In the months leading to, and days following, the release of their EP, Chemistry, much of the chatter around Falz and Simi has been about the perceived romance between them.
This suspicion is what they’ve both mined, in what should be acknowledged as a fantastic PR/management move, to keep their names relevant in a Nigerian music scene that runs like it’s dependent on the attention span of a toddler.
With the focus on the speculation of a romance, it is easy to forget that the chemistry alluded to in the title of their EP was at first professional, following Falz’s appearance in the video of Simi’s ‘Jamb Question’ remix, before it became anything else.
Falz and Simi both fall into that constricting hip hop and pop class of young Nigerian artists who have gained a large following without actively courting the “streets”. The dominance of local artists in the hip-hop and pop genres of Nigerian music has been noted by Oris Aigbokhaevbolo in his essay on Falz, who owes his popularity to his comedy act and the success of his debut album, Stories that Touch. Simi, however, owes her rising popularity to her covers of songs that spread via word of mouth, her girl-next-door image, which has been well cultivated since the 2006 release of her album, Ogaju, as an independent artist, and the success of her singles ‘Tiff’ and ‘Jamb Question’.
Their fan bases collide more than they diverge. It’s the kind of fan base that can relate to the humour of ‘Foreign’, the first song on the EP, which playfully mocks the tendency of many Nigerians to pretend they’ve lived or grown up in the West, while they make statements that are the opposite of the experience in those countries, like travelling to the northern hemisphere in December to avoid winter.
The apparent artistic chemistry between Falz and Simi is also a result of the blend of their musical styles. They’ve both risen on the back of songs that were light-hearted, catchy, easy to sing and follow. They’re not given to the brooding melancholy of the many young Nigerian alternative artists whose fan demographic they both share. Even Adekunle Gold, who rose to fame around the same time as these two, sings his love songs with an earnestness that isn’t found in Falz and Simi. Gold takes love to heart, whereas they are quick to make self-referential jokes about it, as they do on ‘Soldier’.
It is this symbiosis of Falz’s bad-English-speaking Baba Taju act and his laid-back rap, together with the teenage naiveté of Simi’s voice that they both play to, with sweet results on Chemistry. A song like ‘Cinderella’, with the opening of the chorus, “Cinderella, sugar, sugar”, a sonic play on, “jingle over like a motor”, a popular playground chant familiar to Nigerian millennials, is a product of this fine mix.
Chemistry is, for the most part of the seven-track album, a fan service, or more accurately, a troll of their fans and the will-they, will-they-not of their romance. Songs like ‘Want To’ and the titular ‘Chemistry’ are an overt play on this. All of the songs stick to the love-me, miss-me model. Even ‘Shake Your Body’, the obvious party song on the EP, is sung like a wedding reception jam.
None of the songs on Chemistry is potent enough to make Falz and Simi fans out of people who aren’t. Nowhere on the EP do they stray from their familiar musical territories, instead they dig in to sing songs that are sure to catch on with their fans. Nor do they do anything to make fans doubt their taste in music.