Review: Wizkid's 'Made In Lagos'

 

‘Made In Lagos’ is Wizkid’s fourth studio album in his decade-long reign at the top of African pop’s totem pole. His second feature-length release under Sony Music Entertainment’s RCA Records, ‘Made In Lagos’ is a concurrent and refined follow up to his then-experimental ‘Sounds From The Other Side’. This time exhibiting confidence, maturity and sophistication, ‘Made In Lagos’ is coloured by live instruments and a worldly selection of featured artists, making a successful amalgamation of the afropop sound Wizkid popularised worldwide. 


Over a week after its release, it still feels surreal. The album that has been ‘Status: Imminent’ for nearly three years now, finally arrived on October 29, 2020. Since the original Starboy first revealed plans of his fourth studio album, with the hashtag #MadeInLagos appearing as early as February 2018, multiple hit singles, shows, and awards, a label compilation album with his new signees, and even several collaborative merch drops, all went by with no album in sight.

In the roughly thirty-three months between the first whispers of ‘Made In Lagos’ and its final arrival in the last week of October 2020, Wizkid subjected eager ears across the globe to countless false starts – some more convincing than others – resulting in ‘believe it when I see it’ scrutiny to each new announcement that followed the last disappointment, inviting unending memes across social media cyber spaces. Unlike the Boy Who Cried Wolf, however, ‘Made In Lagos’ never lost any steam. Wizkid FC (the name his fans have attached to themselves, fittingly referencing Wizkid’s plural jersey releases) remained loyal and keen, as always.

Made In Lagos’, no doubt, came as the most highly anticipated album in contemporary Nigerian music history; but not just because we had been expecting its any-minute-now landing for several years. With a lacklustre sophomore album, and the heavily criticised follow up, ‘Sounds From The Other Side’, fans have been waiting the whole decade to hear a body of work from Wizkid worthy of his undisputed magnus opus, ‘Superstar’. In his ten-year career, Wizkid has grown from the boy whom we all instantly knew had it, into the superstar he was destined to be. One of the most prominent musicians on the African continent, not having a body of work that lived up to his debut had little effect on Wizkid’s trajectory. His success was never challenged or diminished by the fact, but as more and more Nigerian listeners grew an appetite for feature length albums from their pop stars, Wizkid fans grew even more anxious for a project that would define the Starboy Wizkid had evolved into – one that would speak to his refined sound along with his dignified status as a bona fide international superstar. This is ‘Made In Lagos’.

From the moment Wizkid introduced himself to the Nigerian populace – opening his debut song yelling, “it’s your boy Weezy” – there was unanimous agreement amongst all listeners that this newcomer was already a star. ‘Superstar’, the album from which “Holla At Your Boy” was the lead single, at the time felt like a natural, warranted and credible album of boasts, considering Wizkid was one of the hottest acts that year. As he’s remained so ever since, the lyrics on this prophetic debut album have become less and less disputable. When he sings “see everywhere I go and every I be, be it in Las Gidi or overseas, see everybody call my name” on the cleverly-chosen album opener, “Say My Name”, what might have been an ambitious exaggeration back in 2011 is an unequivocal fact these days; Wizkid’s music travels, no Visa, as he sings on “No Lele”. He is the ‘Superstar’ he knew he would be, even in those early days. Even his “wearing Dolce and Gabana” lyric on “Don’t Dull” has come into fruition in the most magnanimous way possible.

The words on ‘Superstar’ remain truer than ever, but from his fresh-face and early 2010s fashion on his album cover, to his vocal and lyrical abilities, Wizkid has of done a lot of growing up through the course of his career, and we have watched him religiously through it all. The most notable pivot that fans have pointed to, especially in the wake of the ‘Made In Lagos’ release, is the mood of the soundscape under which Wizkid now produces. Whilst with EME, where he released ‘Superstar’ and his sophomore album, ‘Ayo’, Wizkid jams were primed for the dance floor. He carried this penchant for ubiquitous hits into his Starboy Entertainment run, releasing singles such as “Dance For Me” and “Final (Baba Nla)”,  before kicking off his deal with Sony Music’s RCA Records with the less than commendable commercially-produced “Daddy Yo”. But since the 2017 signing, Wizkid has relaxed into his adult groove. Still fit for a night out, Wizkid’s sound has evolved from club bangers into sensuous red wine accompaniments.

Playing with slower tempos and more careful production, though ‘Sounds From The Other Side’ was widely criticised at the time, the “Starboy international sound” he proclaims on “One For Me” has stuck. Then chastised for trying to go Western and failing, Wizkid’s R&B cut on his latest album, the Ella Mai-assisted “Piece Of Me”, has been lauded as one of the stronger records on the album. From the mellow grooves he floats through, on the sultry Starboy compilation ‘SoundMan Vol. 1’, to the atypical melody (which at first stuns) in which he sings “Oh for my bed dey do like rocky o, used to go round after round round round, no lie…” over the last couple of years, Wizkid has revealed himself, settled in somewhere between home and the other side.

Lyrically too, Wizkid has progressed. Though ‘Made In Lagos’ is not written by him alone, Wizkid’s improved pen game on the album is apparent from the very first track, “Reckless”. Produced by P2J, who executively produces ‘Made In Lagos’, Wizkid’s introduction on “Reckless” revisits his first link up with the British producer on Tiwa Savage’s “Bad”. Mirroring the marching rhythm that plays consistently through P2J’s strings on the beat of “Bad”, Wizkid chants the opening bridge: “Dem inna, inna, inna, inna, inna, I know sey dem go pray on my downfall//I’m still a winner, winner, winner, winner, winner, me never let them play on my banjo.” After an arresting start, Wizkid saunters into his first verse, making a testament of his improved lyricism with lyrically dense verses, where his use of song-writing clichés is limited, instead reworking widely known adages into more personal adaptations of the proverbs we’re so used to hearing (“showered in blessings, now my cup’s running over”).

Even the subjects Wizkid covers through his lyrics speak to the ten-year evolution of this instant star. On ‘Superstar’, Wizkid found himself bragging about his greatness; now, having achieved heights even greater, “Reckless”, “Blessed” and “Grace” narrate the trying road Wizkid has travelled in order to reach his current peak position. The first stages of this journey played through his career-defining international breakout record, “Ojuelegba”.

“Ojuelegba” was an ode to home; a thank you to the place that birthed him, and a recognition of the inexplicable gratitude he feels for being able to rise from the streets to the world. According to childhood friend, Silly, who was Wizkid’s other half in his first foray into secular music, via the two-man-band, SI, “[Wizkid] was like the brain in Pinky and the Brain, always wanting to take over the world;” “Ojuelegba” was the hit single that would give him that.

Appearing on his sophomore album, ‘Ayo’, “Ojuelegba” caught the attention of British grime juggernaut Skepta, who fielded it to Drake before the duo released the game-changing collaboration that many argue set West African pop on its current course to global dominance. Following “Ojuelegba” came “One Dance”, and then “Come Closer” and in and amongst those two collaborations with the dictator of global hip-pop, Wizkid’s deal with RCA. “Ojuelegba” was a turning point in Wizkid’s career, where the world that he had so longed to touch, the global market that many thought he has penetrated far enough, opened up to him in an explosive way. Now known across seas, Wizkid is extrapolating this turning point into a full-length album. Sticking with the same cool predilections, the same affinity for live instrumentation, the same high standard of production, ‘Made In Lagos’ continues the journey Wizkid started in “Ojuelegba”, narrating what the rise has looked like since, building upon the tales he told at the very start of his career.

In the time of “Say My Name”, Wizkid was an overnight star, now at “Reckless”, he has been grinding tirelessly to reach the stage at which he is; he has faced unprecedented pressures and unimagined trials. These stories could make for riveting musical entertainment, vicious songs that rail into the opps, tell-all tunes that describe the betrayals, but it isn’t Wizkid’s way to dwell on adversities. Rather aloof to any public scandal, his words on “Blessed” explain the sundown inclinations of the album I don’t want to talk about the things wey go really make me down tonight// I don’t want to talk about the things wey go really make me frown tonight,” he croons, indicating that the night time is best spent gyrating, or mighty wining.

Noted in the early hours of that Thursday morning, as fans stayed up to stream the uncertain release, ‘Made In Lagos’ is a sensual body of work, fit for carnal pursuit. Some have suggested Wizkid’s penchant for overtly erotic lyricism is a recent development, unique to this album; however, in (and not between) the lines of Starboy favourites, such as “Totori”, “Fever”, “Low”, “Jam”, “Kana”, “Nowo”, “Soco”, are explicit invitations for sex. Outright discussion of fucking on the second single, “No Stress” might have projected expectations of the album to exceed Wizkid his typically sex-driven content, but in and amongst “Ginger”, “Longtime” and “Roma” is a healthy dose of love; it goes without saying, “True Love”, or the chirpy, uplifting lead single, “Smile”, or the vows of commitment on “Sweet One” (albeit co-mingled in with promises of sweet rounds), or even the toxic love song, “Essence”. Sex is a prominent topic throughout the album, but it has been throughout Wizkid’s discography. As his lyrical dexterity improves, consequentially, his ability to relay his carnal desires is enhanced. That’s what we hear on ‘Made In Lagos’; the experiences in love of a man who can much better articulate his experiences in love. Aided, of course, by the formidable line-up of featured artists he convokes for this fourth studio album.

Taking only half the project solo, ‘Made In Lagos’ heavily relies on the contribution of its featured artists. Typically inspiriting and inspiring on his offerings, Damien Marley’s placement on “Blessed” leads the song, not only in terms of the order in which he and Wizkid appear, but in terms of the alluring quality that he draws in, as his deep and direct vocals follow up the mysterious opening painted by Alexander The Greatest’s bassline composition. Similarly, as Wizkid ventures into the depths of R&B on “Piece of Me” it is Ella Mai’s assistance that carries the record to its commendable heights. On “Essence”, both at the top of their respective fields, from vastly different eras, Tems and Wizkid prove why this combination of heavyweights is one Nigerian listeners have been pining after since it was first teased.

Another highly anticipated feature from a Nigerian peer was Wizkid’s collaboration with Burna Boy. Wizkid and Davido have been the top reigning Nigerian musicians for the most part of their careers, constantly pitted against each other, and in their early days, buying into the beef by competing with each other for a space in which they both comfortably existed. Allegedly getting physical during the height of their feud at the One Africa Music Festival in Dubai, 2017, their animosity seemingly dissipated a year later, when Davido yelled to his 30 billion crowd members, “would you like to meet my new best friend,” and Wizkid emerged. Since, the two have publicly supported each other, most especially Davido, who caught heat earlier this year for claiming Nigeria’s top two for himself and Wizkid, despite the African Giant having now made his way into the upper echelons of Nigerian pop. Throwing a tantrum because he got left off bad and boujee, it’s now the turn of Burna Boy and Davido to nurse a petty feud, as Wizkid earns praise for putting those childish days in his past. Although OBO, his longest rival, doesn’t make it to the album, Burna Boy, who he often works with alongside P2J, appears on track number two, “Ginger”.

A track that boasts great synergy between the two, “Ginger” falls flat on its face as Burna Boy launches into an unforgiving key change, continuing in a passionate tirade that fast became the butt of Twitter jokes. As for the other featured artists on the album, Terri, H.E.R. and Skepta all deliver strong contributions, though easily forgotten. In the cases of Terri and H.E.R., this is given the quality of the other features on the album, in Skepta’s case, because his opening verse is followed up by an entire three plus minutes of the song, with no further appearance from him. Unfortunately, and ironically, the length of “Longtime” diminishes the impact of Skepta’s feature on ‘Made In Lagos’.

In 2018, Tierra Whack released her debut album ‘Whack World’ a forceful body of work that particularly stood out for its 1-minute-long songs. Rihanna, when asked why she chose to release a photobook and not a written biography, replied Women’s Wear Daily saying, “my fans are young and they’ve got ADD; they’d rather look at pictures than read, let’s be real.” It is said so often that it has become unbearably boring, but the fact is, our instantaneous access to most of the world’s knowledge has changed the way in which internet users consume everything, from information, to entertainment – even food. In this social climate, artists are opting for songs shorter than the universally agreed 3:30 average. Tiwa Savage’s ‘Celia’ and Olamide’s ‘Carpe Diem’ both averaged a hard three minutes per song, whilst Fireboy’s ‘APOLLO’ an average of less than two minutes fifty. Globally, music is tending towards shorter releases – even evidenced in album length (by number of songs) – but Wizkid is defiant of this trend. The average length per song on ‘Made In Lagos’ extends over three minutes forty, with several tracks, including “Longtime” featuring Skepta, hitting or diving over, four minutes. Whilst this might work for the songs on which he has integrated features, Wizkid’s solo take, “Sweet One”, like “Longtime”, definitely does suffer for its length.

Its preceding track, “True Love”, however, does not. In this writer’s view, “True Love” is the unequivocal stand out of the album, thanks in no small part to Tay Iwar’s mesmerising pre-chorus and chorus, perfectly accompanied by masterful production from Juls. Another point at which a feature artist outshines Wizkid on the album, Wiz’s first verse falls short of the performance laid out by Tay Iwar, though he makes up for it with a fun and catchy bridge. “True Love” soars, not only for Tay Iwar’s vocals but also from Juls’ creativity and attention to the song’s production. The funky mix of Wizkid’s vocals on the intro, is followed by the wistful pre-chorus led by Tay Iwar, whose dynamic melodies bewitch listeners before BabaRons’ bass guitar, Kaasare’s lulling saxophone and subtle hints of a hand drum, join in to lift Tay’s chorus into the clouds. This formidable composition illustrates, through its arresting sonics, the ethereal love Tay Iwar laments on the track, the symbiosis between the beat and the lyrics elevating the song even further.

Executively produced by P2J, the live components on ‘Made In Lagos’ are enviable. From the album’s intro, “Reckless”, the saxophone makes its case for the most invaluable instrument brought in on ‘Made In Lagos’. Played by Venna, “Reckless” enjoys an outro reminiscent of Femi Kuti’s solo at the end of ‘Ayo’’s own intro track, “Jaiye Jaiye”. Joined by Marcos Bernardis, Venna again adorns “Mighty Wine” with his saxophone, which floats in and out at its own whim, upstaged only slightly by the staccato notes that hop through the chorus. Playing on “Sweet One” and “Smile”, Venna’s sax also shines alongside Immanuel Simelane’s bass guitar on “Blessed”. In other parts plucked by Kevin Ekofo, the bass is another formidable inclusion without which ‘Made In Lagos’ simply wouldn’t slap. “Gyrate”, for example, would be an otherwise immemorable track if stripped of Kevin Ekofo’s deft instrumentalism. With Ekofo playing on “Piece of Me” as well as the outro, “Grace”, P2J’s genius on the latter track is emphasised in the form of additional vocals from rising singer, Asia, who punctuates Wizkid’s chorus with her stunning harmonies.

A bright and bubbly track, “Grace” picks up after the slump instigated by “Roma”. An amazing closer, this record follows up an excellent body of work with a proclamation that Wizkid is in a league of his own. Singing “them no fit run my race,” Wizkid takes us back to (yes, Burna Boy’s single of that title, but also) his debut album, specifically, “Oluwa Lo Ni”, upon which he sung, “them wan run my race, 100 metres.” All these years later, Wizkid is circling back to remind us that doing his own thing is at the top of his agenda, and nobody does it, or will ever do it, like him.

From the streets of Ojuelegba to world domination, from snapback caps to Puma collections, from iconic Samklef beats to Grammy-nominated P2J productions, Wizkid’s is a grass to grace story like never before. As he embraces the international acclaim, infuses global pop tastes (including references to “1 Thing”, Kevin Lyttle’s “Tempted To Touch”, “Frontin'” by Pharrell), collaborates with his Western counterparts, Wizkid continues to rep the city that birthed him – as a being first and then as an artist. Releasing this album as a bona fide global Superstar, Wizkid wants no mistakes made, he wasMade In Lagos’. The race from Lagos to the world, is the race he’s running, the race he’s winning the race he’s won.