Prior to the release of Kiss Daniel’s latest album, the striking observation from his brief catalogue has been perhaps, the absence of an apology from the Headies for putting him in the same next rated category as Reekado Banks or Lil Kesh. All three artistes are talented but while they attend the same Nigerian music school of hard knocks, they do not belong in the same class.
Daniel’s push for consistency may have needed patience after his first major chart topper Woju broke into the airwaves in 2014. But his ability to improve and incorporate over the next months by edging out an actual sound from the elements of highlife, afrobeat, Caribbean and afrojuju amongst other music influences he has drawn inspiration from as an artiste raised in a mixed pot of South-Western Nigeria, proves all his skeptics wrong. Today and for the next couple of years, we shall be talking about the Kiss Daniel who made an album titled New Era and not just another guy who thought he had a shot at fame with a single hit.
New Era doesn’t waste your time with long unfunny skits that awkwardly pop up when your music is on shuffle, which is great considering the final output stretches a few seconds past the one hour mark. Tough for a debut album, but save for choppy production and a few distractions from the central theme, Kiss Daniel makes most of the LP worth your time.
If you don’t stay with him till the last song because his voice melts into a foreground instrumental like all he is capable of breathing is melody, you will remain because every new song feels like a different perspective into Kiss Daniel’s mind.
This may explain the lack of external features statement his label tries to make with Daniel’s debut album. Aside from label mate Sugaboi, New Era is neither harped on nor watermarked by anybody from outside G-Worldwide. Not even DJ Shabsy, the label’s official DJ appears on New Era‘s credits, as production is a joint task shared between Zino Foster’s mixing and mastering, Dj Coublon’s instrumental finesse, MasterKraft’s electronic twists and Young John’s mastery of vocal samples and loud synths. The rest of the album is handled by Kiss Daniel and he has a perfectly suited right-hand man in Sugaboi who occasionally falters but never has you wondering why he stands side by side an emerging Daniel on his first record.
Though the confidence in Kiss Daniel’s lyrics doesn’t begin to startle you until he’s openly discussing his smoking habits on Sin City, on New King you get a taste of an artist who has come from a place nobody can go to become who he is today. He emphasises this with a smoky but melodious voice that holds a bit of urgency which leaves us wondering if where he has come from has more to tell us about his psyche than we actually know. New King is not a spectacular opener but it’s ambiguous enough to spark curiosity to listen to Another Day which plays like the New King’s personal mantra to keep a level head on the throne.
The bulk of New Era unfurls with questions answering themselves and each story complete within itself only to show Kiss Daniel as wiser, flawed and more subcutaneously vulnerable than he lets on. He will run from the violent parents of a pregnant girlfriend instead of defending his love on Jombo, then lay the smoothest refrain on Gobe about pleading with his brother not to die on on him.
On Alone, all of his fears are espoused with a chorus built around the need for patience and keeping his new celebrity status low profile by not getting in trouble. The closing song on the album Nothing Dey, is set around a similiar theme, indicating Kiss Daniel may have finally come to the gateway to his success, but can neither forget the simpler days before the fame nor ignore the sacrifices he will make now that greatness has come knocking.
Comparisons between Kiss Daniel and 9ice have happened in recent times and having his entire album mixed by Zino Foster who has 9ice’ Gongo Aso in his glass case of trophies may not have helped things. But Kiss Daniel’s New Era takes things farther away from 9ice than we’d like to admit especially with songs like Napo, Kudi, bursting with quasi-Caribbean influences. Kiss Daniel leans further away from 9ice, towards 2baba with a lot more pop and spunk.
But unlike 2baba whose vocal gymnastics and flirtations with the falsetto range remains one of his distinctive sound elements, Kiss Daniel’s lines are short and catchy wispy melodies, synthesised into an interpolation of electronic and high life sounds. The pop is highlighted here with two part choruses composed of a hook and refrain sung in an alternate sonically matching rhythm to the verse, a common motif through the entire album that gives every song an earworm potential.
Where we draw the line between Kiss Daniel and predecessors, 9ice and 2baba, however, is in wordsmithing. Daniel finds a more comfortable seat with storytelling. The weakness of his song writing is easily highlighted in the contrast between his lyrics in Yoruba language and lyrics in English or pidgin-English. Though occasionally brilliant, the bulk of Kiss Daniel’s songwriting is either basic and unflattering or trite and needless.
The digital age is witnessing an innovation explosion like no other. In the last decade alone we went from VHS video tapes to Netflix in a couple of years. Today, a spate of changes in the same direction geared towards improving the quality of our lives as humans has given us new pop culture fads, new heroes, a new global village and as we are now witnessing, even new sounds.
This neo-evolutionist trope presents itself as the wholesome idea behind Kiss Daniel’s New Era, as an artiste worth a second glance in a boisterous industry where things happen way too fast, existing in a world where things happen even faster.
Though loose ends appear on tracks that needed tighter covers, – Are You Alright? and Alone are still two of the best case in points of numbers that can strike the attention of genre guardians. But for now, Kiss Daniel doesn’t have to worry about fulfilling thematic concepts, super flawless song writing or genre obligations. For now, he has an album that can defend itself and a sound that needs to do very little to get people listening and we will hold on to this until the promises of his New Era come full circle.