When two siblings are creators of music, there’s usually one shining brighter in commercial terms. It’s almost like a societal norm, there are a couple of examples across the pond – Solange and Beyoncé, Chance the rapper and Taylor Bennett etc. Few of these exist in Nigeria, but the most prominent and most popular are the Abaga brothers, M.I and Jesse Jagz.
Jesse Jagz is the younger of the two brothers, less acclaimed commercially but similarly armed with an arsenal of talent. A true musical polymath, Jesse is a competent rapper who will go toe to toe with any rapper on his day, and a stellar producer with an electric ability to pull together different sonics to form a truly eclectic palette.
Jag Of All Tradez was Jesse’s debut album, released in 2009 during the reign of the Choc Boi Nation. The album was a sprawling aggregate of Jesse’s ability, hugely diverse but quite unfocused, it showcased the technical skills of Jesse the artist without showing too much of Jesse the man.
Few years later, Jesse would depart from Choc City and release his sophomore, Jagz Nation, Vol. 1: Thy Nation Come independently in 2013. The sophomore was acclaimed by critics and fans alike, a little more focused, with reggae and dancehall as major influences on the album’s sonic direction. The follow-up, Jagz Nation, Vol. 2: The Royal Niger Company which was closer to his hip-hop roots also attracted unanimous applause, his shortest and his most immersive body of work till date.
While both independently released albums served to reinforce Jagz’ versatility and pen skill, both albums didn’t unravel much of the man making the music. Jesse Jagz is a good writer, with a knack for ear catching punchlines and wordplay, but it’s his questionable ability to create a compelling image that has me on the fences of what to expect from this new album, Odysseus. Unless the cover art is subversive, it already hints at a more open project in my mind. At any rate, a new Jesse Jagz output will always have my attention because of the high quality of music he always delivers. But the content of his music needs to rise beyond what he’s given so far, not say much of it hasn’t been pertinent.
Few loosies have landed on the internet, but none have fully pointed out the direction in which Jesse is moving, which has only piqued my interest. Every song will receive my instant, real time reaction, no pause, no rewinds. Hopefully Odysseus carries us to the mountain of the ‘god on the mic‘.
A man’s voice starts us off, asking the eternal question. Jesse is in, he sounds a little gnarly. I like this beat, sounds like it was created for a ritual, solemn, creepy and alluring. He’s running through these bars, but not too fast, like he’s in a 400m race. “Only hits on my album” is a bold statement to make on the opener. It’s quite easy to fixate on his words because of how focused he sounds. Switch up to a patois flow and he’s crooning the hook, thumbs up to Chris Brown for airing our sentiment about people letting us enjoy our sleep. The man from the intro is back with some philosophical musings, I suspect that’s Jagz with a vocal inflection. Little more aggressive on this second verse, coupled with this beat it sounds like an actual villain warming up, not Gru. Rhyming fire repeatedly, sounding like a man walking on hot coal. This is a flame emoji verse. Back to singing, some gospel shit, “I need your Wisdom and your Grace”, Amen, man.
Dirty Ft. Hot Ice
A capella intro verse, this is nice, definitely not Jesse. The beat is swelling softly and Jesse comes in covertly like a ninja. Drum drop, not heavy but it will put the bounce in your neck. This hook is a trip, deserves multiple repeats. Jesse in sing-rap flow mode, this sounds like a crossover jam, very easy and appealing. Contrary to the title, ‘Dirty‘ has a clean sheen. Is this Hot Ice? He has authority in his voice, this is an aggressive verse. This is Dom Toretto shifting gears and pushing the pedal into beast mode. So many quotables, this is the actual dirty part, he just dragged this beat through the mud, damn.
Rest In You
King Jagga, always liked that title. Slow keys and strobe light synths, Jesse has a good patois cadence, I know that’s not news. Solemn bounce on this, pretty soft beat. Jagz’ love songs aren’t usually this pristine. This is run of the mill type stuff from Jesse, nothing has sparked since that intro. “Love’s gonna shine on everything we do” is such an R&B singer lyric. I like this production, even though I’m not fully invested in the song as a whole. Jesse can craft any type of beat, the sun rises in the east.
Alright Ft. Styl Plus
STYL PLUS!!! In the building, where have they been?! I can’t even tell who’s singing, grey hair causes these things. Best guess is Tunde and there’s definitely some autotune helping him out. Mellow beat, very lovey dovey, weather for two on silk sheets stuff. Jesse is rapping, pretty rapid flow. “Love and jealousy is the same thing” is a very millennial thing to say. This is ride with/for your partner music, late night vibes. Tunde is back, is he the only active member of the group? Because I hear no other voice on this, need to revisit to know.
Wide & Blue
Nice keys, with some low-key 80s feedback underneath, and some soft heavenly horns just joined in, levitating combo. The drums and Jesse come in together, not disruptive at all. He’s getting emotions off his chest, or maybe this is another love song. It is a love song, sounds as slick as Cassanova. How much does Jesse smoke? Can he hang with Fela or Bob Marley, considering the evident Jamaican vibes on this album so far. Jesse knows how to pick a pocket and both caress and obliterate it, his flow is always impressive. There’s some philosophical shit on this third verse, crazy good wordplay on it. He’s singing now, his voice is adequate, thankfully he’s not pushing it too much. Keys twinkling like the proverbial star, love this already.
Fine n Clean Ft. Cynthia Morgan
Cynthia Morgan and Jesse Jagz should be a winning tag team. The patois has begun, Lord let me not be lost. This feels like the companion for “Sex and scotch” with more bounce. I doubt if I’d play this constantly, but it seems like it has some appeal. Cynthia just took the baton from Jesse and there’s no dropoff, nice chemistry. Another love song, not sold on this, but I get the idea. This collab definitely wasn’t phoned in, but this is a dud for me.
Very quick transition, this is a ‘pon pon’ jam. Reminds of an article I read recently, about how songs with slower BPMs are dominating the mainstream. Many of the hooks on this album have been a tad generic, mainly because the subject matter is narrow, Jesse’s execution is alright, though. He’s bringing the bars, “I come from where it nearly snows”, shout out to Jos and the North for helping push Nigerian hip-hop. Jesse’s flow patterns might be his second biggest strength next to his production chops. ‘Awake‘ will get rotation on the dancefloor next to Davido and Tekno, sounds a little abnormal until you remember ‘Pump It Up‘ was a jam. Jesse’s braggadocio game is up there with the best. I like this back end breakdown, these keys sound very Fela-esque. This is a sleeper hit.
Ghetto Youth Ft. Melon & R2Bees
Another dancehall influenced production, very sparse components but still glossy, like a stripper covered in baby oil. I’m catching these lines but I’m not fully processing them, sounds uplifting and conscious thematically. “Jagga pray fi the youth”, we need those prayers in a country where even the police is your enemy. Is that Melon? I’m not sure but the voice is booming. These squealing horns underneath are crying the tears of many Nigerian youths. Did Jagz just curse out his landlord? I laughed. This beat is a major reason I’ll be back for this track.
Rude Boys Quarter
A skit in patois. Jesse lived in Jamaica in his past life, can’t tell me different. If Skepta can say he died and came back as Fela’s Kuti, Jesse can say the same with Bob Marley, No? Okay. Definitely aiming for the dancehall, this one. Is that Lindsey crooning underneath? All these sexual innuendos, NBC might have something to say. An analogy just crossed my mind, but I will not be pointed to as a bad egg in my generation. This is a banal lusty jam done pretty well, the type of song I’d love to see a video of Rihanna twerking to. Don’t judge, you want to see it too.
Violation Ft. Burna Boy
Solemn boom-bap beat. Burna Boy just dropping hailings with some rapid patois, makes me want to learn. Adding living in Jamaica or any Caribbean island for a short while to my bucket list, the women also adds to the allure. I like this flute playing, Burna Boy adlibs beside Jesse singing sounds like a great trick. “My pen is like flying white servus”, brag god. Jesse Jagz can take my money if he ever writes a book on bragging. “Like a book without pages”, I am Nostradamus, nay, Dennistradamus. Any rapper that name checks 2pac and/or Joe Frazier in a dope verse gets my applause. Burna Boy sounds at home on this hook, totally killing it. Jagz’ and Burna need to link up more often.
My initial expectations weren’t fulfilled, doesn’t necessarily mean that I didn’t enjoy this first listen, in fact I will be reaching for the replay button.
Odysseus isn’t a needle mover in terms of potential impact on the sonic landscape, it’s a little more conformist. Think the dancehall side of Wizkid’s Sounds From The Other Side with a superior lyrical edge. It’s an album that is definitely enjoyable but not exactly intriguing. The rapping is incise, the singing is competent and the content is modish. It’s the most accessible project from Jesse Jagz since his debut, with several tracks that have massive potential of dominating the charts and clubs.
Odysseus is a largely well-executed exercise in conveying mostly vapid and formerly addressed ideas by Jesse Jagz, but also serves as added proof of his genius.