Essentials: Paybac’s ‘CULT!’ is a document of resilience and personal optimism

The late, great Chinua Achebe once said, “Being Nigerian is abysmally frustrating and unbelievably exciting” and this submission, in all its simple and profound glory, captures what it means to be a Nigerian living in Nigeria. While everyone interacts with both juxtapositions of the quote, the degrees vary with each individual’s level of privilege; the better off you are, the more you can side-step the frustrating parts.

On the album version of his previously released single, “Boy Band”, an uncredited voice reminds Paybac of Chinua Achebe’s quote. Far from being an inconsequential soundbite, this quote sits at the thematic centre of the rapper’s solo sophomore LP, ‘CULT!’. Always one for honesty in his music, ‘CULT! is an honest reflection of Paybac’s life with respect to the influence of society. He uses the album to lash out at the factors he deems frustrating to his country and his existence, but more importantly, it’s a document of resilience and personal optimism.

In his 2018 album, ‘The Biggest Tree’, Paybac conversed with the demons of his depression and came out on the other side with a new sense of clarity and lust for life that seemed to elude all his previous work. Keeping with the mantra of “no more sad songs”, his subsequent releases since then have been more chipper, including the trap-indented carousel of ‘Autopilot’ and the fantasy-themed ‘Alternate Ending’. He keeps the wheel spinning with ‘CULT!’, but there’s a realisation that complete and continued happiness doesn’t happen in isolation. You can be determined to live your best life, but that decision is enabled or inhibited the condition of your society.

Living in a place that constantly batters and threatens to break the common man, it can be easy to succumb to the effects of the chaos, but Paybac isn’t letting it anything ruin his pursuit of happiness. With its languid, pattering percussion and solemn piano, “A Tree Grew in Lagos” serves as the emotional centrepiece for ‘CULT!’, a rare but integral moment of reflection amidst the more declarative cuts. “I don’t know how we could grow if we don’t know what change is”, he wryly sings, widening the scope of his self-aware musings on what it means to truly be happy.

As relatable as the album’s topics might be, the best thing about it is that Paybac isn’t projecting his feelings to gain empathy. In fact, he’s distilling his tough reality into bubbly, whimsical songs. For a song titled “Nigeria Suk My Dik”, you’d expect a sharp polemic, but Paybac channels his exasperation into drunken chants, and even when he gets vicious and graphic on the following track, “Fuk a Politican”, there’s a pervading sense of satire. On the beaming “Money All in My Pockets”, where he celebrates the small wins and looks eagerly to securing bigger bags, he imagines a séance involving his sister after his passing.

These quirks bundle together to form a concept record, which is relatively new territory for a rapper whose previous solo work largely leans on portraiture. ‘CULT!’ is loaded with a set of varied beats that pulls from the old and the new, but each is fitted to match the emotional candour of the songs. There are ethereal keys and lightly swinging drums, shimmering piano chords and thumping bass, afro-funk samples matched by local percussion, all of which culminate into the album’s siren-like essence.

Paybac’s unique voice also lends ‘CULT!’ its identity. His raspy vocals and occasionally breathy flow are now a stronger part of his coarse aesthetic, as he switches between taut raps, solemn passages and vibrant yodelling. These qualities also pair up nicely against his features, from Jazzz’s sultry sprinkles (“Glamour Girls”), to Viveeyan’s smoky and powerful vocals (“Nigerian Dream”) and Barelyanyhook’s cunning lyricism (“Lupita”).

For enhanced detailing, the margins are coloured with soundbites that play a role in fully appreciating the album. A popular Fela Kuti voice clip opens the album, leading the way for the breathless opener, “Aguiyi Ironsi (Through the Mud)”; the only thing missing from the homage to the Nollywood classic, “Glamour Girls”, is a line that goes something like, “my only regret is, I was too young for Liz Benson”; and he includes a popular Cardi B video during her December visit to Nigeria on “Nigerian Dream”, cleverly contrasting the privileges that made Cardi’s stay memorable with his own search for wealth and prestige, so he can enjoy similar perks as well.

All of this contributes into a well thought out and painstakingly crafted project. While it speaks to the reality of many, ‘CULT!’ demands to be approached on its own terms. It’s an album that gets over on being distinctive to its creator, even if listeners are getting front row seats to Paybac’s experiences, frustrations and projections for a brighter future.

Listen to ‘CULT!’ here.

Featured Image Credits: Instagram/lookatpaybac

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