Wizkid utilises all resources at his disposal to make his best project yet with 'Sounds From The Other Side.'
Hindsight may be a privileged point from which to claim prescience, but it was already clear by 2011 what an exciting artist Wizkid is.
He was 21 then and to say his debut, Superstar, was promising is to ignore the satisfaction songs like “Pakurumo” and “Tease Me / Bad Guys” still deliver today.
Three years later, Ayo followed, and is today a modern afrobeats classic that may be a little off-focus as an album, but has bags of brilliant songwriting that include “Ojuelegba” and “Show You The Money.”
The outstanding singles since then have included “Expensive Shit,” “Final (Baba Nla)” and “Like This.” The features have been numerous, but no less impressive, including highlights like “Bamilo” with May D, never likely to make an album or get any real shine as standalone single.
Yet, fans agitated for this third album, when anyone interested could have easily compiled a solid and enjoyable playlist of 20 songs, and even pick a title of their choosing.
The wait, however, is well worth it for Wizkid appears to have amassed and utilised all resources at his disposal to make what must be his best project yet with Sounds From The Other Side, though Ayo has had three years to mature.
Wizkid’s lyrics and subject matter hasn't changed much with successive projects. It's now clear that his genius is in melodies: creating a feeling, rather than creating lyrics that create a feeling. He's able to do this in abundance and with ease.
Some of his most focused writing on Sounds From The Other Side is done on “Picture Perfect,” where his knack for effective hooks is buoyed by simple and clean verses, free of fluff. The hollow beat whose two prominent sounds are a soft percussion and echoey piano leaves his voice naked, allowing for clarity.
The only shoddiness here is found on Apple Music’s lyrics page which clearly doesn't recognise ‘Nigerian’ as a language. Rather than have “we send nobody” to mean not caring about people’s opinions, it has “we said nobody”. Also, the word “omoge” is misquoted as “oh my girl” which weirdly isn't far off from the intended meaning.
His pal Chris Brown peaked as a Michael Jackson impersonator on “Fine China,” as has Wizkid on “Sexy,” which has to be his best distillation of Fela Kuti yet. He doesn’t slavishly emulate Fela’s singing but references enough of it. Neither has producer Spellz shackled himself to Egypt 80 for he smoothes over any hard afrobeat grooves with twinkly guitars and a pronounced bass. Efya, for her part, adds real depth with her bell-toll of a voice.
One suspects that not too many producers in the afrobeats-sphere would be too pleased that Major Lazer is getting top billing on a Wizkid project, when they locally source and churn out the “true” stuff at more reasonable prices. Led by piano and finger claps, the beat is here given legit afrobeats accreditation on “Naughty Ride.”
If you ever wondered what Fela’s voice would sound like when treated with auto-tune, the answer is in “Sweet Love,” which makes no bones about borrowing from “Shakara (Oloje).” The words and melodies may be a tribute to the Fela of the 1970s, but the song as a whole is closer to Majek Fashek’s own interpretations of the 90s which he called kpangolo.
The bass guitar on "Sweet Love" could have easily come from “Love and Affection” and Wizkid’s cadence is strongly reminiscent of Fashek’s, down to his pronunciation of the word “love." Both men combine to make a song which, on initial listens, doesn't quite excite but repays value over time and away from other songs on the album.
The most impassioned singing has been saved for “Nobody,” especially on the hook where poise gives way to real feeling. This is vulnerable-Wiz pleading for a lover to stay and it does actually sound sincere. The writing and beat is neat and concise, freed from the clutter of ad libs, instruments or features.
Dre Skull—whose shepherded sounds for Jamaican dancehall stars Popcaan and Vybz Kartel—handled the production work on “Daddy Yo”, released in December of last year. It's a clear clue that Wizkid has his eye on dancehall.
Clever use of primary school rhymes with numbers in the second verse continues to showcase his head for the simple and effective. The second verse could well be the hook and the song would still be as good.
The cultural exchange program that led to the “Ojuelegba” remix with Skepta and “One Dance” with Drake was already on the way on “African Bad Gyal” with Chris Brown. What’s more, Brown does a very good job modulating his Yankee accent to match Wizkid’s, going a step further than Drake’s still impressive turn on the “Ojuelegba” remix. Made by SARZ, the beat retraces the afrobeat-meets-EDM mash of “Beat of Life”.
Del B’s previous works with Wizkid includes well known gems like “Pull Over” with Kcee and, a personal favourite, “Oshe” with Reminisce, neither of which suffer in comparison to “Gbese” with Trey Songz, decent as it is. It also comes as near-relief that Songz has chosen to stick to his American R&B lane here rather than make insincere or desperate afrobeats overtures.t
One wonders why Ty Dolla $ign has two guest spots on a most important afro-pop project, neither of which is exceptional. The first ("One For Me") is in fact a naked riff 0f SWV’s “You’re The One” which could chart well, airlifted above average by '90s nostalgia.
The second Ty Dolla $ign feature is “Dirty Wine” an overused phrase over an overused beat by DJ Mustard. A large portion of his production work so far hangs on the thinnest of thread, having one dominant bass synth which, when anything less than brilliant, can be super-dull.
This one isn’t, and should do well on charts, but as radio R&B it is not much distinguished from the deluge we’ve accustomed to. That said, the small pleasure of hearing a Nigerian-ism like “dull me” on a DJ Mustard beat that must still go for hefty sums makes up for a lot.
The “prince” of afrobeats proves to be a great match for the “princess” of house music on the real delight that is “All For Love” whose blend of styles and languages is seamless.
House music manages its frequently heavy rhythms without being tedious, in the way club bangers could never soothe. Top this up with the real warmth in Bucie’s voice and the clarity in Wizkid’s when both implore “be my lover, be my friend” and even a stony-heart couldn't resist, as both do their bit to improve Nigerian-South African relations.
These really are the sounds from the other side, but exactly which side this is depends not on Wizkid, but the individual who asks. For the album is as African as it is American, never neither, always both.
What's clear is that this is a true afro-fusion album, well-balanced between world conquering ambitions and the culture whence it came.
If Superstar (2011) cast a spell over Nigeria and Ayo (2014) held it over Africa, now Sounds From The Other Side has, as noted on Apple Music, made Wizkid a true “global concern."
'Sounds From The Other Side' is available now. Stream it below on Apple Music and Spotify.