Our first impressions of BOJ’s new album, ‘Gbagada Express’
Reactions to the star-studded, solo sophomore effort
Reactions to the star-studded, solo sophomore effort
In the last decade, Bolaji Odojukan has been at the forefront of the Alté movement, an influential bohemian offshoot of Nigerian pop. Over the years he’s morphed into a larger-than-life personality, a pioneer who has secured his status by spawning incredible music and being an ever-present pillar of the culture. Today BOJ stands tall as one of the most engaging musical acts in Nigerian music.
Since his debut to the music scene, he’s dropped several projects, spawned countless jovial pop records coloured by his defining breezy voice, permeated nooks and crannies with electric guest verses, both at home and in the diaspora—just last year, he blessed British-Nigerian rapper Dave with the scintillating hook on “Lazarus.” Now, five years after his debut solo album, BOJ returns with ‘Gbagada Express’, his third project overall.
Titled after the home area in Lagos, the project is as thronged as the title indicates. Playing host to a staggering roster of twenty guest artists, including superstars like Tiwa Savage, Wizkid, Davido, Fireboy, Buju and Amaarae, ‘Gbagada Express’ is a triumphant celebration of the man BOJ has come to be: A man of the people. Riding on the cresting wave of sunny grooves and warm melodies, BOJ and friends deliver a rich playlist replete with party anthems and chill, feel-good music. Here, The NATIVE editorial team weighs in on our impressions of the newly released album.
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Emmanuel: Right now, I’m strongly leaning towards “Action Boyz.” They’re a number of distinct sounds all over the album but this collaboration is so natural and skillful. First of all, the brooding production is deliberately understated, allowing the voices to shine through. BOJ’s first verse is a showcase of his smooth delivery, singing “I’m a top striker, it’s a hat trick” and again updating his cache of football references. Obongjayar is just sensational, bringing his pristine vocals into a verse that adapts the flow of rap. “I was on my ten toes you was sleeping,” he sings with charming exuberance. In an album full of upbeat bops, this record might not get its due immediately but it’s a slapper. It’s the kind of song that could inspire its own movement.
Dennis: I think “Culture” is one of the very best songs in BOJ’s catalogue as a headliner. There’s a few songs you could label like that—“Confam” and “In A Loop” are strong contenders—but there’s a conviction on this ENNY-assisted slapper that’s just enveloping. From a lyrical standpoint, it’s a masterclass that has some of the best lines that have tumbled out of BOJ’s mouth, and ENNY just absolutely and casually rips her verse. I think this is the first time BOJ is on a Juls beat since “Feel Alright,” and the growth is breathtaking.
Maria: Right after the first few seconds of it starting, “Confam” became my favourite. It sounds like something straight from the early 2000s when Nigerian Pop was heavily set in the streets. ‘Gbagada Express’ is the perfect cocktail of a lot of features from different genres, but this one is the most on brand. D-O came in true fashion with Igbo-inflected lingo in his verse, and BOJ smoothly delivered serenading lyrics in Yoruba with his unmistakable husky vocals. It’s another beautiful display of the two languages’ seamless union in songs just like in Phyno and Olamide’s “Ghost Mode”. The call and response on the chorus, “Girl your body–Confam! Your waist– Confam!” sounded like something from Danfo Drivers’ archives and is definitely going to be a crowd-pleaser when it’s being performed. This song is just what I had envisaged a BOJ and D-O song would sound like. *Chef’s kiss.*
Tami: I’ve had BOJ’ album since last year so I had seen the track list before it came out earlier this month. Of course, I was a bit apprehensive at first, mainly because it’s BOJ’s first album in five years and while there’s no doubt about his star power, it would have been amazing to hear how he could perform on his own without any supporting acts. Despite this observation, I think the album’s strong suits are the features and all the people he brings into his world. ‘Gbagada Express’ is a testament of everything BOJ stands for: a man for and of the people. In order to do this, I think BOJ had to let people into his world to really encapsulate the relationships he’s made along his journey and his position as one of the best hook killers we’ve seen in a minute. He’s made really compelling feature choices from Fireboy DML to Shaybo to Wizkid, Zamir, Prettyboy D-O and many more.
Wonu: At first when I saw the track list, I was a bit concerned by the number of features because all I could think about was this is ACTUALLY a lot, but after listening to each song, I understand why he did that. The features are amazing, every featured artist brought something new and refreshing to each record, from Victony to Wizkid, to Amaarae. Yeah, this was definitely a solid one.
Moore: There definitely are a notable amount of features. At first glance I was worried about a lack of cohesion between the songs due to the variety. But after listening to the album, it’s clear that each artist was carefully chosen. Each artist brings something unique and integral to the vibe of each song, while BOJ still makes each song his own.
Tela: All the features were euphonious over this album but Moliy, Melllissa and Teezee stood out for me. Moliy and Mellissa shred their vocal chords and have a blast as they exude impulsive chemistry in this yearnful number that dwells in a romantic sphere. With both having a catalog in alté, Moliy’s silky whisphers and Mellissa’s luminous vocals bring a commendable performance. Teezee graces “Yarning Many” with a rock solid flow nostalgically remembering pioneering alté. His guest verse is rightfully cocky with a confident flow and neck cutting lines recognizing their position in the scene .
Chibuzo: The guest list for this project looks like the line-up of an Afronation festival, which is really incredible and naturally lends itself to stellar dynamism—at no point does the energy on the project trail off. Every single guest understood the assignment and did an incredible job at holding up their ends. The best guest appearance in my opinion however, is ENNY. “Culture” is nowhere near being an archetypal commercial track, and as such it may not get the hype that its pop counterparts will receive but what ENNY did on that track is absolutely mental. Subtle but genius. From the self-assuredness in her voice to the way her cadence walks in lockstep with the undulating beat, she effortlessly exudes pristine deftness. Her pen-game is world class, she tells a concerted and lucid story, weaving in savvy punchlines and cheeky phrases as she does this, the effect is a dazzling work of genius.
Dennis: ENNY, obviously. Refer to my thoughts on the best song. Honourable mention to Teezee, that skit is a defining part of this album.
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Maria: Honestly, I don’t have any. It’s a stellar body of work. Each song is almost as powerful as the next and the features, song placements and production marry well. It’s very clear why BOJ took six years to put this out, he was gunning for perfection and in my opinion, he nailed it.
Dennis: It’s not that I don’t like “Lekki Love” as a song, I just have a (stupid?) rule about side-stepping songs with Lekki in the title. Also, I don’t really believe people are finding love in Lekki; it’s openly known that the Lagos dating scene is garbage and, as far as I know, Lekki is emblematic of all the unnecessary games. Sorry to Buju’s lilting melodies, Fresh L’s slick raps and BOJ’s devotional lines, but I’m not the target audience for this one. Again, sorry.
Emmanuel: One thing you’d surely get from a BOJ album is memorable hooks, and there’s a number of songs with hit potential here. “Owo Ni Koko” is stirred by sensuous keys possessed with a Middle Eastern feel, and Fireboy DML takes the chorus in good stride. Paired with BOJ’s seductive croonings, you get a record that would likely play out of filled rooms across the Island. It’s a little behind the pace to be a party ripper, but then again there are many moods to a party. “Confam” and “Get Out The Way” have great prospects too, the former being a sizzling interpretation of Ajegunle’s Galala style, inspiring a sleek verse from Prettyboy D-O; “GOTW” meanwhile, is one of the most electric rap songs you’ll hear this year. BOJ is in familiar territory as the song’s conductor, the bouncy verses from Joey B and Kofi Jamar building around his vocals with fiery precision.
Moore: “In A Loop” is a personal favourite of mine, so I can imagine it being loved by others. It was released ahead of the album so has had a head start, with an already large amount of streams on Spotify showing this. As summer inches closer I can imagine this playful song becoming familiar in clubs.
Tela: I am torn between two songs “Confam” featuring Prettyboy D-O and “Awolowo” with Wizkid and DarkoVibes. The two songs have a sense of familiarity with deep percussive backdrops and seductive appeal.
Tami: Overall, I think ‘Gbagada Express’ is a fine body of work which will surely age with grace. On the first few listens, I can already tell a number of standouts will arise from this album. I’m not one to call early favourites but I’m certain this will do the necessary rounds. Big ups BOJ for securing another classic so far in his career. It’s really warming to see artists that we grew up with, now earning their stripes and setting their sights on much bigger ambitions. BOJ is certainly an artist that is able to play to different bags, morphing from your friendly alté guy one minute, to a deep and compelling storyteller in the next. As such, he’s able to pull a mixed bag of listeners, including everyone from your mum, to that 30-plus on the TL and even to us, Gen Zers (yes, I am Gen Z). I’ll continue spinning a few of the tracks this weekend–and you should too.
Emmanuel: It’s a really good album. There are a number of songs I’ll be returning to; also the features were quite essential, stretching the project’s texture in a way that mildly resembles that of a playlist. In that sense it’s likely you won’t listen to ‘Gbagada Express’ in one straight order, rather you’ll be returning to different songs for their distinct moods. Colour me overly sensitive but I was kind of hoping to hear personal stories in some parts of this album. The title piqued my interest through that sense of getting to know BOJ better. That doesn’t happen but you get to meet his friends…and you know what Nigerians say about “show me your friend.”
Wonu: You know what? This album is a solid 9/10 for me and I say this without second thought. The project is a stellar body of work. Track arrangement is a 10, production is also a 10 from me, even the writing as well. BOJ put together a solid, solid, solid body of work and I’m certainly impressed with the outcome. Taking a break from releasing solo projects then returning with this? Yes, I have to give it to him, he did good. This is definitely one for the books and I surely will be nominating this in our end of year lists for ‘Album Of The Year.’
Listen to ‘Gbagada Express’ here.