By: Eriomala John
What is growth? What is ‘Genius?’ and what is ‘Great Artistry?’ For all three, we could consult Google and any of the several thousand other information pools available on the internet; we sure could. Or, we could devote 39 minutes and 8 seconds to listen to Emeka ‘Blaqbonez’ Akamefule’s sophomore LP, Young Preacher. If and when made to pick, ladies and gentlemen, by all means, pick the latter. You will thank me later.
Like millions of other music listeners, I stayed up on the night of October 27th, 2022 in anticipation of ‘New Music Friday’ among other things (no rest for students of the Fess and Bess). However, unlike most of these people, I wouldn’t get to listen to Blaq’s album for another week. This meant that I had a horrid week online escaping reviews and dodging critiques amidst the usual post-album-release noise. Thankfully, Young Preacher was worth every second of the delay.
The album kicks off with the title track, Young Preacher. If there’s one thing Blaqbonez will always do, it’s to deliver a quality intro. However, Young Preacher is a step ahead of Novocane, (Sex Over Love) and Accommodate (Bad Boy Blaq) in terms of subject matter. He steers away from solely bragging to talk, howbeit briefly, about the struggles of growing up with a negligent father, and speaks his truth of the supremacy of pleasure and honesty, even when it hurts. As the track closes, we hear the voice of what appears to be a talk show host, introducing Blaq to an audience. This effectively sets up the running theme of Blaq teaching the world, his audience, Critical thinking, the Streets, and University “Hoes”. Although, as we’ll later see, only the first two subjects were really covered.
Track 2, Hot Boy, starts off with pure braggadocio, Blaqbonez singing in patois; “Badman need no thermometer, Hot from spring to the summertime / Your girl needs issa BBC, So I chop her clean like a cannibal”. Midway through, a portion of a movie can be heard where a male character insinuates that his counterpart needs ‘nice, hard’ coitus to restore her senses; to which she exclaims. The accompanying beat switch (courtesy of Telz) sees Blaq rapping over heavy bass lines in a manner reminiscent of two of his idols, Kendrick Lamar and Drake.
Before I proceed, permit me a few words to objectively berate that mess of album artwork. What a disappointment! Yes, the overall quality of album artwork has been subpar this year but I didn’t expect his to also fall into that category. The colour grading is a sight for sore eyes, as were his choice of hair colour and models (beautiful but generic-looking).
As much as I understand the need for a personal touch based on the album’s themes, there were several other creative directions 10Ten, the A&R for the LP, and the team at Chocolate City could have gone with. Heck, even the playlist covers, sourced from the shoot, left much to be desired. The role a good project artwork plays in the minds of consumers can simply not be overemphasized and CC more than anyone should know this. Fortunately, when the official artwork and tracklist were released on the 22nd of October (via his social media handles), I was able to direct more attention toward the featured acts, song titles, and what to expect.
Unfortunately, the song I had looked forward to the most, Whistle, turned out to be an underwhelming affair. Here, Lojay delivers a beautiful pre-chorus and an equally melodic chorus but not enough to save the lull. Being a huge fan of Amaarae, who by the way had the feature of the year on Asa’s All I Ever Wanted, I was expecting a lot more. Sadly, I guess even incredible feature runs have to come to an end at some point (Money and Laughter – Boj’s Gbagada Express, Born Again – Santi’s Subaru Boys: FINAL HEAVEN, Tales by Moonlight – Tiwa’s magnificent Water and Garri EP, etc.). Not even production from OGs like Chopstix and Masterkraft could save the track.
The pace picks up immediately with Fashionnova. By Jove, Emeka sure knows how to start off a song; “That girl in that corner, Yeah, she bad and boujee / she like Fashionnova, it brings out her booty”, goddammit. That’s asides from the raunchy second verse in which he lists his women just like DMX on the 1999 rap classic, What These B**ches Want? Also, it is in this song that the evolution of his musicality first becomes evident as he switches calmly between an Omah Lay-esque delivery and his natural baritone in Verse 2; so much so that the autotune is less obvious. It also dwells heavily on the ‘streets’ theme and the glories of pleasure over attachment with Blaq preaching “All of my girls get love, equally”.
As for Track 5 and what served as the lead single, Back in Uni, all I can say is ‘Masterstroke!’. From the incredible production of UK Producer – and now Afrobeats regular- JAE5 and fantastic duo, The Elements, to an incredibly creative video that’s bound to land Blaq another Headies Best Music Video nomination, an equally creative post-release PR campaign (which got controversial at some point as Blaq was accused of queerbaiting), and every other thing in between; this track delivered it all. Listening within the context of the album also reveals some more about the Young Preacher himself. For one, Back in Uni is a cry. Not a cry for help but a cry nonetheless. He appears to be remorseful of his actions but accepting of the fact that that’s just who he is. “..to all the keles wey I done ghost/ didn’t mean to play with your heart but that’s just how the thing goes” he sings.
The show host, played by Big Brother Naija’s Alex Asogwe AKA Alex Unusual in the Back in Uni video, returns on the proceeding track, Fake Nikes. She appears to welcome the audience back from a commercial break as Blaq slips take on the role of teacher. He describes the pressures of wearing expensive designer outfits and how he avoids them; wearing his fakes with no shame. This song also shines a spotlight on the fake lifestyle many artists live. This is pretty bold, as, in the past, artists like Kiss Daniel and Mr. P of P-Square have been called out for wearing fakes. Despite the lackluster generic verses from South African rapper, Blxckie and longtime friend, Cheque, Fake Nikes shines as a deep cut. It’s also one of three songs completely produced by the incredible Ramoni; his soul samples serve as the perfect backdrop for Apostle Emeka’s sermon-on-the-bounce.
Rounding up the four-track magical run and starting off the second half of this project is arguably, the best track on the entire project, Loyalty. Usually, when a project drops and I haven’t listened, I try not to pay attention to tweets and status updates. In the case of Young Preacher, it was a continuous assault of “Oh my God, LOYALTY”, “Loyalty might be the song of the year”, “What Blaqbonez did on Loyalty>>>” etc. As a result, I went into the project expecting to be let down by this track in particular (coughs in Burna’s Common Person). Well, not only was I proven wrong but it turned out that the hype wasn’t even enough.
The slowed-down, reverb effect on that Paul Play sample (Forever, off his 2005 Hitsville album) leading into the pre-chorus, the chorus, verse, pre-chorus, and closing off with the chorus is such a simple yet profound execution of music theory. It’s also one of the most personal tracks on the project; exposing his philandering as a flaw, an inability to stay faithful. Personally, the only thing stopping Loyalty from being a 10/10 is its conclusion. Rather than a simple fade out, there could have been thirty seconds where the Young Preacher character has an intense, emotional conversation with his lover. Shoutout to Ramoni once again!
The interlude, Smoke Igbo, begins with a call to attention by the talk show host. It also features a lowfi sample of the classic track, Water No Get Enemy by Abami Eda himself. We listen in on a brief conversation between Blaqbonez and the chick from Fake Nikes about some ‘Sativa’ that ends with Blaq shunning her.
For the next two tracks, the focus is more on grooving and partying than anything else. Both Ess Mama, featuring Tekno, and Mazoe, featuring Zimbabwean artiste, Takura and Bien, a quarter of the Kenyan star group, Sauti Soul, stick to the album’s theme of philandering and ‘hoedom’. Although, on Mazoe, Blaqbonez while speaking on squabbles within relationships, hints at a need for companionship despite all. My man simply will not fumble a bad b*tch.
On the BMH-produced Track 12, Star Life, our suspicions are confirmed. Introspective Blaqbonez returns and offers commentary on the loneliness that accompanies stardom as well as the surplus, but ultimately ineffective distractions available at the top. Basically, even f*ck boys need somebody to hold on to.
“Shawty told me love is the highest vibration,
I told her I disagree
Don’t worry about your boyfriend, it’s sweeter when you’re unfaithful”
On the penultimate track, Blaq sheds off the insecure emotions of the previous tracks and gets Back On his BS. Slipping into that Drizzy pocket that he so effortlessly occupies – as evidenced on his Lemon Pepper Freestyle cover – Blaq talks a babe he’s with into getting down with him. Overall, it would’ve been preferable had this song transitioned into the outro rather than ending that way.
Fortunately, the quality of the final track takes your mind totally off that. Blaq had previously previewed this song in the heat of the Asa/Tempoe/Joeboy debacle; much to my excitement. I still was as excited while listening. Not only does it circle back to the theme of his journey so far but we also witness him reveal how his best friend, Cheque, seamlessly blowing up might have affected him.
In the closing seconds of the record, we listen to Mama Akamefule, Blaqbonez’s mum, talk about their journey so far from sourcing for accommodation and being broke to living in a luxurious house. Sort of like UK-Nigerian rapper, Dave, did on 2021’s We’re All Alone In This Together. It’s tastefully done and gives insight into the struggles with fame and success he harps on at several points in this forty-minute journey; the Young Preacher’s story, if you will.
Does this album succeed? Yes! An emphatic yes! Blaqbonez manages to navigate between his typical pro-epicurean lifestyle message and far more personal subject matter while walking new artistic paths. His musical choices do not imprison him in the ‘ either melodic-trap OR hard-core rapper’ box. Also, there’s more confidence in his ability as a musician without needing to remind you every second that “he’s the best rapper in Africa” (even though his Twitter antics might suggest otherwise). On Young Preacher, Emeka the Stallion, Blaqbonez, and the Young Preacher fuse into a singular image of cohesion and maturity.
RIP BeatsbyJhay, you would have loved the artiste Blaq has become.