While Mr Money might be a loosely-curated composite of his current appeal, a coronation rather than an instant classic, Asake's talent level suggests he could blossom into something much more protean.
In another world, a fictional world maybe, you can picture Asake lying on a reclining bed, countless tubes and machines attached to his unconscious body in a murky, clandestine facility. You can visualize Olamide, his label boss, right next to him, rigged out in a light blue hazmat suit, injecting his “test subject” with a nocuous serum that hangs his life in the balance — he either wakes with superhuman abilities or he passes on. You can see one of Olamide’s nurses staring anxiously at an electrocardiograph, waiting for that flat line to spike, to see proof of life. After a short tense wait, you can hear Asake take a loud gasp, bursting to life.
About three weeks into the year, Asake released “Omo Ope”, the first single that would kickstart his almost unprecedented onslaught on the charts and introduce him to the mainstream Nigerian audience. What would follow after the release of the sonorous single is a dazzling run that can match almost any creative streak in Nigerian history; a run that transformed him from an emerging act who loitered around the fringes of the limelight to the sun at the center of Afropop’s solar system.
This incredible run — especially in the manner that it has unfurled — is why many jokingly suggest that the 27-year-old was created in a lab somewhere. If we lived in the Marvel universe, it would have been a plausible claim, but listening to Asake before he became a household name and there were hints — admittedly subtle — that he could be headed for the very top, doing exactly what he’s presently doing. On 2018’s “Ayeeza” he chants and moans gibberish and introduces half-dozen, incomprehensible slangs over a riotous, dance-ready beat that’s not a far cry from the more glossy and intricate slew of beats that his talented sidekick producer MagicSticks currently cooks up for him. Go back further and there was the OG “Joha” (which got a facelift for his album), which gained local renown during his time in Obafemi Awolowo University, not least because of its canorous, peppy appeal but also because of the dizzying dance move that accompanied it.
While singles like “Ayeeza”, the original “Joha”, and even the Dj Xclusive-assisted “Gegeti” served as clouds gently forming, suggesting that there was a heavy downpour coming, 2021’s “Mr Money” was perhaps the best indicator that this wasn’t going to be just any downpour — a huge storm was coming.
After nine months of his raging tempest, scoring hits with his unique harmonization of genres which had him sounding like the musical lovechild of Fuji legend Wasiu Alabi Pasuma and Afrohouse stalwart Niniola while also quickly garnering cultural cachet — much like Naira Marley, another innovative Street-Hop singer who took the country by storm a couple of years back — it’s all culminated into one of the most anticipated debut full-lengths in Afropop modern history, Mr Money With The Vibe.
With Mr Money With The Vibe, Asake isn’t trying to make any grand statements or avant-garde assays, he seems to have no proclivity for that, at least not at the moment. The rabbit remains firmly in the hat here. What he, however, does is simply an extension of what he’s been doing all year long: concocting stadium-size hits mostly built upon MagicSticks’ infectious log drums and floating violins, choral arrangements and esoteric lyrics and references that could be enough to start a Yoruba Urban Dictionary. Take “Organise” for example — alongside the three pre released single “Peace Be Unto You”, “Sungba [Remix]” and “Terminator”, all which are cut from the same cloth —, a record that sounds so archetypal it could have easily been his next single. The inspirational “Dupe” isn’t too dissimilar either. While it exchanges violins for a commendable saxophone performance, it sounds like an unofficial spinoff of one of his older records that simply threw on a white garment.
In truth, what Asake is doing isn’t exactly novel and he doesn’t try to pass it off as that. Last year, just about every artist and producer, along with their dads, who had access to recording equipment were attempting to make an Amapiano or house record; our seemingly new found obsession. What, however, makes Asake’s music stick, what makes him distinct is his subtle stylistic eccentricities. Like his vocal inflection and delivery for example, which is very akin to that of a Fuji singer. He’s able transmute pop music through a folk prism, making his music relatable on an almost visceral level, even if you’re unable to make out or understand what he’s saying. Unlike most others whose approach is simply blatant pastiche, Asake seems to have studied the words of British poet and essayist T.S Eliot: “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole feeling which is unique, utterly different from that from which it was torn.”
On perhaps the album’s most upbeat record “Joha”, Asake expertly welds his “theft” into a whole feeling. Yes, the production might have easily come out of the streets of Pretoria, one of the three capital cities of South Africa, however, his shrieks, liquid, varied flows and haunting “Joha” repetition gives the record an extremely rhythmic, distinct and crisp feel.
While Asake, up until this point, has done just about everything right, the only blot that threatens to stain his immaculate white are the murmured reservations that he’s one track minded. These reservations obviously have a leg to stand on. A quick look at his discography prior to Mr Money and there isn’t much evidence that he’s got an extensive artistic palette. These accusations seem to have inspired a mellow three track run (“Nzaza”, “Ototo” and “Reason”) in the second half of the album. As stand alone tracks, all three are great — “Nzaza” sounds like the singer got celestial bodies to accompany him in singing one of the most beautiful, yet simple hooks of the year while he dovetails well with American rapper and singer Russ on “Reason” — but their purpose seems to be to dilute the album; look, here, I can make slow songs too. And this is one of Mr Money’s shortcomings.
A good number of the records are big and resonant; they’re the type of records you’ll want to hear in a concert while your friends are egging you on to attempt the fiddly butterfly legwork dance in a sweaty zanku circle. However, in the context of the album, there seems to be little intricacy in the overall conception and execution of the album, a problem that’s clearly evidenced in the wonky sequencing and rather abrupt transitions between songs. The songs barely bleed into each other seamlessly, rather, more than half the time, they all end like you just had an angry friend hang up on you mid conversation.
Asake is still growing. With how much he’s been able to achieve in such a short period, it’s very easy to forget he’s still relatively new. He’s got an extremely promising future ahead of him. While Mr Money might be a loosely-curated composite of his current appeal, a coronation rather than an instant classic, his talent level suggests he could blossom into something much more protean. Until then, let’s continue to exist in the world where he was created in a lab, where his rent is due, where he continually provides the vibes.