A 1-listen review of A-Q, Blaqbonez, M.I Abaga and Loose Kaynon’s ‘Behold the Lamb’
A remarkably tepid joint album
A remarkably tepid joint album
M.I Abaga, Blaqbonez, A-Q and Loose Kaynon kicked off a storm in the early days of 2019. A few months out from the 3-week album run that saw the consecutive releases of A-Q and Loose’s brawny ‘Crown’, M.I’s reflective ‘Yxng Dxnzl: A Study on Self Worth’, and Blaqbonez’s exuberant ‘Bad Boy Blaq’, the quartet assembled for its first cypher, a gaudy display of lyrical skill with a vitriolic bent. They’d return a few months later with a meaner tone, which eventually snowballed into a bunch of controversies and arguably the biggest beef in Nigerian rap music history.
Last year, they reunited for “The Last Cypher,” something of an attempted apotheosis. Apparently, that was just the prelude to a joint full-length album. Teased about a week ago, with each rapper sending out bare images of their letters in the LAMB acronym, ‘Behold the Lamb’ sees a semi-surprise release after its announcement less than a day before. Exclusive to Boomplay for almost 48 hours before making its way to other streaming platforms, A-Q sent out a tweet explaining that release route: “They [Boomplay] give a shit about Nigerian Hiphop.”
Whether you think the reason is substantial or founded on hubris from seemingly getting a bag, a joint album headlined by four of the most prominent (English) rap artists in the game is intriguing. The 3-album run in August 2018 was generally impressive, Blaqbonez is now a legit star, M.I and A-Q delivered a stellar joint tape in addition to well-received follow-up projects, and the cyphers have been generally good, with great moments in between. All of that sets a pretty high bar for ‘Behold the Lamb’—in my mind, at least.
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In Usual 1-Listen Review Fashion, All Reactions Are In Real-Time While The Music Plays. No Pauses, Rewinds, Fast-Forwards, Or Skip.
This is a curious way to start, sounds like something that could be in the middle of Blaq’s ‘Sex > Love’. The guitar riff is a phenomenal touch. I don’t know, I was expecting a fiery start—or assertive, at least—from the jump, but I’m hearing M.I in a preppy, pop-rap cadence and it’s throwing me off. Blaq really went from flinging battle raps to slinging playful hooks, I respect the evolution more than I wince at it. I like Loose Kaynon here, that brief double-time trick is nice. A-Q will find a way to attack a beat, he’s going to be aggressive if there’s a pocket. It’s a nice verse, but this whole song isn’t doing much for me as an intro. Expectation is the killer, huh?
I expected every rap artist to line up for an Oxlade hook after “Mamiwota,” and it sort of did, but not to the extent I wanted. We’re still in mid-tempo pop terrain, but this is more sultry. Yeah, I do not like this beat. I get the synthwave-meets-log drums idea, but it’s not glistening how it should. This sounds like another outtake from Blaq’s album, and I hope it’s not a recurrent theme for this project. This is the M.I I’m not a fan of, trying to pull off punchlines that don’t really work, because what is that Shatta Wale line? LOL, I admire this man wanting us to vote, but that line is ridiculous in a terrible way. A-Q will rap-rap on any beat, the good thing is that he’s becoming increasingly great at finding the right pocket. This flow is really good. Even Oxlade sounds relatively soulless to me right now. Yeah, get this song outta here. That Loose Kaynon covid line is irritating. Definite skip.
Jayy tag, along with what sounds like a harpsichord riff. Yeah, I might be up. I have sympathy for celebrities and the toll fame takes on them, but it sounds like whining if there’s no depth to the complaints. Come on, Blaq, give me something. This beat knocking. YP! That cadence is always pristine. Bando man out here talking that talk. Forgive me, I thought they were lamenting, but it’s a self-aware celebration, LOL. Is this M.I? What is this flow? I hate it. That racist line is irritating. I wish I could see my own face right now. They wasted a YP verse for this?! And a good Jayy beat as well?! It’s always R.I.P to that man, anyways.
A third of the album and I’m waiting for something, anything to happen. I like the atmospheric nature of this, but again, this sounds like a Blaqbonez song that got cut. Bro, there’s a hilarious irony here and Blaq is not selling it how he should. This is good writing but the delivery is tepid. “If I ever feel sad, I just spend more money” is a peak Blaqbonez line. Loose Kaynon’s technique as a writer of rap verses is probably his greatest strength, and I can hear it here. There’s some really good lived-in lines, even though it sort of counteracts Blaq’s self-aggrandising. I don’t like the mix of this song, and A-Q’s verse is just exacerbating that. Lyrically and delivery-wise, it sounds…solid. I don’t know, man.
I like this slow build-up. Chike said he’s got “the Snapchat for the baddies” and I do not believe a word of it. You can’t have boo two times in the title of your album and attempt to be a Lothario. (Unrelated, but Ditto: Fireboy DML.) The fact that Blaq can easily slip into ‘Mr Boombastic’ mode is reinforcing the consistent theme that this is another outtake from his last project or the one he’s working on. Chike is doing an Omah Lay impression, and it’s not working. A-Q will sneak in a good vignette at the beginning of his verses, it’s a good way to keep listeners engaged from the jump. Keep this song away from me, sha.
Halfway through this album and I swear, I just want to feel alive. Jayy tag. This feels grand, with a cinematic touch. I really like Bien’s voice, even though he’s effectively fallen behind Savara and Fancy Fingers in my order of favourite Sauti Sol members. This man went full raunchy since going solo and he hasn’t looked back. Khaligraph Jones will find a good pocket, which is remarkable because he has such a burly voice and you wouldn’t expect him to be very dynamic. These drums knock but they just don’t have the oomph. Blaq was in Kenya not too long ago, so I’m assuming he worked on this with Khaligraph. Again, my theory might be true. Not a bad song. In fact, it might even be a highlight. Still not a keeper.
Transitions have been mehhh, but this sounds like it could be something. Violin strings and thunderous bass? Count me in. Ko-Jo Cue has one of my favourite rap voices in all of Africa, he never sounds ruffled in any environment. I just hit the facepalm, like what is M.I really doing here? I get the playboy thing, but I’m sorry I can’t get into it ‘cause you have a wife now, man. That’s not even the main reason, because that black lives line is so unnecessary. My GOAT is embarrassing me, man. He’s back for a second verse? Please, Lord. Help me. This sounds more like it. I fuck with the conceited energy of these lines, even though it feels recycled from his projects since ‘Illegal Music 3’. This hook, though. Absolutely amazing. Such an amazing beat as well. Will revisit.
Jayy tag. This has some soul in it, I’m hype. Yeah, these are the drums. Let’s go, Blaq. Yeah, he’s talking. “Life is too short to not be making my own decisions/and I cannot blame the label for my inhibitions.” This is a verse! I repeat: This is a verse! This is a therapy session. This is a busted vein rapping. The honesty is engaging and refreshing and affecting and wholesome. Come on, A-Q. Give me something. Hehh, I don’t like this diatribe here. I need someone to give me the first two-plus minutes of this song, that’s all I need.
Penultimate song. I’m happy, this gon be over soon. I liked Q’s opening bars until that dentist bit, it felt forced. This man will find a rhyme scheme and run it ragged, which is mostly a good thing. I like his revolutionary bent, just wished he didn’t ruin “Fears” with it. Haha, the raps are striking. A-Q would be an engaging standup comic if he had some comedic timing, because he goes all in on everything with a conversational verve, he’d just need to add the punchline every few minutes. Beat switch for Loose Kaynon, very foreboding, like it’s welcoming the undertaker from the afterlife. Oh, that stakes line is nice. That cherries part is not so nice. Am I an armchair critic? Find out on the next episode of Dragonball Z. That verb line is a bar. Not a surefire keeper but I’ll definitely revisit this.
I remember Blaqbonez tapping the Boomplay icon on his phone at the beginning of the video for this cypher, and I found it funny because the man is always focused on Apple Music as a gauge of his commercial success. As far as the verse, it’s really good. Blaqbonez in his disrespectful bag is always a good trip. You could make the argument that Loose Kaynon didn’t eclipse any of his colleagues in any of the cyphers. Maybe he outdid M.I here, because that man’s verse here wasn’t really it when I heard it, and I’m hearing some good bars here, like the villain one. That “all hair” line perfectly captures the era of rap Loose came into, shout-out to Lil Wayne and Fabolous is all I’mma say.
M.I knows how to sound royal, it’s been a thing since “Short Black Boy.” That Jerry Krause line is a phenomenal reference. Okay, I may have been wrong, this is a really good verse. Here he goes again, proselytising and stuff. That cadence switch reminds me of Sinzu. A-Q always raps like he’s a jackhammer trying to break down reinforced concrete. Bro, he found a scheme after that blackout line and he ran it ragged. “I’m getting paper currency, don’t tell me about your dogecoins” is such an emphatic and dismissive line. He cleared it up on the podcast with Osagz, but it’s still giving “What the fuck is an NFT?” and that’s word to Tyler Okonma. “Fuck smoke, I’m serving hot fuse” is a great way to close a verse out.
There’s no way to sugarcoat it: ‘Behold the Lamb’ is remarkably tepid, and the reasons are obvious. For the majority of the album, all of the headline rap artists show up in uninspired form. A consistently fiery A-Q misses the mark, tone-wise, on a few occasions; Blaqbonez is in autopilot on almost every song; M.I barely performs at the expected level for one of the most dynamic rap artists in African rap history; and, even in his sparse appearances, Loose Kaynon is just reliable—which isn’t a bad thing, but a transcendent showing wouldn’t have been out of turn.
At first, I thought it was my expectations affecting the listening experience, but as the project wore on, it was quickly apparent that this was a set of not-so-good songs, flecked with some stellar moments. Like I wrote several times during my reactions, the majority of ‘Behold the Lamb’ feel like brazen outtakes from Blaqbonez’s recent work. It’s no surprise that the album’s best moments feel like they weren’t grabbed and reupped from the cutting floor, from the rumbling drill of “Receipts” to the soul-baring “Fears.” In fact, it all reminds me of ‘2 Kings’, the unremarkable joint project from Olamide and Phyno back in 2015, where the collaborating rappers phoned in drab performances over largely dull beats, so much so that they were easily upstaged by a protégé.
One obvious denominator is that both projects were aided by a corporate sponsorship—‘2 Kings’ happened courtesy of telecom company 9mobile. A-Q may have been right that Boomplay cares about rap music in Nigeria, but it’s shocking and appalling that four of the most vital voices on the scene made an album that’s not good enough to show that they care.