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Essentials: Johnny Drille's 'Before We Fall Asleep' is a Lullaby for the Broken-Hearted

A poignant collection of silky ballads that showcase the singer's songwriting dexterity.

To many listeners, Johnny Drille is often viewed as a technical music creator. To a few others, he’s just another member of a secluded group of otherworldly artists in the Nigerian music scene: artists who make alternative music, not the kind ruling the airwaves. Perhaps it’s the need to dismember these misconceptions that has made the soul singer tinker on his debut album for so long. I mean, it’s been five years after he inked a deal with the Don Jazzy-led Mavin Records.

He, too, has admitted to the pain of crafting this album and the overwhelming industry expectations that stifled the process. The struggle of making music to match the dynamic taste of music listeners is no joke. And for Johnny Drille, it meant extended studio time to ensure Before We Fall Asleep is the masterpiece that it is.

Johnny Drille is renowned for being a one-man army. Since the buoyant, Simi-featured “Halleluya”, Drille has never featured another artist on his songs. On BWFA, however, he enlists a host of guest features and this is possibly what elevates the album’s story. The bouncy “ova” with Don Jazzy has the duo drenched in regret, lamenting their past actions and requesting a new chance. Then there's Ayra Starr adding sheen to “in the light” with her characteristic freewheeling flair. And though what’s been sung about in “driving in the rain” is hazy, we are in awe of Ladipoe’s poetry.

Johnny Drille sounds at home; it’s telling that he’s not alien to the themes driving this album. He’s a merchant of love stories and this debut is packed with them, with dramatic love tales, each detailing the happy feelings and toxic emotions intertwining in relationships. It’s in the opener “My Kind of Brown” that Drille strikes a chord. Building on the acerbic emotions of unrequited love or a painful relationship ending, Drille’s lyrics are empowering and laced with advice: “Love someone who treats you better/Someone who’ll make you know how beautiful you are”.

When we saunter into “loving is harder”, we get to see a vulnerable side of the singer. He emotes, writhing in pain over the excesses and demands of his love interest. He re-enacts the same approach on “BEFORE I LET GO”, as he examines the dying embers of love, bemoaning the growing distance between him and his love interest.

But BWFA isn’t solely about love tales. Somehow, he detours the album’s story, sneaking in two songs about the country’s socio-political climate. “LIES” has him returning to his country-like brand of music, his bold-faced lyrics soaring over the pacy blend of electric guitars and muted percussion. And on “lost in the rhythm” he narrates the human obsession with quick success.

But in the end, what makes BWFA a delightful listen is Drille’s personal approach to each song. In doing that, he appears vulnerable; listeners can relate and see he’s human just like us.

The sonic model Johnny Drille has chosen is also impressive. The beats are pared down as Drille opts for a light blend of soft percussion and gently strummed guitar chords. This minimalist production helps to make his smooth, captivating vocals the center of attention. Overall, Before We Fall Asleep is a film reel through a trove of affectionate, relatable topics. Johnny Drille is comfortable and through this album, he finds solace in conveying his emotions.

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