‘Familiarity breeds contempt’. An ancient quote that traces back to the ancient Greek writer, Aesop, is still as apt today as when it was first written/uttered. Human beings have a love-hate relationship with familiarity. Being creatures of habit, our first instinct is to cling to what we know. But we’re also ambitious in nature, so we push past the familiar to feed our dreams. Immediately we hit the next plateau, we resume the routine of settling in until the clock resets and we start reaching for the next level. We enjoy the feel of the known but we enter the unknown because we want change – the only constant thing in life.
Everyone wants some type of change, even if it’s on the smallest level. But in our dynamic nature, we want some things to remain static. It’s a stingy phenomenon that many people indulge in, especially when it doesn’t fit into the narrative they want. We remember what those things mean to us, fighting tooth and nail to ensure that they remain the same. When change eventually comes, we cling to the memories like a bush baby hogging its mat.
Nostalgia is one hell of a drug, it transports the feelings of the past to the present. But as with many drugs, it has its own side effects. Many of us use nostalgia as a means to compare and contrast the old and the new – which isn’t wrong, until it begins to ruin appreciating the present.
Our relationship with artists is like the one we have with old friends who we meet and interact with on rare occasions, like reunions. With the help of social media, we can checkup on these friends (read: artists) and know what’s happening in their lives from a distance. But since the full story can’t be told via social media posts, we can only find out more about their lives when there’s a physical meeting. For artists, our meetings with them occur via our connection to their music.
Adapting to change from artists isn’t always convenient, we like having our preconceived notions intact. Whatever change these guys go through – in their personal lives and/or in their mode of artistic expression is only valuable to us when it fits into that box we’ve created for them. Even small deviations are magnified to fit our rage against an artist’s seeming unfamiliarity.
There has been a division over Wizkid’s distinct choice of sonic direction on his recently released project, Sounds From The Other Side. With many holding his earlier work up against his new work. Listening to Wizkid’s entire discography doesn’t show the clear black and white discrepancy that many people are arguing for. Of course there are some altered nuances, but it isn’t as jarring as a total artistic reinvention – no shade to Wizkid, but I don’t even think he’s capable of that.
There’s always pretext for an artist incorporating or switching styles. Without finding out and acknowledging the pretext(s), appreciating and ultimately judging new output by the artist can’t be done transparently. In Wizkid’s case, his pretext is quite obvious: world domination. Sounds is his first foray into the international music market, an experiment that he felt should require adjustments to the sails of his boat, in order to reach his desired destination.
In my first listen review for Sounds, I noted that Wizkid’s lean toward Caribbean pop should not be unexpected for two reasons: (1) the rhythmic tenets of afro-pop and dancehall aren’t so far apart and (2) Caribbean pop is the current de rigeur of pop music in America. Both reasons are represented in his seamless blend into Drake’s ‘One Dance’, the biggest song of last year. That was his first introduction on a global scale and it only made sense for him to mine it and use that sonic marker as a foothold.
Whether you want to accept it or not, Sounds is a big deal for African music and Wizkid’s incorporation of styles not familiar with the ‘day onez’ is important for mass appeal. He’s creating music for a broader audience, demanding he sticks to the rules of the imaginary playbook is pretty darn stupid. I’d even argue that Wizkid didn’t exactly leave the cozy box many are familiar with, he simply expanded the walls so that he could add a repertoire of other musical textures, creating room for more people to access his music.
Sounds is not in any way close to perfect but it has its merits in his musical disparity. The album is as scattered as a music project of 39mins can get, hopping between genres – afro-pop (or contemporary ‘afrobeats’), South African house, EDM, R&B and dancehall. Wizkid does well enough to fit into all these styles and it’s when you look at his basic skills that you realize all the yapping about his change shouldn’t cause any ruckus.
In terms of songwriting, Wizkid’s pen game has taken a decline from his early days but not so sharp a fall that you’d think he fell off from being a lyrical genius. The boyish charm he showed in his early days has been replaced by youthful charisma which seems natural considering he isn’t 21 anymore. His vocal range is still the same as when he first started – it’s not like he was hitting high notes.
“Even in the familiar, there can be surprise and wonder” – Tierney Gearson.
The above quote is an apt description for Wizkid’s new music. His largely constant skillset combined with the addition of new sonic aesthetics triggered those who were only focused on the latter. In an alternate timeline, assuming Wizkid had decided to stick to the ‘known’ sound, there would be a sect that would cite a lack of creativity. Some of whom might be among those against his new direction.
Sticking to the script is Tekno’s specialty. Tekno Miles doesn’t have many tricks up his sleeves but there’s always applause when he releases his usual bimonthly hit songs. There’s the usual criticism of his constantly glib lyrical content and also, it’s also not hard to spot similarities in the instrumental arrangements of his songs but he gets around just fine. Tekno hasn’t bleached the graces that come with his repetitiveness because he’s yet to clock major years under public scrutiny.
Tekno’s first big single came in 2013, ‘Holiday‘ which featured Davido. It took more than two years for him to recapture nationwide attention, a bigger return that showed that Tekno had found a sweet spot and he’s been massaging it ever since. Tekno has been on a roll for about 18months which in artist years is still fairly early, especially when you consider that he doesn’t have an album to his name yet. His approach to music will either take detour(s) down the years for which he will be judged or he will choose to stay static and be accused of triteness.
Music is a service artists provide and the public will react. Ultimately, Tekno’s job like any other artist’s is to create his music at his own discretion. Davido turned to Tekno earlier this year as the producer to kick start his ‘back to basics’ move this year with the release of ‘If‘. A move that was met with high praise and massive commercial impact. This was after experimenting with different genres on his EP, Son Of Mercy released last year.
Son Of Mercy bounced around and pushed against overall classification, but you could easily feel how uncomfortable Davido was moving between various genres. Songs on the EP ranged from bad (‘Maga 2 Mugu‘, Simi and Davido have little business working together and no business syncing harmonies) to grating (‘How Long‘ with Tinashe) to horrible (‘Coolest Kid In Africa‘, until Nasty C rescues it).
Majority of Son Of Mercy is like seeing Dino Melaye in ripped, skintight jeans. The only point at which he excelled on the EP was ‘Return’, a song closer to his trademark stanky, afro-pop sound. The EP was meant to be Davido’s introduction to the big market but it didn’t fit right and Davido made a move to return (pun intended) and create music closer to his roots.
Davido is on the aptly titled ‘30 Billion World Tour’, performing at sold out venues across the world. Ironically, his world domination quest is being spurred by a trudge back to the familiar part of his box. Getting Cristiano Ronaldo to follow you on Instagram off referencing him on a song that the international community will tag as afrobeats isn’t a small deal – at least for Davido.
Every artist has a right to approach their music in whatever way they consider as the best fit. It won’t always yield favorable results but that should be solely based on the qualities of the new music. Former works can serve as reference points, comparison isn’t wrong until it blurs being objective with new output.
Reiterating Yomi’s sentiments, “it’s illogical, selfish, a little disingenuous to expect artists to replicate old energies on new projects”. Some artists can and want to replicate old energies, vice versa is the case with others, but we can equally be prudent to both sides. The past is gone, relish it. The present is here, be fair to it.
Words by Dennis, aka Dennis Miles, aka @ayo_dennis.