5 Takeaways From Olamide’s New Album 'Unruly'

5 Takeaways From Olamide’s New Album 'Unruly'

Here are the highlights from the Nigerian street-pop icon's tenth studio album, Unruly.

The last time Olamide dropped an album it landed as a surprise of sorts. UY Scuti, released in 2021 and clocking out at 28 minutes, arrived less than nine months after the propulsive success of Carpe Diem, a pandemic-era record that signaled the street-pop icon’s reconciliation with the current ebb of popular Nigerian music. Where Carpe Diem was expansive and exultant, UY Scuti tunneled into a new approach of melding street-pop realities with his reflections on romance and debauchery from a uniquely Lagosian point-of-view.

In December 2021, among a flurry of guest verses and collaborations with a new generation of street-pop stars, Olamide announced the title of his next album and hinted that it could conceivably be his last, ending a legendary run that established him as the voice of the streets and one of afropop’s biggest icons. The wait since then has been long and eventful with several snippets and previews of presumed Unruly tracks making their way to the Internet and whetting the appetite of an audience eager for new Baddo music. Eschewing the typical Friday release of albums, Unruly arrived on Wednesday and plays out for 40 minutes across 15 tracks, giving listeners enough flexibility to give the project a few listens immediately after release.

Here are some of our takeaways from listening to Olamide’s Unruly.

Olamide Is At His Most Relaxed Yet

No one can quite forget the incendiary opening of Olamide’s 2015 album, Eyan Mayweather, and the Nigerian rap legend has typically used the opening stretches of his albums to set the mood and pace for his messages from project to project with noticeable highlights like “Oga Nla 1,” “Fe Nu Shey Street,” and “The Glory Intro.” Coming from a street-pop background that was largely undermined and undervalued for a long time, the angst and frustration that Olamide often projected across his old albums were well-earned. Carpe Diem marked a turn for the rapper who instead focused on counting his wins and mildly sneering at competition while letting only a few subliminals off on “Another Level.”

“Need For Speed,” off UY Scuti, set the pace for the album’s pensive feel but “Celebrate” is a definitive marker for Olamide’s mood these days. While his celebratory state is still punctuated by past trauma, he’s largely in a great place that informs his focus on jubilation and living life up. One of the most quotable lines on “Celebrate” is “from shaku shaku to breaking shackles” in a measure of how far Olamide has come since he emerged in 2010 with “Eni Duro.” Songs like “Life Goes On” and “No Worries” show that the legendary rapper is prioritising his peace and self-preservation in this new era and it’s a genuine pleasure to see the Bariga-born star reach this stage.

Afropop’s Next Gen Shine On Unruly

Throughout Olamide’s career, he has always been a willing collaborator, adept at bringing the impetus and dynamism of his rap flows to a variety of styles and soundscapes. He’s also helped break a number of rising stars with his highly sought-after co-sign that has most recently made YBNL star, Asake, the new toast of Afropop. While he’s made himself available for collaborations with a number of rising mainstream stars from the beginning, Olamide didn’t fully open up his own work to their own cadences, influences, and styles until Carpe Diem where he collaborated with Bad Boy Timz, Omah Lay, and Bella Shmurda to thrilling effect.

On Unruly, Olamide’s dalliance with Afropop’s next-gen continues as he teases out stellar showings from some of the genre’s brightest stars like emo-afrobeats star, CKay, as well as YBNL stars, Asake and Fireboy DML as well as BNXN Fka Buju. The most surprising of these collaborations is “Mukulu” with Jonzing/Mavin artist, Rema, where the Benin-born star contributes a solemn-yet-arresting hook that Olamides weaves an interesting romantic narrative around. The features on Unruly are an instructive look into how to collaborate with a new generation and urge them to a high standard without cramping the individuality that makes them special, and it's a balance that Olamide nails masterfully.

Olamide Keeps His Promise To The Baddies

In the lead-up to the release of Unruly, nobody quite knew what to expect from the album in terms of sonic choices or thematic directions. A tweet from Olamide one month ago saying that the album was made for baddies and men who love baddies provided some clarity. The rollout and pre-release visuals for the album leaned into that idea of music made for debauchery and having a great night out exploring sensual desires. The music on Unruly does not miss a beat as a majority of its 15 tracks play up Olamide’s fascination with–and appreciation for–baddies and giving them the world. “Trumpet” with CKay is a mid-tempo strip tease that finds a companion in the BNXN-featuring “Come Alive” where the singer operates as an enchanter. The most overtly sexual moment on Unruly is, however, delivered by Fireboy DML on “Shibebe,” with even labelmate, Asake, astounded by the sticky-sweet lewdness of the song.

Olamide Can Still Make Street-Pop Bangers

After emerging as the heir to the throne of indigenous rap emissary following the untimely and tragic passing of DaGrin in 2010, Olamide blew up the niche sub-genre and took it to unprecedented heights throughout the 2010s. By fusing indigenous rap with influences from trap, apala, Fuji, and soul, Olamide laid the foundation for the street-pop sound that would emerge later in the decade. His work from 2012’s Yahoo Boy No Laptop to 2017’s Lagos Na Wa are instructive dissertations on the joys, lives, ambitions, and tensions of inner city Lagos and the economically-disenfranchised populace of wider Nigeria.

The emergence of new street-pop stars like Asake, T.I. Blaze, SeyiVibez, and Zinoleesky has meant that the focus on Olamide as a great synthesiser of street-pop culture isn’t as intense as it used to be. However, on Unruly, he still demonstrates that he has his fingers on the pulse of street culture and is fluid in the dialectics and lingo that rule the hood. “Gaza” is a militaristic throwback to Olamide at the pomp of his indigenous rap era as he spits venomously over a punishing instrumental by Eskeez. “Hardcore,” “Supplier” and “Street Jam” are similarly addictive bops that show that Olamide is still as sharp on the mic as ever.

Eskeez Continues To Anchor Olamide’s Statesman Phase

Not many Nigerian pop stars have an ear for to-tier production as Olamide does. The YBNL boss has a knack for homing in on would-be creative partners and building out successful projects with them. The last two of Olamide’s albums have largely borne the mark of one major creative partner. Wunderkind, P.Priime, produced the majority of Carpe Diem while Eskeez took over production duties on UY Scuti. There’s a reprisal of that arrangement on Unruly with Eskeez boasting nine credits of the album’s 15 songs. What makes this installation different is the variety of what Eskeez contributes here. Unlike UY Scuti which was mostly mellow and ballad-inclined, there’s range to his contribution on Unruly with Olamide deftly moving from boom-bap indigenous rap to R&B-and-hip-hop fusions and nimble amapiano-pop fusions to sound genuinely refreshed. It’s a partnership that sounds like it still has so smooch to offer going forward.