Revisiting Wande Coal’s Mushin to Mo Hits, Or How Wande Coal Almost Went Back to Mushin – Dami Ajayi

The arrival of Wande Coal’s debut album Mushin to Mo Hits on streaming platforms is a cultural moment. It brings the album originally released in 2009 to a new audience yet to experience the early charm of the famous Black Diamond of Africa. This is not to say the charm has waned; far from it, Wande Coal is an Afrobeats legend, venerated by both tastemakers and fellow musicians. Case in point: Mayorkun asks on his verse on Davido’s ‘The Best’ “se you sing pass Wande Coal?”

The word ‘Classic’ is often bandied around in the Afrobeats scene. This is understandable these days when everyone with a social media account is an expert on every topic. The history of Afrobeats in its twenty or so years of evolution is yet to be adequately documented. The problem is not necessarily that of remembrance; it is one of archiving and this is hardly the thrust of this piece. We have had to rely on the memory of key individuals that are hardly factual and often self-serving.  What we refer to as ‘Classic’ is something mired in nostalgia and memory.  There is very little factual evidence that remains from 13 years ago when this album was released. There is my poor attempt of review of this album, if we choose to be ridiculous but my argument is there is hardly any considered review of Mushin to Mo Hits that we can bring forward to appraise this term, classic, and if it applies to this album.

To be a classic, in pop culture parlance, means to have staying power, to stay relevant, to endure. If Wande Coal’s Mushin to Mo Hits is just hitting the streaming services now, is it still relevant in the first instance? Can we then agree that Wande Coal may be a legend and Mushin to Mo Hits is a crucial album in Afrobeats journey and leave it there? No, we cannot. Mushin to Mo Hits, in retrospect, stands at the beginning of that distinctive sound now called Afrobeats. There were a good many albums released before Mushin to Mo Hits, but they mostly have that formative sound of a proto genre. Listen to the Juju roots of Irewole Denge and Tunde King and compare to the refined Juju of King Sunny Ade and Dele Abiodun if in doubt.

The zeitgeist of Afrobeats may have significantly shifted from album production today, but this was not the case in 2009 when Wande Coal’s debut was released by Mo Hits records. Mo Hits records was a breakout indie record label established by the London returnees, D’Banj and Don Jazzy.

Easily one of the most important tag team of producer and singer, D’Banj’s early success as a breakout star from JJC’s 419 Squad was partly his charisma as an entertainer but also a consequence of the musical genius of quiet, soft-spoken, walking-stick-hoisting mystic called Don Jazzy. Jazzy channeled the Godfather impression as part of his brand to favourable effect for a Nigerian audience already addicted to high drama. Of course, this is different from his disposition as a social media influencer nowadays. It is also different from his role as a virtuoso pianist backing Solek’s band in the early noughties at those raucous weekend parties in London.

Mo Hits’ Records released D’Banj’s first three albums, all well received and consequential in establishing their claim to the music scene. If my memory serves me correctly, a young Wande Coal danced feverishly in the video of “Why Me,” the lead single of D’Banj’s sophomore album, Rundown/Funk U Up. With D’Banj’s third and most crucial album, The Entertainer, something was changing in the sound. The music was far more experimental and, paradoxically, more cohesive. Incidentally, D’Banj was not singing differently, so whatever was happening was going on outside the recording booth, the sonic architect was Don Jazzy.

In 2007, Mo Hits released Curriculum Vitae, a supergroup anthology of songs with hooks mostly helmed by a newcomer Wande Coal whose vocal delivery was simply transcendental. Indeed, his first single, “Ololufe,” was released on this project and it has been touted as one of the finest R&B songs in Afrobeats history. This was not a tough sell even though Paul Play Dairo had released Hitsville in that same year. “Ololufe” hi-fived the love-struck tendencies of the emerging genre, which used to be the preserve of producers cum singers like Omololu, OJB Jezreel and Paul Play.

For context, Mushin to Mo’ Hits was released in 2009 and I was still an undergraduate at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife after matriculating in 2004. In 2004, Innocent “2Face” Idibia released his breakthrough album Face to Face which emerged as the first Afrobeats classic album and the distinctive feature of this record was its replay value. It is not a tough sell to find any other album before Wande Coal’s debut that had that kind of incredible replay value where the album is experienced as a living thing, allowed to breath from the first track to the last. 9ice’s sophomore album, Gongo Aso, was also that kind of record, with Cabassa’s sonic alchemy breathing all over it.

Now to the aspirational album title. Mushin is a working-class Lagos mainland suburb with an extraordinary place in Nigeria’s musical history. King Sunny Ade, Chief Ebenezer Obey, Apola King and a cohort of older Nigerian musicians briefly resided in Mushin on their journey to stardom. Mushin is also the unofficial capital of Fuji music if its fan base in this locality is to be considered. Mo Hits, necessarily, is nirvana, paradise, stardom—and Wande Coal, a newcomer, was simply signposting his status change.

Today Mo Hits no longer exists as a creative enterprise, but in 2009 when Wande Coal’s album was released, Don Jazzy and D’Banj were fast becoming music icons with a slew of well-received albums and coveted awards. With Curriculum Vitae, they had tendered an impressive resume of a collective of male musicians, which in today’s scene would have been a little too much testosterone. But anyone who listened hard to CV knew that there were two heroes: one inside the booth, Wande Coal howling hooks, and one outside the booth, handling the console and steering the production—Don Jazzy.

On every of the sixteen songs comprising his debut, Wande Coal starts by announcing his presence and in the same breath, he acknowledges Don Jazzy, as the man responsible for the beat.

For those R&B inclined lovers of Wande Coal’s break out single, the subtle disappointment of low-tempo, soft sung ballads began with the release of the first single from the album. ‘Bumper to Bumper’ was a dancehall siren-inflected instructional on booty grinding. Not a lot of surprise here for those who remember how Wande Coal lent his falsetto to the mid-tempo dancehall booty quivering “Booty Call” on CV.

By 2007, Afrobeats was in its second seismic shift. The first was the breakdown of Boy Bands like Remedies, Plantashun Boys, Def O’Clan and the emergence of ssuccessful solo acts like Eedris Abdulkareem, Azadus and 2Face, under the watch of premier record label, Kennis music. The second seismic shift was the arrival of new stars with little or no affiliation with the first generation and representative of this cohort is Timaya, whose first and second albums were produced solely by K-Solo. The sonic inclusion of dancehall into Afrobeats garnered popularity at this time and Timaya, the eternal presence in Afrobeats, has continued in this fashion. Wande Coal arrived in this cohort, poised to be its shining star. His debut album proved this with its critical and commercial successes. Back then in the watering holes at Ile-Ife and at parties, DJs had a joker album that they could play from top to bottom without getting side-eyes from the dance floor: Mushin to Mo Hits.

Mushin to Mo Hits was lush, sultry, and subversive dancehall with a plunking percussion and Wande Coal’s restive tenor and cheeky songwriting. His pen hardly ever wavered, matching Don Jazzy’s sonic instincts. He could start a song at a giggling bottom and find a way to still reflect on the sociocultural difficulties of Nigeria, albeit lightheartedly.

The overall mood of the album was that of optimism in his miraculous trajectory. Wande Coal has journeyed from Mushin to Mo Hits. To better crystallize that journey in geographical terms, Mo Hits may as well be located at Mavin Towers in Victoria Island. Mushin to Victoria Island is a massive leap, a tangible change in status. Becoming a signee of such a prestigious label and the ensuing gratitude for his luck was a preoccupation in the recording booth which was carried into the soul of the album.

In retrospect, Wande Coal’s trajectory from Mushin to Mo Hits suffered a major blip. He ended his creative affiliation with Don Jazzy in 2013 with a meltdown on Twitter to boot. He then released his sophomore album Wanted independently in 2015 to mixed reviews. By 2015, there had been at least another seismic shift in the Afrobeats soundscape. The arrival of ‘The Class of 2012’ headlined by Davido, Wizkid, Olamide, Burna Boy, Tiwa Savage and Yemi Alade is perhaps the most important constellation of happenings in Afrobeats till date. In a fair world, Wande Coal’s career trajectory should be at least at par with these artistes who are representative of Afrobeats’ global accomplishments.

Younger crooners like Omah Lay, Fireboy DML, Joeboy, Rema and Ruger can trace their ancestry back to Wande Coal. Wande Coal’s creative signature lurks over Fireboy’s standout song, “Peru”. Wande Coal’s legacy is secure but what about the staggering discography? What about the money bag? Is he eating good from the proceeds of his creativity? Does Wande Coal’s accomplishment pale in comparison to his true contemporary, Timaya?

The return of Mushin to Mo Hits to our listening consciousness is amazing for people like me who traffic in nostalgia. But to the younger ones who have heard glowing reviews about Wande Coal’s vocal pyrotechnics at its best on the R2Bee’s collaboration, “Kiss Your Hand” medley, this album skips, ironically, on the song, “Jehovah.” This suggests that a ripped copy of this album presumably from one of those Alaba CDs finessed its way into becoming Spotify’s master copy.

Wande Coal could have dignified us with a deluxe version of Mushin to Mo Hits.

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