When M.I chose the moniker, Mr. Incredible, he knew what he was on about.
Six years since Safe jarred our music lobes, M.I returns, after four years with an album that is nothing short of incredible.
People say Nigerian rap is dead, asphyxiated by something that looks like rap but wouldn’t know rap if rap mugged him on a dark night.
In an era where rap music is defined by cross-over artistes like Phyno, Olamide and Reminisce the art form has lost something, the dramatic word plays and smart punch lines and references that have always defined rap music.
I love to dance to Shoki and Alobam but what the hell are they saying?
Well, worry not. M.I aka Jude Abaga aka Mr. Incredible returns with The Chairman, a 17 tracker after a 4 year lay-off. The album is his third full length studio album and will be released October 30, 2014.
It features a slew of artistes from 2face to Sound Sultan, Patoranking to Olamide, Phyno to Runtown, Ice Prince to Sarkodie, as well as new comer, Milli while producers include music prodigy L-3 and Reinhard and usual suspects Sarz and Pheelz in what promises to be M.I’s most complete and well-realised album to date.
That roll call gave me cause for concern. Maybe M.I is not so confident and sure footed as he used to be that he has decided to lean on others to cover up his inadequacies?
M.I has an answer for that “9ice said to me one day on a flight. The sky is so big for all of us to fly and I realised that with the industry growing so big the only way to keep it growing is to collaborate not compete against each other.”
That spirit of collaboration works wonders on this album. Six years ago when ‘Safe’ and ‘Talk About It’ dropped, Patoranking or Olamide or Phyno were names that did not ring a bell.
Now, say Olamide and you hear gbagam as if Timaya is in the building.
Things have changed and the Chairman is smart enough to realise that and use it to his competitive advantage.
The Chairman is a an incredible delight with M.I at his best, music wise. This is a mature, confident and sure-footed album. A smorgasbord of styles, with something for everyone from hard core hip hop aficionados to dilettantes as well as hip-life and afrobeats fans.
There are hard-thumping, dance-floor jamming beats, mellifluous flutes and wailing guitar riffs, swirling orchestral arrangements and auto-tune inspired aural cocktails, dancehall beats and highlife accented songs as well as wild-out baby making music.
M.I delivers hard on this one and the excitement in the studio during the listening party was so thick you could slice through with a knife. This is not an album; this is THE album. Game over, the stark truth is; M.I is here to reclaim his throne.
According to M.I, after Chocolate City fractured with the departure of about 3 major acts, “it meant building a new team and working with new people; musicians and producers and stuff.”
Speaking at an exclusive album listening session attended by young producer, L-3 and Loopy music artiste, Ruby, an excited MI talked about rap and the music world, fame and fortune as well as puns and punishing work schedules.
“This was a very collaborative album,” he said acknowledging the contributions of many young producers and musicians who worked on the album. It’s been a 2 year long process.”
The Chairman is a conceptual audio-fest that recalls in many ways Kendrick Lamar’s break out second studio album Good Kid: MA.A.d City, with its engaging plot line, masterful rap style as well as gripping and dramatic lyrics.
The chairman has 17 tracks. Every track (except Track – Middle) has an opposite track, so Track 1 is The Beginning while Track 17 is The End/Chairman; Track 2 is Monkey while Track 16 is Human Being and so on.
The beauty of this album is that songs can be played as companion pieces in order to get the intended story or separately as stand-alone tracks without losing the essence of the album.
This album is thus accessible yet coded, layered yet simple, soulful yet hard core, philosophical and yet street.
“With this album I am an ashewo for new fans. As I walked past a guy recently he said, ‘M.I when will your new album drop?’ You won’t believe it but I stopped, pulled out my MAC and played him the songs.”
Let us return again to the Kendrick comparison. The Chairman is M.I’s autobiography but he is not chairman, neither is he King James. With his last two highly celebrated singles, M.I sold us dummies to distract us from the amazing work he was doing.
The singles, King James and Chairman are not on this new album.
‘’They were throw-away tracks,” M.I says with the casual air of a man who has just gifted his young friend a brand new Lamborghini.
The Chairman opens with an intro, a comical alchemy that sees M.I pulling an Eddie Murphy on us as he plays different voices. He is the crazy teacher, aka Mr. Nigeria Teacher who kills dreams with his cane and hot slaps.
“Look as he short. Look as he black. The idiocy of you is amazing to me.”
Here, M.I gives a finger to nay sayers who didn’t believe in him, who thought, like Biggie rapped, that “I won’t amount to nothing.”
Monkey has comedienne Chi Girl doing her thing before M.I’s voice comes in rapping over a high life beat with a gospel flavour, something that anyone who ever took a night bus will understand.
“Madam na only you waka come,” M.I raps, immediately situating the song in the here and now then going on to say “I’ve been disrespected but I kept on.”
This is the song that signals his return after his 4 year lay-off and it is playful yet philosophical, personal yet political.
Human Being track number 16 features 2face and Sound Sultan. Here M.I goes personal, telling us that celebrity is not all its hyped up to be. This one springs from a very personal place.
“Sometimes you might see me in the rain/Looking fly but I’m feeling pain/sometimes you may say hello but my mood is down.”
Rich is track number 3 and has Pheelz on it and with M.I supporting we get an aural massage as the music grabs your ears from the get go. There is serious personal stuff going on here as M.I tells his grass to grace story “From buying food inside newspaper to the front page of magazines/Driving a Bentley and dating Agbani, flying to yankee to pick up a grammy…Everything we dey face right now will turn story/we will all be rich.”
It’s all good for M.I.
Brother is Track no 8 and it is an emotional song recounting the cracks in Chocolate City. This one has Sarz, L-3, MI and Sammy Gyang on it.
“When MoHits broke up, I was like know what, this will never happen to us/When ChocBoys broke up, I was like hold up, how on earth did that happen to us?”
M.I enlists gospel artiste and Choc Boy Nosa on this one and his chorus nails it, emphasising what we lose when we walk alone “I no fit climb this mountain on my own…/This life no be Nollywood/I need you Brother.”
Shekpe is Track no 5 and M.I is joined by Reminisce and Sarz on this bacchanalia that celebrates street life and cheap highs.
“Na only one life, you no go live twice/Omo sip something till you feel nice, pass me the shekpe” M.I urges before Reminisce jumps in with a ditty that will have many singing along once this album drops.
“Five shekpe bottles standing on the wall, one shekpe bottle/If I drink shekpe and I accidentally fall down/I will stand up and will drink shekpe some more.”
Shayo joints will never be the same ever again.
Did Olamide grab the throne while M.I was on a hiatus? Rumours have swirled since M.I dropped King James but on this song, Middle, track no 9, the short black boy teams up with Olamide and newbie, IG in a song that will squelch and also fan the embers of that rumour. Who amongst them is King and who sits on that throne because M.I declares without equivocation “6 years running, I am the baddest rapper ever liveth.”
But forget the rumours and enjoy this song meant for cruising down quiet streets in the twilight where M.I goes real smart on us with lines like “wetin mankind no go see/even Jesus was hated by Pharisees/ I dey tin can like Derica…/Critics go come go like D&C/I just dey my lane like BRT…/Who’s the best rapper, omo it all depends/ I’m not the 1 to ask/ask number 2 to 10…/Because cat sabi swim no mean say e be catfish
On Enemy, track No. 10 M.I hooks up with fast rising Patoranking to deliver dance hall magic. The personal celebrity inspired narrative continues and here Patoranking sings “Enemies …watching me close like a journalist…” before MI jumps in with “Listen real close my brother/Be careful who you tell about your lover…/In every twelve there is one Judas/For every Tupac you got shooters/For every Caesar is one Brutus…Cos people wanna see me fall” highlighting the fact that the world of celebrity is a minefield full of haters.
Take this from me, Christmas 2014 will be different in the East with the arrival of Bullion Van, track no 11 featuring Phyno, Runtown and Storm Rex.
This testosterone driven anthem will light up night clubs and have ballers on their toes claiming this song as theirs.
On this one, M.I, Phyno and Runtown go all Oriental Brothers on us with this highlife/kegites/aladura church inspired club banger.
With all these cats at the top of their game all you feel is inspired when you hear them sing “We be di niggas wey dey step into the club with a bullion van.”
But the coups de grace are M.I’s lines with the double entendres. “When you see money dey fly na we be dat…/The bottles are popping/we killing the money, we put am for coffin/Anything wey don close/money go open am you go think say na bow leg…/Everything tear rubber, Mister pharmacists wey Postinor?”
With Girl, M.I goes all lovey dovey. It’s a dialogue with M.I singing “You make me the happiest man in the world. Even if the sky will fall and the stars burn out I will always love you.”
Millionaira Champagne, song number 13 is not for the faint-hearted. This is a song for hard core hip-hop heads as M.I goes toe to toe with label mate, Ice Prince and Sarkodie who bring it on like it’s a battle.
These guys, princes of the rap game are sticking fingers in eyes, calling out fakers and taking no prisoners.
“Look at you and look at us/ Talk true who resemble boss” M.I taunts.
Ice Prince raps about “putting your arse to sleep” while the normally easy-going Sarkodie has fighting words. In his lilting Twi accent he raps “Baby I’m the Boss…/We the realest in the game/fuck who you are.”
But M.I seals it with “You’re an exit sign/you are on your way out.”
Track 14, Yours, is an ode to the fans. On this track with Milli, M.I celebrates the fans who have made him the star and celebrity he has become.
“Remember that shit, talk about it, you put me here/I don’t want to let you down/ Short black boy in the white house, you put me there… So this is reciprocity, Jos city, Choc City.”
Milli holds his own here spitting lines dripping with confidence and variety.
On Chairman/The End, track number 17, M.I vacates the seat as Chairman showing us who the real chairman is; God, the one who as M.I raps “be like HD, your blessings are so clear.”
There are two cameos on this one, gospel artist, Frank Edwards and Oritsefemi as well as M.I’s niece who recites Paslm 125.
A grateful son pays tribute to his Father with: “I have seen ups, I have seen downs…/you got your son sitting in the first grade” and on the front row no less.
This album by this Choc Boy is Chockfull of hits. It is autobiography and memoir, manual and manifesto, pure fiction and drama, as well as poetry on an epic scale.
This is an album that will travel far pleasing all men at all times in every clime from Aba to Abuja, Lagos to Lafia.
This is sublime shit.