By Dennis Peter
Mr Eazi told the truth and he got crucified for it, and the vitriol hasn’t fully subsided almost two years later, which is equivalent to forty years in internet time. In a since-deleted but highly memorable tweet from early 2017, mere days to the release of his highly anticipated album Life Is Eazi, Vol. 1 – Accra To Lagos, Eazi emphatically announced that Nigerian music leaned on and learnt a lot from Ghanaian music, to paraphrase: “the influence of Ghanaian music on Nigerian music cannot be understated.”
Dropping that type of shell bomb on a grossly self-involved society, one that believes the music it’s exporting is the best thing out of Africa since the Pyramids at Giza, and also currently boasting some of the biggest artists on the continent (and in the world depending on who you ask,) is like mistakenly shooting yourself in the foot while showing off your handgun skills. Was Mr Eazi ham-fisted about the way he went about making his point? Yes, the lack of context with 140characters leaves room for only absolute yarns, and the mob on Twitter doesn’t deal well with absolute yarns. Was he lying? In the glorious words of American comedian/actor Kevin Hart, “hell fucking naw!”
Considering the amount of extensive interactions between both neighbouring countries, it is expected that musical styles are co-opted, comingled and adopted. Although there are examples of the musical innovations that have crossed over from Ghana and become prominent in Nigeria that span back decades – highlife most notably – Mr Eazi’s highly influential, patented Banku style became the latest example of musical cross-pollination from Ghana into Nigeria. Conjured in collaboration with Ghanaian producer Juls, it’s no hyperbole that the dominant strain of afro-pop these days that favours stride ahead of the sprint is very much influenced by the highlife-influenced Banku – he’s not the only factor, but he is quite pertinent. What also made that bitter tasting statement even more corrosive is that Eazi, who broke first in Ghana before becoming a phenomenon in Nigeria, was being ungrateful, seemingly choosing the neighbour with whom Nigeria tenuous, love-hate relationship over his accepting fatherland.
Even though he subbed out Juls for Nigerian heavyweight producers like Del B & Masterkraft, Accra To Lagos was further proof of how much Eazi’s style had been indented unto Nigerian music. Although the album was released to mostly favourable reviews, the local fanfare surrounding the album dipped and it showed in how such a potentially earth-shattering debut became just another release. While the love at home was lukewarm, further compounded by his comments about Gambian Jollof being the best Jollof, Mr Eazi was working his way into becoming one of the biggest musical exports from this side of the Atlantic, snagging a coveted spot on Apple Music’s Up Next series leading up to a performance on The Late Late Show With James Corden, performing to sold-out crowds across Europe and reportedly netting over a million dollars in revenue from streaming alone. Life has been quite Eazi.
Life Is Eazi, Vol. 2 – Lagos To London, Mr Eazi’s newly released follow-up is a loose document of the artist’s continued rise from parochial star to international fame. Eazi is young, creative, rich, and in love (with Temi Otedola, daughter of oil magnate Femi Otedola), and Lagos To London captures that energy, while also slyly but deliberately illumining his trajectory so far. Lagos To London isn’t what anyone would traditionally refer to as a conceptual album, it falls into more than a few musical tropes common to a typical afro-pop album, but closer inspection reveals slightly more than meets the eye. Like they say, the detail is in the fabric.
First is its superb album cover, a London styled public bus draped in bright yellow and double black stripes prevalent to Danfos (small buses) and Molues (big buses), popular means of public transportation in Lagos. Although in the same vein as Eazi wearing an attire with the same colour scheme as a popular Ghana Must Go bag on the front cover of Accra To Lagos, the cover art for Lagos To London is substantially crispier and much more pleasing to look at – it’s actual phone or laptop wallpaper material.
Second is its sequencing, a tracklist divided into the Lagos and London sections, both sides connected by “In Molue to London (Skit).” On the opening Lagos side, Eazi covers the breadth of Afro-pop, picking rhythmic beats that are instinctually closer to and more identifiable with home; there’s the fast-paced clang of the Juls & Pheelz produced “Surrender,” the sparse but resplendent pon-pon thump of “Property” and an obvious reinterpretation of shaku shaku style on the Diplo produced EDM banger “Open & Close.” The London side is just as varied, reflecting the musical melting pot that is the city, featuring fluid and preppy mid-tempo cuts (“Attention”), infectious, slow-burning Caribbean vibes (“She Loves Me”), and also dipping into the whirring, gate-crashing viscera of grime inflected afro swing on “Chicken Curry” and the Giggs assisted, pre-released single “London Town.”
Following suit with sequencing, the pacing of songs brings an altogether-ness to an album filled with disparate styles, an important factor that emphasizes the boundary-pushing, global nature of contemporary Afro-pop, or as they call it outside the continent, Afrobeats, and also makes Lagos To London a breezy front to back listen. It also doesn’t hurt that the songs are pretty short—except the criminally abridged, groovy “Lagos Gyration (Intro)” with fast-rising star Lady Donli—a lengthy project with songs overstaying their welcome would have diluted Lagos To London‘s undeniable sauce.
Without the implication of these rather meticulous parts elevating it, Lagos To London could simply be regarded as a collection of exuberant, if mostly banal, songs, which it is, but also with all things considered, it is beyond. Mr Eazi, an artist with a lightweight voice and a clearly boxed vocal range, has obvious limitations that also extends into a thematic berth. But the good thing about a pop artist like Eazi is that he’s able to focus on and weaponize his strength: a moderately catchy, sometimes corny, pen game and his ability to fling melodies in a lackadaisical but controlled manner. From Simi and 2Baba, to Burna Boy and Chronixx, there’s nary a guest singer on Lagos To London Eazi can outsing, but he’s able to hold his own by perfectly contrasting his features and making sure they bounce off him.
Mr Eazi is known for his deliberateness – it’s a big reason he’s gotten this far – and it superbly translates into Lagos To London. With an endorsement from internet giant YouTube backing Eazi’s latest, and the album reportedly racking up over 20million streams within a day of release, Lagos To London is primed to propel the artist into higher stratosphere. Maybe if we realize Lagos—the only city to be featured on his two album titles—is extremely important to the upward career trajectory of Mr Eazi, born Tosin Ajibade, we’d come around to forgive him for speaking the truth.