Two years is not a long time to wait for the notorious sophomore album of Azubuike Chibuzo Nelson better known as Phyno, that mohawk-wearing light-skinned producer-turned-indigenous rapper. His debut, No Guts No Glory, summarily had both guts and glory (and might I add spunk?) levitating him into the limelight on both sides of the River Niger.
In the interregnum, he also released a duet album with his “co-local rapper”, Olamide, called 2 Kings, which, indeed, was an ambitious attempt at franchising the chemistry they had both created on that multiply decorated hit song from his first album, Ghost Mode. Although the 2 Kings album had its brilliant moments (read Carry me go featuring Storm Rex), it was neither the critical nor commercial success.
But studio rats know where they belong and so Phyno, named for the word Phenomenal, returned to make his second solo studio album and I daresay his most ambitious. The thing about ambition is that it is that insatiable creative hunger that sustains an artist’s relevance. It is easy to rest on one’s oars when you are easily the best rapper (read only rapper) in Igbo language.
By calling his album The Playmaker, Phyno aspires to definitive standards. Think Mario Puzo’s The God Father: the article “the” is indeed definitive and specific while the metaphor “playmaker” is more subtle and nods at a game of football but not in the manner a DJ Xclusive will—not anything will happen here.
Twenty tracks lasting one hour and twenty-five minutes, this spool perhaps has a record-defining duration in contemporary Nigerian music and—guess what—there is hardly a dull moment. With a coterie of seven A-rate music producers, not forgetting that Phyno could have played supervisory roles and featured artists (not necessarily in their order of acoustic weight: Onyeka Onwenu, 2 Baba, P Square, Olamide, Flavour, M.I, Burna Boy(x2), Mr Eazi, Zoro, Decarlo and Tidinz), this album is easily the most ambitious acoustic thing this year.
And it only gets better: it is mainly done in dialectical Igbo language which, we hear, is not accessible to all Igbos. But since when did music need lyrical understanding to be appreciated? Music takes its cue directly from experience, reaching far beyond language to touch our humanity, even if the music exists in the realm of popular music.Phyno – The Playmaker
The Playmaker album starts, expectedly, with thanksgiving on the song called, Yes I Pray, a fine Tunex production. Then it is followed by the hard-kicking song Abulo which could have passed as some American trap music. On Financial Woman, one of the finest moments with a sensational highlife bassline backbone, Phyno recruits the P-Square twins just like he had done on his first album on O-set, but this is more matured music, with its thematic concern updating one of the recurrent motifs of highlife music: the inseparability of women and money.
Ino Nma is a weak link but Best Rapper also produced by Major Bangz gives a hip-hop feel in which Phyno contemplates if he indeed he is a rapper. His final argument: is that he is a rapper and since he is good at what he does, he is the best rapper! Hip-hop braggadocio aside, I don’t think a conversation about being a best rapper is any fruitful.
Kezyklef pecks from Wizkid’s Ojuelegba beat and produces a mild song which builds up to the Masterkraft song, Link Up featuring MI and Burna Boy. I dare say this is one of the best moments of hip-hop this year, the artistes held their own. Phyno in his rap insists that the only time you can look down on him is when you pray for him.
Pino Pino borrows guitar riffs from highlife greats Oriental Brothers in what appears to be a prelude to a bedroom ballad like Camron’s Hey Ma but here Phyno is quite grandiose; he promises to legalize Cannabis. The Major Bangz produced Okpeke is addressed to an “omalicha” and features melodious vocal assists from 2Baba and Flavour. On the Masterkraft’s produced fast tempo Obiagu, one can imagine it is meant for an age grade masquerade doing something as energetic as an Atilogwu dancer.
Joy comes in the morning changes things up a bit with a seemingly evangelical optimism. Ditto for the Masterkraft -produced So Far So Good, a thanksgiving song. Mr Eazi and Decarlo assist on I’m a fan, a lukewarm song that warms up to Mistakes, that heartfelt song dealing with the issue of infidelity between lovers. It feels almost like a response to Nivea’s Laundromat, explanations via telephone conversations.Phyno
The Queen of Nigerian music of the 80s, Onyeka Owenu, lends her voice to the hook on Ochie Dike (Mama), undoubtedly a paean to mothers.
Then the album takes us to the familiar terrain. Fada Fada comes in with that thanksgiving feel for the church as well as the clubhouse, Olamide’s poor verse notwithstanding. Then there is the less successful Ezege and Connect popular from last year. Burna Boy owned the mic on the song No be my style produced by T-Spize.
Phyno’s sophomore album does what is unattainable for most second albums. The Playmaker pushes the conversation further in Igbo, with hip-hop and highlife, and obeys that creed about how artistry is about taking what has been done and updating it.
Congrats to Phyno for releasing the best sophomore in a long long time.