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Lost Files: Ozone's Superiority Complex

Lost Files is a column dedicated to celebrating older projects that might have flown under the radar when they were released. This week, Abdul-Jabbar Obiagwu delves into Ozone's valiant effort at reviving Nigerian rap in its waning years, Superiority Complex.

Ozone’s debut project (released in 2014) was amongst some of the premier bodies of work from Aristokrat Records. Titled Superiority Complex, it spoke to – or at least attempted to – certain societal constructs prevalent in Nigerian society, from the perspective of a returning diasporic rapper. Circling specific subject matters with refreshing raps and sometimes underwhelming beats, Ozone’s first attempt at an album provided much-needed variety at the time of release. Back then, rap was taking a sharp decline in Nigeria as new rappers lack the ability to break in and slightly more established ones were pivoting away from the genre in search of more market-friendly approaches.

Wielding his bars with distinct ease and a polished blend of Western enunciation and Nigerian flavour, there were many things to love about the project and Ozone himself. The records provided a relatable tracklist that did not stray too far from the song titles, with no overt attempts at depth or profoundness on display, he presented himself as a stoner swag rapper who waxed philosophical based on his mood and environment.

In hindsight, being signed to the same label as a fledgling Burna Boy, the up-and-coming rapper Mojeed and now Grammy award-winning producer, Leriq, he could have done better to limit the project’s length and hone the focus for a more polished product and greater impact. At the time of its release, though, he had measured success in the university circuit, permeating the borders of several schools with calculated performances in Afe Babalola and a host of other private institutions. Seven years later, one thing is certain: he has not developed into the artist we expected. The clearest indicator of this is the disjointedness of his catalogue and absence on major streaming services. While there may be any number of reasons why an artist might not have their music on streaming platforms, it is an unfortunate marker to audiences and onlookers about the state of their artistry.

An impressive intro that sampled track and field athlete Divine Oduduru’s legendary meme served its purpose extremely well in 2014; listeners instantly tuned in for a laugh and ended up witnessing the rapper’s dexterous flow for two minutes. This quickly opens to one of the project’s highlights, “Introduktion”, featuring Yung L. Their back and forth provided much-needed texture to the record and carried the project through some of the approaching lower points. On “All Night”, his attempts at a radio single are matched by the efforts of the production, however, the upbeat club single has about as much impact as a match in the wind. “1000” is an immaculate example of what telegraphed Ozone’s quality early on, the guitar-led track is moved along by his simple but resonant hook and his whimsical lyrics provide some much-needed colour at this stage. The next song provides the first moment worthy of crossover attention; he sings and raps his way across “Confessions”, aided by a female singer that provides backing vocals from the second verse. The clever hook and catchy Leriq-produced Afrobeat-fused production marry perfectly to provide Ozone what could have been his first bonafide hit. Fast forward to “In The Morning” and his obvious attempts at recreating the energy on the previous effort fall short in almost every regard, even his raps – his one consistent weapon – are unconvincing and watered-down.

The skits are an off-the-cuff attempt at capturing Nigerian stoner culture and diasporic struggles in one breath. The first one features Ozone and a friend dealing with the notoriously deceptive marijuana peddlers of Lagos state while the second is a female fan’s phone call, recorded as she attempts to rap back some lyrics of the lead single “1000”.

“All I Know” is the best representation of the rapper’s passions and vices, he simultaneously derides and praises the collective influence of marijuana, alcohol and paid sex in his life. The rest of the album follows a similar stream of consciousness: Ozone tries to express the toll of the lifestyle he is accustomed to on the next song “Shalala”, baring himself at every third bar with emotions like hatred and pain and identifying marijuana as a necessary balm to ease his woes.

Superiority Complex achieved the status of Nigeria’s attempt at stoner-oriented, English-delivered rap music from an idiosyncratic Nigerian perspective, weaving personal experiences and more general ones with slick cadences and a comfortable, confident flow. As a debut project, it achieved several key goals for the young rapper and showed a willingness to improve his skills and catalogue. Unfortunately for a litany of reasons he is yet to do a lot of those things, his releases dwindled and barely two mixtapes later, he looks out of gas and ideas. This takes nothing away from his impressive debut, the only regretful aspect of the entire situation is the fans did not get more music on the same level.

The first time I listened to Ozone was courtesy of a friend who had seen him perform live in his university they both attended briefly. Truly enamoured by his skill and prospect, he got his hands on an early version of the tape and began to spread his gospel prematurely and for good reason: the music was fresh. In every sense of the word. A new voice in rap is always welcome, more so when it is unique enough its approach that fans of the genre living in Nigeria all paid immediate attention. “Purple Trees” displays LeriQ’s incredibly versatile stash of beats with the chosen rhythm: a slowed, throwed and strongly reverbed hip-hop cadence that allows Ozone to take a breather and parade his laid-back side. “Fire On” presented possibly the best opportunity for the label to show off their young, agile roster of rappers. Mojeed (who released his Westernized West-African mixtape shortly after and returned the favour) makes an appearance, trading bars and hooks back and forth as well as simultaneously across the record. In retrospection, the record underperformed but listening in 2014, it was brazenly confident and deserved a lot more attention than it received.

The tail end of the project houses the majority of the features with more traditional Nigerian acts and sounds, namely BOJ and Wizkid, yet it is the most underwhelming quarter of the record. On “Look Twice”, while BOJ delivers a random hook that seemed to inform the verses Ozone performed, the subject matter and general concept are lacking as compared to the rest of the album and it detracts from the mostly uniform nature of the project up until the twelfth song. “Mercy” is in a similar breath except Wizkid somehow managed to deliver a more mediocre hook than BOJ did. Even at the time of release, a Wizkid hook was a verifiable co-sign that could salvage the worst single and give a notable moment to a generally weak project, yet here the product feels rushed and inorganic, almost as if LeriQ had an aged Wiz hook on hand and decided to put it to use.

“Long Time Coming” was a fitting outro in many ways, it centred Ozone and allowed him utilize his most developed muscle; rapping. Punchline after punchline make you wonder why he ever strayed on the preceding three and a half songs. Two verses are adequate to convince you of his skill, yet the bloated project ran a bit too long for many to stick around and appreciate. This takes nothing away from the talented rapper, however, as for a debut in a market that prioritizes not only singles but an entirely different soundscape, he made a notable difference in what it meant to be a new age Nigerian rapper at a time when many considered the genre dead or dying.

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