Omah Lay, Wizkid & Nigerian pop’s healthy relationship with the deluxe album
The sample size isn't a lot but the results are overtly positive
The sample size isn't a lot but the results are overtly positive
There aren’t too many debut albums in Nigerian pop as fully realised as Omah Lay’s ‘Boy Alone’. In fourteen songs, the Port-Harcourt-raised singer and songwriter deals with the strain myriad of grim experiences have had on is mental health, cycling through indulgences to cope with pre-fame trauma, glamorously pondering his part in lust-driven situations, rueing the aftermath of being jilted, and seeking the bliss of wholesome relationships. There’s no clean resolution, the reward is in how immersive the process is.
At the risk of hyperbole, ‘Boy Alone’ is a classic. To be far more modest, it’s an undeniable masterpiece. The album matches the stakes with a level of execution that is as stunning as it is idiosyncratic, excellence so lived-in it could only have come from its creator. Take the slow-build smash hit, “Soso,” a superb feat in pairing personal tumult with a rolling groove. It’s not misdirection, even if the utter catchiness of Tempoe’s production is what holds the ear first, but it’s impossible to not be affected by the tremble in Omah Lay’s voice once the misery in his lyrics become pronounced. The pathos at play is striking.
Eleven months after its release, Omah Lay gave ‘Boy Alone’ the deluxe treatment, adding six songs to the tracklist, including the Ozuna-assisted “Soso (Remix).” Remarkably, parsing the five new songs feels is rewarding, like watching the final episode of a beloved show. The intent, of candid expressions, remains the same but you can hear the singer finding some semblance of personal paradise. “What is the reason you do not have your own peace of mind?” he asks on “reason,” a song that can be described as a moment of clarity and uneasy acceptance. On the R&B bop “imagine,” with British rapper Aitch, he holds no grudges about a relationship fizzling out, while his lovestruck performance on “joanna” leans on the Ikwerre intonation that gives his melodies their unique patina.
In its brilliance, what makes ‘Boy Alone: Deluxe Edition’ notable is in how it comes across as an antithesis to the perception of album deluxe versions in the 2020s. Before recent years, deluxes were often issued as a novelty tool for repackaging an album, especially when it’s tied to an event long after its original release. A lot of the time, the event would either be a re-release of the project in a different territory from the country or continent where it was released—which happened when sales of CDs where the in-thing—or an anniversary edition with additional songs to get people interested. Now, its form and function as been retooled, even if the object remains promotion.
As with many game-changing things in music for the last few decades, it started with Hip-Hop. In early March 2020, just before the lockdown measures of the coronavirus pandemic set in, Philadelphia native Lil Uzi Vert dropped his long-awaited sophomore LP, ‘Eternal Atake’. For an album whose release route had taken two long years, from announcement to eventual release, Uzi ensured there was a lot of music on the project—18 songs amounting to over an hour of run time. But that wasn’t all: A week later, he shared the 14-track LP, ‘Lil Uzi Vert vs. the World 2’, as the deluxe edition of ‘Eternal Atake’.
The deluxe addition again drew a lot of attention, partly because it felt like an appropriate Side B and it was the sequel to the mixtape that helped drive Uzi into rap stardom. Unlike the solitary feature on the main album, the new additions were studded with contributions from rap stars, and many of the songs were reupholstered leaks that had been floating through the internet during the period of feverish anticipation for new Uzi music. Since it was basically a part of a pre-existing album, ‘Lil Uzi Vert vs. the World 2’ contributed to the sales and charting position of ‘Eternal Atake’, ensuring that the album would stay on Billboard’s No. 1 spot for two weeks.
Seeing Uzi’s manoeuvre and its ensuing success, it didn’t take long for rap artists and label to take a similar path with new releases. Notably, Atlanta rapper Lil Baby added six new songs to his sophomore album, ‘My Turn’, nearly three months after its late February 2020 release, with eventual hit songs like “We Paid” and “Social Distancing” re-upping the album’s critical value and commercial momentum through a rearranged tracklist.
More rap artists would add to the trend: Canadian rapper Nav added a new project, ‘Brown Boy 2’, three days after the release of ‘Good Intentions’; Gunna tacked eight songs to the original 18-song effort, ‘Wunna’; there were seven new songs on Lil Durk’s initially 15-track ‘Just Cause Y’all Waited 2’ over a month after its drop; and even the usually less-is-more rapper/producer Earl Sweatshirt added two new cuts to the inscrutable ‘Feet of Clay’, nine months after it dropped in late 2019 release. These days, it’s always expected that rap stars would deliver a near-instant deluxe with additional tracks, following the release of a new project.
This norm wouldn’t be possible without the omnipresence of streaming as the primary channel of music consumption. In the era of oversaturation and pennies-per-stream, deluxes improve the chance for commercial success, sustaining an album’s momentum beyond the instant gratification of the release weekend, and helping artists’ prominence at a time when attention spans are incredibly tiny. At that, adding songs to a project is often an exercise in bloat. Also, the additions are often unreleased material from the cutting floor, which means there’s barely any quality upgrade and very little rewards from listening to a deluxe album.
And the fact is that the first Afrobeats album to chart on any billboard category was Burna Boy’s LIFE in 2013.
And it had a Deluxe version.
It was the first Afrobeats album to have a Deluxe. https://t.co/buhduW76pS
— DaSuKi (@chukaobi) September 1, 2022
As shown by Lil Baby, expanding an album with supplementary material only really works when the songs come across as tangible additions—i.e. newly recorded stuff specifically for the deluxe. It’s the same ideal you can glean from ‘Boy Alone: Deluxe Edition’, where the tracklist isn’t necessarily rearranged but the payoff from placing all six songs at the top is significant. (In addition to its critical acclaim, “reason” has been the No. 1 song on the TurnTable Charts for two straight weeks now.)
Thankfully, it’s this ethos, of meaningful adding to an already released project, that has made the several deluxe projects in Nigerian pop quite the worthwhile affairs. Considering the continuous influence of American Hip-Hop culture on urban Nigerian music, it was only a matter of when—and not if—the trend of deluxe drops would become a thing over here.
It is worth nothing, though, that the deluxe album wasn’t an entirely alien concept in Nigeria before these last few years. Burna Boy’s 2013 debut album, ‘L.I.F.E’, was furnished with additional tracks when it was being pushed internationally, while M.I Abaga’s classic sophomore LP, ‘M.I 2: The Movie’, had an expanded version on iTunes that featured skits attached to several tracks, which tied into a cohesive sketch. In fact, you could make the argument that video collection albums were a form of deluxe releases. In the 2000s, artists like 2Baba (fka 2Face Idibia) and P-Square released Video CDs containing visuals to select songs from their albums, as a promotions tool.
With Hip-Hop retooling the function and approach to deluxe drops, it’s unsurprising that the same thing is happening in Nigerian pop—although the scales are different. Its adoption over here, however, has been far more wholesome than the data dumps that have defined many deluxe endeavours in American rap. There’s a thoughtfulness and the results have been overtly positive, even if it’s a small sample size so far.
In late 2020, soul-fusion singer WurlD shared the deluxe edition of his third EP, ‘AFROSOUL’, six months after its original drop. The expansion involved two new songs: “Bossy,” a punchy cut featuring a verse from British-Nigerian rapper Kida Kudz and a scene-setting voicemail by DJ/vocalist Cuppy; while “Chop N Pray” is a sultry track that leans into WurlD’s well-known ability to craft blue-eyed romance songs. “This isn’t something that’s really popular in Nigeria, but I’m a very detailed artist with a wider perspective,” he told The NATIVE then, also citing the pandemic and lack of live performance opportunities as a factor.
Formerly based in Atlanta, arguably the trend-setting centre of rap for well over a decade, WurlD’s deluxe inspirations are plain, but the restrain in adding just two (then recently recorded) songs to a set that was originally 7 songs is admirable. Considering it was the first main foray into this style of deluxe re-release since American rap made it a thing, ‘AFROSOUL Deluxe’ is a strong tone-setter that frames how several Nigerian popstars have figured out how to expand their already released projects.
In 2021, during the summer of “Essence,” Nigerian global superstar Wizkid added four songs to his career-defining fourth album, ‘Made in Lagos’. Dropped in the heart-rending aftermath of the EndSARS protests in late October 2020, ‘MIL’ was a warm ray of sunshine piercing through a gloomy period, an album that portrayed Wizkid’s luxurious lifestyle and breezy ideals to delightful results.
Months later, the Tems-assisted global smash hit, “Essence,” received a Justin Bieber remix, becoming one of the four songs to be added to ‘Made in Lagos: Deluxe Edition’. There’s very little risk of hyperbole in describing ‘MIL’ as a classic LP. It’s a seamless listen with the kind of outsize commercial success that’s pacesetting, especially within the context of Nigerian pop’s global rise. Any deluxe additions that were less than stellar might have negatively impacted the album’s legacy.
In addition to the aforementioned remix, there’s Wizkid cooing sweet nothing on the pillowy Tay Iwar co-write, “Steady,” a show of sensual bravado on “Mood” with BNXN (fka Buju), and an effortless banger in the P.Priime-produced “Anoti.” All three entirely new songs were recorded after ‘MIL’ originally came out, and they injected even more freshness to a set that already exuded Teflon swagger. As one of the brightest shining superstars in Afropop, Wizkid had set a bar for how well-intentioned and well-executed a deluxe could and should be.
As with many things that involve the younger vanguard of superstars in Nigerian pop, the template will always be tweaked. Over a year after she released her fabulous 2021 debut album, ’19 & Dangerous’, Ayra Starr re-upped the project with six new songs and a reorganised tracklist. The new additions included a handful of collaborations, like the Kelly Rowland-assisted remix of the viral slapper, “Bloody Samaritan,” a refix of the deep cut “Lonely” with Zinoleesky, and reuniting with Lojay for “Running.” It also housed the boastful, A Colors Show-premiered “Ase,” while the pre-released single, “Rush,” is an undeniable gem in her catalogue.
In temporal contrast, street-pop luminary Seyi Vibez dropped the deluxe version of last year’s ‘Billion Dollar Baby’, six weeks after its release. This was amidst the heat of the wildfire success of “Chance (Na Ham),” which significantly improved his mainstream visibility and also served as the point of contention for copycat conversations. The five newer songs, added to the bottom of the original tracklist, only furthered his notoriety.
Doubling down on that single’s rapid fire melodic rap style, deluxe cuts like “Psalm 23” and “Ogochukwu” strengthened the idea of a singular artistic vision and deepened his bond with a wider range of fans intrigued and appreciative of the slang and Yoruba cultural nuance in his lyricism. Also, the deluxe is the launching point for an ongoing prolific run that has seen him drop an early 2023 EP and two recent albums in back-to-back fashion.
There are no set rules for how to curate and deliver a deluxe: the space for new additions could be fourteen months or six weeks, while the tracklist could be rearranged or simply consolidated. The most important thing is that it doesn’t play like unimportant work or dull the acclaim of the album from its initial release. Best case scenario is that it enhances value, which is what Rema inarguably did with ‘Rave & Roses (Ultra)’, dropped 13 months after the Mavin superstar’s long-awaited debut LP appeared.
With six added songs and an adjusted tracklist, the singer calculatedly resets the front-to-back experience of the project, adding a new dimension for listeners to take in its infatuation-crazed euphoria and youthful zest. While it capitalises on the slow-build global success of the Selena Gomez-featuring “Calm Down (Remix),” that’s far from its only gambit. The shimmering banger, “Charm,” has emerged as a runaway hit since the deluxe release, while the hustle-to-triumph bluster of “Holiday” quickly drove the single to national ubiquity.
In a somewhat similar move, self-proclaimed emo-Afrobeats singer CKay added four songs to his debut album, ‘Sad Romance’, slotting the new additions in pairs within the already existing song order. For an album that moves in emotive portraits, the new songs stretch out sections in intriguing ways. The Joeboy-assisted “capture my soul” and pre-released “nwayi” extend the lovestruck sentiments that lead into the hurt and Lothario rebound middle of the album, while “NNEKA” brings Tekno along for the lust-driven ride and continues with the Amapiano fascination of preceding standout cut, “WATAWI.”
‘Sad Romance (Deluxe)’ hasn’t spawned any runaway hits yet, but it maintains Nigerian pop’s healthy relationship with the deluxe album trend. (It probably hasn’t helped that it came out in close proximity to Omah Lay’s deluxe and on the same day as Asake’s recent album.) Till now, there’s only been a handful of deluxe releases, which makes it easy to speculate that there will be more of them in coming years. It would be interesting to see more non-major label artists add to projects they’ve already dropped—or plan to drop—which could widen the possibility of what Nigerian artists could do with the deluxe format.
The uncertain part is whether the streak of excellence will continue. If the results continue to unfold in the way we’re accustomed to, a new global standard might start from Nigerian pop.