On Santi’s Decade-Long Build Up To ‘Mandy & The Jungle’

It’s been Santino szn for a couple of months, now the singer is turning things up a notch. Last month, the multi-hyphenate creative finally announced Mandy & The Jungle’ as the title of his long-awaited debut album. Over the weekend, Santi unveiled the cover art for the album, as well as a tracklist comprising sixteen songs.

Similar to the grunge-inspired trailer announcing the album, the newly released tracklist of collaborators and producers organically piques excitement without giving as much as a set release date away. It is a credit to Santi’s methodical approach to sating the high stakes for his debut: an expectedly career-defining project, as it’s a culmination of over seven years of artistic growth.

Formerly known as Ozzy B, Santi’s projects have served as markers of his evolution from rapper/occasional singer to patois-leaning iconoclast, a transformation clearly informed by a constant will to push the boundaries of his creativity. In a 2017 interview for the NATIVE birth issue magazine, Santi explained his ethos saying: “Birth is continuous and as long as you are willing to learn, you will always be able to have the ability to birth; and by birth I mean create”.

Santi has been around for the entire part of this decade, slowly but surely working his way into becoming a far more compelling artist with each project drop. An integral product of this vision-based inclination is in how intrigue plays an increasingly important role in describing Santi’s virtuosity, especially since his 2016 cult classic mixtape. Suzie’s Funeral was the first full-length release to first cast Santi as a multimedia auteur, prior to which he was more or less a precociously talented artist.  Without the overt play at getting a traditional mainstream hit, he’s taken the sparsely populated scenic route in growing into a far more diverse and rounded creative, constantly engaging older fans and reeling newer ones in at each turn.

All pre-release factors considered, Mandy & The Jungle is set to become the grandest layer of the Santi mosaic, and it is meticulously being teased as a blockbuster release. By situating his album release as an event, though, Santi’s approach is an anomaly for the era we are in.

Streaming has revolutionised how we consume music, but an understated negative effect is the unsubtle devaluation of albums as bodies of work with potentially high artistic and cultural significance. With a constant barrage of music demanding attention, listeners have lesser time to immerse themselves in albums or the new artist introducing the project.

It is even more apparent in the traditionally singles-based Nigerian music market, where the difficulty in maximizing revenue purely from album sales is the worst kept secret. Often times, a lot of Nigerian artists release serviceable albums as a means to seeping a hot single into the airwaves. This means these albums don’t amount to more than a sum of their parts, and clearly are marketing as such. On the other hand, selling an album as a special release requires some level of conviction on the artist’s side, that the release is meant to command more than the usual short attention span from listeners, and that involves priming it as such.

In Santi’s case, his reputation as an artist who delivers his best work as events makes his current campaign a necessary part of a potentially momentous debut album. Over the last year, it is arguable that Santi has been the artist Nigerians have reacted to the most, due to the mix of controversy and awe that have trailed the stunning gothic visuals for album singles, “Freaky”, “Rapid Fire” and “Sparky”. In his recent NATIVE cover story, Santi believes “everything will be much clearer when the album is out”, before going on to drop hints about the narrative arch for ‘Mandy & The Jungle.

By playing up world-building, Santi is subverting the digital era’s nous for fast-moving pop and instant gratification, masterfully controlling the hype and ensuring that every piece of his album will be taken as integral. While the tracklist revealed potentially exciting guest features from Atlanta Rapper/Singer, DRAM and DC Rapper, Goldlink, these international collaborations remain framed in the upcoming album’s context, unlike the hypebeast-ing that accompanies most transatlantic collabs around these parts.

The long term effect of Santi’s slow, build up to this landmark point in his career is that it scans like a template for artists looking to build a worthwhile career and deliver great Nigerian albums. This especially applies to younger and more obscure Afropop artists who can take cue from Santi’s come up—an artist who basically grew from the ground up, and continually scaled up the creative vision to match the size of subsequent projects.

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Dennis is an advocate for drinking water and occasionally minding other people’s business. Tweet him your favourite Idowest songs @ayo_dennis.

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