Review: Asake’s ‘Mr Money With The Vibe’

A scorching summation of the singer's hot streak so far

I just blow, but omo I know my set,” Asake sings on “Peace Be Unto You (PBUY)”, the Magicsticks-produced promotional single which dotted social media timelines a few weeks before the release of his debut album. It is a statement that is devoid of an ego trip and leans on the artist’s tenacity and perseverance since his debut on the scene. Two years before this release, Asake’s name was already being mentioned in Nigerian music conversations, following the respectable success of several single releases, starting with the mildly viral “Lady” and popular street-pop hit, “Mr Money”.

The latter song, an Amapiano-tinged banger, gave him a taste of success at the height of the coronavirus pandemic. The single took over the streets of Lagos and introduced Asake as a worthy talent, garnering the attention of listeners and industry heavyweights alike, before eventually leading the rising star to feature Afropop superstars such as Zlatan and Peruzzi for the song’s remix. Although “Mr Money” didn’t fly higher than Asake might have expected, it ushered in the belief to keep pushing, to keep his eyes set on bigger successes. For an ascendant star whose journey dates back to Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Asake’s music spins with a star quality polished by dreams and lived experiences. 

It’s clear that those formative years between the release of “Mr Money” and his scene-stealing single “Omo Ope” with YBNL head honcho Olamide, had him aching to display sonic tricks, both old and new. When Asake dropped his debut EP ‘Ololade Asake’ earlier in the year, no one foreshadowed the tsunami of hit records and culture-shifting dynamism he was bringing into the Nigerian music scene. The four-song project introduced Asake’s intriguing mix of Yoruba Gospel, Fuji influences and a sound template of folk-indented Nigerian pop and Amapiano primarily honed by Nigerian music producer Magicsticks.

The project was also backed by YBNL, whose CEO Olamide bestowed his seal of approval on Asake, on “Trabaye”, when he said, “It’s time for you to go show the world what you’re really all about/Go get them dawg, YBNL got you for life, my brother.” Olamide’s blessings, which have worked wonders for other YBNL-affiliated acts like Fireboy DML, Adekunle Gold and Lil Kesh, have followed Asake as he’s blazed through the Nigerian pop landscape with insanely popular songs like “Sungba” and its Burna Boy-assisted remix, Spinall’s “PALAZZO”, “Peace Be Unto You (PBUY)” and “Terminator”.

Every year, Nigerian pop welcomes several ascendants to the mainstream and among those ushered into the fold, there are several who go on to spin a special breakout year that quickly sets them apart from their peers. We’ve witnessed this with 2Face Idibia in ‘04, Asa back in ‘07, Wizkid in 2010 and 2011 and Mr Eazi in 2016. Already, Asake’s current run has been likened to this talented crop of artists as he’s emerged as an artist operating with veteran tendencies and radio-ready gems.

Having an already special breakout year, on the back of an EP and a slew of hit songs that have owned the upper echelon of the TurnTable Charts, it would’ve still been remarkable if Asake decided to ride the year out and deliver one or two more surefire hits, but as that lyric from “PBUY” at the top of this review hints, there’s no time to waste on the singer’s timeline. With an overwhelming sense of self-belief, the singer recently released his  debut album ‘Mr. Money With The Vibe’, a summation of the hot streak he’s been on throughout the year. The aptly titled project lends its cultural cache from Asake’s growing discography. For those who’ve been following his career keenly, he borrows its title from “Mr Money” and “Sungba”, with its catchy  refrain of “Mr Money with the vibe right now,” as well as his moniker, Ololade, which means a person of wealth has arrived.

While ‘Ololade Asake’ bore only the YBNL badge, ‘Mr. Money With The Vibe’ is a child of both the label and its international partner EMPIRE. The deal, it seems, is an acknowledgement of the higher stakes at play in Asake’s career. He is no longer an artist newly escaped from the underground hustle, but a star in need of further burnishing to illuminate his glow. On “Dull”, the opening track of ‘Mr. Money With The Vibe’, Asake promises himself, his fans and everyone involved in his career not to relax his efforts. “I swear I no go dull/Aje, I no go dull/I swear I no go dull/Wetin mama go chop?” he sings. The short track functions as a prayer; Asake, whose stage name is his mother’s real name and is steeped in oriki (Yoruba praise poetry), reveres the spiritual, paying obeisance to the forces that serve as a guiding light on his path in life.

Already keeping his promise not to “dull,” the track list for ‘Mr Money’ is tightly helmed. The singles move from pre-released tonesetters to integral album pacing highlights, leaving no space for fillers. Final pre-album drop “Terminator,” lead single “Peace Be Unto You (PBUY)” and the March-released “Sungba (Remix)” with Burna Boy are part of the life wire of ‘Mr. Money With The Vibe.’ They keep the album going, reminding listeners of the lushness of Asake’s mixture of influences from both traditional sources in Nigerian music and modish dance music forms from South African music. Asake and Magicsticks do not remove from the laid down instrumentation of those three songs; instead, they borrow from and update those sounds as they please, experimenting while meeting success at every turn. 

There is a Fela-esque feel on “Organise”. Asake utilises the call-and-response as he states his refusal to be held down by the rules of life, and in some way, the rules of music. He exudes infectious confidence captured with a street-smart lyricism that runs in tandem with the bass, trumpets and choral backup. “Gbagbe oshi (Ey, ey)/Awa nikan ni kososhi (Ey, ey)/I no go let anyone control me/Anything wеy I wan do, I go do,” he sings. His energy should never be tamed but let loose to be free and limitless.

Asake turns inspirational on the House music-influenced “Dupe”, giving off Gospel vibes. “What is difficult for you is also difficult for somebody/No dey use emotion better face your grind and make money,” he sings. Magicsticks supplies bright saxophone notes that accompany the drums and the result is an upbeat track that will fit in dance sessions at churches. That theme seeps into the slower-paced “Nzaza” as Asake recounts surmounting challenges while keeping his focus fixed on his dreams. “Only strong fit to fit survive/See am for my dream as I wear my crown/Get down on my knees and I pray to Jah ah,” he sings. The theme recalls his effort on label mate Fireboy DML’s “Bandana,” where he sings, “Dem never see me coming (Jo jo jo jo jo)/Oh coming (L’Eko)/Mo gbe wan ni ‘is coming’ (E yeah, e yeah yeah o)/Naija boy wey dey go foreign (Dey go foreign),” admitting that prayers and hard work have been his motto. 

All through ‘Mr. Money With The Vibe,’ the songs blend seamlessly into one another. After the end of one song, the next track doesn’t waste any time in picking up the pace. It all seems like a feel-good party of prayers and good music. It is also a credit to Asake and Magicstick’s time-tested connection; they understand each other’s musical sensibilities, staying in a familiar lane while still not afraid to explore uncharted territories. Theirs is a connection not unusual in the Nigerian music scene, with Cobhams-Asa, ID Cabasa-9ice, Wande Coal-Don Jazzy, Burna Boy-Leriq and Falz-Sess heralding the times.

With “Muse” Asake uncovers his lover boy tendencies as he entertains a love interest. It is one of the slow-paced songs on ‘Mr. Money With The Vibe’ used to give listeners a breather while also informing them of Asake’s versatility. “Ototo” follows in that trend; Asake employs a patois delivery in the first verse before returning to his recognisable combination of Yoruba and Pidgin English. He also pulls out his Hip-Hop card on “Reasons”, which features American rapper Russ. The track has aspirational leanings as Asake and Russ encourage listeners to believe in themselves and not give up when disappointments come. Russ, in particular, gives a good account of himself, dealing with a narrative that is picturesque in its telling.

In interviews, Asake has spoken about being an introvert when he is indoors and only showing high-octane energy when he is on stage. In his music videos helmed by Nigerian video director TG Omori, starting with “Sungba,” Asake’s charisma is palpable. His slender figure fills the screen with an unflinching liveliness. With his coloured dreads, grills and edgy fashion sense, he and Omori have created a persona that is at once different and familiar. That strong energy lives on tracks across the album; one of them is “Joha,” a heady mix of Fuji, Afrobeats and Amapiano, where Asake expresses his desire to enjoy the good things of life and ignore the stress. On the dance-ready “Sunmomi,” his vibe is irresistible as the violin chords underpin the Amapiano goodness flowing in the beat. 

Like every genre of music imported into Nigeria, conversations have started around the fate of Amapiano in the hands of Nigerian artists. South Africa has been gracious to open the genre up to other countries, with Nigeria being one of its top enthusiasts. Month after month, Nigerian artists, Asake being one of them, have utilised Amapiano to score hit records. What makes Asake’s use of Amapiano, and South African music in general, refreshing on ‘Mr. Money With The Vibe’ is that he and Magicsticks marry the genre with core Nigerian influences; they take the genre and flip its modifications, adding new changes to give it new life. 

When the story of Asake’s ‘Mr. Money With The Vibe’ is told in the coming years, the album will stand as a placeholder for the artist’s further evolutions. It will be tagged as a soundtrack for an era when a newcomer seized an opportunity and never let go. Asake has admitted in interviews that there are more tricks under his sleeve; ‘Mr. Money With The Vibe’ bears witness to the beginnings of a growing star who, blending his musical and cultural influences, has opened up a way for him and his music to soar and soar.