There can be no doubt that Olamide’s voice is one of the most important cultural exegeses of the 2010s, it can be argued, even, that the sound of the Bariga-born musician is the bedrock of popular Nigerian music from the preceding decade: shock and awe music – often about girls, money, cars, and kinship – that incorporated the trendiest euphemisms from mainland Lagos repurposed to appeal to the bougie populace without alienating young chaps from, say, Alagbado.
Badoo had a fun 2010s. From becoming the de-facto leader of indigenous rap to establishing one of the most stable record labels in the country to co-opting newer artists from the fringe and crafting a significant portion of the soundtrack to the craziness of the 2010s, he did it all. One of the more prominent points of critique he has faced is the polarity of his soundscape and how far-reaching he has expanded the scope of traditional hip-hop; for context, he went from Eni Duro to Wo. Basically, Olamide parlayed rap glory into pop superstardom – and later musical immortality.
But then, invariably, Olamide fatigue set in. The themes seemed too familiar, the flow was not as airtight as it used to be, and even the pop offerings appeared regurgitated. 2019 was the year when that fatigue hit hardest as Nigerian music underwent a musical evolution that introduced newer stars to the circuit. One of those freshmen, Fireboy DML, is a protégé of Olamide, and he was the biggest beneficiary of his mentor’s extended break. Fireboy DML was empowered with the machinery of the label and his November 2019 debut album, Laughter, Tears and Goosebumps, stood out. Yet, inconceivably, there was no Olamide album in 2019.
But OLAMIDE IS BACK, maybe not like the first day of the year, but he is BACK with what he is calling an EP, 999. It is strangely gratifying that he is the first major Nigerian star to drop a project in the new decade. The nine-track extended play, released on Monday at 9 p.m., was given an unconventional roll-out. A day before the release, artists affiliated with Olamide and YBNL simply shared the artwork and release date of the project with social media left to do the rest while Olamide maintained a loud silence.
There have been different types of Olamide albums. Ones where he has carried the creative vision alone, others where he has invited label co-stars to provide diversity on the album, and albums where he has created a contortionist hybrid of rap and pop. For 999, he invites a selection of relatively up and coming stars on the journey that is, mostly, unabashedly hip-hop. 999 opens with the No Time, jointly produced by Olamide and Eskeez, where he raps over an eerie beat about his hunger for success. No Time contrasts sharply with the militant Warlords where a trio of PentHauze rappers take up residency. One of Olamide’s long-time friends, Snow, opens Warlords with a delightful hook that opens what is surely a standout off the project. Phyno and Olamide deliver admirably but are outshone by Superboy CHEQUE and Rhatti for different reasons. Underground listeners are likely to be aware of CHEQUE’s impeccable sing-rap double act, here it takes a few moments to get into the stride of the music but when it does, it shines through. You can hear it when he sings, “they don’t give me but I take it, oh, they don’t give me but I take it!” Rhatti delivers a stinging verse in an eclectic mixture of Igbo and English as the song closes with an outro of CHEQUE’s sweet flow.
Olamide’s son makes an appearance on Billion Talk as a bridge to establish the basis of the track. Here, the rapper gyrates undecidedly over a Pheelz beat as he ponders making a billion and how best to spend it. “Money sweet, money sweet, money sweet,” Olamide tells over a repeated loop of his son saying billion. In an essay on the construction of choruses in Olamide’s songs, Oris Aigbokhaevbolo wrote that “When Olamide is dreaming up a chorus, his aim is more experimental pop-poetry than politics. The chief question on Olamide’s mind is this: Can I arrange this sound in a way that produces something melodious, something musical?” Billion Talk is a direct scion of this observation, the subject matter is obfuscated to create a memorable chorus that can be chanted long into the night without context.
More than artistic distortion for the purpose of auditory benefit, Olamide is accomplished at using diverse music forms to create sonic reverbs that stick to the mind. The beginning of Dance with the Devil has shades of house music and a distinct flow that bends and merges words – it is instructive that he calls himself a trapstar here – resulting in a repetitive, addictive bridge that lays Badoo’s music genius bare. The bridge dissolves into ice-cold verses by Sosa-E and Jackmillz, two rappers Olamide has described as the future.
The unmistakable hip-hop flow that has been evident throughout the project plateaus on Wonma!. For all the talk of succeeding as a mainstream rapper, Olamide’s calling card has always been his ability to craft bubblegum pop-bangers that appeal to the sensibilities of a certain demographic, and he does not forget that community on 999. Wonma! – bearing similarity to his smash hit, Wo – is a return to the familiar for Olamide with all its references to drugs, sex, and infidelity over an unrelenting fast-paced beat by Cracker Mallo. The other ibile offering on the EP, Mojo, featuring JayBoi employs the same tactic of trying to say the most shocking thing as possible while remaining, amazingly so, on-point melodiously, Olamide – while maintaining the rhythmic and melodious structure – gives a truly outstanding verse while JayBoi admirably trades quips with him while being capable on hook duties before the songs washes up in pensive mood.
Thematically, 999 is scattergun without an overarching focus – let’s go with girls, money, cars, and kinship – but the EP outro, Rich and Famous, has a different feel, like it was made for a different project but nevertheless gives an insightful look into Olamide’s life in real-time. Here, he discusses how the public’s view of the trappings of fame without consideration for the human behind the brand. Production was handled by Olamide’s long-time collaborator, ID Cabasa, who cleans out the noise, instead of letting Olamide’s voice tell the story with influences from contemporary soul. 999, at times, suffers from a lack of cohesion that is compensated for by the standout performances of pretty much all its invited guests.
“It’s lonely at the top, ain’t no fucking cap, don’t know who to trust,” Olamide confesses on Rich and Famous. With Olamide, there are very few moments when the veneer cracks, but after 10 years spent trying to get to this point, he has earned the right to tell his war stories. In those ten years, he has wrestled a seat at the top of the pop circuits and, at the ripe age of 30, become an elder statesman. On 999, Olamide wears many caps. He glides across different tracks – sometimes tempestuous, other times without bluster – spotlighting his expanding roles, beyond being the chief hedonist of a generation, as a father, a mentor, and a community builder. For a generation that grew up listening to Badoo, this is a welcome to the second act for us, and Olamide himself, when influences stretch far beyond just himself and 999 serves just what we need, a pleasant welcome to act two.