Lost Files is a column dedicated to celebrating older projects that might have flown under the radar when they were released. This week, Oluchukwu Nwaibukwu remembers Jess ETA's romantic dedication to relationships, Balance.
Alongside railing against the evils of capitalism and advocating for human rights, navigating relationships – both romantic and platonic – is the universal struggle of Generation Z. With the internet providing a plethora of standards, advice as well as varied portrayals of relationships, both perfect and imperfect, relationships are now approached with cunning calculation and tension disguised as “intentionality” and “deliberateness.” The problem with this is that human beings are not a straight path: we’re all influenced by various factors and circumstances, and cannot be treated with some mythical one-size-fits-all blueprint.
On his sophomore project, Balance, Jess ETA addresses the highs and lows of falling in love and dating and relationships. The six-song EP tells a story of love and romance from conception to end while detailing the uncertainties and various thought processes that influence the decisions you make, and the actions you take. Balance is primarily an R&B project in both musical style as well as songwriting. However, the production incorporates elements of afrobeats in certain songs, creating a perfect balance between the two genres and finding sweet spots for catchy tunes as well as introspective, somber melodies.
The story is divided into two parts: the beginning of the relationship, comprising the first three tracks, and the last three songs which describe the beginning of the end as the relationship begins to unravel. The smooth procession and storytelling become even more incredible when you find out the artiste did not write all the songs specifically for the EP but selected some from his unreleased vault to create a seamless narrative.
The journey begins with “Resistance”, a song which is ironically about acceptance. Assisted on the track by rapper and songwriter SGAWD, the character is coming into the pleasant realisation that he is falling in love. Over a sweet interchange of rapping and singing, both artistes describe the excitement and giddiness with discovering love with a new person; the obsession with, and single-mindedness of thought towards another person. All these emotions build up to the simple powerful resistance that is the crux of the song: “I have no resistance to you.”
Next up is “Pull Me Close”, by far the catchiest tune on the project. Jess Eta showcases his versatility by switching from soft R&B in the first track to this pure afrobeats record. Here, the character and his love interest have started a relationship, and over a bouncy beat, he expresses love and his desire to treat her right. At this stage, he is getting comfortable enough to not just share his space, but actively want it; the hook hits the nail on the head describing the different emotions he experiences: “can’t wait till we get home…losing all my control...”
On the second and last track with a feature, Jess ETA enlists the services of fellow new school sensation Zarion Uti to affirm his love, as well as ask for “More” from her. Following the preceding track, the beat of the song is heavy on traditional afrobeat instruments, with both artistes adopting a similar flow to convince their love interest to continue their romance. The song is both giddy with love and pleading as if the character has realised that there is something ominous on the horizon and is trying his best to stop it.
On "Puppet", the honeymoon period is over, and our main character has realised that his partner is not who he thought she was. Struggling with indecision, he cannot make up his mind to leave, even though he should. His connection to the toxic relationship is further enhanced by drug use: "I try to resist but when I'm high, it feels like I miss you", an Instagram-worthy line that also examines another aspect of Gen-Z culture – substance use (and abuse) and its effects on decision-making and action-taking. However, despite the lack of resolution, the best option is clear in the final line of the hook: "I don't wanna be your puppet anymore."
In the process of making resolutions, our character goes on a trip down memory lane, trying to find the root of the problems; "Odyssey" is that journey. Like the original poem about Homer making his way home after the Trojan war, it is a difficult song, as he battles with his own monsters; doubt, disillusion, and painful acceptance. As he croons "girl, I got a mission to find who we used to be", he knows the truth: there was no change. This person who thinks has transformed has always been this way, and the only thing that is different now is his perspective and understanding of the situation. His mission to reclaim the past is doomed from the beginning, and as he admits looking for the past is a fantasy "So I turn on my ignition and drive away from reality."
"Balance", the titular track closes out the EP. Over soft repetitive drums and a beat with more verve than the two previous songs, our character is at the edge, yet more grounded than he has been in a while. "All we ever need is balance", is his conclusion and declaration. Even though we are left without a clue as to what the future of the relationship is, he is gracious to give us a piece of advice for our own.
Balance; the even distribution of weight; the steadying of elements; the key to making it work. In a world where everything is overwhelming, and we are all loving too much or too little; where everything is so fast-paced and quick to crash into the ground, that’s all we truly need.