Review of Tems’ “Born in the Wild” – Precious Nzeakor

“I am not doing music to become a slave to it.” Tems

Singer, songwriter, and producer Temilade Openiyi, popularly known as Tems, must have surprised many when she announced that her debut album would be released on June 7th.

This is because Tems has all but cemented her name in the annals of contemporary global music —collaborations with local and international big shots, winning a Grammy, getting an Oscar nomination—all without a full album of her own and many could say she has no reason to prove herself to anyone.

Her unique style stands her out from the crowd. Her lyrics, carriage, and creativity shine in every project she puts out as she shows her prowess with versatility, weaving an intricate tapestry from the genres of afrobeat and r&b/soul. Her ability to manage the fusion of styles while writing and co-producing her own music is why she is appreciated worldwide.

Yet, it has always seemed as if Tems continued to receive backlash for one reason or the other. This album, Born In the Wild, is thus the biggest “Shut Up” response from Tems to her haters.

Or is it?

Tems explains that her debut album is a representation of freedom from her old life, which she has described in many interviews as unfulfilling and unhappy. Tems attempts to use this album to show listeners her experiences thus far. Leaning on 18 songs with a 54 minutes run time, she seems to be saying, “Look, I’m human too. I love and I hurt, I bleed, and all of this is me.”

While some of the songs didn’t catch my attention until a few steady repeats, there were particular tracks that stood out making Tems’ album an interesting aural experience.

On the surface, all the songs seem to sound alike, with the same tempo and style. It could count as a reason to question the usually skilled and versatile Tems. However, with deeper consideration, one discovers all the exciting elements within. There are reggae bits, references to beloved classics that evoke nostalgia, exciting features and much more.

“Love Me Jeje” sounds so much like Tems, like something she would do. It’s such a lovely, soft, and playful song about loving lightly and gently. Hearing the backstory of how the song came about makes it even more endearing. It’s inspired by Seyi Sodimu’s classic song “Love me jeje, Love me Tender” which  many oldies will remember. Sodimu who expressed delight at the honour,  has a cameo in the music video.

But the track that truly caught my attention was her work with J. Cole, “Free Fall.” You hear that song and you know right away that it’s going to be on repeat for a while. There’s just something about the beats, about the way their voices blend and collide, and about the story; the lyrics that tell of the struggles of falling in love, remaining in love, or making the choice to run from one.

“Me & U” is not new, nor is it conventional Afrobeats. She is talking about faith in God and seeking a relationship with Him where she allows herself to submit the outcome of her life to Him. It’s unusual to see an artist take this approach to expressing her faith and beliefs, and the song shows how vulnerable Tems can be with her music.

The songs are not burdened by the strength of the messages they bear. Tems is talking to us about love, insecurities, and self-doubt; about discovering oneself; about relationships; all relatable topics. But as always, the beauty is in her delivery. However, one would have loved to see her explore more of her experiences on this album. If this album is a collection of her experiences, she should have more to share than love and the struggles of adjusting to her newfound fame.

It is easy to see how relaxed Tems is with this album; a mood that translates to all the songs. That’s why everyone is calling it “the album for the summer,” and I think that’s what she wanted people to feel with it—a state of calm and soulfulness. She’s delivered and there’s surely more to see with her world tour blasting off on June 11th.

***Precious Nzeakor might be a medical student, but her career path has not taken away her strong passion for the arts, whatever form it may take.

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