Three years after releasing his commercially successful sophomore album ‘Ayo’, Nigerian singer-songwriter Wizkid is finally back with a new project, his first since joining the international music label RCA Records. After much anticipation, the crooner of 2015 hit ‘Ojuelegba’ dropped his extended play Sounds From the Other Side (SFTOS) on July 14th
Although widely reported to be the Nigerian artist’s third studio album, mainly because of its length (12 songs totaling around 40 minutes cumulatively) and the amount of promotion it received in the build up to its release, Wizkid explains during an interview with Beats 1 radio anchor Ebro Darden that SFTOS is in fact an EP.
The project, he insists, should be considered first and foremost as a collection of his work following his first -and admittedly tentative- steps into the international music scene. This precision could well mean that the record is merely a preview of bigger things to come from the 26-year-old.
Already a household name in Africa, and no doubt one of the continents biggest musical exports in recent years, SFTOS is Wizkid’s attempt to capture a new, wider international audience.
A glance at its tracklist reveals collaborations with well-established American acts. Drake, Chris Brown, Trey Songz and Ty Dolla $ign all hopped on the project. Wizkid also collaborated with production trio Major Lazer on the on the laidback and playfully seductive tune ‘Naughty ride’.
Perhaps a result of his international aspirations, his usage of the Yoruba language on SFTOS is markedly sparse, if not nonexistent, in comparison to ‘Ayo’ and his debut album ‘Superstar’.
Pidgin, however, is used liberally throughout the 12-song record, and even Chris Brown even has a go at it on ‘African Bad Gyal’. Highlighting his experience on the dance floor to his love interest, Chris Brown states “Them no born me yesterday”, as he invites her to “be a freaky girl and whine up”.
Quite surprisingly, not a single Nigerian artist is featured on the record, although Ghana’s Efya and South African house singer Bucie both lend their voices to the prioject on ‘Daddy Yo’ and ‘All for Love’ respectively.
Musically and conceptually different from his previous projects, the EP is a bold and ambitious effort that aptly showcases Wizkid’s growth as an artist. Wizkid has gained greater control over his vocals, and his delivery is noticeably a lot more charismatic.
This new artistic direction has given rise to various critiques the most recurrent of them being that he has supposedly strayed too far from his original Afropop and Afrobeat sound in his attempt to break into international airwaves.
Some critics argue he chose to neglect his local fanbase in order cater to the expectations of the global music market. While these claims certainly do have some basis -the album is, after all, a creative blend of various musical genres, namely Afrobeat, Afropop, Dancehall, South African House Music and R&B- they clearly lack nuance.
‘Sexy’ is an obvious contemporary tribute to Fela, the artist commonly considered as the “father of Afrobeats”. ‘Nobody’ is vaguely reminiscent of his earlier hit “Wiz Party’, only the former has a more matured twist to it.
One of SFTOS main strengths is undoubtedly its production quality. The sound quality is perfect (that was not the case on Wizkid’s debut album) and the project is expertly produced and mastered. Wizkid closely collaborated with both African and American producers on the EP, which perhaps helps explain its musical diversity/ambiguity.
Nigeria’s Sarz produced various tracks on SFTOS, notably Wizkid and Drake’s smash hit “Come Closer”; Los Angeles based producer DJ Mustard helped produce “Dirty Wine”; and South Africa’s DJ Maphorisa was behind the song ‘Sexy’. Also credited for participating in producing the project are production duo Lengendury Beatz as well as Spellz according to an article featured on MTV Base Africa’s website, although it is not specified on which tracks they worked on.
SFTOS is a fun mix of upbeat, club-worthy songs such as ‘Come Closer’ and ‘Daddy Yo’ and more relaxed tunes in the form of ‘Picture Perfect’ or ‘Sweat Love’. ‘Picture Perfect’ is arguably the EP’s standout track. In the track, Wizkid’s vocals effortlessly blends with the instrumentals, as he tries to convince his lover to disregard what people have to say about their relationship and reassure her that he only has eyes for her: “They’ll keep on talking but I want nobody nah/Let them keep on talking girl you know I want it/Girl it’s a given that I always need you more/I’ll put a ring on it because I don’t want you gone”
Overall, Sounds From the Other Side is an enjoyable project from a seasoned African artists testing out new waters. Although it somewhat pales in comparison to his earlier projects, Wizkid can nevertheless be commended for taking risks and trying out new sounds.