As the world continuously spirals into an unending digital economy, the wall of divide that previously separated real life and fantastical mediums like TV, radio, the Internet is being worn down. The cloak of mystery that shielded – and feted – aughties icons like P Square, Don Jazzy, and 2Face started to show holes with […]
As the world continuously spirals into an unending digital economy, the wall of divide that previously separated real life and fantastical mediums like TV, radio, the Internet is being worn down. The cloak of mystery that shielded – and feted – aughties icons like P Square, Don Jazzy, and 2Face started to show holes with the rise of a new cluster of talent at the dawn of the 2010s. That period’s focus on teenage superstardom and hypervisibility entrenched the Wizkid brand in ways we are still coming to terms with 10 years after. The music TV shows of the mid-2010s birthed seismic voices like Iyanya and Niniola. Social media’s proliferation in Nigeria from the mid-to-late 2010s minted social media sensations-turned pop stars like Mayorkun and Zinoleesky; and the rise of Big Brother Naija as a cultural force is threatening to reconfigure how we experience music – showing earnest signs of providing Nigeria’s first reality TV super popstar.
In a way, Laycon is a pioneer — or more accurately, a popularizer — following the path of ex-BBN housemates like Efe, K Brule, and Debbie Rise, in using the clout of the widely-watched show to extend his music reach. Something about 2020 and our impulsive turn to TV and other forms of distraction during the pandemic made Laycon’s rise more lived-in, allowing some of his music to grow on people as he patrolled our TV sets endlessly. His 2020 project, ‘Who Is Laycon?’, a booming hip-hop affair, was strategically released to maximise his new-found visibility. Fusing therapeutic snippets with an ever-changing production palette, the rapper moved from Fuji-fueled glee on “Hiphop” to the passive aggressiveness of “Fierce”, as assisted by Reminisce and Chinko Ekun.
On “The Question,” the song that opens ‘Who Is Laycon?’, Laycon admits to facing a contradiction: “I’m just trying to figure out what part of me they want,” he sullenly says. “Should I be myself or should I be the Laycon that they can understand?” It’s a telling peek at the hard choice between sustainability by way of pop attempts or cult standing by way of brilliant, if inaccessible, bodies of rap projects. So far, it would seem the rapper has chosen the path of sustainability, making a series of catchy bops since his tenure in the Big Brother House ended. The most exciting work from him comes from his promising partnership with Lagos-based singer, YKB.
To set the stage for the next stage of his career, Laycon is putting out a new album, ‘…Shall We Begin…,’ to showcase the evolution he has undergone and push into the core mainstream.
In Usual 1-Listen Review Fashion, All Reactions Are In Real-Time While The Music Plays. No Pauses, Rewinds, Fast-Forwards Or Skip.
“…And So She Spoke…”
I am forever stuck between rolling my eyes and just going through the motions when I hear the now-standard family prayers on a Nigerian album opener. I don’t know where it started from but we need to divest from the family prayer industrial complex. That said, it is hard to criticise Laycon for looping in his mum on what is essentially a lap of honour for him. And I’m even enjoying the rhythmicity in her voice when she switches to praying in Arabic, the beat just compliments the cadence she’s half-singing in and it’s all round beautiful.
Laycon’s shadow-boxing here and it’s almost like he’s floating. The repetitive bouncy loop that he’s rapping against just gives a cinematic feel to the music. What a difference a year can make in the life of a man. While he has always sounded confident, “God Body” just sounds like he’s very aware of his own elevation.
“Verified” (feat. Mayorkun)
It’s always time to go off when you hear “of Lagos,” but I don’t like how Laycon came into this song and he’s dragging Mayor’s pace but The Mayor Of Lagos just remains undefeated. Or not. His voice here just sounds off-kilter. The message seems right, the beat sounds solid as well but the execution just seems to be off and the chemistry is pretty much non-existent. Will definitely not be revisiting, shouts to Mayor for the ad-libs, joyous as always.
“All over Me”
Some singing from Laycon here, The production is the gospel. The blend of hard hammer percussion with the liquid drums makes up for Laycon’s delivery that’s flat at times. The concept is truly alright, the performance just lacks the drive to push it to truly great levels. Decent try by Laycon.
This one is so comical that it fits right into what all need to be listening to in this current moment. We all need the money man. I can hear shades of Reminisce here, just the way Laycon flows in the middle section of the song. Awesome low-stake song that sees him mix afrobeats and hip-hop. Will be revisiting.
There’s an ethereal feel to Telz’s production that puts at ease. Now, this is afrobeats. Love how smoothly Joeboy glides across the beat here, it’s all effortless. Laycon’s verse is mostly complementary because Joeboy already finished work. The pace, too, is just right, vintage Joeboy here.
“Jeje” (feat. Terri)
Terri is one of afrobeats’ great enigmas. He’s clearly talented and has all the right buttons but he can just inexplicably fall off the news cycle. On this song, he’s a breath of fresh air, advancing the no stress gospel that his mentor, Wizkid, has popularized in the last three years. Laycon’s verses here are not working for me, no need for boasty lines, just give a lo-fi verse because Terri already gave you a pedestal to work on. For much of this album, Laycon and his guests have not seemed to be on the same page, that’s worrying because the attempts are really great, but something intangible keeps letting the songs down.
Pop Laycon is out to play, and “Bam Bam,” is as raunchy as I’ve ever heard him. The sheer shock value of this song is great, I didn’t see it coming, and he seems to be carrying it well. Maybe this is a sign of what sort of pop songs he should be making, just slowing the pace enough to make his verses straddle that melted point between rapping and singing. I loved this one and will be returning.
“Want You Back” (feat. Teni)
This is very much not my type of song. It all feels too ponderous between Teni and Laycon. When Teni stops belting and starts talking, there’s some hope but I’m still not getting into it. The idea behind this song is humorous as hell but, again, the execution just falters.
“Fall for Me” (feat. YKB)
YKB is such a musical savant. The way he makes the whimsical bits enjoyable is so interesting and some of Laycon’s best collaborations have come working with YKB. Here, they combine for another fire jam that features some cooing from YKB and even the yelps from Laycon just come through nicely. More of this please.
I truly like this alone version of Laycon. It’s honest. It’s slightly raw but there’s just a heartfelt touch to what he says when he goes into these pockets. Working with Major Bangz, he reflects on his life in the moment and chooses non-confrontation as he steps into a new part of his life. The light flutes that accessorize sections of the song also help, going to listen to this on one of my late night musing sessions.
“…And So They Spoke…”
This is so damn beautiful. I admit to being a sucker for ballads but this is quite a song. I like the back and forth between English, Yoruba, and Pidgin. It’s too short though, a lovely way to end a rollercoaster of an album nonetheless.
‘…Shall We Begin…’ definitely shows that Laycon has improved as a musician. His singing voice is more guided and he can work, at differing levels, with pop stars. There’s a willingness to step outside of his comfort zone and ‘…Shall We Begin…’ sounds more like the beginning of a journey than a mark of actualization; he is still in the process of mastering his artistry and deciding what route to go towards.
At the same time, there are moments when it feels like time was not taken to flesh out ideas and make this project a connected body of work like ‘Who is Laycon?’ was. Perhaps, that’s the price of making a pop play but it weakens the overall strength of the album at times and with the spotlight this bright, it leaves questions of where he goes from here. There’s love, chest-thumping, and candor aplenty across the 12 tracks of ‘…Shall We Begin…’ and, within certain tracks like “Kele” and “Fall for Me,”promise for more assured showings in the future.