Ultimately, Maverick fails to find its footing; the album is unsure, undecided, uncertain about what direction it wants to go.
By Patrick Ezema
Kizz Daniel occupies an “interesting” position in the Nigerian music scene, especially for those who seek to assign certain labels that bequeath reputational status in tiers: much has been made of the “big three” and “new cats” kerfuffle in recent months. With nearly a decade in the game and several chart-topping tracks to his credit, he has been around long enough to have his name inserted in the discourse pertaining to Nigerian pop music’s biggest swingers. But in 2023, the metrics have changed significantly: amidst nominations for foreign awards, Billboard mentions and charts curated by streaming apps, it has become a little difficult to gauge the impact of the 29-year-old. He still has the ability to pull sizeable crowds at local concerts, but in Western climes, his status as a headliner in the lineup of any notable concert would be debatable, which makes for more grim reading when you consider the fact that he had already released his second album when the young acts currently enjoying international spotlight were still cutting their teeth.
Considering the loud and laboured discussions surrounding Kizz Daniel’s career trajectory on social media, it’s easy to blur the lines between concern for his apparent “stagnation” (read: apparent negligence or refusal to focus on foreign markets) and flagrant disrespect. It is in ignoring these speculations, going against the grain and making art on his own terms, that Kizz Daniel attempts to etch his name deeper into Afrobeats lore with a new album. The effect of this is that Maverick veers towards the familiar, at least as far as his previous efforts are concerned. Very little sonic experimentation is present; even Amapiano, the common salt of today’s home-cooked music with its attendant log drums, is snubbed in favour of the simple medleys, sparse lyrics and conservative production.
Sometimes, less is more, all results considered. “Buga” didn’t need any real experimentation to power an outstanding national run, clinching the top spot on last year’s Turntable year end charts after fighting off intense competition from Asake’s avalanche of releases and Burna Boy’s “Last Last.” However, it failed to garner any significant airplay on international radio; a viral TikTok challenge does not necessarily translate to resounding success. Mixed results like these give rise to think pieces on how he “can do better with his publicity”, but he is tired of hearing it.
This record bears the undisguised intention to address the debates head on, and, after a sombre intro, he gets into the thick of the action with the introspective “My G,” sneering at the unsolicited advice of naysayers as he croons “Ko kan aye what I do with my life/thanks for your concern, I get manager.” In between pointing out that his career strides are no one’s business and noting that public accolades do not always reflect on bank statements, a backup choir loops a pertinent question: “My G, sho lo wo?” (Do you have money?)
Kizz Daniel is not shy about questioning the loyalty of the ones in his life, handing out vocal indictments on the opener “Red & Green” with quotable lyrics like “When I red, dem japa/ When I green, all of them come for their hamper.” Kizz Daniel has done his best to shield his family from the prying eyes of the vulturous Nigerian media, but he was moved to share his story in July 2021 when he lost one of his triplets four days after childbirth. That grief still weighs him down two years later, and on this track, he calls out those who did not call to congratulate his child’s birth but were circling for gossip upon his bereavement.
Kizz may have approached Maverick with some emotional baggage to unpack, but nearly all the purgation happens in the first two songs. It is in line with his artistic mantra to elicit a dance move or two: the man who made the world to “Lo lo lo lo” should not be heard brooding over unresolved emotional trauma across a full-length record. Most of the songs that make up Maverick sound like they could have been picked from any of his previous albums; he favours continuity over clearly demarcated eras. It is why his songs still connect to a generation that Nigerian pop has all but left behind; he can get parents, schoolteachers and civil servants in public ministries to dance along to his music. But even this, a desire to leave his music accessible, fails to excuse how his writing often falls flat, sometimes obtruding the message he wants to convey.
All is not lost with Kizz Daniel’s craft though, and the LP has its really good moments. There are times when he is able to coalesce his thoughts and feelings into cohesive tracks, as with the double-header “Feran You Two” and “Feran Mi” where he scripts odes to his sons and their mother respectively. He recruits Johnny Drille for the latter, and Kizz Daniel can rely on Drille’s voice to push the song’s romantic essence while he advances its pop leanings.
Crammed into the album’s first half are efforts like “Buga”, “Cough”, and “Shu-peru,” a trifecta of songs that reveal Kizz Daniel’s prioritisation of melody over penmanship. They will be popular at children’s parties, and will be favoured by prudish parents who want to steer their kids away from Afropop’s smut, but do not hold much substance beyond Instagram reels and dance routines. “Flex”, released as a single in 2021, finds its way into the tracklist, wearing an auditory freshness that is lacking for most of the album, and sticking out as an indicator of an artiste’s seeming refusal to evolve.
As the album enters its second half, sonic quality nosedives, no thanks to poor song arrangement. “RTID” (“Rich Till I Die”) fails to inspire, and Becky G’s contribution to the remix treatment for “Cough” – a vain attempt to reach out to American audiences – doesn’t count for much beyond a few Spanish phrases.
Ultimately, Maverick fails to find its footing; the album is unsure, undecided, uncertain about what direction it wants to go. In the earlier iterations of his artistic journey, Kizz Daniel was able to establish his status as the chief distributor of jaunty party music, enjoyable at all ages from nine to ninety. But the terrain is different now, and songs served up in the tenor of “Woju”, “Laye” or even “Madu” may not be convincing enough to win over new local audiences, let alone foreign musicophiles. This is not, of course, to impugn his reputation as a serial hitmaker, but his music runs with a staidness that won’t cut it on the world’s bigger stages. He would be hard-pressed to make a global rebrand work without losing some of his folksy essence, In the end, it’s up to him to decide: does he want to remain a big fish in the relatively small Nigerian pond, or reengineer his craft in appeal to foreign audiences?
Lyricism – 0.6
Tracklisting – 1.0
Sound Engineering – 1.4
Vocalisation – 1.2
Listening Experience – 1.3
Patrick Ezema is a music and culture journalist. Send him links to your favourite Nigerian songs @EzemaPatrick.