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On “Emeka Must Shine” Blaqbonez offers a different side which isn’t his best [Album Review]

Blaqbonez is in that top echelon of distinguished Nigerian artistes that understand the art of curating great sonic experiences for albums. He always goes above and beyond in creating cohesive body of works and even embodies different characters to achieve an extra layer of thematic resonance.

Blaqbonez’ ‘Emeka Must Shine’ Cover Art

Sex Over Love and Young Preacher are brilliant albums that deserved way more commercial success than they got. But such is the harsh fate of albums that attain a special level of technicality with grand concepts and progressive sequencing in its storytelling. Yes, there are always few exceptions like Omah Lay’s Boy Alone and Fireboy DML’s Apollo but that isn’t usually the norm. And being more than a creative genius, but also a smart business man—Blaq understands this and it’s with that mentality that he goes into crafting his new album.

In the tweet above, Blaq highlights the grueling reality of the Nigerian mainstream, as it prioritizes resonance and simplicity over technicality and conceptual structure. Now there is nothing inherently wrong with making a commercial album, as a mainstream artiste. However, there is a thin line to tread as it’s very easy to lose one’s artistry and dynamism all for the sake of making hit songs. Blaq doesn’t lose himself to the point that he starts sounding like someone else, but EMS doesn’t offer the best of both worlds—pop or Hip-Hop—and it’s mostly stuck in gear one and doesn’t really take off.

ROAD RUNNERS is a fitting opener that balances resonant simplicity with a stellar performance from Black Sherif. It goes for a wholesome feeling, with its airy flutes and crowd vocals infused with cultural context that it’s unmistakably clear this is an intro with a foreboding of great things to come. And whilst this is in no way a horrible album and it’s more than a decent offering, it still doesn’t live up to the weight of great things promised by this grand opening.

Tracklist

On 6 BUSINESS DAYS, Blaq treads familiar bashment territory that he’s previously excelled on with songs like Whistle, but he isn’t half as dynamic as he usually is. On a space chat, he revealed to this writer that he took immense care not to let the ultra technical part of himself take over and simply wanted to deliver simple, feel-good music but this writer think adequate balance wasn’t found. There is hardly anything Blaqbonez about his flows or delivery on said song and because of that Projexx outshines him on the song.

KILO ft. Don Jazzy has some infectious, visceral bass progression and beat arrangements that would set off the most licentious of hips gyrating moves. It also lies at the sweet intersection of swing and Afro-Pop. Don Jazzy’s vocals are also a very sweet addition, that’s a pleasant contrast with Blaq’s but the song is a bit too short. Before it takes off properly and sinks it teeth of addiction in you, it’s already over.

NYEM EGO is the song that’s primed for mainstream dominance and it comes as no surprise, as we’re presently in a climate that’s rewarding records that celebrate cultural heritage with success. Asake’s Lonely At The Top has charted for 13 weeks at #1 on the TTC Naija Top 100, so it’s practically the biggest song out of the country, this year and guess what? It’s built on the sonic backdrop of Highlife and Juju fusion. Even Omah Lay’s Soso another smash hit, has very strong cultural instrumentation in its composition with the airy flutes.

NAIJA SHAWTY suffers from the same symptoms of 6 BUSINESS DAYS, with Blaq barely being dynamic all for the sake of simplicity and resonance, and again he’s outshined by the guest artiste. Once again, it’s not a bad thing when a rapper heads into mainstream territory to deliver pop records, especially in an industry that doesn’t appreciate rap in its purest form. However, they shouldn’t lose their identity and still mantain their rapper dynamism, flows and cadences when attacking pop beats. It doesn’t have to be as hard as when it’s on a boom-bap beat, but it still needs to be hard. ODUMODUBLVCK for example, found that sweet balanced spot on his mixtape.

Interestingly enough, ODUMODUBLVCK brings that same dynamism to this album on DOLLERZ with flow schemes that aren’t so convoluted, but so unmistakenly one of a rapper’s. It doesn’t really bode well for Blaq, that on an album titled Emeka Must Shine, he’s getting outshined by almost every artist featured on the album.

On the next 2-track sequence of MASQUERADE and SHINE FOREVER, Blaq recognizes the need for some dynamism and infuses some much needed energy into his delivery. The former is one of the finer records that Blaq glides smoothly over the beat with an impressive verse that’s not the most technical rap you’ll hear, but doesn’t sell its soul for outright simplicity either. The hook is also incredibly catchy and it could catch on the internet and go viral, like LIKE ICE SPICE.

SHINE FOREVER has more impressive melodic rapping, but the track lacks the resonant punch in a catchy hook that MASQUERADE has and is also too short to its own detriment. A phenomenal Young Jonn perfomance salvages an otherwise mediocre NO SLEEP with an over repetitive one-liner hook and a production that doesn’t elevate the record.

WAIT LET ME GET THE TISSUE is a brilliant song, that deserves better sequencing placement. By the time you get to it, chances are you might have been worn out already and not get to fully appreciate the sheer unhinged fun of Blaq’s raunchiness and flow effervescence on the Caribbean beat. At this point, it’s crystal clear that after rap and Afrobeats, Danceall is Blaq’s favorite sounscape and when he’s intentional about it, he always delivers brilliantly.

Emeka Must Shine is the sort of album you get, when a creative genius that’s mastered the art of curating great sonic experiences decides to abandon that headspace—for one that prioritizes making an album with hit records. Whilst he does a decent enough job, it’s clear that sort decision isn’t attuned to his core artistry. Or maybe he just needs more time to perfect his hitmaking skills also. This album though is enjoyable and has the potential to produce hit records, which is enough for what it is.

Final Verdict:

Sonic Cohesion: 1.5/2
Unharried Transitions: 1.3/2
Expansive Production: 1.3/2
Songwriting & Delivery: 1.3/2
Optimal Track Sequencing: 1.5/2

Total: 6.9/10

This review is written by T.J. Martins, an avid lover of music.

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