Shallipopi’s Playground Poetry and the limits of street anthems in “Shakespopi” – Carl Terver

On April 10, Benin-born singer Shallipopi posted a trailer for his new album on X.

In the clip, a voiceover informs us that Shallipopi is now ‘Shakespopi’ (a blend of his name and that of the English poet) Shakespeare, which also happens to be the title of his new album. Shallipopi is dressed Elizabethan style, reminiscent of the bard as seen in popular portraits.

But Shallipopi is no poet; even though his music possesses what could be described as playground poetry in its manner of delivery.

This is evident in songs like ‘Sharpiru’, ‘Oscroh’, and ‘Ex Convict’ from a previous iteration of his music.

His debut Presido La Pluto with 13 songs which presented songs like the curious Amapiano/techno fusion ‘Evil Receive’ and instant hit ‘Cast’, featuring Odumodublvck, was released in November 2023 exploiting the traction the artiste had gained from mid-year to quickly seal his name and fame.

Fortunately for him, the gambit worked, but it wasn’t really the album that kept him plugged to the zeitgeist as an earlier EP Planet Pluto, with an envious bop like ‘Obapluto’ and a few more singles, sufficed to keep him relevant.

In his new album Shakespopi with a tracklist boasting 9 songs, perhaps to cut down on fillers, Shallipopi is still nowhere near winning the hearts of his critics; the pressure is well-deserved, if you’re celebrated then you have to do more.

Shallipopi has a rather flawed perception, one he shared in an interview, where he proclaimed that ‘artists in Nigeria with pen game are very underrated’, if not, perhaps, we wouldn’t see him making less of an effort to make great music. But can he or can he not? In debating his abilities we underline his songs as street anthems. (The lifestyle cost, na you no know.)

Shakespopi the album opens with ‘ASAP,’ an atilogwu-heavy bop which evolves into the gyration groove from a sample of Alhaji Waziri Oshomah’s ‘Ikwekiame Nedumhe’.

Adrenaline and testosterone giving, perfect in an ogogoro joint, its hypnotic groove goes with the brag in the song: ‘Giving only hit, and they say they want more . . . Ko ko ko, who is knocking at your door? . . . Na Shalli dey write but na Shakespeare dey shake’.

Listening very closely one may pick up the ditty Old Roger is dead and gone to his grave here, pursuing a trajectory he already established with ‘Oscroh’ which sampled the nursery rhyme ‘Standard Living’ or ‘Sandalily’.

In the second track, ‘High Tension’, whose beat appears to be tweaked from his other song ‘Cast’ mixed with the sampling of the Italian folksong ‘Bella Ciao’, made popular by the Netflix hit, Money Heist, Shallipopi sings ‘Came from a place where you know say / Money no dey so you gats work all day . . .’ in an infectious lull and with the hustle having brought him this far, allows himself to brag: ‘As I dey match am / You no fit see me / Cos I dey ja, I dey ja, I dey ja, ja, ja’.

‘100’, the third track, has an Oriental character, albeit not fully accomplished as Paul Play’s ‘Forever’ rhythm simmers over it.

By the fourth song ‘Dey’ it has become obvious Shallipopi is conscious of his sound, even though this particular song is uncannily similar in rhythm and cadence to Asake’s ‘Nzaza’. (One can even hazard that Tupac’s ‘I Ain’t Mad At Cha’ is suppressed in the background.)

By now, we have been served atilogwu, the Bella Ciao sample, the experiment with Oriental sound, and a sample of one of Nigeria’s evergreen classics.

It appears Shalli’ isn’t just trying to reproduce from a formula, although his pursuit dissipates by the fifth track ‘Billion,’ from where the album seems to relapse, unable to match its opening fervour.

At this point is safe to assume that Crown Uzama knows something about making albums, which is to present songs that don’t have to answer to the present but which would cohere as a body of work. And if he keeps to this with the right amount of singles, he might just linger in the music scene much longer than his critics expect, especially if his short stay atop the Spotify Nigeria chart  and Apple Music charts is anything to go by.

Shakespopi is a 5/10 album, and not enough to stir the recent lull in Afrobeats. However, it’s Shallipopi Time and playground poetry continues.

**Carl Terver has a BA English from BSU, Makurdi, and writes about film, literature, and music. He tweets @carlterver

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