Before its well-documented issues, Jos used to be one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the country and was a melting pot of different kinds of music and cultures. The same environment that produced one of Nigeria’s most important hip-hop collectives, Choc Boys, also produced its most successful pop duo P-Square; Ice Prince is just a product of his environment.
However, Ice’s tendency, as his career progressed, to go closer to the musical middle and take the least creative elements of pop music – melody over meaning, rhyme over reason – and infuse them into his style of rapping put a strain on his relationship with the hip-hop community, and the legend of #IcePrinceBars was born. J2TW attempts to repair that relationship but without alienating listeners who’ve come to love Ice Prince for other reasons.
On the album’s opener, Ice spits like a hungry rapper on the come up and approaches the song as if it was his only meal ticket. The song is a reminder to whoever it may concern that the ink in Ice’s pen hasn’t frozen up. Or maybe it was a reminder to himself – the only thing holding Ice Prince back from true greatness is Ice Prince, it was refreshing to hear him admit that much on “Me vs. Me”. The stocktaking occurs again as the album draws to a close. The outro is a bittersweet 8 minute moment – on the one hand (“Show Me”) he’s grateful, God has blessed Ice Prince so much that he’s now become his family’s breadwinner but on the other hand (“Deep Inside”) you get the sense that he could trade in the success if it would bring his parents back. Fellow Jos native Sammy Gyang produced the soulful track and gave the rapper space to be vulnerable, otherwise most of the album was produced by Illkeyz and Chopstix and they maintained a much higher tempo. It’s a good thing that this record was placed at the tail end of the project though, otherwise it would have been a party pooper, and J2tW sounds like one massive, global party most of the time.
Dance crews will love the high-energy of “Looking at you”, no one can tell me that the song wasn’t purpose-built for dance routines. “Want It All” is no less intense, Krept and Konan add that distinct London twang to the lust-filled party jam and almost repossess it from Ice Prince. The duo is J2tW’s most high-profile guest, the project replaces flashy feature with functional choices. Instead of getting an uninspired French Montana to add gloss on an equally uninspiring song like “I Swear”, Ice got in the studio with a number of fresh, upcoming artists from the DMV namely Phil Ade, Tone P, DB Dantino and Fresh Brit. Established South African acts Mr. Kamera and DJ Buckz and Empire star BRE-Z are part of the international cast as well. Together, they provide the global outreach for J2TW and this time around, the collaborations feel more organic.
Seeing as their profile around the Islands is rising steadily, using Timaya (on “Belinda”) and Runtown (“For Ya”) to reach out to lovers of Caribbean music, rather than getting a big name international artist, makes perfect sense. The outreach to the ladies is a bit more disappointing though, you expect more from love songs that assembled 3 of Africa’s biggest female singers – Vanessa Mdee, Tiwa Savage and Yemi Alade but neither of them was particularly memorable. Sadly, there are no memorable Choc Boy moments on J2TW either, that’s because, for the first time in his career Ice Prince has released an album without a feature from MI or Jesse Jagz. In their absence, and indeed without many references to the city that raised him, J2TW is more worldly than it is Jos-ly; Koker on “Day 1” and Dice Ailes on “Brokelyn” fill in for the extended Choc-boy family.
But the focus isn’t Jos as much as it is Ice’s phenomenal journey with the city as his starting point. If I were to describe J2TW in one word, I’d say inspirational. Songs such as “Rich” or even club bangers such as“Trillions”, “Excellency” and “Boss” aren’t just empty boasts, they’re statement records that promote a successful lifestyle that Ice tries to make easy for everyone to relate to and aspire for. Here’s a better example, he takes Drake’s famous city/timestamp reference series on “2AM in Chevron” and brings it closer to home. 4PM is Ice’s 2AM and Chevron Estate is his Calabasas, owning a home in Lekki is a real upgrade from the rapper’s more modest beginnings in the tin city and that interlude is motivation that you can do it too. On “Brokelyn”, he references another high point in his life, his interview on the Breakfast Club 18 months ago. If J2TW was released then, it would have fit right into Ice Prince’s plans for world domination but a lot has changed and Ice Prince will need to work hard to return to the same position he once occupied.
World domination might have been postponed for now but with Zamani sounding sharp and focused and producing the quality of music that the world expects from him, there’s no reason why that postponement should be indefinite.