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“Born in the Wild” Review: Tems’ Debut Album Is a Masterclass on Self-Discovery

“Born in the Wild” Review: Tems’ Debut Album Is a Masterclass on Self-Discovery

Born in the Wild review| Tems| Afrocritik

Born in the Wild announces her grand and powerful entry on the big stage, without any flicker of doubt. 

By Hope Ibiale and Emmanuel Okoro

This year, the Nigerian mainstream music industry has witnessed more women tapping into and championing their unique sounds, continually redefining their artistry with each release. From Tiwa Savage to Ayra Starr, these female artistes have been achieving intercontinental success with their outstanding music projects. Témìládè Openiyi, popularly known as Tems, joins this conversation, as she marks a brazen incursion with her highly-anticipated debut full-length album, Born in the Wild.

Tems’ ascent to superstardom is nothing short of a fairytale, ditching the corporate life to pursue a music career. From the moment she released her self-produced 2018 debut single, “Mr Rebel”, she became part of the scintillating conversations about the young acts popularising the Alté sound — a unique blend of nostalgic Reggae, Hip-Hop, Dancehall, Soul, Alternative R&B, Highlife, and Afrobeats. 

Her rise to fame eclipsed new heights when she collaborated with Afrobeats superstar, Wizkid, on the 2020 Grammy-nominated “Essence”. The breakthrough success of the record came with further acclaim, and it saw the songstress collaborate with Drake on the 2021 track, “Fountains”, and on Beyonce’s 2022 number, “MOVE”. Notably, the hooks on her 2020 record, “Higher”, were sampled on Future’s 2022 hit single, “Wait For U”, which earned her a feature on the track. The song subsequently reached the top position on Billboard’s Hot 100 and scored her first Grammy award last year. Tems’ songwriting abilities haven’t gone unnoticed, as she was nominated for Best Original Song at the 2023 Oscars for credits on the single, “Lift Me Up”, performed by Rihanna. At this point, it is difficult to keep up her international acclaim, which has followed her career since 2022. 

Her debut album, Born in the Wild, arrives after a long, anticipated wait since her previous EPs: 2020’s For Broken Ears and 2021’s If Orange Was A Place. On the project, boasting 16 tracks and two interludes and spanning 54 minutes, the sultry singer unravels her immense repository of nostalgic R&B, Soul, and Hip-Hop influences, deep cuts of Alté music, and a couple of Afro-Pop infused numbers to secure her West African home front, as she embarks on a quest of global domination.

On its titular opener, Tems sultrily crafts a record about identity and self-realisation in a chaotic world. Over feathery acoustic guitar strums and soft piano notes, she reminisces feeling confused and realising she had the power to change her life. On the bridge, she croons, “The world is mine/ The time is now/ For so long I was silent”, making a bold declaration that can be likened to the translation of her native Yoruba name, which means ‘the crown is mine’. There are also spiritual annotations on the track, as she acknowledges the divine for preservation through difficult times.

The album segues into an early interlude, as Tems’ mother runs a flash commentary on the backlash from naysayers and critics who questioned the singer’s artistry and the delayed release of a full-length project since her emergence. It is fittingly a call back to “Tèmiladé Interlude” on For Broken Ears, and ends with different reactions to the singer on the come-up. 

Born in the Wild tracklist
Born in the Wild tracklist

“Burning” comes next, where Tems continues on themes of identity and purpose. She once again reminisces, but this time, it is to the moment when her fame grew. Lines like, “It was all a dream/ Just a new girl on the scene/ Got your face on magazines/ How it feel? It’s killing me”, capture her struggles with newfound recognition. GuiltyBeatz, the sonic architect on “Burning”, masterfully creates the perfect nostalgic ambience for Tems’ calm expressions, adding to the general outlay of the track. 

The album sonically progresses with the heart-thumping number, “Wickedest”, which briefly samples the club-banging 2000 hit single, “1er Gaou” from the Ivorian band, Magic System. GuiltyBeatz, once again, showcases his expertise, laying the foundation for this self-affirmative record. Remarkably upbeat in tempo, “Wickedest” gives you a sense of Tems’ more prescient control as the album takes off. “Yeah, I’m the one that got the scene bangin’/ And I go hard, that’s why they keep talkin’/ Three years and I’m only just gettin’ started”, she confidently asserts, silencing her critics. 

One of the lead singles in Born in the Wild, “Love Me Jeje”, has the singer delivering a record that is easy on the ears. But much more than that, it ignites nostalgia in older listeners because of the masterful interpolation of Seyi Sodimu’s 1999 record of the same name. ‘Jeje’ in Yoruba means gently, and Tems expresses this in lines like, “If not you, then I don’t wanna know, I don’t want no story/ Day and night, it’s unconditional, got me livin’ softly”. Throughout the groovy bass, she calls for tender affection and intimacy with a love interest. It’s a feel-good, lighthearted track that pays homage to one of the leading Nigerian pop songs of her childhood.

She continues her exploration of love and intimacy on “Get It Right”, featuring Afrobeats star, Asake, over Sarz’s signature mid-tempo Dance production. Here, her wildest thoughts are on full display, as she dedicates her love and attention to a love interest. Asake takes on the role of the lover, promising to meet her very desires. It’s a mellow yet intoxicating record that sees both artistes explore their wild sides unchecked. Sarz’s production doesn’t overshadow the record, as the stacked drums aren’t prominent, giving space for both artistes to shine.

“Ready” explores yet another dimension of sonic range, as she plunges her listeners into hypnotic, soulful melodies, reminiscent of Sade Adu. It feels like an exhilarating journey, with the beat switch showing even stronger influences to Sade’s 1999-released record “Lovers Rock”. Lyrically, “Ready” acknowledges her self-inflicted internal pressures, but learning to use it as a weapon. She sings, “I must be holding something strong/ For me to know I can carry on”. She isn’t cowering in fear, and this is evocative of the album’s cover art, which has Tems staring fearlessly into the camera.  

Born in the Wild review| Tems| Afrocritik
Born in the Wild cover art

“Gangsta” comes next and sees the artiste admitting she needs a gangster lover who would fit her fearless aesthetic and mien. She sings, “That’s why I need a gangsta, that’s why I need a bad one/that’s why I need violence”. On this love record, she interpolates Diana King’s 1997 record “L-L-Lie”, underscoring her unmistakable penchant for borrowing from her sonic influences yet again. These experimental vocal and production chops and layers are replete throughout the album, and in this case, it is championed by the producer, Spax.

“Unfortunate” is a bumpy R&B record where Tems burns bridges with her love interest. She is aided by backup vocalists, creating an ethereal atmosphere that may draw listeners because of their airy vocals and slow-tempo production. She’s particularly thankful in the chorus as she sings, “And maybe I’m fortunate that you’re losing me/ I’m so fortunate that you misbehave.” The track ends with chorus-rendered vocals, pleasantly put together as the theme continues into the next track, “Boy O Boy” which seemingly mirrors H.E.R and Daniel Caesar on “The Best Part” in piano chord progression. However, here it delivers the opposite theme. Tems laments over the pain of a sweet-turned-sour relationship, with lyrics spitefully directed to its subject. “You’re a pain in my brain/you don dey do rubbish, you always do. I wonder how I loved a thing like you”. Her anger is evident in every line, depicting a sour love affair. 

Tems 2 jpg
Tems

In “Forever”, however, Tems does not examine the cause of the breakup. She revels instead in the attention of her ex-lover who seems to circle back to her, as she has already moved on. She’s amused by the desperation to win her back. She sparkles over the song’s pristine production that feels cut out from the Pharrell Williams and Jay-Z classic, “Frontin”. The ballad thrives in its dreamy simplicity, allowing her to explore the lush texture of her voice. As the track concludes in a vocal run that showcases Tems’ range in smooth and velvety layers, one cannot help but marvel at the dexterity of her tone. 

“Free Fall” somewhat reanimates the theme explored on her 2023 single, “Not An Angel”, a track that didn’t make the final cut on Born in the Wild. While she sings about her unwillingness to remain in a relationship that no longer meets her expectations on “Not An Angel”, she owns up to that guilt on “Free Fall” as she taps rapper, J. Cole for assistance. The record feels engineered to soundtrack a romantic comedy where the main character decides to leave her lover on their vacation to focus on self-love. Cole, who poses as the hurt and unhappy ex, utilises clever wordplay and double entendres to poke holes into her arguments with lines like, “Soon as you let mе in, you start huntin’ for the locksmith/ Now the key I oncе had to your heart does not fit/ I got three choices, batter your door or lock-pick/ Or walk away confused at your logic.”

“Free Fall” bleeds into “Voices in My Head”, the second and final interlude. Here, Tems combines recorded clippings from her managers, Muyiwa Awoniyi, and Wale Davies, who is one half of the Nigerian Hip-Hop duo, Show Dem Camp. The conversations revolve around music, perseverance, and success. It is a rather tepid point on the record, where the message “subjective truth and objective lies” seems like forced and contrived moral points. The transition here, too, could be more seamless as well.  

Tems swaggers over the Dancehall track, “Turn Me Up” where again, the refrain ‘turn me up’ is reminiscent of Sade-esque vocal runs. Produced by London, the singer dons a braggadocio attitude as she gyrates effortlessly, navigating themes of love and freedom.

On the previously released hit single, “Me & U”, Tems earnestly explores themes bordering on self-discovery, sensuality, and ethereal connection with the divine. This Afrobeats leaning record comes with a glittering music video that portrays high African-esque art as Tems dances by the seaside. 

The Hip-Hop record, “T-Unit”, comes on next, unveiling another layer of Tems’ artistry. Relying on mellow American boom-bap production templates, she reinforces the fearless and braggadocio rap-sung flow about her accomplishments and boldly shuts off critics. The way she says ‘T-Unit’ somewhat mirrors 50 Cent’s chest-thumping chants of ‘G-unit’ on some of his records. The track is a toast to her resilience over the years. 

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She performs a soulful masterclass in “You in My Face”, a record filled with Sade-esque influences yet again. This time around, this riveting and hypnotic tune borrows strongly in style from the Soul legend as one is taken back on memory lane to “Is It a Crime” off her 1985 album, Promise. This is the curtain closer on Tems’ love confessions from tracks like “Love Me Jeje”, “Get It Right”, and “Gangsta”. She bares her vulnerability about her feelings and proclaims that “we will go beyond the impossible” and “love will conquer every storm”. Laced throughout with Spanish guitar elements, the soulful nature of this tune is absolutely enchanting, making it a standout addition to the project. 

Born in the Wild ends with the inspirational record, “Hold On”. Here, she reflects on her journey and uses it as a testimonial for young ones struggling to achieve their dreams. Co-produced by Tems herself and GuiltyBeatz, the relatively higher tempo of this tune paints a widely aspirational picture, with sultry vocal runs capping it off. Again, she flexes her vocal range, with her adlibs bringing life to the tune. Lyrics like “This is for the girl in the dark/this is for the one waiting for the sunrise” encapsulate the message of this track, a fitting closure to this absolute masterpiece. 

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This much-awaited debut expresses versatility, tonal range, and sublime production experimentation, as seen in the various samples and interpolations, as well as a potpourri of multiple genres. This is by far a thorough representation of identity, sonic history, and aspiration, all meshed in deep soulful melodies. Born in the Wild announces her grand and powerful entry on the big stage, without any flicker of doubt. The album particularly shines with its excellent and wholesome production, largely credited to Tems’ long-time collaborator, Guilty Beatz, who impeccably brings her visions to life and sets a high standard for other producers. 

Noticeably, for a project with 16 tracks with a runtime almost hitting the hour mark, one would have expected it to have more guest features. However, this could be attributed to the personal and intimate nature of the themes, which Tems might have found too precious to share. However, Asake and J. Cole expertly navigate their respective tracks, with their signature flows, elevating the themes to new heights.

The project is sequenced in such a way that it treats you to diverse experimental sounds while keeping you rooted in place like a spectator watching different scenes unfold. It is pleasing to experience this in a full-length album that never feels boring. Born in the Wild is an excellent debut project from an artiste with a unique story to share with the world and an indication of a luminous career ahead.

Lyricism – 1.5

Tracklisting – 1.6

Sound Engineering – 1.8

Vocalisation – 1.5

Listening Experience – 1.7

Rating – 8.1/10

Hope Ibiale is a writer and journalist. She has a keen interest in music, film, and literature. You can connect with Hope on X @hopeibiale and via email: hopeibiale@afrocritik.com.

 

Emmanuel ‘Waziri’ Okoro is a content writer and journo with an insatiable knack for music and pop culture. When he’s not writing, you will find him arguing why Arsenal FC is the best football club in the multiverse. Connect with him on X, Instagram, and Threads: @BughiLorde.

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