A 1-listen review of Fireboy DML’s ‘APOLLO’
APOLLO offers us more dimension to the singer, and he lets us know he's here to leave a lasting legacy
APOLLO offers us more dimension to the singer, and he lets us know he's here to leave a lasting legacy
In this new series, The NATIVE will be presenting one-listen reviews of some of the most-anticipated albums on the scene. As the review style suggests, all songs will receive instant reactions while being played – no skips, rewinds or pauses in between, just our honest, in-the-moment reactions to the newest projects in town.
On November 25, 2019, Fireboy DML pushed convention aside in remarkable fashion. Due to the high level of pressure for a worthy first album, relatively new artists tend to push their debut full-lengths back in favour of slightly less gilded bodies of work like EPs and mixtapes. Not Fireboy. For the most part of the year, the singer was enjoying a breakout run after shooting into wider popularity with the widely loved “Jealous”, however, he used the high stakes of a debut LP to cement himself into a bonafide star by year’s end.
Critically well-received and a commercial blockbuster, ‘Laughter, Tears & Goosebumps’ was Fireboy’s epoch-making moment; it’s an album folding singer-songwriter curiosities into Afropop cadences, and took on a life of its own after it graced the ears of the public. Since its release, ‘LTG’ has now been regarded by many as one of the marquee debut albums in recent memory, and indeed, Nigerian pop music.
Rather than bask in the glow of this achievement for a long minute, Fireboy DML is back with his sophomore album, ‘APOLLO’, just nine months later. It’s a bold move, considering the stakes attached to following a celebrated album – you don’t want to fall into the dreaded sophomore slump just seventeen months after your break out. For Fireboy, though, this is the album meant to seal his entrance into the hall of the greats; a chance for him to start properly building his mythos and legacy. He doesn’t just understand the occasion, he’s added to the expectations and firmly believes he’s up to the task – our ears will have to be the judge of that.
2000s R&B guitar chords will never die. “I be king” is a daring way to start an album. I like that NEPA bill line a bit. Oh, we’re getting the choirs right at the start. Fireboy is pulling no punches from the beginning, he even came with the D Smoke feature (we see that EMPIRE connection already working). I can hear the joy and invincibility in D Smoke’s raps but this flow isn’t doing it for me – not a bad verse, could’ve used him getting into his Spanish, that always works on me. Fireboy is the manifestation of the Nigerian dream – or at least a version of this. “Champ” is the song you use in an aspirational ad, I can see the pitch in my head already. Solid intro, Pheelz is 1 for 1 on this album.
Well, that’s one way to get attention at the beginning of a song. The swing of this beat is kinda cute, word to Sarz. Getting right into the loverboy bag from song two, as expected. I like the high pitch falsetto, it sells the idea of being hypnotized by a woman. I can spot some incoherence to the writing but the melody and cadence is covering that up pretty nicely. Wande Coal! He sounds good. This is his bounce, now that I think about it, like if “Again” had a more urgent bounce. Shit! Wande hit the high pitch and sent my soul into orbit. Wande hit a couple octaves in just a few seconds. This is a good song, will definitely revisit.
Pheelz keeps a special pack for Fireboy – you can’t tell me nothing different. I really like the beat of this song, it’s one of the things that stood out when it was first released. I’m happy I heard this song before I watched the video. Streets said this song has a D-O DNA to it, I don’t really hear it. I like the grunge to Fireboy’s melody, but I don’t know if these lyrics are for me, I can see a lot of people getting into though. This is actually a nice transition from “Spell”, selling different sides of being hypnotized. This guitar solo is from guitar hero, if you ask me – it sounds really mesmerizing but I can’t hear the technical edge.
Another single, perhaps the best of the pre-released bunch. “Make I be like tattoo for your body” is a funny way of expressing affection, they are almost always mistakes – ask the numerous people who have tattooed exes on their bodies. This song is quite steamier than anything Fireboy has done, it gives him some edge and I really like this edge. That Usain Bolt line needs to be stoned, I’m tired of trite references to the speed god. ‘Bamboo, cassava and other things singers have called their penis: A study’. LOL. Type-A brought that heat, these guitars are mint. “Tattoo” is my favourite so far. [He says only four songs in]
Oh yeah! We’re going to the ‘80s! Meh, that opening is a little too literal for a party song. Eish, I want to beat these lyrics with a bat. This beat is extremely shiny, it definitely personifies the excess that ruled the ‘80s and got a certain current president bankrupt. Those horns are phenomenal. What is that tribal chant? Fucking hell, Fireboy needs to add some edge to his performance, he’s not the reason I’ll come back to this song to be honest. Fam, the Weeknd, Dua Lipa and Jessie Ware are somewhere shaking their heads right now. This breakdown is a mess, not even appropriate. Yikes.
The first single. Many people didn’t like it, and I can see why. Of all of Fireboy’s love songs, this one sounds a bit uninspired. I understand wanting to spend more time with someone from out of town, but I can neither hear the urgency in a line like “run away with me”, nor can I hear any lasting memories being made in asking for one more dance. “NYC Girl” is not a remotely bad song, but it’s emblematic of how unbearable Fireboy can get when he’s too deep into his treacly, loverboy bag.
This beat is jamming, this squealing guitar riff is a nice touch. That’s how you enter into a brag record. I caught that “Jealous” reference, this is good. My upper body is moving in agreement with this. Eish, that horn was too smooth to make an appearance. “I no dey online for two weeks/them say I dey ghost on them/na their own problem”. The rhyme scheme on this second verse is tough, this is a good run. Fireboy sounds really good bragging – he’s not exactly dunking on his opposition violently, but it’s a good breakaway run. I wish this hook was much catchier, though. Definitely running this back.
I don’t know if anyone can make a better song titled “Airplane Mode” than Odunsi, but I’ll like to see Fireboy try. This is quite honest. “So many legends dey, I’m just trying to be another one” is a bar. Pressure and success go hand in hand, the late, great Christopher Wallace said it best: “Mo’ money, mo’ problems”. This chorus is very relatable, if only a little too literal. “If no be love, na money palava.” Preach, bro! Eish, that beef line needs to go. Having to explain you want to do things on your own is annoying, I can see a lot of people connecting to this. Good song, I’ll come back.
Bring interludes back 2020! The bagpipes took me out a bit. Success has toughened Fireboy a bit, I love it. “You are such a fool, how you go do this all for love?” I am laughing out loud. This has some honesty, but it’s also really funny.
I know these guitar chords from somewhere, fuck. Fireboy being jilted is top 2, that’s how he scored “Jealous”. Anyways. What kind of rhetorical question is this? Boy, pack your shit and move on. You know who’s going to like this song? Laycon. The production is a cacophony of “indie” clichés, the guitar, the strings and the drums with unorthodox bounce. Man, this song is so dramatic and I don’t even know how to feel. A sleazy electric guitar just landed in the mix and I know for a fact I won’t be playing this except I’m running this album back.
Finally, we get to hear the mentor-protégé collaboration. Those chants are beautiful, the drums came in really good. Fireboy’s success has made him paranoid, damn. “Make them dey love me from afar” is relatable no matter how you scale it, everyone has people they want to keep away from. Olamide’s flow is very calm, it’s adding a poignant touch to his lyrics. These raps are cool and clear-eyed, nothing too crazy but they get the job done. This a solid chorus, it will likely stay in your head. “Afar” is the definition of an album deep cut, will revisit.
Six more songs, yikes. ‘APOLLO’ has been moving briskly so far, but I can say there should have been cuts. Fireboy was pouring his heart out over piano before these grungy drums came in. Falling for someone who doesn’t feel the same is a shitty feeling, and Fireboy is doing well in capturing it here. Yikes, this second verse is filled with stock lines, thankfully we’re back to the chorus. Fireboy loves his chants, I’m not mad at them. This album has a few misplaced use of horns, which is odd because you really can’t fuck up horn placements, or so I thought.
I already like this vibe even though I can tell it’s another “cute” love song from a mile away. Fireboy loves his acoustic guitar riffs, it suits his flair for R&B-inflected melodies. I like the juxtaposition between the production and the carnality in Fireboy’s lyrics, it’s complementary enough to work. This is the song you make after you’ve been awestruck by many beautiful women in the club, which I’m sure has happened to Fireboy a few times. This song has the potential to become a TikTok hit, just take the hook and make a waist whining challenge. It’s cliché but it’ll probably happen.
Hold the fuck up! Is Pheelz sampling “Lagos Beat”? I hope my man is getting paid from this. This is the obvious club song, the spiritual successor to “Scatter”. This song is giving me Boboledu house vibes, like something Master KG could’ve made. Fireboy is not a great writer of party songs, but his vocal performance here is much more compelling than on “Favourite Song”. I’ll like to see how this does when clubs open up.
P Priime tag always gets me hype, that guy has a blinding future. This has some orchestral magic to it, I like it. Like a wise man once said, I’m so sick of love songs – especially when they have this edgeless attitude to them. Tribal chants are played out, you guys. “If you give me one more chance, I promise I no go fall your hand.” I rolled my eyes so hard I probably saw the back of my head. I do have to say, Fireboy is singing his precious heart out and I can’t really fault that. An album with ten of these and Fireboy wins a Grammy for Best World album, quote me LOL.
Anything beyond 15 songs is overkill for me, except it’s Amapiano. This sounds quite big, I like big sounds when they are well done. “I’m not just a singer wey give you the ginger, I give you the vibe.” Is that a mission statement? If it is, then it’s not exactly original. Anyways, I like this song, it’s confident and confident Fireboy is him at his most compelling, if you ask me. Nothing about saying the sound is taking you far away is novel, but the execution is quality stuff. THIS IS HOW YOU USE HORNS! Pheelz laced this one properly, great bounce and bright colours to the beat. This is a definite keeper.
Final song. I’m not fatigued, but I’m happy we’re here because it’s been a good ride. The transitions on the back third of this album has been a bit clumsy, compared to the top half. I think it’s safe to say Fireboy has climbed to the top of the mountain, but remaining there and building a towering legacy is the harder part. Malcolm X said every man has a legacy whether they like it or not, and that changed the way I look at people who don’t want to be forgotten. I used to think it was overly egotistic, but I see why artists want their names carved in the hearts of listeners and stamped in the sands of time. “Remember Me” is a great outro, it’s very sentimental but in a positive way. Might not be the biggest song off the album, but it’s going to stay with whoever the message is meant for.
In the months since his star-making debut album, Fireboy has amassed a wealth of experience that has played a role in helping him to become an artist with an increasingly complex persona. On ‘APOLLO’, Fireboy is not just the love-struck troubadour with party scattering bits on ‘LTG’. He’s now showing more dimensions to himself, expressing fears, worries and a burning desire to leave a lasting legacy.
As a relatively fresh-faced act, he addressed doubters on his debut with great hopes that he would manifest his potential – and he did. On a significant portion of his sophomore, he sings with the confidence of someone who’s proven himself, and those songs turn out to be the most compelling moments of ‘APOLLO’. The album is also rewarding for its slightly darker turn, with Fireboy exploring weightier themes like isolation, paranoia and just how much fame has impacted him.
At seventeen songs, the album definitely has its fair share of filler material, mostly coming in the form of standard fare love songs. At that, Fireboy’s innate ability to create interesting narratives and conjure melodies that oscillate between breezy and intense keeps things from being sleepy. He’s also assisted by maximalist production from Pheelz, Type A, iamBeatz and P.Priime. The beats aren’t ground-breaking, but they’re diverse and consistently crafted to serve as the perfect foil for Fireboy’s sensibilities.
What ultimately defines this album is that Fireboy is far from satisfied with just becoming a star; he’s determined to become like, or even greater than, the legends he looked up to, as he expressly states on “Airplane Mode”. It’s a lofty target, but he’s proven his commitment to growing upwards with ‘APOLLO’, overcoming the sophomore slump with relative ease and adding a consequential layer to the grand mosaic of his career.
Featured Image Credits: Fireboy DML/Instagram
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