Like many of his colleagues in the Nigerian pop music scene, Fireboy DML has made a living off of female-centric songs. There’s always a woman to be pined after in every tune. In Jealous, from his debut album Laughter, Tears & Goosebumps (2019), a paranoid Fireboy yearns for a certain Abena. In Eli, off his sophomore album Apollo (2020), we learn of a femme fatale named Delilah. And Fireboy, with locs as thick as Samson’s, cannot resist her witchery. Both albums are more or less homage to heterosexual love, though there are times they segue into bald-faced lust. Lust and love, usually interchangeable concepts to the average Nigerian crooner, are clearly demarcated in Fireboy’s worldview and music. His choosing to lean mostly towards lust-less love is one of what sets him apart from his colleagues. Where others sing about women in mostly carnal terms, Fireboy is often subtle, gentlemanly, platonic even. It may or may not have something to do with the fact that he was once a choirboy. His music’s introverted, mid-tempo quality may also be traced to his church roots.
For his third album, Playboy, Fireboy chucks his Yemi My Lover persona, opting for something more roguish, the album’s title hinting as much. While the former Fireboy lived by monogamous ideals, this one boasts in the first track, Change, about having a “whole lot of bitches”. Notice he now addresses women using Gangsta rap argot. In Ashawo, he is cynical and refuses to apologize for his philandering. When a man declares that he’s no longer in the love business — downing the red pill, as some call it — it’s usually because of some romantic betrayal, real or imagined. We don’t have to guess for long, as Fireboy explains his new attitude in Change: “blame it on the game… it made me savage”.
It is also in that track we hear the album’s cleverest lines: “You see my cup runneth over/ dat why you no fit ever see me sober”. The wordplay smartly alludes to the Book of Psalms and Hennessy at the same time, and yet you’d be wrong if you think I’m suggesting that the songwriting overall is of a red-ribboned quality. Those lines may have been a bright red, but almost everywhere else in the album wears wan colours. And yet, Fireboy remains one of Nigerian pop’s better lyricists, if only for his lyrical coherence. Words aren’t the only things that suffer an inconsistent brilliance in this album. Fireboy’s thematic avowal is just as inconsistent.
Four songs in and the man is already back to his woman-yearning ways. He loses sleep over an ex-lover in Adore, featuring Euro, and the pining continues in the next three songs, only this time they neither have the riveting melodies nor winning character of the ballads in his previous albums. These aren’t songs that would stick to mind, perhaps because they are so similar in substance, sound and vocal range. Perhaps this is the case because they are love songs composed by a singer who is disillusioned with love. It is with relief that one greets the horns and Felaesque call-and-response hook in Afro Highlife. Both horn and hook are like a bowl of cold potable water in the desert of drudgery.
In the two or three times that Fireboy turns the lens towards himself in his two previous albums, we learn two things: that he’s got a chip on his shoulder and that he cares about his legacy. He’s still got the former and still cares about the latter, only that in this new album he adds a third obsession: his newly found international renown. He muses about it in Change and Bandana, the second of which has Asake supplying a chorus that sounds eerily similar to Access Bank’s One Day You Go Make Am. In June this year, Fireboy became the first Nigerian artiste to perform at the BET Awards, a show by and for black Americans. As the bandana is a fashion accessory associated with HipHop and the black American culture, a link embodied by the choice of song title Bandana, Fireboy is alluding to his BET achievement.
An inveterate yearner, Fireboy yearns for more international fame. But one should have already sensed that from Peru, which was first released as a single towards the end of last year. It’s one of the album’s upbeat songs, and from it we learn the extent of his ambition, one that includes a South American country, a South African city, and two American cities: “Peru”, “Jozi”, “San Francisco” and “Miami”. It is a vanity likely endorsed by his record label, YBNL Nation. Failing to sail international waters with his UY Scuti (2021) album, label boss Olamide wouldn’t mind living his dreams through his mentee. Plus, more money and prestige for the label.
It is easier to be a playboy than it is to be a lover. Love requires courage, because there is the risk of getting hurt. You can get hurt from being a playboy — contracting an STD perhaps, but at least modern medicine has a witty comeback for that. What antibiotic exists for a broken heart? If Fireboy is no longer invested in love, perhaps it explains his lack of courage in this album. Courage animates his previous albums, as Fireboy experiments with various sounds and moves at various pace on records, cooly alternating between being a fringe artiste and a proper pop star. Eli (Apollo) has an Asian influence, and Favourite Song, in the same album, relies on catchy funk beats. The guitar riff in Need You (Laughter, Tears & Goosebumps) lends the song a rustic simplicity, and in another song in that album, Scatter, there’s the full-blown percussive ebullience associated with Afrobeats. The man was capable of anything and could ride any beat. In this new album, he sounds repetitive.
Playboy has its silver moments, but the question remains: wouldn’t a less cynical Fireboy have made a better album? Wouldn’t he have been less tedious? Yes to both.