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Dami Ajayi

It is no news: Jesse Jagz is your favourite emcee’s favourite emcee. And if your favourite emcee happens to be MI, his elder brother, then the confirmation you need has already been affirmed by MI in one of his songs: Jesse Jagz is the greatest. Note that greatest here is deployed as a noun, not an adjective. Not greatest rapper or emcee or singer or songwriter or musician, simply greatest.

At 10 tracks, , Jesse Jagz’s latest album, is probably the most anticipated standard issue Nigerian album of the year. The drop of a Jesse Jagz album or song always brings warmth and tickle to the culture. And more importantly, Jagz’s journey in and out of Chocolate City Records finally comes to an unceremonious end with this artistic statement. Perhaps this is where the album finds its grandiose and Greek title.

But even if the album’s title is borrowed from the Mediterranean, the album cover is a nostalgic image of the Abaga matriach in the company of some white children. This album cover has an entire story for another conversation—and this is how thoughtful Jesse Jagz is. He is interested in interrogating and confronting colonial histories in subtle but refreshingly clear ways, be it album titles or album covers.

The gist of Odysseus is different. Genesis is the closest this album comes to the mental rigour of a journey. This song is a burst of masterful and repetitive rhymes. ...

It is no news: Jesse Jagz is your favourite emcee’s favourite emcee. And if your favourite emcee happens to be MI, his elder brother, then the confirmation you need has already been affirmed by MI in one of his songs: Jesse Jagz is the greatest. Note that greatest here is deployed as a noun, not an adjective. Not greatest rapper or emcee or singer or songwriter or musician, simply greatest.

At 10 tracks, , Jesse Jagz’s latest album, is probably the most anticipated standard issue Nigerian album of the year. The drop of a Jesse Jagz album or song always brings warmth and tickle to the culture. And more importantly, Jagz’s journey in and out of Chocolate City Records finally comes to an unceremonious end with this artistic statement. Perhaps this is where the album finds its grandiose and Greek title.

But even if the album’s title is borrowed from the Mediterranean, the album cover is a nostalgic image of the Abaga matriach in the company of some white children. This album cover has an entire story for another conversation—and this is how thoughtful Jesse Jagz is. He is interested in interrogating and confronting colonial histories in subtle but refreshingly clear ways, be it album titles or album covers.

The gist of Odysseus is different. Genesis is the closest this album comes to the mental rigour of a journey. This song is a burst of masterful and repetitive rhymes. Jesse Jagz raps about his conception all the way to his current status, and his mission is telling it all from his darlings to his doubts. Dirty is a playful number featuring rapper Hot Ice, who outshines the celebrant but still gives him production credits.

Best in You mines nostalgia and childhood rhymes and the easy-listen music of Lighthouse Family, in the most avant-garde manner. Odysseus thrives on Jesse Jagz’s shtick: raga drawl for hooks and his masterful rhyming techniques for the verses. Jagz enjoys delightful assists from musicians, most notably the all but retired R & B sensation of the early 2000s, Styl-Plus. They did bring their A Plus game to the track Alright, like the sitting queen of Nigerian dancehall, Cynthia Morgan did to the raga duet, Fine n Clean.

From the standpoint of a Jesse Jagz stan, Odysseus tickles the appropriate spots. It hardly disappoints in sonic texture, lyrical dexterity or pop impulses. Even when this album could have switched into a more commercial mode, Mr Abaga pushes the album towards the idiosyncrasy of the esoteric.

The album is neither without flaws nor lapses. It often eases into raga mode as if the tight leash of hip-hop has slackened around Jagz’s impulses. Quite frankly, Jagz’s handle on the Caribbean sound is not particularly impressive. He doesn’t seem to own it, like when he raps or arranges. And he doesn’t seem to use his reggae interests as scaffolding for his newer innovations.

Odysseus to the regular listener does not touch a nerve. As the album approaches its middle, songs begin to sound formulaic. Scintillating raps are delivered under the wraps of ill-matching beats, killing the joy of what should have been a delightful journey. The arrangement of the tracks also does it a disservice; the better songs are cluttered at the beginning of the album, building to a crescendo that is hardly realised before the album begins to fall.

Jesse Jagz has always been an innovator, a fearless avant-garde artist who takes numerous risks with his sound. If his first album, Jagz of all Trade, was a carefully curated foray into the diverse sounds, his latest album is skewed by its obsessive investment in dancehall tendencies. Jesse Jagz has done better dancehall songs on better albums. And if this album has sincere and rewarding moments of introspection the are buried in the distracting dancehall rhythms.

Back to the issue of Jesse Jagz’s greatness, his abilities and interests remain in the purview of experimentation. Nothing seems to hold his attention for too long; Jesse Jagz is busy trying to open new sonic doors. But Odysseus does not open any new doors.

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