

The upbeat “Get It Right” featuring Asake showcases a confident and expressive love. Tems and Asake emphasize mutual understanding and commitment. Tems sings about always meeting her partner’s needs and never causing pain while Asake reflects on the constant thoughts of his lover and their strong connection.

“Falling” featuring J. Cole depicts, on the other hand, the end of a romantic relationship. Tems’ lyrics reveal a sense of disillusionment and self-realization, expressing the need to part ways despite lingering emotions. J. Cole’s verse adds depth, illustrating the confusion and pain of a love turned toxic, and the inevitable dissolution.

“What is a relationship? / No foundation, it’s termination, no hesitation,” she expresses on the aptly titled “Unfortunate”. “I’m movin’ on” / I don’t even know you, know you.’

Besides the bittersweet nature of love, Tems takes us on a journey to the dancefloor. “Wickedest” boasts a groovy beat that propels Tems’ confident lyrics. The song interpolates Premier Gaou by Magic System. The chorus exudes an infectious energy perfect for dancing as she celebrates her rise to fame, resilience, and independence. “I’m on my tunnel vision” and “I don’t need supervision,” she boasts about her determination and self-assuredness.

“Turn Me On” is an up-tempo track laced with reggae adlibs and a vibrant vibe. The lyrics mix confidence and social commentary, with Tems asserting her worth and addressing generational struggles.

The title track “Born In The Wild” narrates Tems’ struggle as an introvert before discovering her self-worth in the mental wilderness. In “You In My Face”, she looks in the mirror, talking to her reflection—past and present—about inner strength, self-acceptance, and the power of self-love to overcome obstacles. On the closing track, “Hold On”, she reflects on how she made anxious decisions, looking for a remedy, and not finding a solution to make it out of the darkest moment in her life. But she held on until she became a leading light in the musical world. The boisterous “T-Unit” is a celebration for breaking through, and a preparation for the new phase of her career. “Throw your hands up, let me hear you say ‘victory until the death of me,’ yeah!” she raps.

Growing up, Tems loved Celine Dion’s overly sentimental or schmaltzy music. “Her songs are very emotional,” she said in a conversation with rapper Kendrick Lamar. “They’re jump-off-a-cliff type songs. They entered my soul.” Although Tems’ laid-back vocal doesn’t convey soaring high notes like Celine Dion’s, and her music isn’t as sentimental, her ability to express feelings and entertain with her music is widely acknowledged.

Though brilliant, a shadow of imperfection lurks beneath the glistening songs, born out of Tems’ cautious approach to delivering a pristine debut. Despite its charm, the album is overwhelming with its multitude of songs. Rather than exhilarating, the dense and varied track list, feels more like an annotated playlist than a cohesive work. While each song has its own appeal, the effect feels disorienting. The constant shift in styles and themes makes it hard to find a sense of continuity. After a thorough listening, one also feels some of the songs could achieve more if pushed beyond their polished boundaries.

Nonetheless, with Born in the Wild, Tems has crafted a soundscape that is both revolutionary and deeply personal. It is an album that transcends conventional limits, inviting us into a world where emotion and innovation collide harmoniously.

**Michael Kolawole is a screenwriter, playwright, poet, and cultural journalist/critic. catch him on X @mkflow



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