Around the 2:50 mark of The Self Evaluation of Yxng Dxnzl off his eighth music project, MI Abaga so clearly – and painfully – captures the terrifying duality of depression. “I want to fuck, drink/ Smoke, chill, party all day still/ I haven’t been happy in such a while/And I’m looking for something that could make me smile,” he sings hauntingly; from then on the track dissolves into a timorous urge to rest in the water (probably a metaphor for sleep used as a coping mechanism by those suffering from depression) till its end but the accurate depiction of the highs and lows of dealing with depression never leaves me. By itself, The Self Evaluation of Yxng Dxnzl was not an anomaly on the project, it merely carried on the fluid discussions of self-worth, identity, race, mental health, and doubt that had been so prominent on MI’s second project of 2018.
But for me, the essence of The Self Evaluation of Yxng Dxnzl does not make a full impression on you unless you heard the first words, and question asked, on the project: do you know who you are? Without the potent self-probing of Do You Know Who You Are? Take Some Time and Meditate you don’t get the brutal candor of The Self Evaluation of Yxng Dxnzl or, more poetically, the assuring warmth of Love Never Fails But Where There Are Prophecies Love Will Cease To Remain. The entire project, from front to back, is an encapsulation of a journey, a breathing monument to the humanity of M.I Abaga in a way that a scattering of tracks can never achieve; to allow us a peek behind the curtain on such unspoken topics, Jude had to do something so un-Nigerian: he crafted an album.
There can be no doubt that the idea of albums is not one that enjoys favour in the current Nigerian music climate. For musicians, the route to sustainability is quite defined: get a very hot single that makes you the talk of town. That hot single is the ticket to invitations and bookings for corporate gigs and shows; when the buzz from that single appears to be on the wane, head to the studio and try to create another hot single. In clearer terms, Nigeria is a singles-oriented market that works at optimum for its creators when they produce enough unmissable music that puts them on heavy rotation.
Regardless, albums have always assumed a position of importance when announced in Nigeria. If executed properly, albums can confer immortality on an artiste till the end of days and a number of contemporary Nigerian musicians have birthed great albums that have served as bookmarks of their times and sonic citations many years after their releases, a good example would be Wande Coal’s evergreen record, Mushin To Mo’Hits, Wizkid’s cult classic, Superstar, Sean Tizzle’s The Journey, and Burna Boy’s Outside.
Even when albums do not hit the mark, it can be considered an act of artistic maturity to attempt making a full-length body of work, viewed as a part of an on-going journey. Despite the proclivity to target hot singles, all of the Nigerian artistes who can be considered greats of the last decade have all gifted the world one album at least, except one unavoidable absentee: Tekno.
After gaining the country’s attention in the early parts of the decade courtesy of a number of memorable singles, Tekno steadily grew to a position where in 2016 he was worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as the big two. His opus, Pana, was probably the song of that year, signaling his transition from boy wonder to full-on popstar; talk of an album was muted and then it wasn’t happening any longer. But more importantly, he had his hands on the pulse of culture, being lauded as a part of a group of musicians who inspired a visible slowing down of the pace of Nigerian music circa 2016. His biggest moment in 2017 came courtesy of his efforts in the producer’s chair. Tekno handled production for If, one of the biggest songs of Davido’s career; yet, the Tekno album never saw the light of day and since then the wait has been on. To be fair, there was the great unraveling caused by his music sounding too repetitive and his tragic vocal accident. But, Tekno must bear fault for his part in depriving the public of an album. His music always seemed suited for single-focused marketing but it could have been, and still can be, more.
It will forever be considered one of the biggest crimes of the 2010s that that era ended without a Tekno album or any body of work for that matter from the singer. The true tragedy is that if a visitor from a distant planet should, by a cosmic joke, land in Nigeria at the moment and ask me to list out top Nigerian music acts, I have to take a long pause before including Tekno because there is no project to play them but a scattering of singles that listened to apart hold no weight and have no meat about them; there is no seminal body of work that shows Tekno at his most happy, sad, nihilistic, impulsive, or absolutely self-destructive; there is nothing definitive that shows him as the creative sonic genius – both as a singer and producer – that he is, and that is a sad thing.
Around the time when I was listening to A Study on Self Worth: Yxng Dxnzl, one of the questions that bothered me the most was if it was worth being remembered at all. That was me facing the same existential crisis that I imagine all creatives are bound to face at some points in their lives and the direct follow-up to that inquiry was how can I be remembered. Albums will forever be artistic declarations in the same breath as they are plays for legacies – to be remembered, to be larger than life. For all its imperfections, there will never be Davido without Omo Baba Olowo or Vector without Lafiaji because those bodies of works are proclamations into the void, proof that these artistes condensed their state of minds at the time into something tangible that will always be there as a point of reference. I hope Tekno realizes this and does the same.