Revisiting Faze’s ‘Independent’, An Endlessly Intriguing Album
A seminal project which means a whole lot more than that for this writer
A seminal project which means a whole lot more than that for this writer
When I was a boy of about nine, I was at my mother’s shop a lot of the time. I was academically bright, so it was only natural I followed my elder sister into the lineage of shop salespersons, helping out on weekends and other free days. It was mostly a boring task for an introverted kid, but I found other ways to keep myself busy.
Those ways marked my immersion into art. Drawing was my favourite activity but I soon got into music. Writing out the entire lyrics of songs like Diddy’s “Coming Home” and M.I. Abaga’s “Undisputed Champion”, I would rap them over and over till my tongue mastered the curve of every syllable. It brought great joy to a boy learning the nuance of words. That era came to a perfect circle when, one usual boring day, I found a CD of Faze’s ‘Independent’ within a cluster of soft drink bottles, dust and cobwebs covering its rounded edges.
Fortunately, the shop also had a big MP3 device. Until then, I’d only used it for its radio. The Faze disk demanded something of me; I wasn’t big on technical skills so I had to work my way around the device a bit. If you are familiar with the days before streaming changed music consumption, then you know the process of getting a CD to play was almost as important as the music itself. You had to make sure that its rims were well cleaned; that the device’s lens were clean as well. Heck, how you placed the CD in the player was even crucial; you wanted to get everything right, as though the music was a sanctuary you could only enter after partaking in the practical splendour of its rituals.
Coming into the Faze album, I knew little about the man. He was just another musician, handsome and neatly cut in the suits he usually wore. He was also a member of the defunct Plantashun Boyz, but my generation wasn’t too informed on the group’s legacy, especially as we came up in the era of solo star 2Face Idibia.
Thus my first play on ‘Independent’ came without the flurry of information we’re familiar with today. That, I think, allowed me to enter the music without any expectations or prejudices. And without the temptation of sharing any instant thoughts on social media, the happenings of my life at the time were usually soundtracked by ‘Independent’. For over a year, I listened to this album as much as I possibly could, not quite familiar with how much classic material was embedded within its songs.
The album starts with “I Don Come”, a song that’s split into two verses which are the first and last song on the album respectively. Crooning assuredly over a booming beat which sounds made for a punchline-heavy rapper, Faze announces his presence on the former while shouting out his family and collaborators—ID Cabasa, Cobhams Asuquo, OJB Jezreel, Paul Runz etc.—on the closing track.
In overall analysis, these songs are not usually highlighted among the album’s standouts but are indicative of the album’s greatest strength: its humanity. Just so we’re clear, these weren’t the most energetic performances or virtuosic vocal showcases. Faze had both in good measure, but how he came across as another guy on the streets was most endearing. In my mother’s shop, I could sit behind its show glass and feel like I was having intimate conversations with a friend. An older friend, but one who was nonetheless vulnerable and understanding, reflecting the world in all its glorious beauty and unavoidable ugliness.
A song like “Letter To My Brother” sees Faze at his most gracious, revisiting “Faze Alone” which he’d made years back (it was also the title of his debut solo album) and extending the olive branch to his referred brother. Word on the street was that the record was for 2Face, his former bandmate who’d been the catalyst for the group’s disbandment and who, not long after, had created “See Me So”, a lash-out at perceived detractors. The soothing way Faze sang the hook—“If you no send me o, people plenty when send me o/ I’m not alone, not Faze Alone; my brother say, Jah is here with me”—was indicative of having resolved a conflict within himself. It was one of the earliest instances of seeing a man at peace with his purpose and in love with the world.
That was the only song of its kind on the album, rendering it even more levity. Elsewhere, Faze parlayed the sensual allure of R&B into vivid pop beats. His scintillating vocals were alert to the times, taking the quartet of “Tattoo Girls”, “Kpo Kpo Di Kpo”, “Need Something” and “On A Plane” within the arena of classics. It is worth remembering that in 2006, the concept of love wasn’t as complicated as it is today. When musicians created love songs, the listener had the propensity to imagine the recipient of such adoration. Seldom, we thought, could such pristine expressions of love flow from an unoriginal source: it had to be inspired.
Faze wasn’t just inspired; he was deliberate. Even at eight, I could appreciate the album’s first skit which plays just before “Kpo Kpo Di Kpo” comes on. He freestyles the song to his friends, seeking feedback but ending up with firm believers in its instantly catchy lyrics. The song itself is a miracle of onomatopoeia, laying the chorus in a style that’s now influential and noticeably present in a song like Simi’s “Duduke”. That chest-bumping format carries into the fun nature of the record; around my little space, I’d shuffle comfortably in dance, not much concerned about what I was or was not doing right.
The duo of “Tattoo Girls” and “On A Plane” had more dramatic effects on me. Way before tattoos became more acceptable in Nigerian societies, people who had them were perceived as itinerant and morally deficient. The subtle discrimination was brought down even more fiercely against women. Faze’s song was a cultural reset. Slowly, through its irresistible groove and sexy lyrics, tattoos became to be seen in a more exotic light. Women who had them were strong willed, and Faze was looking for them. When I looked into the future and fantasized about my greatest loves, somehow they all had tattoos.
In “On A Plane”, he brings that dream into reality. Long accustomed to becoming another character through music, I became Faze meeting Halima on a plane, smoothly running into a soft oasis of conversation. The guitar strums of its production coloured the golden sheen of the song, and back then I’d imagine Faze running into the aircraft’s toilet to record a demo on his phone. I wasn’t in love then, but that was how I wanted it to be; it wasn’t too dreamy, but the mess of reality was mostly kept outside its world.
Thinking of it now, respect was always the driving ethos of Faze. Even as the pop superstars presented themselves with hyper-realised masculinity, he remained grounded in familial values and seldom sang about objectified women. This was perhaps how he made such transcendental records. He was a ladies’ man, but he was also a mothers’ man and a young boy’s man. He was my man.
Sixteen years after the release of ‘Independent’, Faze has seldom gotten his flowers. As an R&B-leaning album, I think it falls just short of the impact of Styl Plus’ ‘Expressions’ or 2Face’s ‘Face To Face’. As an album from a Pop artist, the likes of ‘Mushin 2 Mo’Hits’ and Timaya’s ‘True Story’ undoubtedly have more influence on the current sound of Nigerian pop. The legacy of ‘Independent’ is quite different; it appeals more to people who come from places similar to mine, places with limited grasp on the ebbs of popular culture. Such places were attended by a remarkable slowness, and ‘Independent’ is an album which is best savoured in a kind of seclusion.
It comes to me now, those latter years when, in junior secondary school, my friends and I would rework the lyrics of “Kolomental”. We’d sing, “Amala enter plate, ewedu start to dey craze,” and we’d sing that with all the force in our hearts, stretching our hands backwards to touch a foundational memory of our boisterous childhood. It didn’t seem like much at the time, but I guess when you’re 22 and have the world in front of you, it’s entirely possible that a song sponged in the water of your memories would act as a brief relapse from the heated stare of everything else.
What I mean to say is that Faze was an additional member of my family, a much exposed brother who was cool enough for my mother to allow me to hang around. Alongside the late great Sound Sultan and Blackmagic, he counts among my favourite everyman artists, those rare ones are comfortable in relaying the mundane with remarkable clarity. Since 2006, I have listened to a lot of music but few experiences have lingered as long as those hours when I would sit behind that showglass and having nothing to do, would take out the ‘Independent’ disk from the green cover, and slot into the MP3 player.