At just seven minutes, Denim is pretty short, but Odunsi manages to showcase a range and intricacy that many might not be able to achieve even on a full-length album.
Odunsi (The Engine) is hard to pin down. He’s many things: a polarising but gifted singer and producer who boasts a sterling discography that can rival many, if not most, of the country’s more recent acts’ oeuvre, he is also a tastemaker of some sort — influencing his peers and kids who own a pair of thrifted, stone washed baggy jeans, run multiple finsta accounts and bum cigarettes in functions just because they think it’s makes them cool — both musically and fashion wise, but one thing he’s not is predictable. Since he surfaced a couple of years back, he’s proven to be chameleonic; an eclectic, progressive and bohemian act who constantly challenges the boundaries of what music can sound like from these parts not to mention he is also a key but somewhat elusive figure in the country’s nonconformist Alte scene.
Time Of Our Lives along with the joint EP with Nonso Amadi War, his first couple of projects, feature a tender, mellifluous Odunsi whose music combined the retro flair of noughties R&B with a more local but distinct style. The three subsequent projects that have, however, followed have all been different. While there might be subtle similarities, the only prominent unifying thread is that it was created by the 25-year-old. His defining debut full-length leans heavily on ‘80’s funk music while EVERYTHING YOU HEARD IS TRUE trades his earlier mellow, silver-toned sensibilities for a more airy, trap-influenced approach. Denim, his latest release is probably his sharpest left yet.
The four-track EP features some of Odunsi’s most daring and experimental work to date. Sonically, he reaches for the stars, pooling diverse influences to formulate kaleidoscopic, reverberating records. It’s unlike anything you’ve heard in the Nigerian mainstream and arguably the underground scene. “N2P”, the thumping opener finds Odunsi employing a part Fuji, part Afrobeats-influenced delivery over pulsating kick drums. It’s an upgrade on last year’s equally experimental “Fuji 5k” where the singer attempts an interesting mesh of Fuji and trap to pretty middling effect.
The Lagos-born singer feels like he’s got nothing to prove and rightly so. Because of his idiosyncratic choices, both musically and stylistically, he’s come under intense scrutiny on a number of occasions. There are his naysayers who constantly question his talent and choices while there are the fans who yearn for the old Odunsi. The latter claim to be admirers, but they’ll rather he never evolved, or at least not to this new version of himself. They prefer the earlier Odunsi whose music was a little more melodic and digestible. It’s a dicey, age-long affair: fans clamouring for a version of an artist they fell in love with, a version they find enjoyable, even after such an artist has evolved. Some artists cave, creating just to satisfy their audience. Odunsi, however, does not seem malleable. He is not looking to pander or compromise his artistic integrity, rather, his reply to it all is “I’ve got nothing to prove”
This stance clearly pervades his work. He creates with an abounding freedom that allows him to sonically experiment and explore sounds many others around wouldn’t even attempt. While it’s a nod to his firm resolve to create without boundaries, it also highlights just how talented and versatile he is. While “N2P” incorporates a host of local influences, “WTF! (Euphoria)" sounds like music that you imagine would soundtrack a rave in a dystopian world. It’s controlled mania, replete with vocal distortion, a majestic beat switch, ad-libbed shards and synths that sound sinister and angelic at the same time. It’s arguably the most outlandish he’s ever been. But it works — brilliantly, in fact.
While “WTF! (Euphoria)" might turn the energy up on a dystopian dance floor, the pounding 808s and incredibly rhythmic flow on “DRAMA QUEEN” will get almost any party turnt. It’s built on syncopated drums and a melodic loop that sounds like an old ringtone. He’s innovative, sometimes combining odd sounds or completely abandoning traditional song structures to create something unique. At just seven minutes, Denim is pretty short, but Odunsi manages to showcase a range and intricacy that many might not be able to achieve even on a full-length album. In this form, he is undoubtedly one of the most interesting and inventive acts around and with his sophomore album rumoured to be around the corner, Denim — even with how good it is — might just be the calm before the storm.