AQ’s Rose: Alternative to the Zeitgeist

The adjective ‘prolific’ best describes Gilbert Bani better known as A-Q, a Nigerian rapper last seen when he released his EP, The Definition earlier this year. In less than six months, he is back again with his third LP, Rose, a tour-de-force presumably named for his mother.

A-Q is one of those consistent hands who signed the dotted lines in a deed of covenant with the mic. He lives up to this bond by heating up the airwaves with new material every so often. He is a rapper in the league of Mode Nine who also recently released yet another LP called Insulin.

A-Q’s latest release might be his most ambitious attempt at cross-over (and breakthrough) since his prodigious career began. With two LP and six EP albums to his credits, this rapper knows how to belt them out. This time, he plays his latest release as a narrative, evidenced by the way the 18 tracks are listed in prose form.

More important is the intimidating star-studded dramatis personae he recruits for his narrative. This album features the likes of MI Abaga (who also got A & R credits), Jesse Jagz, Sound Sultan, Naeto C, Yemi Alade, Small Doctor and nine other lesser known artistes. Interestingly, for so many featured voice acts, the album was almost entirely produced by Beats by Jayy.

The variety of artistes lends the album a contemporary flavour but fails to water down A-Q’s persona which resonates on almost every track. Truth be told: 18 tracks is a tad too much in the wake of short attention span but our musicians still subscribe to the parable of a sower who casts his seeds  anywhere he sees fit. A-Q’s rationale in throwing about 18 stones is that one or two will land on good heads. That said, not all these stones are gems; some are painfully mediocre.

Rose begins with an assertion about A-Q’s love for television; NTA 2 Channel 5 is an ode to Nigeria’s National Television and Nollywood veterans. In this same vein of doling out salutations, he drops nostalgic rhymes that would strike a chord with those who resided in Lagos in the late 80s and 90s. This album continues with 80’s Baby with striking choral assists from Maka who passed on the baton of hook crooning to BoyBreed on Amen, a mid-tempo song with a grating beats but personable lyrics. It is important to state here that A-Q is a brilliant rapper; he does know how to string a song together with the right aliquot of metaphors, flows and a decent turn of phrase.

Agu Ji Ndi Men is that song with the Igbo chorus about the exuberant life of Lagos flexing especially the economics of it. Smoking under Water features Rage doing the hook whilst A-Q goes full throttle fast American rap on his paean to getting high. Following this closely is Red Cups with beats reminiscent of Warren G’s Regulate. An aside: red cups hardly need introductions especially in the Nigerian music scene. They were the staple of our music videos—and then Skales snuck one into the front cover of his debut, Man of the Year.

On Digital Waves and G Boys featuring Jesse Jagz and MI respectively, A-Q murdered Jagz but was murdered in return by MI; suffice to say the Abagas won but someday soon, we might have to return to the conversation about Jesse Jagz’s claim to being the greatest.

If the bonus track Coma featuring Yemi Alade and Small Doctor expressly delivers on the promise of its name, All Because of Money featuring a preachy Naeto C is a sedative overdose. Summarily, the victory of this LP cannot be attributed to the featured big names. Sound Sultan’s masterful delivery on the chorus of Judas is easily the most outstanding experience from the popular artistes’ caucus. The lesser known featured artistes deliver more delight and on these songs, A-Q seems more at ease and self-effacing.

Ashewo is a hilarious ode to commercial sex workers who take charge of Lagos nightclubs and roads any given night. Khandie does justice to the chorus of Half Bread is Better than Puff Puff but AQ fails to deliver a tender love song perhaps he was exasperated from the preceding brilliant crunk song, The Same. On Political Science, he recruits Patrick Obiagbon’s bombastic sentences as hook while he opines about the politics of Nigerian music industry.  A-Q’s affecting love song to his mom, Rose, is the most biographical, vulnerable and emotive moment of the album; little wonder, it won the bid for the album title.

The album Rose is almost a gem. It is a work of genius almost ruined by ineffectual collaborations with big industry names. Oh yes, it does not sit with the zeitgeist, rather borrowing its ethos from hardcore hip-hop—just like the Americans used to do it before Hip Hop went figuratively and literally south. What’s more important however is that his registers and experience are deeply Nigerian, middle-class and human—not necessarily in that order.

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