Gold firmly seals Adekunle Gold’s place in the Nigerian music scene as he releases a stellar debut with Urban Afro-Highlife live instrumentation as it’s forte.
It won’t be far from the truth to say that Adekunle Gold has had to overcome several doubts over the relative short course of his career as a musical artiste. Former part-time graphic designer, part-time half of 2-man collective The Bridge, the self-proclaimed “King of Photoshop” made the crossover to mainstream music in late 2014 with Sade – a cover of One Direction’s Story of My Life off the popular British group’s Midnight Memories. However, the song had to be re-released in early 2015 with some added production due to what was – and is still – perceived to be copyright issues. Despite the song being a hit in Nigeria, it raised some doubts in some quarters about his originality. Then came Orente: a beautiful love song that showed us a real glimpse of what Adekunle was on about. It won over more critics, with all the right praises going to his simple but catchy lyrics and a perfect video to match. It still wasn’t enough with some, and when Sade won the Best Alternative Song over Asa’s Satan Be Gone at the 2016 Headies, some cried foul and even went as far as saying he lobbied for it. After listening to his album though, it’ll be hard to remain a staunch disbeliever in his talent and obvious ability; unless of course, you are the proverbial hater.
The Lagos state born prince – yes, he really is – has left us in anticipation of the album since he announced the release date 2 months ago. It was slated for release on the 28th of July, but in a now familiar Beyonce-esque move, he dropped it 3 days earlier stating on his Twitter account that he “couldn’t wait anymore to share it with the fans”. Having listened to it now, we totally get it: Gold is a shining album, thoroughly enjoyable, and frankly just keeps you wanting more.
The immediate striking thing about the album after the tracklist was released, was the make-up of the album: it contained 16 tracks, with just a solitary feature. Now this is only normal with debut LP’s as artistes might wish to explore and exhibit the full range of their talents. In the Nigerian music clime though, this is unthreaded territory and while a couple of people were excited at the possibility of him pulling it off, more were cautious in their expectation. And like someone that knows he has a few tracks to impress, he immediately goes through the often repeated rhetoric of disappointment and resilience in the face of it on Gold (Intro). It’s a short piano ballad that somehow also explains – for those that might have wondered – how he got the “Gold” name at a revelatory experience in church.
This is all about making every track count though, and the next track is a masterpiece in putting your best song forward on an album. My Life is a great urban highlife tune that will get you moving wherever you find yourself listening to it and really sets the tone for the rest of the album. The song sees Adekunle shine effortlessly on the SeyiKeyz (other half of The Bridge) produced track that wouldn’t be out of place in a church praise session as he tells his enemies to mind their business and let him live his life. The arrangement & production here is near flawless by SeyiKeyz and he maximizes the use of traditional African talking drums, trumpets, and guitar and bass guitar instrumentation by Femi Leye and Brume & Biyi respectively. These all contribute in helping Adekunle deliver on a song that also proves that he really did start up singing as a member of his church’s choir. It’s almost too easy for him as rightly hints in the first line of the song that “irorun lobe n maggi” (literally translated as “the soup takes to maggi with ease”).
The fantastic album opener is followed by yet another beautiful song as Adekunle confesses his love to the love of his life in Beautiful Night. “Aiye oyin lo ma ke (you shall live a beautiful life), let’s stay all night baby/Tomorrow can wait o”, he sings on a track that is the mandatory wedding song all Nigerian albums must seem to have. Make no mistake about this though; this isn’t your typical “Nigerian wedding song”. This is a mid-tempo groovy love song carried well by Adekunle’s lucid but beautiful lyrics, a catchy chorus, and yet another impressive work of production – this time by X3M’s brilliant Oscar. Since there’s no overarching central theme to Gold, the production here might be one of the things that ties it all together. The plan here is to match Adekunle’s mix of simple English and Yoruba indigenous lyrics with a new-school highlife tune; an attempt at trying to recreate the successful brand of music of the likes of think King Sunny Ade, Dr Victor Olaiya, & Sir Orlando Owoh. The goal is to achieve a distinct and unmistakable African sound that can resonate with anyone that primarily appreciates good music. On Beautiful Night, the use of live horns (Victor Ademofe on the Trumpet and Segun Atoyebi on the Saxophone) play a more prominent part but that shouldn’t take away from another peerless performance by Femi Leye on the strings. The use of the bass guitar also contributes to the live feel and this all culminates in a song that will be played on wedding dance floors for some time.
Gold’s majority of songs explore the several dynamics in a man-woman relationship. It should be repetitive and trite but it isn’t. This is down – in part – to the aforementioned grand production work, and Adekunle’s eagerness and skill – the ease with which he tells stories is really something – in trying to examine the various nuances of such relationships. There are after all different stories to tell and it is exciting that he tries to. While we see him happy and unabashedly in love on Beautiful Night, Nurse Alabere is a rather sombre song about wanting a nurse to ease him of the pain of it after feeling left alone in a relationship by his partner. It’s a feeling we can all relate to: the fire of love can be warm and comfortable this minute but can leave us burnt and sad in the next.
While Fight For You sees him singing about rescuing a girl from a seemingly abusive relationship, Temptation tells the story of the conundrum he finds himself in trying to deal with advances from a friend’s wife to have sex with her. No Forget is especially an album highlight in this regard. The song is a lovely exchange between 2 literal lovebirds – Simi and Adekunle Gold are really an item! – promising each other to stay faithful to one another in the intervening period of being physically apart from each other in the man’s quest to make it big and ease the pressure on the female by her parents to marry a successful man. You can almost share the feeling with them as they warn each other to stay strong (Sora f’awon boys yen/Tin ba lo wo ma tan e) and not forget all they’ve shared together (Ma se gbagbe ibi ti a tin ba bo). This is where Adekunle excels: telling stories like this in clear, simple but captivating lyrics. Simi brings her best game to the song as her breezy, light vocals lend an emotional touch to it. For all the talks of her chemistry with Falz – and rightly so – she dovetails seamlessly with Adekunle here. The awareness to allow Oscar (popular for his work on Simi’s Tiff and Jamb Question) produce most of the songs that fall in this category should be applauded as like the graphic artist that he is, it shows a good level of attention to detail on his part.
When the drums need to come out to play as they do on Friend Zone however, who better to turn to than label mate and YBNL in-house producer, Pheelz. Friend Zone – a song literally about warning a girl not to friend zone him – is an up-tempo dance tune that is backed up with some exciting production work from Pheelz and the prodigiously talented Fiokee on the live guitar. Fiokee – popular for his work on D’banj’s Scapegoat, Davido’s Gobe, Kiss Daniel’s Good Time, Iyanya’s Applaudise amongst many others – is an ultra-talented recording guitarist whose services Adekunle employs to a very large extent throughout the album (Pick Up, Orente, No Forget, Ready) and he doesn’t let down a bit. Together with Pheelz, they both create a song that will get you moving your body before you can say gold. Alongside Work (prod. By B Banks) – another impressive cut that interpolates basic elements of South African House music in the foreground between a pronounced use of trumpets – they should be his next radio singles. Pheelz is in fact credited with the most production work as he is involved with the album’s singles (Orente, Pick Up, Ready) and new songs (Friend Zone, Paradise, Ariwo Ko).
On a whole, Gold is an album that was meticulously planned, produced and – to a very large extent – executed. Aside from the out of place Sweet Me, there is hardly any track that can be identified as a filler one. While it remains a bit disappointing that the only track produced by Masterkraft falls flat – they really could have created something better – it thankfully comes close to the very end of the album. There might be variations in production but the continued use of regular musical arrangements weave in and out smoothly to form a unified sound. It might also be important here to appreciate his label boss Olamide, for trusting in Adekunle’s ability to executively control the creative direction of the album (considering it’s his debut): for example, the decision to leave Simi in charge of the mixing and mastering of all the tracks – except Sade – proved to be a masterstroke. The result is one of the year’s better releases that will certainly move Adekunle Gold’s status in the music industry some levels higher.