‘Mo’ Hits is the best team. I don’t think I can leave Mo’ Hits for nowhere…Don Jazzy and D’banj, they’re good people. I don’t see a reason why you just come and perform, and see a slum dog somewhere trying to hustle, and you just take him straight to America.’ – Wande Coal (2009, Liz Yemoja Interview)
Hindsight is a funny thing when you stop to think about it. Looking back on different stages in our lives, the wealth of new information at our disposal occasionally leads us to impetuous conclusions that certain outcomes – successes, failures, conflicts and resolutions – were foreseeable, if not inevitable. Ten years have gone by since Nigeria’s Motown, the now defunct Mo’ Hits Records, dropped their compilation album Curriculum Vitae (CV), and most would agree that there was no foretelling – if not through divination – the numerous events that would transpire years down the line. Surely not D’Banj and Don Jazzy being signed to, and subsequently departing Kanye West’s G.O.O.D music imprint; or much of the conflict that would lead to the dissolution of Mo’ Hits Records and the subsequent emergence of Mavin Records in its place; and certainly not the waning relevance of the Kokomaster, who could do virtually no wrong at the time. But if there was one fairly obvious thing that didn’t require tea leaf-reading or crystal ball-gazing to predict in the wake of CV, it was that the album was Wande Coal’s coming-out party; that Mo’ Hits’ likable, dark-skinned prodigy from Mushin was going to be a star.
That talk of Wande Coal being a star in his own right is never too far from a conversation about D’banj and Don Jazzy, is perhaps in itself, telling of his decision to strike out on his own. But that isn’t immediately relevant. What is, is that his potential to be a star was always apparent, and D’banj and Don Jazzy saw it long before the rest of us did – including Wande himself. ‘I didn’t even know how to record…I didn’t even think about it,’ he confessed to Liz Yemoja in a 2009 interview. ‘I just wanted to be D’banj’s backup [singer]. I didn’t want to know anything else again.’ Be that as it may, you would never be able to tell if you listened back to the compilation project after all these years. Reason being that if he didn’t think like a star in the making back in the day, he most definitely sounded like one. Next to Don Jazzy’s solid production and a little more than D’banj being well, D’banj, Wande Coal is clearly the album’s biggest highlight. His auto-tuned vocals are plastered across every one of its hit songs: Move Your Body, Pere and Booty Call to name a few; and of the artists featured, the album would suffer most greatly if his euphonic contributions were omitted. Relatedly, he appears – as a featured artist or background vocalist – on every track on the album save for No Long Thing which features D’banj and Dr Sid; meaning that musically, on at least a surface level, he contributed more to the album than anybody not named Don Jazzy. There was also Ololufe.
Way back when he was simply Wande Ojosipe, just another student at the University of Lagos, he was handed the opportunity to perform before D’banj and Don Jazzy – both of whom had decided to stick around after a scheduled performance at the university had been mismanaged. Humming the chords of a dreamt up instrumental, and beating his chest like a kick drum, he belted out acapella, Ololufe, the acclaimed love ballad that would later become his breakout single on Curriculum Vitae. Seeing as CV was his first real piece of national exposure, he would have been forgiven if on it, he sounded a little unrefined and far less like a finished product as his Mo’ Hits compeers/fellow signees did at times. But he was quite the opposite, and on tracks like Ololufe and Close to You, the adroit lyricism and knack for catchy and indelible melodies, for which he would later come to be known, gleamed.
Persisting with the Motown analogy from earlier, Mo’ Hits, like Motown, was quite the hit factory back in the day. Just as its American analogue had Berry Gordy at the helm – a musical virtuoso with a unique vision and insight into the demands of the music industry – Mo’ Hits had Don Jazzy, who along with D’banj was quickly creating the foremost musical outfit in Nigeria. Wande Coal couldn’t have wished for a better situation going into his first solo project; making the fact that he produced a stellar debut album perhaps unsurprising. That he went on to create in M2M what many have dubbed ‘the premier Nigerian album of the 2000s’ is however, another story altogether.
Mushin 2 Mohits had all the right ingredients for a successful pop album. It had the commercial records which favoured catchiness and danceable rhythms over lyrical content in You Bad, Bumper to Bumper and Ten Ten. The obligatory ‘religious records’ Se Ope and Jehovah – which were impressively less vapid than one could reasonably expect from the pop subgenre. A socially conscious track in Se Na Like This, which actually worked, considering that Stop the Violence, an attempt at social commentary on Curriculum Vitae, had fallen flat. And southern hip-hop-influenced records in That’s Wots Up and My Grind, indicative of a time period when America’s southern hip-hop acts such as T.I., Akon, T-Pain and Soulja Boy made the Billboard charts their sandbox. It also had Don Jazzy’s fingerprints all over it, from his canny production and backup vocals, to the artist placements/features, and other intangibles.
The impact of the album was felt immediately after it dropped, and it seemingly could be heard blaring out of the speakers of every car, eatery, roadside market and event around. Wande Coal was now a bona fide star, which meant that he would begin to reap the rewards, and the headaches of the title. A great indicator of this dichotomy can be seen in two out of the three times that he trended worldwide on Twitter. The first time he trended globally was in 2010, when alleged photos of him in the buff surfaced online, making him the number one trending topic on the social media site. A year later in 2011, he would trend again in similar fashion when after an extended self-imposed hiatus, he dropped three singles – Been Long You Saw Me, Private Trips and Go Low – and effectively sent his fans into a frenzy.
‘I wish I had done the things I know now. I did everything based on love back in the days…I didn’t separate business from friendship.’ – Wande Coal (2015, Vanguard Interview)
In hindsight, we might say that some of the issues that plagued Mo’ Hits Records – and Mavin somewhat – should have been foreseen based on the enduring aphorism that friendship and business don’t mix; D’banj said as much in an infamous 2015 interview with Olisa Adibua, when he suggested that Mo’ Hits failed because amongst other things, they ran it like a family. But for a group of individuals who had grown together, and enjoyed great success as an ensemble, all while living literally in the same house, why wouldn’t they think they could make it work? It didn’t in any case, and when the familial relations of the old Mo’ Hits group fizzled out due to disagreements between its co-founders, D’banj and Don Jazzy, Wande Coal, caught in the middle of the conflict, was faced with the difficult task of choosing between them. In the end, he chose to join Don Jazzy’s Mavin imprint; basing his decision on two key reasons: (a) he needed production, and (b) he had built a solid relationship with the producer. But as the story goes, that arrangement didn’t survive either, when a conflict of interests served to undermine their relationship. Somewhere between Wande Coal wanting control of his creative direction and growth, the casual non-contractual arrangement that he had with Mavin, and the general dysfunction of the period, their relationship deteriorated, setting off a chain of events. There was Wande leaving Mavin to establish his own musical outfit Black Diamond; a further two-year delay in 2013 of his album release, due to the singer being prohibited by law from including on his album, songs such as Rotate, that he and Don Jazzy worked on together; and an infamous Twitter spat in 2013 between the two over ownership of Babyface – a middling pop song, which in hindsight wasn’t particularly worth the fuss. But that in itself says a lot about the lows that their relationship had reached.
“I left Don Jazzy in 2013 and we were already working on my second album, which was almost done. But at the end of the day with business, you disagree and agree. It just didn’t work out. That is why I had to start all over again. Songs like Rotate are no longer on the album. I had to start all over again creating new songs, getting a new producer. That is why it took this long.” – Wande Coal (2015, Vanguard Interview)
In the interval between Wande Coal leaving Mavin and the release of his new album, there was a lot of uncertainty concerning the singer’s music career. His hiatus from music, album delays, and the long list of developments and occurrences at that moment in time had created an air of skepticism around him and his ability to deliver on his second project. Inconsistent releases and forgettable tracks such as Plan B, Aye Dun and Babyface certainly didn’t do much to help his cause either, and left many questioning whether or not he had lost a step musically. Fortunately, for every one of those tracks, there was also a Baby Hello, My Way and Ashimapeyin, and with them, he reminded fans and doubters of his ability to craft hit records. He would also in this period, join and leave management company Bankulli Entertainment, after which the company released a press release which claimed that the singer’s ‘human vices’ hindered him from being successful and fulfilling his potential. The album couldn’t come quickly enough
When his sophomore project Wanted finally arrived, it featured a different Wande Coal than we had previously seen. This was to be expected as it had been six years, and he had grown considerably as a person and as an artist. Correspondingly, the experiences of the interval, saw him shed his happy-to-be-here disposition seen on previous efforts, and assume one that was more assertive and self-assured. Even the title of the album was significant, because unlike Mushin 2 Mohits, it was less than modest, referencing the mass of fans clamouring for the release of his album, whereas Mushin represented the archetypal come-up story. On Wanted, the humble rags-to-riches stories from M2M had also been largely replaced, taking on a different braggadocios and materialistic tone on tracks like Same S–t and Monster. And while tracks of that ilk also appeared on Mushin 2 Mohits (see Who Born the Maga and That’s Wots Up), they were far more frequent a second time around. Moreover, where the tracks of old made appearances on the second album – such as the religious Adura – they were notably different as well:
‘I give glory to God for His blessings, how you love me so/ I thank God for His grace, I been hustling, I’ve been making doe’
Overall, Wanted despite the mixed reception it received, was a respectable follow-up to M2M. There are many who do not share this sentiment, but it should be considered that Wande Coal basically had to remake the album from scratch, and could no longer call on his longtime producer with whom he had previously created magic. Throw in the added pressure from fans’ expectations following his impressive debut, as well as a long six-year gap between the two albums, and it is clear that he was truly up against it. But aside from being inessentially lengthy, and at times uninspired, the album was a fine effort.
Looking at Wande Coal in 2017, now with a rejuvenated career and a hit single in the ubiquitous Iskaba, one remembers an episode of Pulse TV’s, Facts Only with Osagie Alonge from 2015. In said episode, Alonge, Pulse’s at times controversial editor-in-chief, said in the aftermath of Wande Coal’s split with Bankulli Entertainment, that it would ‘take the special grace of God plus every other spiritual being to save [the singer’s] career.’
Funny how some things look so different some years down the line.