5 Standout Songs From Bella Shmurda’s Debut Album, ‘Hypertension’

a beautiful exploration of the artist's expanding range

On a recent episode of Korty’s show on YouTube, the artist Bella Shmurda admitted to misusing his platform as a budding superstar. Much of his earnings went into a lifestyle of debauchery, while his music didn’t evolve into the wholesome package of art it could easily become. These revelations came just days before the musician released his debut album, ‘Hypertension’, and the emergence of new information strikingly coloured his personality. 

Bella Shmurda had obviously gone through a period of character development, and the signs bore into the music he was creating. Where he once allied strongly with his street roots and the responsibility of being a storyteller, Shmurda plays now to the flamboyance of celebrity while maintaining the perspective and candour that’s made him so endearing. “New Born Fela” and Omah Lay-assisted “Philo” offered different vantage points from which Bella could be viewed, through the sweeping influences of foundational music figures or as a chronicler of modern desires, utilising edgy language which is partly formed from popular culture and, in return, influences its evolution


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On ‘Hypertension,’ the several faces of Bella Shmurda are expressed in poignant records. With fifteen songs amounting to under forty-five minutes of listening, Bella colours the project even more eclectically with his choice of features—from Jamaican Dancehall stalwart Popcaan to Afropop mainstays Phyno, Simi and Victony, there’s an array of vibes establishing and pushing the groove from beginning to end. Very well-produced, the fine flourishes of plug-ins and natural instrumentation animates the singing across the project. 

These are five standout records which most capture the album’s energy and range. 


Not many things connect Bella Shmurda to Fela Kuti, but one of them is the willingness to step into the role of social commentator. During his early career stages Bella frequently embodied the ethos, using songs like “Ginger Me” and “Cash App” to reach the underside of society which was rarely covered by more established outlets of the media. The rebellion of Kuti provides the framework for this anthem record. Bold horns and animated singing uphold the song’s electric appeal, while Bella’s writing expresses a more polished facet to previous street-inspired imagery. “I be the new born Fela, story teller, battery charger,” he brags on the triumphant chorus, on either side using his verses to construct items associated with the attendant lifestyle. Some would argue that Bella’s opting of Fela’s name without recognising his political vibrancy is one-dimension, but there’s more to the man, as we know. That Afrobeat gene is so strong that even when a little bit is taken, there’s already a wealth of sound to be explored. Bella does so well, and it’s no surprise he makes this record the album opener. Mission statements don’t come more naturally. 


Bella Shmurda’s voice has always been one of his more powerful attributes. Over the years he’s wielded its piercing lilt to beautiful effect, often to the service of larger-than-life themes which reveal facets of contemporary culture. But what does Bella sound over a chill beat, and with little existential worries hovering on his mind? “Loose It” answers both questions with assured mastery, linking the musician with Afropop savants Niphkeys and Simi. The producer lays down the breezy R&B-patented instrumental, utilising Dancehall-evoking loops to inflect the laid-back percussion with party-esque prospects. Simi offers a counterpoint to Bella’s lyrics, employing her lithe vocals in response to the angst-streaked direction of his host. Romantic tension has been sparingly explored across Bella’s oeuvre but seldom has he been this descriptive, using his typically-exciting language to register poignant images in the listener’s mind. 


Many artists have attempted to  capture the colourful effervescence of Lagos. The city’s multi-cultural and commercial prospects have attracted countless sojourners over the years, and Bella Shmurda’s invocation of the state surely ranks among the better efforts of recent times. Brought alive with trumpets and some of the most vibrant drums all-album through, the artist is less critical of Lagos’ flaws as much as he chronicles the weight of its multiplicity. As he’s always done, he somehow manages to make the communal wear the intimacy of the personal. The verses follow the aspirational direction familiar among Street Hop artists, one of the few times on ‘Hypertension’ when Bella Shmurda flies the cape for old times sake. Even when he’s singing about one’s desires, the unending thrill of the city is mirrored in the serenade of the guitar playing, the sped-up pace of its percussive rhythm, and the tension spawned from Bella’s repetition in the chorus. 


You would expect a record titled “Man of the Year” to collect brazen thoughts of braggadocio from its creator, but Bella Shmurda—ever the ingenious musician—subverts the egoist tendencies of that gaze, instead highlighting the struggles that has come with stepping into his deserved glory. Quite unarguably the most introspective record on the tape, Bella evokes the emo gaze many of his contemporaries have increasingly taken note of. “Deeper than the ocean, further than the eyes can see,” he sings in its opening lyrics, echoing the epic vision of 2Baba’s “Spiritual Healing”. His own vision is later revealed for its selflessness, but the emotion is very striking and carries the heft of personal trajectory. “Every man deserves to be man of the year, brother man why you fear? Everyone deserves to be loved and cared for, but no love to share,” he sings in the pre-hook before his vocals are carried by the luminous ad libbing of backup vocalists. By the song’s end, the listener feels the force of having been taken around several worlds with wind-like speed, an exhilarating energy which comes with its due moments of melancholy and sustained introspection – exactly what Bella wants you to feel. 


Due to Bella Shmurda’s unique artistry, he has hardly created a song directly associated with a mood or setting. In technical terms, he isn’t a niche artist, rather he makes songs whose adaptability ensure they fit in anywhere. Viewed through this prism, the immediate catchiness of “Ase” reveals its artistic merits. Colourful drums cut from the owambe material situate Shmurda among his Juju forebears, while the lyrical direction—part praise-singing and part prayer session—enlivens the entire record. With deft pluckings of a guitar complementing the shekere’s faint touches, the production is beautifully put together to relay the aspirational message at the song’s centre. All the motivations collapse into a rewarding high on the chorus, where the titular word forms the call-and-response technique Shmurda employs throughout the album. Considering its placement early in the project, its gleeful positivity sets the project on a similar path.