The fifth album from the legendary afrobeats artist is polarizing but largely satisfactory, building on the colorful, love-dominating ethos of his previous LP.
Wizkid’s legacy is the most discussed aspect of his career. Emerging in the early 2010s, he was influential for his endearing vocals, enigmatic presence and colorful fashion. To chart his evolution is to chart the evolution of contemporary afrobeats, viewed through the prism of one of its biggest and most talented artists.
The 32-year-old released Made In Lagosin October 2020. Its tropical, laid-back vibe blossomed into the next year, with “True Love” and “Essence” representing variant sides of its popularity. While the Temscollaboration solidified Africa’s connection with its sonic influences from America and the Caribbean, the former’s folk roots captured the sensitive alternative leanings of Wizkid’s current skill set. The album has unarguably been one of the most influential afrobeats projects of the 2020s, but it also set a very high bar for the man behind its creation.
More Love, Less Ego was preceded by deliberate efforts from Wizkid’s team. Pre-album singles didn’t seem to be fully marketed, though “Bad To Me” and “Money & Love” held up a view of the album’s ethos well enough. It was rather the superstar’s charisma which was captured in the exclusive shows he played, the bottles of Casamigos shared among notable figures, the cryptic posts across social media.
These touches reflect on the album too. Early into its carousel of bright, saxophone-lined beats, the listener gets a sense of the vision. It’s more love after all, Wizkid takes his expression to wholesome and almost dizzying heights on the new project, building on the angel-eyed romantic themes of Made In Lagos. He’s however more demanding of his vocals here, frequently stepping outside of his comfort zone. “Money & Love” establishes the project’s languid pace, playing down the sultry, sensual energy Wizkid embodies later on. You hear however the Caribbean-tinged inflections in his voice, perfectly polishing his intent with the invocation of Jamaican music icon, Buju Banton.
Since breaking out as a teenager, Wizkid has explored the subject of desire. He’s adjusted his perspective over the years, going from the suggestive youthfulness of “Don’t Dull” to the explicit candor of “In My Bed.” Post-2017 Wizkid however embraces a reserved immersion into the wholesomeness of erotic expression, obviously influenced by his ever-growing popularity. More Love, Less Ego, for the first time in his current phase of global ubiquity, pulls intimately towards the heated promise of Wizkid’s sex appeal.
“Bad To Me” strikes the initial note of that progression, adapting the heavily percussive rhythms of Amapiano and trendy crowd vocals. Matching his delivery to that energy, the record continues as one of the more poignant records on MLLE. Vocally dynamic and sonically pleasing, it conveys the album’s mood. “Deep” takes Wizkid further into the hypnotic, sex-heavy world he’s curated. Amidst imagery which upholds his pop star status, he longs for touch, utilizing the chorus to that effect.
Some other records do not relay Wizkid’s venereal intent as confidently or precisely. “Flower Pads” is particularly conflicting and uninspiring, faintly satisfying the listener’s primal desire for a bop but the songwriting, quite surface level and cliche-driven, does not elevate its role past that of a filler. The P Priime-produced “Pressure” is almost bogged down by similar issues, but after running through its unaffecting verses, Wizkid returns to the assurance of a well-written and impeccably sung hook. “If I wan dey love, I wan dey love you my baby,” he sings, again reiterating the album’s simple purpose.
Of this sub-category, “Balance” is arguably the album’s most confidently expressive record. Painting colorful images with specific mentions of things and places, Kel P’s buttery percussion teases a memorable lightness from Wizkid’s pen. “And I no fit pass you like my Mary Jane” is no doubt a cheeky lyric, but even more purposeful is that on the hook, “If the right things dey, I go dey.” It’s the kind of caption-perfect line musicians spend many introspective nights seeking but in the album’s context, holds up the image of Wizkid as accessible within certain spaces.
Collaborations also tie into that vision of having the right things. Budding singer Ayra Starr lights up “2 Sugar” with her fizzy, feminine presence. An audible follow-up to Tems’ career-defining showing on “Essence,” the direction of Starr weighs the importance of one’s mental health as they go about carving a life. Wizkid usually cedes the centrestage for his features, and MLLE continues in that style. “Slip N Slide” sees the Jamaican artists Skillibeng and Shenseea uphold their genre’s tradition for bold storytelling flecked with charming vulnerability. The former’s surly vocals pairs brilliantly with the cool sensation of the latter’s while Wizkid takes up minimal role as a conductor.
Prior to album release, “Wow” garnered most of the attention due to its unusual pairing of Skepta and Naira Marley. Somehow the collab is made to work, the visceral mid-tempo production inspiring energetic outputs from the musicians. Marley is the adhesive, employing his risqué vocabulary and impressionable vocals in the record’s catchiest sections. Brief but evocative, Skepta’s verse falls perfectly next to Wiz’s, cashing in on the sexy boss vibe he’s come to embody over the years.
“Special” rests in the middle of a stellar three-song run which closes out the album. Subverting typical ideas of what a Don Toliver joint would sound like, Wizkid instead calls up revered producer Juls who lays down signature palmwine music-tinged production. Over percussive chops and highlife-indebted guitar playing, the duo unfurls tales of a lover. Toliver’s heartfelt hook is reminiscent of Tay Iwar’s contribution on “True Love,” a similar level of sensitivity encouraged by its stripped production and folksy direction.
“Plenty Loving” reconstructs the familiar soundscape of Amapiano into the perfect terrain for Wizkid. The upbeat tempo is polished with spacious keys and whistling vocal samples; allowing his vocals free reign, Wizkid delivers some of the album’s most engaging melodies. Weaning his lowkey charisma into a deft turn of phrase such as “I go let your body know, baby let nobody know,” the Wizkid on MLLE has mastered the flourishes he established on MIL. “Frames (Who’s Gonna Know)” demonstrates this mastery: flowing solo over laidback drums, the veteran musician tasks his vocals in producing the most sensitive record in a project otherwise suffused with explicit imagery.
A fine touch of a closer, “Frames” crucially diversifies the execution between More Love, Less Ego and its predecessor. Elsewhere Wizkid relies overtly on the established structures of Made In Lagos. Some records sound as though created during the same session, their vision only faintly altered. Even with its merits, “Everyday” obviously fulfills the role of “Blessed” on this project. Wizkid’s recommendation to enjoy life regardless of setbacks has the distinction between social classes to consider, but it is the delivery itself which falls short of the urgency that made the latter a cornerstone of MIL.
P2J produces all but two records on the tape, joined by Sammy Soso and KDaGreat in about three of those. Known for his distinct percussion, he soundtracks memorable moments on “Bad To Me” and “Deep,” constructing intricate layers within their details. He often employs the vibrant colors of South African house and amapiano, thus grounding Wizkid in the ebbs of contemporary African pop music. Unlike Sounds From The Other Side where Wizkid first broached the shores of global sounds, the artist allies finally with the sounds from this side while utilizing features to bolster a diasporic edge to the project.
Given his caliber as a superstar whose relevance transcends music, Wizkid would always be subjected to the sort of scrutiny MLLE has received thus far. It is by no means a bad project; at thirteen songs it’s actually solid save for a few records that sojourn an already well-trodden path. Wizkid is not the first artist to make an album about the head-spinning highs of love, but he doesn’t explore the balance suggested in its title. There’s rather a compact form informed by his previous album, whereas MLLE would have greatly benefited from a little more freedom. Luckily, Wizkid is still creating albums. It would be a worthy experience to observe his journey from here on.