Lost Files: What Happens In Lagos
Lost Files is a column dedicated to celebrating older projects that might have flown under the radar when they were released. This week, we revisit Ajebutter22's quasi-biographical documentation of life in the country's most bustling city, What Happens in Lagos.
Ajebutter22 is one of Nigeria’s most polarizing musicians. While his ability to make hits is undisputed, his music’s content has been repeatedly bashed for promoting negative stereotypes about women. The different emotions he evokes are a reflection of the city he comes from, which he hates and loves in varying measures: Lagos.
On his sophomore album, Ajebutter is brazenly honest about Lagos and his relationship with the city. No subject is spared; fraudsters, church ushers with big backsides, socialites, and of course, “runs girls.” Solidly assisted by Mystro, Dremo, Falz, M.I Abaga, and Odunsi, What Happens In Lagos is part documentary, part biography, and wholly engaging.
“How do I begin the story about a place that can inspire and deflate you at the same time? How do I talk about Lagos? About how it has drawn me in, embraced me, encouraged me, and spat me out all in the same breath?”
How do you talk about Lagos? The beginning is “A Good Place To Start”, and the intro track sets the tone for the rest of the album. With the opening monologue, he sums up Lagos – a crowded place where hopes and dreams lie side by side with poverty and penury. Mystro on the hook sings about the city’s hustle culture, while Ajebutter is his usual easy-paced self talking about bad living conditions and unemployment, which pushed him to do different things to survive. He gives a nod to Lagos entrepreneurs, men, and women whose business acumen was sharpened by a hostile and stagnant environment.
Lagos wakes up early; in fact, the city never sleeps. Ajebutter talks about waking up early to start the daily grind. The song’s subject is the obstacles Lagosians face every day: traffic, shortage of water, epileptic electricity, etc. Supported by Dremo, the two rappers chronicle a day in the life of an Eko resident, starting at “4 AM”.
On “Dollar Ti Won”, Ajebutter starts by lamenting the decline of the economy and the breakdown of Nigerian society before delving into more personal observations. The struggles of being broke and shy (a really terrible combination) are addressed while reminiscing on past romantic relationships in the face of the ones he has now. Politicians and their hypocritical children are not left out as he accuses them of getting fatter on Nigeria’s resources.
The second verse ends with him dreaming of winning awards at fancy ceremonies before being brought back to earth by the reality of police officers asking for money, a staple of Lagos life.
Packaging for social media is an integral part of Lagos living. In some instances, looking like money is even more important than having the cash. Ajebutter understands this game and litters nods and shoutouts to the players throughout the album.
A light-hearted jab at the Lagos “big boys”, “Rich Friends”, “Lagos Big Boy” and “Biggie Man” deal with big spenders who have no traceable source of income. This part of the album questions the various ways people go out to become rich, like fraud, money rituals, etc. Although he considers these means wrong, he cannot deny the allure of money and the lifestyle it can afford.
On the bridge, he sings:
Oh Lord free me from temptation oloun
They offering me a way out
Oh Lord free me from temptation oloun
They're telling me to join gang
They say there's money in abundance
I don't want to enter one chance (oloun)
But all I have is one chance (oh Lord)
The constant search for money is the defining feature of Lagos, which leads many down a path of crime and a path of innovation for others. This is the human condition, and the way you go down is reflective of your person and strength in the face of adversity.
The sentiment extends to “We Are Bad Boys”. Featuring M.I Abaga, the song takes aim at the various ways people tailor their lifestyles to appear posh and pose for the ‘gram.
A lot of the flack Ajebutter gets is for his judgemental attitude towards women and promoting harmful stereotypes. True to his nature, the album follows suit by questioning supposed “runs girls”, and college girls he accuses of sleeping around for money. The album’s first single, “Bad Gang” alongside fellow transactional sex hater Falz, is really good if you can dance to the vibe and ignore the content, or if you really just don’t care. “Wayward”, “Anything For The Boys”, and “Happy Ending” all follow in this stead, exploring the nuances that exist in relationships in Lagos, transactional or otherwise.
On “Yoruba Boys Trilogy” and “Lifestyle”, Ajebutter enlists the help of Odunsi (The Engine) and Maleek Berry, who complement his laid-back rapping with beautiful vocals. On the former, Ajebutter experiments by combining three songs in one while addressing the ‘Yoruba Demon’ problem that touches 99% of relationships in Lagos.
The album ends with “Ghana Bounce”, a groovy tune released as a promotional single before its release.
A solid album with many grooves and relatable lyrics, What Happens In Lagos is not your go-to for complex rap metaphors or wordplay, but if you are looking for a good vibe, it’s definitely for you.