Review: Lojay’s ‘Gangster Romantic’
a 7-track collection of sterling hits
a 7-track collection of sterling hits
In 2021, Lojay transformed from an underground act to a household name. This shift in trajectory was due, in part, to the co-sign from revered Nigerian music producer Sarz, who tapped Lojay for their EP ‘LV N ATTN,’ their groovy collaborative project. The project would serve as Sarz’s second collaborative EP with a Nigerian artist; after 2019’s ‘I LOVE GIRLS WITH TROBUL’ with WurlD. At the time, before the project was due to be released, Lojay got the internet buzzing with its lead single “Tonongo,” which showcased his latent lyricism and compelling vocals.
A few months later, a video of Lojay’s reacting to hearing Wizkid’s verse on one of the songs—a heartfelt moment of an artist’s pure admiration for an idol—raised the anticipation for the project. Lojay’s success wasn’t dissimilar from other artists who launched their careers off the back of influential co-signs, including Wizkid himself on M.I Abaga’s “Fast Money, Fast Cars,” Davido featuring Naeto C on his debut single “Back When,” Naira Marley featuring Olamide on “Issa Goal” and, most recently, Asake featuring Olamide on “Omo Ope.” Just as it did for those artists, the co-sign and the collaborative EP catapulted Lojay into mainstream acceptance.
Before 2021, Lojay was already on a steady incline with his music career. Since his debut on the scene in 2016, the singer had been consistent with his output, refining his craft one song at a time. By the time an opportunity to work with Sarz arrived, Lojay had racked up an impressive catalogue and was ready to be thrust into viral prominence. He released both his debut and sophomore singles “Simple Matter” and “Kuli Kuli” in 2016 and the following year, he put out his debut EP ‘Midnight Vibes,’ a five-track project that opened the chapter on his Pop-heavy experimentations of Afrobeats. Between 2018 and 2020, he released three singles each year—“Over the Bar,” “Ariel” and “Ogogoro.” Confident in his abilities, he reached out to Sarz to produce a record but Sarz, taken by Lojay’s talent, decided that they work on a project instead.
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When ‘LV N ATTN,’ arrived in 2021, Lojay took full advantage of the producer’s star power: buoyed by Sarz’s outstanding concoction of Electro, Dancehall, R&B and Amapiano. Lojay delivered joyous amounts of hedonistic cravings, underlined by catchy lyricism and vocal mastery. ‘LV N ATTN’ was a tidy bag of hit tracks, with “Monalisa” being the biggest out of the lot; the EP made Lojay a standout name among the ever-growing list of stars in Nigeria’s music scene. Released just a few months after we were allowed back outside since the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced both artists and music listeners indoors, ‘LV N ATTN’ (recorded during the lockdown) benefited in no small way from the relief that enveloped the country. Starved of the usually-abundant human connections at clubs, live shows and performances, listeners were eager to engage with the music and remind themselves what it meant to dance in a crowd of people. It also helped that the songs on SARZ and Lojay’s project were incredibly catchy and danceable—all thanks to the addictive log drums of Amapiano, which ruled airwaves through songs like Rema’s “Woman,” DJ Kaywise’s “Highway” and Masterkraft’s “Hallelu.” A year after the release of ‘LV N ATTN,’ American singer Chris Brown was tapped to feature on the remix of standout track “Monalisa,” an obvious play for global crossover into new markets.
Lojay’s sophomore EP ‘GANGSTER ROMANTIC’ arrives bearing the weight of those expectations. With his previous efforts, Lojay had set a high standard for himself that only an exceptional project would surpass. There was also the extra pressure of replicating the success of ‘LV N ATTN’ without Sarz’s seal of approval–but ‘GANGSTER ROMANTIC’ more than proves Lojay’s solo capabilities. In the months leading up to the release of the new project, Lojay didn’t show any signs of cracking under the pressure, judging by his impressive outings on DJ Neptune’s “Only Fan” with Zlatan, NATIVE Sound System’s “Runaway” with Ayra Starr, and Blaqbonez’s “Whistle” with Amaarae. He also served up a string of powerful standout singles “LEADER!,” “CANADA” and “MOTO.” The consistency and diversity of Lojay’s output have highlighted his talent and artistic growth, reflecting his desires, which he told the NATIVE is “conscious development” and making intentional music.
Just as with ‘LV N ATTN’ and ‘Midnight Vibes,’ ‘GANGSTER ROMANTIC’ concerns itself with matters of the heart but its focus is much more pointed. “When I was creating the project, it was coming from a place of just having been through stuff in Nigeria, just being through streets of Lagos,” Lojay told Apple Music Africa Now Radio. “In order to survive I need to toughen up in these streets and be a gangster a bit.” It is a sentiment that, in recent times, has permeated the sonics of Nigerian artists, most especially Blaqbonez with his albums ‘Sex Over Love’ (2021) and ‘Young Preacher’ (2022). But where Blaqbonez pivots toward emotional detachment, Lojay pads his machismo with a raw and sincere vulnerability.
On “MOTO,” whose title is Nigerian slang for a car, Lojay nurses his bruised ego after getting jilted by a lover who has moved on with someone new. He reminisces, without a trace of entitlement, about the efforts he made to make life pleasurable for his old flame and how his efforts went to waste. “All of my gees say make I move slow/You do me things wey nobody else know-know/I know you poison deep in my soul/But I no fi leave you uh, leave you alone-lone,” he sings. In Nigerian society, owning an automobile is a sign of upward social mobility; Lojay craves comfort in this fact (a sign that he, too, has moved on to better things) but his ex-lover still haunts him, which he reveals by singing, “I dey see your face in my rearview.” It is further proof that material gains can hardly heal emotional wounds. When the hook comes on, Lojay’s voice is loud and charged but it is a cover for the pain he feels.
Lojay’s search for closure continues on “IYD” where he re-establishes a connection with a former lover who, like the one in “MOTO,” is in the arms of another person. “Please, let me borrow a minute/Ain’t seen you ‘round in a minute (Hm-mm)/Heard you in love with a billionaire now/Still, can’t afford all your feelings (Oh-ooh),” he sings over LOUDAAA’s R&B-tinged production. The hurt that Lojay feels cuts deep and hinders him from moving on—there is a need inside of him to redo old situations and come out the winner. Subtly, he acknowledges that the wrongness of his actions can only be silenced with Dutch courage when he sings, “And I can bring a bottle if you’re sober, sober alone, no.”
Lojay typically flirts with motifs about cars and automobiles in ‘GANGSTER ROMANTIC.’ Through his eyes, cars depict luxury and Lojay’s stardom as well as how they boost his confidence or remind him of the absence of something else more meaningful–in this case which is honest reciprocated romance. “Shey you don see moto with suicide door and electric charge/We dey do pim-pim-pim with American boys from Silicon Valley,” he brags on “LEADER!” Bouncing off of P.Priime’s heady rhythms, Lojay is proud and uncompromising: “Leave her/If she move wrong, leave her/Too many babes on signal.” On this track, Lojay’s Tesla, which appears in the UAX-directed music video, is his protection against the shenanigans of any woman who refuses to play ball. In the visualizer for the DJ Maphorisa and Kabza De Small-featuring “CANADA,” where Lojay assumes the role of a bon viveur, the singer cruises alongside his woman in a convertible. His predilection for automobiles also shows up in his guest appearance on Smallgod’s “Automatic.”
“On hearing a beat, I already know what I want to say within the first 5 seconds,” Lojay told the NATIVE. “In the space of 5 seconds, I know how the beat is making me feel, I know what I want to talk about and I just basically express myself then fill in the gaps properly after.” On ‘LV N ATTN,’ coupled with his merging of Yoruba and English, Lojay’s lyrics. shone with inventive spins that gave words a playful and picturesque effect. That quality remains on ‘GANGSTER ROMANTIC.’ In the first verse of the opener “YAHWEH,” Lojay’s account of his lover performing fellatio on him—right before both have sex in a Mercedes—is visually stimulating. He reports about another sexual encounter on “AVAILABU,” singing, “She remember the bum-bum receiving/Say me fire with handsome delivery.” Even when dealing with the raunchiest of topics, Lojay always manages to keep the songwriting enticing and brimming with creativity.
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While it is no fault of Lojay’s that his EP with Sarz was his breakthrough project, it is fair to assume that, perhaps, somewhere in his mind, laid the thought of what he could do without the training. Across the project’s 21 minute run-time, Lojay employs the help of a talented team of producers including P.Priime, LOUDAAA, Moon Wills, ElementZ, Kabza De Small, DJ Maphorisa, Herc Cut The Lights and Magicsticks, who orchestrate an impressive catalogue of sounds from R&B, Amapiano and Afropop. What makes ‘GANGSTER ROMANTIC’ an easy listen is the faultless sequencing that accentuates Lojay’s emotions throughout the project, from playboy to loverboy, and from self-assured to hesitant. Although his career is still nascent, Lojay has worked with some of the best hands in the music business and, with his ability to make great music, the signs portend good tidings for his future.
“OVA” is a worthy closer. Here, Lojay discards his faith in expensive cars and alcohol, and faces the harsh reality: there was nothing he could do to stop the end of a relationship, and it was good it did because he and his ex-lover treated each other badly in the relationship, and most importantly, they should search for redemption elsewhere. In the song, Lojay sings with a finality in his tone—a finality borne from trials and errors. Perhaps, that’s what makes him more of a gangster romantic: loving and failing and yet choosing to still love but with less ego and more introspection.
Following the release of ‘GANGSTER ROMANTIC,’ Lojay held a listening party in London to connect with listeners and fellow creatives in the UK scene. While in London, he also appeared in interviews with British outfits BBC Radio 1Xtra and The Edit LDN. The UK scene has always been an important fixture in the exchange of pop culture between Africa and the diaspora—a tradition passed on from generations including the likes of Davido, Wizkid and Burna Boy, who have all performed at sold-out shows in the UK. Lojay’s moves indicate a desire to expand his reach beyond Nigeria; it bodes well for his future, as it would mean he joins the growing list of Nigerian and African artists inching their way to global visibility. ‘GANGSTER ROMANTIC,‘ aside from being a project that cements Lojay as a bonafide music star, is a testament to a man easing into an understanding of his strengths and imperfections.
Stream ‘Gangster Romantic’ below.
Featured image credits/Lojay