Review: Wurld’s ‘My World with U’

A narrative-based album that sets it apart as the soul singer's most personal work yet

In 2016, when WurlD released “Show You Off,” Nigerian pop music was on the precipice of profound variations to its sonic makeup and scope. That was the year of Mr. Eazi’s game-changing entrance, Tekno’s “Pana” and Runtown’s “Mad Over You,” tell-all confirmations that there was a shift towards new tempos and sounds. It was also the year of Cruel Santino’s ‘Suzie’s Funeral’, Lady Donli’s ‘Wildflower’ and, generally, the proper take-off period for a new generation of nonconforming artists on the alternative side. Not too long after, street-pop rampaged in with its own latest renaissance, expanding from a perceived fad into an inventive arm of Afropop.

It was in the middle of all this the artist born Sadiq Onifade was figuring out the kinks to Nigerian pop. Prior to the organic breakout of “Show You Off,” a brassy ditty that grew legs from SoundCloud to Twitter timelines to consistent radio spins, WurlD was a singer-songwriter operating in the disparate worlds of Atlanta Hip-Hop/R&B and Eastern European Electronic music. He was writing songs for Timbaland, Akon, B.O.B and several other American artists, while working with Polish producer and DJ Gromee on pulsating tunes that became bonafide hits in his collaborator’s country and geographical region.

When I spoke to WurlD in 2020, he admitted that the reception of the Shizzi-produced “Show You Off” reeled him back to Nigeria, after spending his formative years as a teen and budding artist on the other side of the world. Instead of rushing head first into his transition, WurlD took his time on the backend, figuring out the best ways to apply and fine-tune his ingrained Western pop sensibilities with the myriad of possibilities in Afropop.

Then there was a bust of abundance: ‘Love is Contagious’ is his debut EP with far-flung music choices, ranging from Fuji-indented bops, to baroque folk-pop and silky R&B. ‘I LOVE GIRLS WITH TROBUL’ paired the singer’s storytelling chops with utterly stunning Afro-house and electro-pop beats from veteran innovator and hit-maker, Sarz while 2020’s ‘AFROSOUL’ is a heaving attempt at Makossa, Reggae-fuelled introspection, the clanging polyrhythms of Kel P.

In a period where aversion to the borders of genres is prominent, WurlD showed his workings a fusionist. Those three projects, released within fourteen months, established a boundless approach to music selection, while distinguishing him as a new age soul singer. WurlD continues to combine these traits on his fairly new debut album, ‘My WorlD With U’, but the stakes are notably much more different than solidifying his chops as an artist. This project scans as the singer’s most personal work yet, an album that traces individual growth through the framework of romantic situations.

One allegation that will never be levelled against WurlD is emotionless lyricism. Right from the days of nascent recognition, his reputation was that of an affecting writer, centring the overwhelming bulk of his music on describing and springing tales on the contours of intimate relations. As resonant as these songs are, there’s a slight but noticeable distance between the singer and the experiences he sang of. Where Love is Contagious’ is irrepressibly blue-eyed, ILGWT’ is tethered to complicatedness of two people liking each other, and even as WurlD’s powers as a consummate musician lends these dexterous showcases a lived-in edge, these are concept projects partly plucked from imagination, as well as conversations with friends.

On My WorlD With U’, everything is seemingly set to reflect the singer’s own dalliances with heart-related matters, and the lessons he’s gleaned from them. For consideration, “NOBODY WINS INTERLUDE” from ILGWT’ is a conversation between two girlfriends about a guy one of them might be interested in, while “BLUE (Interlude)” on this album is a voice note from a woman declaring suitability with WurlD based on the matching colour of his hair and that of her dress. Both skits are pivotal parts of the narrative arch of their respective projects, but where one is performance-based, the other sounds very much like it was plucked directly out of the singer’s life. The surrounding songs act as lived-in evidence.

‘WorlD’ follows its creator’s evolution from romantic antagonist to potential wholesome lover. It’s a three-act run that starts at the toxicity and wilful gaslighting of being an errant, unrepentant partner, then goes on to portray the uncertainties and complexities of going through entanglements while being single, before concluding with the lust-driven devotion that accompanies being deeply enamoured. At each point of the 17-track set, WurlD ensures his song-craft is appropriate for his vivid depictions, pulling off an impressive shift in portraiture.

On early highlight, “LET YOU DOWN,” WurlD matches the rumbling thump of P.Priime’s Afro-house scape, rambling of his frustration at consistently disappointing his partner. “You know I never meant to let you down,” he ardently sings, but there’s no attempt to reckon with his missteps. Over the next few songs, he tries hard to justify his romantic inefficiencies as a partner, guilt-tripping, projecting faults and flat-out playing the blame game. When he sings, “Gave you enough of my love/what you want from me?” on “TOXIC,” it embodies the typical characteristic of guilty parties failing to go into detail, in order to preserve some sort of dignity.

As the album trudges on, one thing that’s constant is the pointed and straightforward writing. A lot of these songs are conversations from a first person perspective, prioritising WurlD’s feelings at every time, but not entirely beholden to just his version of the truth. This mode of operation is not alien for WurlD, but where his previous songs leaned into descriptive embellishments, he’s a lot more matter-of-fact here. Even a song with a premise as elaborate as “SAME AS YOU” is delivered very directly, making a conversation with the other man in a triangle sound quite mundane. It’s sung in ‘been there, done that’ tone and, alongside the complicated stakes-setting of “SOMETHING TO LOSE,” it opens up the euphoric stretch that closes the album’s narrative run.

The same way direct, lived-in writing upgrades WurlD’s gift for portraying complicated situations on the first two parts, the third part of the WorlD’ is buoyed by terse declarations of commitment and scene-setting that matches. “When you need me, I’ll be there for you,” he coos over the reverberating bass guitar riff, gently subdued percussion and soft horns of the Spax-produced “MAKE IT SNOW,” a stunning vision of Fuji-indented pop melting into a light Salsa swing. That song exemplifies the musical heterogeneity of this album, where unexpected combos tickle the ear. On the pre-released “SPUNK,” sirens and shekere brush to form a luscious deep house cut, while “THE WAY YOU LOVE YOU” puts a tribal house spin on R&B.

Tapping heavyweight sound-men like Sarz, P.Priime, Major League DJz, Leriq, Telz and more, WurlD purposefully expands his network of collaborators, but as his co-production credit on every song indicates, the album wholly caters to his ticks, whims and visions. ‘My WorlD With You’ is a set that includes palpable ‘90s R&B-influenced cuts, electronic ballads, and standard mid-tempo Nigerian pop fares, while rarely being dizzying. The obvious tying factor, in addition to his writing, is his voice, a deceptively agile vessel that can be impassioned, hazy, viscous, light and rubbery. That range is on display, constantly and aptly shifting tones on an album with songs that have proper bridges in additions to full verses and hooks.

At an hour long, though, it could’ve used some light editing, like cutting out the kitschy, EDM-influenced “SHINE,” which includes a serviceable feature from the usually, more boisterous and indelible Sho Madjozi. Also, the first two songs are preludes that aren’t quite essential: “THESE DAYS LOVE DON’T CHANGE” is wistful but ultimately long-winded, and “GUCCI” is quite inert—both songs dull the opening momentum. (On one of my plays for this review, I started with the third track “LET YOU DOWN” and it was a much better experience.)

The album does close in similar fashion, with two songs that serve as an epilogue. “OVERTHINKING” is the long overdue reckoning, with contemplative lyrics sung into a slab of buzzing synths, “NO EASY LOVE” admits to the work it takes in building a lasting, wholesome relationship. They don’t offer an ideal resolution, but these bookends find WurlD as a more perceptive person, gracefully accepting his flaws while charting a path forward for himself.