Lost Files is a column dedicated to celebrating older projects that might have flown under the radar when they were released. This week, we take a look at Genio Bambino's Virtuoso, a project that signified his full metamorphosis into the producer-artist he is today.
When artists adopt a new stage name, dropping the older moniker for whatever reason, it mostly represents a new dawn – a significant change or turning point in their careers. In 2014, while performing songs from his new album The Ascension at the Sprite Route Club, VI, 2face announced to the world that he would no longer go as 2face. “2face has been in the industry for 17 years and still is growing stronger. I am holding a send-forth party for 2face, and after tonight’s event, I will be known as Tubaba,” the legendary singer said in the middle of his spirited performance. Even though the name never really stuck, the change signified 2face settling into his OG role. He had sustained immense relevance for almost two decades, it was only right.
2016’s cult classic Suzie’s Funeral also signified a major turning point in Santi’s career. It was on this project that he adopted his new name, letting go of his former moniker Ozzy B. The name change saw a stylistic and sonic redirection for Santi, with his patois-infused rap and R&B hybrid formerly introduced here. So when Retro Dee rebranded as Genio Bambino, there was every reason to believe there was about to be a paradigm shift in his career. His first appearance as Genio Bambino came on Suzie’s Funeral, delivering a smooth rap-sung verse on “Lit Ones” and giving a peek into what he was going to sound like from thereon. When Virtuoso, his sophomore project, arrived in 2017, his evolution was complete; the Afropop-influenced Retro Dee had morphed into a multi-talented genre-bending producer, singer and songwriter.
The first couple of songs on the album quickly highlighted how Genio’s sonic palette had evolved. On “Virtuoso Intro”, he takes the backseat, coordinating proceedings solely from the boards. He loops DJ Yin’s vocals over a nostalgic hip-hop beat which Esojay Luciano attacks fiercely. The underground rapper takes the spotlight here, coasting over the beat like a seasoned MC while delivering memorable punchlines and wordplays. On “Trap Genio”, however, Genio is the main attraction. He employs a melodic staggered flow, floating over his self-produced minimalistic piano-laden trap beat. “The Other Side” brings out his R&B side as he serenades his love interest over breezy production alongside Odunsi [The Engine] and Zamir.
These three songs would lay down the sonic marker that Genio attempts to explore throughout the project: rap, minimalist trap and buoyant R&B. On the Lady Donli-assisted “Circles”, he sings about an unending cycle of complications in his relationship while also reminiscing about the good times. “Round and round and round and round we go, aren’t you tired of going round in this circles girl,” he repeatedly sings over slow drums and lush keys. On “The Wait”, he taps into his R&B side, singing, rapping and bragging about his sexual prowess.
With Virtuoso, Genio showed his evolution as an artist and as a skilled producer. On the confessional “Ready Now Interlude”, he takes the backseat once again, giving close collaborator Santi the floor, his hyper-processed voice effortlessly gliding over Genio’s drums. When Santi begins to fill up the song with airy coos and “Ready nooowww” adlibs, the effect is almost hypnotic, ultimately making the record an irresistible earworm. “What You Like” is the project’s closer and also its standout track. While Genio’s silky voice and airy melodies are impressive, the true highlight of the track comes in the form of GMK’s production – one of the few times Genio steps aside from production duties. GMK’s drums, synths and masterful sampling of legendary actor Osita Iheme’s iconic rendition of “Don’t Be Afraid” by Heavy D is both splendid and nostalgic, making the track a compelling listen.
At ten tracks and just over 30 minutes runtime, Virtuoso is a sufficient and impressive unveiling of Genio Bambino as we know today. One of his very early releases, “Sere”, fully embodied the kind of music he initially made – rhythmic and percussion-heavy Afropop. Carpe Diem, his debut project and an exciting three-tracker signalled a new creative direction, featuring hip-hop and r&b cuts. Virtuoso is the point where his evolution would come full circle. Tracks like “What You Like”, “The Other Side” and “Ready Now” would go on to define the kind of music Genio would continually make, both as an artist and a producer. And although much hasn't come from him musically since Virtuoso – only making rare guest appearances and feeding beats to others – he still remains an incredibly versatile and solid artist who can deliver any day both on the boards and in the booth.