The 27-year-old popstar expands his sonic palette, experimenting with different sounds but delivers once again like he's done time after time.
Kizz Daniel is a curious case in the current Afropop landscape. He’s an A-lister that doesn’t necessarily feel like one. It’s most definitely not due to questionable artistry, he’s undoubtedly talented, he has always been. His debut single “Woju” was inescapable in the year of its release, instantly announcing as a bonafide hitmaker. His brand image is however nebulous. It’s neither here nor there. When the music is clicking, like it mostly does, he’s firmly in our faces. But when he’s not releasing or promoting his singles or one of his impressive albums, he seems to vanish from the public’s consciousness.
For the past few months, he had once again been missing in action, following the release of King of Love, his swashbuckling third album. Admittedly, the album was a little lacklustre, eliciting a polarizing reception from fans and critics alike. It lacked the dynamism, vim and innovation that his earlier works were famous for. He had gotten overly comfortable with familiar sounds and rhythms, sounding jaded for the most part and this ー probably along with many other things ー might be the reason for his “disappearance”, rejigging and slightly reworking his unique artistry in the shadows.
Barnabas, his latest body of work seems to be a course correction of some sort. He carefully took into account all the shortcomings of his previous album ー dusting off the lethargy and staleness ー smartly experimenting and refreshing his peculiar take on Afropop. The 7-tracker opens with “Pour Me Water”, a reflective number which by and large sticks to the familiar Kizz Daniel formula: mid-tempo beats laced with catchy ad-libs and his raspy vocals. Same with the title track “Barnabas”, an infectious and conversational track that serves as an announcement of intent. “Dear Father in heaven, ‘Bout time to take over” he sings in the opening few seconds almost like a veteran performer saying a few words of prayer before going on to put on a scintillating show.
It’s however on tracks like “Addict” that he begins to veer away from his tried and tested formula. It’s pleasantly atmospheric, built on slow drums, despondent synths and subtle plush horns. He ruminates and willingly languishes in his many addictions. “Be lavish, fuck girls, no condom, pipe up and ye, smoke igbo, cocaina, senorita” he sings on the hook, listing his various vices. He promises to change his way, but not today. The hedonistic life he leads, he claims, is too sweet, just like sugar. He’s also addicted on the bouncy “Oshe”, but this time to a love interest that constantly makes him feel like he’s won the lotto. “Surely you the person for me, I know nobody matter mo” he sings assuredly. The catchy track features major Highlife influences courtesy of the brother duo of Kingsley and Benjamin Okorie (The Cavemen) who’s handprint is clearly discernible.
The Young John-produced “Burn” is another love-inspired record that sounds nothing like the typical Kizz Daniel record. It borrows influence from popular Caribbean music with its plucked strings and syncopated drums. Here, he’s unfailingly pledging his allegiance to a love interest: “When I’m fifty-something something, I’ll still call you my baby girl / And I don’t want nobody but only you my bae”. He’s however unsure if his feelings are mutual. “You make me doubt myself / You make me lose my mind / Am I enough for you or am i just passing by?” he asks on the refrain. While Kizz Daniel is one of the better songwriters amongst his peers, sometimes he seems to filter his approach, almost impeding himself, revealing just bits and pieces that don’t necessarily cut into the crux of the matter he’s addressing.
Perhaps the most left-field song on the tape is the horn-laden closer “Skin”. It features German rapper Kelvyn Colt who goes back and forth with Kizz Daniel over buoyant two-step production. It’s ambitious and commendable featuring some of the 27-year-old’s best vocal performance, the execution is however a tad bit wonky. The synergy between both acts is definitely lacking and the songwriting is also a bit questionable. While I’m sure the lines “Your looks don’t matter, its what you do that counts / And your lips don’t matter, its what you say that counts” were intended to come off as a sincere and moving complement, it most certainly does not. Who wants to be told their looks and lips are largely insignificant? Most definitely not me. One thing doesn’t always have to be downplayed to uplift the next. Both can be equally appreciated, capiche?
While there has been endless chatter about Kizz Daniel’s brand, status and whatnot, one thing that has never really been up for debate is his artistic credentials. He’s like the musical equivalent of Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquests. He might not constantly get the plaudits that his performances rightfully deserve, he might not always be in the limelight but there’s almost an unspoken and uniformed acceptance that he’s one of the very best around at what he does and he proves that once again with Barnabas.