Review: Seyi Vibez’s ‘Vibe Till thy Kingdom Come’

Operating within a trademark format but with more authority and strong emotive moments.

Urgency can be a catalyst for transcendent bursts of creativity. Mere days to the release of his November 2022 studio album, ‘Billion Dollar Baby’, Seyi Vibez was faced with a quandary. A song that featured a Nigerian pop superstar was being removed from the tracklist due to label red tape, throwing a major wrench in his plans. That song was also meant to be the album’s focus single post-release. There was a decision to be made, to either replace the scrapped single with something from the cutting floor or record an entirely new song. The latter happened and, as they say, the rest is history.

“Chance (Na Ham)” is the diamond forged from the pressure of its circumstance. Seyi Vibez, a Yoruba street-pop singer with a melodic rap flow as one of the calling cards in arsenal, ran through lines like there was a stopwatch ticking right in front of him. The song is a feat in stacking quips, a stream-of-consciousness approach where lustful desires rub up against divine reverence, with a general aura of self-assuredness keeping things from venturing too far either ways. Within days, ‘Billion Dollar Baby’ had its runaway smash hit, perhaps the most fitting outcome considering its genesis as a replacement cut.

The song’s notoriety became the lightning rod for copycat conversations. To the primary audience, i.e. those living in the inner parts of Lagos mainland and across Nigeria’s south-west, “Chance” packed infectious hood lingo over a beat that throbbed and flickered perfectly in tandem with Seyi Vibez’s charismatic performance, an exhibition of a street-pop luminary hitting a new creative peak. To the mainstream audience, he was basically jacking Asake’s style, and it didn’t help that DJs at many clubs often mixed the song right before or after Tiwa Savage and Asake’s “Loaded.”

If those criticisms of mimicry bothered Seyi Vibez, he didn’t show it. In fact, he doubled down. Cuts like “Psalm 23” and “Ogochukwu” off the ‘BDB’ deluxe edition are wrung from the same template, rapid-fire melodic raps over log drum-led production. On his new album, ‘Vibe Till Thy Kingdom Come’, the Lagos-born artist largely continues to operate within the same format, but he’s writing from a place of greater disrespect for detracting conversations. There’s greater control of his template and his chest sticks out with even more authority, but he does it without sacrificing the specificity of his quips or the urgency in his delivery.

‘VTTKC’ is the singer’s third project release in seven months, and it shows how well he’s capitalising on being in a creative flow state. Besides, his motivations haven’t really changed, they’ve simply evolved and the best way to fulfil them is to keep making music that comes to him authentically. After all, this is the guy that remarked, “Say I too dey drop song/Nigba tin ya’wo LAPO,” on “Para Boi” from January’s ‘Memory Card’ EP. His prolificness is purposeful, both as a means to financial gains and a fulfilment of destiny.

Opener “Kingdom” kicks off the album on spiritually-inspired terms, weaving his early learning of the Quran from age nine into his lifelong dream to be the one to lift his family into generational wealth. “Tabbat Yada fun awon to n binu mi,” he sings on the bridge, invoking a Surah against his hecklers while an A Capella gospel sample fills out the ambience. It’s a striking representation of contemporary Yoruba culture where, in many cases, one parent devoutly practises Islam and the other Christianity, meaning the children have to put on a Kufi or head veil to Jumu’ah on Friday afternoons and also wear their white garment to Celestial Church on Sunday mornings.

For Seyi Vibez, being raised between two religions is important to his constant veneration of The Divine. At the same, it’s also a form of communication that fills him with the confidence that he’s manifesting—and will continue to manifest—great deeds. Asides the remix of “Gangsta,” originally a romance-themed deep cut on ‘Billion Dollar Baby’, there’s no song on ‘VTTKC’ that doesn’t reference God, but you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone calling this a gospel or Islamic-pop album.

The pre-released single, “Hat-Trick,” attracted virality when its snippet was shared, due to lustfully suggestive lines directly sung at Nigerian pop superstars Tems and Ayra Starr. On that same song, he ponders “why some artists dey use stream farm,” references both drug kingpin Pablo Escobar and Nigerian film icon Ogogo, while also delivering an impassioned plea to the Higher-Up: “Celestial, ma je n ri’ya.” (“Celestial, don’t let me see troubles.”) All of it may come across as purely scatter-brained, which it is to an extent, but Seyi Vibez works really well as a collagist because almost every line has its profound value, even when he’s being arcane to the wider world beyond the primary audience of Yoruba street-pop.

To those who believe Seyi Vibez is simply jacking Asake’s style wholesale, ‘VTTKC’ will do little to change that opinion. Although it would be foolhardy to not admit their shared similarities, which Asake helped popularise—“Chance” is quite the structural mirror of “Organise”—it would also be disingenuous to not accept Seyi Vibez’s unmissable peculiarities. Musically, there’s a preference for minimalism, an option that isn’t always exciting but it keeps the focus squarely on his quips, his robust voice and whatever vocal filter it passes through. For the most part, it’s log drums and atmospheric piano chords or synths.

That a song like “Money Matter” is club-ready and feels made for big atmospheres is as due to the bang of the Dibs’ production, as it is the larger-than-life boastfulness of Seyi Vibez and South African rap star Focalistic. Standout track, “Dejavu,” is indebted to the immersive, chill vibe of Deep House-indented Amapiano, and it’s a suitable sonic backing for a song that features a couplet run like, “Shower me blessings to po dada/furo go cause palava/I no like palava/no be by who get big cassava.” In four lines, he’s as effusive seeking divine favours as he is singing lascivious utterances.

For all of the conversation about style-switching, the title ‘Vibe Till Thy Kingdom Come’ is pulled directly from “Big Vibe,” a single off his 2021 album, ‘NSNV’. Going all that way back, there’s nothing particularly novel about Seyi Vibez’s “new” style. On that song, he’s divinely reverential and he writes in intricate rhymes. Even that album had Amapiano-influenced slaps produced by Rexxie. If anything, it’s that his music has gotten grittier, evident in how ‘VTTKC’ has the freewheeling energy of a mixtape.

More eyes (and ears) obviously mean more scrutiny, but there’s a magnetic edge to how Seyi Vibez revels in being unapologetic. “Twitter, Instagram, dem go talk,” he says on “Kingdom,” proof that he sees and hears the criticisms. He won’t be making any concessions, though, deciding to cater to those who (want to) get him. “Won gbo mi ni Germany de Ibafo,” he sings over the fast-paced omele drums of “Fuji Interlude,” touting his global listener base with a joie de vivre that feels like a lost Remi Aluko song has been resurrected.

‘Vibe Till Thy Kingdom Come’ is clear in its sentiment that Seyi Vibez believes his success isn’t man-made. Over the sombre piano keys of “Blacka Rhythm,” his faith is underlined by his belief that he’s got angels watching over him. “My sister, my mother, both gone/Oluwaloseyi, mo gba gbo (I believe),” he sings as the song fades into an Isicathamiya sample. It’s the most wistful moment in his catalogue yet, proof that there’s a heart beneath the veneer of his spiritually-backed convictions.