Top Boy is an exhibition of what is possible when albums are music-driven, talent-focused, network-bolstered, and intentionally crafted.
By Yinoluwa Olowofoyeku
What a career DJ Spinall has had. The multi-hyphenate DJ, producer, songwriter, label executive, and media personality has come a long way from being a radio DJ at Raypower 100.5 FM. He has demonstrated a keen ear for musical trends and talents. This has led him from Industry Nite to world stages: opening for Bruno Mars in Australia, and headlining shows in London.
One of the strongest demonstrations of his knack for assembling music has been his DJ-led albums which have allowed him to curate unlikely, genre-crossing collaborations that champion artistes at all stages of their career. This masterful curation is on full display once again all over Top Boy, his sixth (yes, sixth!) studio album.
Spinall cements himself further as a capable producer with a bevy of self-produced songs that rise to the level of any of the best Afropop songs. “Cruise” is one of these outstanding jams. It kicks the album off smooth as malt, with similarly rich basslines and guitars. Youngsters Azanti and Zaiam ride the beat with an air of confidence and dexterity beyond their actual experience. With their unique vocal timbres and textures, they combine for a flavoured, smooth listen that Dj Spinall himself praises. In an interview with Apple Music, Spinall noted that he would unite them in a boy band if he could.
Dj Spinall delivers another outstanding jam on “Everyday,” a deep and thoughtful politically-tinged offering that finds rising star, Minz, gliding poetically over a deep rumbling House, energetic shakers and simple driving drums. This serves as a testament to the diversity that Spinall now possesses in his production repertoire.
However, Spinall really blows my mind with the quality exemplified on “Just To Be,” a hidden gem that ends up being probably my favourite across Top Boy. Van Jess layer mesmerising serene vocals amidst soulful R&B guitars and saxophones. The instrumental itself is extremely groovy and jazzy, with a delicious bassline that coaxes VanJess’s vocals to swim daintily into the listener’s ears.
And where Spinall finds himself a bit underqualified, he is able to bring in stellar production talent to assist with delivering the goods. This strategy has already paid off massively for Spinall as the widespread success of the pre-release singles testify. No extra words need to be spoken about the runaway smash hit that the Magicsticks-assisted “Palazzo” was. Asake had already been taking Nigeria by the horn when Spinall unleashed this bombshell on the world. The timing could not have been better, as “Palazzo” reinforced Asake’s takeover. “Bunda” was earmarked by Ozedikus in his typical fashion, providing a fantastic beat, brimming with bright melodies and dense, rich layers of synths to lay the tapestry for Kemuel’s boundary-pushing performance. Kemuel uses the opportunity to introduce himself solidly to the mainstream audience, and I believe a fair number of people have now stuck his name on their “watch out for” list. Dj Spinall balanced Kemuel’s youthful exuberance with a mature and controlled verse from an industry legend, Baddo Olamide himself.
Niniola slides in with the same confidence as Olamide, stamping her unique sound on D3an-assisted “Give Me Love,” a sweet melodic House love song. It is Niniola’s turf. This song points to another aspect of Spinall’s strengths. He is an avid fan, and a driving purveyor of a number of different African genres, from the mainstream Afrobeats to the more eclectic electronic genres. This has opened stylistic doors for him and has even led to him being the cover of Apple Music’s “Isgubhu” playlist.
And then there’s “Honest,” a beautiful R&B blend propped up by production courtesy of the Brit, TSB. With sugary chords, dazzling keys, and shimmering pads, there’s a light, airy feel to the production of “Honest” that allows Tay Iwar’s legendary song-writing and vocal ability shine brightly. Yet, Tamera, the relatively unknown singer-songwriter, absolutely steals the show. Her angelic high range and silky vocal texture are a revelation.
Unfortunately, not all the songs on the album quite attain these same heights. There are a number of filler tracks that are not bad by any stretch, but they find themselves lagging a few steps behind the pace set by the aforementioned golden jams.
“Cloud 9” features Adekunle Gold on a guitar-heavy track with prominent backing vocals from Dyo. However, the production features a number of misplaced percussive sounds, the chorus drags a bit long, and some of the production goes slightly awry. “Top Mama” is a decent Amapiano track heralded by Tanzanian artist, Ntosh Gazi. The track was sent to Caltonic for additional production, and he added signature loud sharp rattling snares. Perhaps these additions were a bit overenthusiastic, as they tended to overpower the vocals. “Outside” is a serviceable song on which Blxckie and Ladipoe deliver very typical verses for their talents. However, the song offers nothing that crosses beyond the ordinary. And “Bow Down” is a slightly disappointing effort on which the sparse instrumentals let Amaarae’s expectedly earcatching cameo down by not quite matching up to her sonically.
Thus far, it’s clear to see that Spinall has a thorough understanding of how to put these songs together to great effect more often than not. Impressively enough, this isn’t the greatest thing Top Boy provides.
As a globe-trotting superstar DJ, Spinall has attained a level whereby his circle of influence and reach has expanded far and wide. This enables him to recruit artistes of high acclaim from all over the world and all manner of genres to come together and push the boundaries of the African genres by introducing diverse international influences and experiences. He takes this responsibility and wields it responsibly, putting together unique and unexpected combinations of people and sounds to fascinating effect, just like DJ Khalid would.
“Oshey” sees local meteoric sensation, BNXN (fka Buju), expressing his very best melodic mettle on a catchy beat that is then tastefully domineered by Stefflon Don who rides the beat with an aggressive Caribbean slant that injects sensuality and energy all over the song.
Spinall carefully selected 6LACK as the guest star on the remix of “Sere,” the earth-shattering single off his 2020 album, Grace. And 6LACK proves to be an excellent choice. He spices up the already captivating jam with his refined R&B sensibilities and even gives a delightful line or two in Yoruba. Sonically, 6LACK provides such an interesting counterpoint to Fireboy’s signature vocal timbre that it completely reinvigorates the song and gives it a second life.
And then Top Boy is capped off by two versions of “Power,” which is the most poignant indicator of the global efforts that combined to create this album. Built off a legendary Nina Simone sample, and featuring input from R&B superstar, Summer Walker; electronic connoisseur, DJ Snake; upcoming songstress, Äyanna; African rap sensation, Nasty C, and Hip-Hop godfather, Dr. Dre, “Power” is a behemoth of an undertaking logistically and stylistically. Both versions lean heavily into the electronic influences of the collaborators to end the album on a dynamic striking note that might not connect with many people in the primary Nigerian audience, but will no doubt serve as a catalyst for even further expansion of the potential of African genres in terms of international collaboration and exposure.
Spinall has described a “Top Boy” as a person who has overcome circumstances and adversity, using what they have available to them to get from point A to point B. A cursory glance at his career will prove that he indeed is a Top Boy by that definition. He has consistently and unwaveringly championed young talents, built a network of relationships, and pushed for sonic diversity. All these pursuits have led him to continuously creating albums that leverage the bigger names in the industry to showcase the talents of the younger ones.
Now, on his 6th studio album, DJ Spinall has expanded this ideal to include leveraging his international audience to maximise the musical expressions that multiple genres are capable of. Top Boy is an exhibition of what is possible when albums are music-driven, talent-focused, network-bolstered, and intentionally crafted. While it cannot be perfect, it sets the bar very high in terms of quality and uniqueness. The weaker songs are let down by inconsistencies in production, but the industry Avengers that Spinall assembles eventually power the album through to being a delightful experience.
Lyricism – 1.3
Tracklisting – 1.4
Sound Engineering – 1.3
Vocalisation – 1.6
Listening Experience – 1.4
Rating – 7/10
Yinoluwa “Yinoluu” Olowofoyeku is a multi-disciplinary artist and creative who finds expression in various media.