Asake’s ‘Work of Art’ Primed To Reveal A New Global Vision
The sophomore album comes with one of the most enviable breakout legacies in Afropop
The sophomore album comes with one of the most enviable breakout legacies in Afropop
“Inspired by Basquait, my chariot’s on fire/ Everybody took shots, hit my body up, I’m tired”
Jay-Z, “Grammy Family Freestyle.”
Asake is not tired. If the signs of extending 2022’s run weren’t immediately visible, he has slowly brought his new artistic vision into focus. This renewed practice of his craft has been the highlight of his new year, following into every release as he carefully constructed the blocks that are meant to make ‘Work of Art’, the artist’s sophomore album.
For obvious reasons, ‘anticipated’ won’t suffice in the description of the forthcoming project. The modern Pop industry is calculated and controlled; with labels eyeing massive coverage and trans-continental audiences, numbers have become a major factor in the release of new music. Rather than knock on the same door without much success, artists and their teams are finding it easier to barge into the more accessible rooms, sometimes abandoning the traditions that shaped their entry into the scene.
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Asake is operating on a different playing field. Knowing the levels he has set with his release strategy, ‘Work of Art’ is an extension of those motivations. Also, for precisely those reasons, releasing two albums in the space of a year isn’t something most listeners would have banked on. The element of surprise can be a potent force in the execution of art, after all. Being Asake, the musician holds up this new presentation with the acclaim of his Mr. Money entrance year. Even with the unexpected nature of this release, the yet-familiar excitement of that run gives listeners a lot to expect.
At this point last year, Asake was burning through the industry with the penetrating force of a meteor. His signing to YBNL was announced barely five months earlier, but the artist presented himself in a manner so assured, it seemed he’d always been part of the mainstream.
In truth, Asake was a part of the mainstream, but operated in considerably smaller pockets than YBNL’s operations would later allow. A performer at his prestigious alma mater Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), he’d gone into the music industry with enough artistic confidence and conviction in his hustle. When he sang “I just blow, but omo I know my set” on “Peace Be Unto You (PBUY)”, it was telling that the lyric didn’t garner the sort of criticism that personally aware songwriting gets around these parts. He belonged truly to an earlier period, even though his steady rise to the top kept him tinkering with deliberate designs on how to present the core elements of his sound.
For the careful ear, those elements were everywhere in his pre-YBNL music. 2019’s “Kanipe” had his trademark aspirational messaging layered over a mellow acoustic set. Released that same year, “African Something” was an exciting immersion into the artist’s groovy word-bending. “Lady” and “Body” were sonically distinct but unified by Asake’s tender utilisation of Yoruba, especially when singing for the opposite gender. It’s a crucial distinction: addressing records to women, and not pretending to understand their unique experiences, as some other male artists have done. This renders Asake a masculinity that is at once sensitive and sensual, and he’s made good of those qualities ever since.
The song which changed everything was released in 2020, at the latter stages of the pandemic. Beyond supplying his soon-to-be sobriquet, “Mr Money” also marked the start of his creative relationship with Magicsticks. Stuffing ‘piano-evoking log drums and party-starting synths, the sonic texture harkened to Asake’s established styles while putting him into the vivid lane of Street Hop, with vocoder-inflected adlibs that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Zlatan song. It’s no surprise that alongside former DMW star Peruzzi, the ‘Omo Ologo’ rapper was featured on the 2021 remix of that record.
When Olamide announced Asake as YBNL’s latest signing, the alignment was visible. Himself a progenitor of narrative-sustained street music, the artistic direction of Asake was a path he knew intimately. Asake might not have taken immediate sonic cues from his boss but the confidence of having such an iconic figure beside him was palpable. Where the Mr Money phrase seemed a hopeful grasp at future possibilities, the act of putting pen to paper with Olamide–of all people–showed that he indeed he’d secured solid industry backing to count on.
Instant classic: those are two words, but Asake gives them new meaning with ‘Mr. Money With The Vibe’. A compact set of twelve songs, the album is unarguably one of the greatest Afropop debuts ever. Songs like “Terminator” and “Organise” have an unforgettable visual trail, masterfully executed by T. G. Omori and supplying an essential roadman aesthetic to the presentation of Asake.
Beyond these near-lying motivations, the musical quality of ‘MMWTV’ is the reason it’s still being discussed a year on. Rinsing the freewheeling vocal techniques of Fuji, there’s a pristine energy permeating the album’s core. Deliberately styling the seams as much as he improvises, seeming to come up with phrases on the spot, the appeal emerges from its range of angled shots.
‘MMWTV’ was created to imprint the feet of Asake into Nigerian music lineage. Just like his label boss, the artist knows the boundless reach of culture, and through that relentless prism shapes the figure of his own eternity. You can hear it: “Ototo” evokes the flowing white gowns of celestial churches; “Dull” rises with the vigour of an Islamic call-to-prayer; and alongside Burna Boy, the grittiness of urban Nigeria was captured, in all presenting Asake as an unbiased chronicler of modern society.
The vision behind ‘Work of Art’ is bound to be different. The singles “Yoga” and “2:30” have showcased new and familiar techniques, especially the former which samples the Mauritanian legend Michel Legris. A breezy cosmopolitan vibe follows the latter, even amidst the familiarity of log drums. There’s been a natural evolution elsewhere. In the past year, Asake has transformed from nationwide superstar to global celebrity. The robustness of the business choices Asake has made also coincides with the agreement of his home label, which signed under a joint venture deal with EMPIRE.
A few months ago, the trio of Asake, Olamide and Fireboy DML were seated courtside at the NBA game between the Golden State Warriors and the Minnesota Timberwolves, an appearance that was eagerly reported by stateside sport dailies. Naming his album ‘Work of Art’ and further having a song titled “Basquiat” after the great neo-expressionist painter, he’s tapping into the finer aspects of the Western culture, building on similar interests as musicians such as Jay-Z and Kanye West, a certain brand appeal obtained from close relationship with the arts.
Similarly, Asake’s sold-out shows in London have left a lasting impression on his audiences in this region. His commanding stage presence, captivating performances, and effortless synergy with his band and audience, all account for his remarkable ability to sell out all his shows within minutes, such as those at the famous O2 Academy Brixton. Asake has however carved a distinct space among other African and Nigerian artists that have gained popularity in the West mainly due to his refusal to completely dilute his music to conform to Western palettes, rather upholding his uniqueness as a prism to establish genuine connection with the diaspora.
Asake’s musical impact has been substantial. With each release, he has consistently grabbed the attention of audiences – especially in the UK where steady flows of new music aligns with a genuine appreciation for artists’ consistency. Much of the anticipation for his upcoming album ‘Work of Art’ stems from the admiration his catalogue has garnered. No matter where he delves with the sound, it is certain that eager ears will be wide open, waiting to receive and listen. The anticipation surrounding his upcoming album is a testament to his talent and the profound impact he has made in a relatively short time.
Friday would soon be here and Asake would again bare his skills. If the previous is anything to go by, ‘Work of Art’, which is entirely solo except for an Olamide feature—would demonstrate his ability to dig deeper into his reservoir of sounds. The gargantuan influence of Magicsticks on his sound would also come under consideration, especially if the producer doesn’t handle a significant part of the project. When all’s said and done however, Asake is one of the most unpredictable artists on the scene, and so whatever Friday holds the album’s certainly going to demand the attention it gets.
Additional reporting by Alla Gubara.