When It Blooms is the kind of marquee debut project that sets the trajectory for a meteoric rise. It presents Nonso Amadi and the excellence of his artistic totality, as a culmination of past experiences, numerous influences, and a burning ambition…
By Yinoluwa Olowofoyeku
Chinonso “Nonso” Amadi is a Canadian-based Afro-R&B, Soul singer, songwriter, and producer from Nigeria. His career began while he was studying Chemical Engineering in Nigeria’s Covenant University. In the burgeoning throes of the early Alte scene, Amadi could be found round and about those innovative creatives. He tested the waters with his Alone EP in 2015, demonstrating his emotive songwriting and production on standouts like “Suicidal.” In 2016, the real breakthroughs came. British-Ghanaian producer Juls recognised Amadi’s potential, and together they created an instant hit, “Radio.” The ascension was cemented by his most notable single, “Tonight.”
After that stretch, Amadi had become a firm one-to-watch in the eyes of Nigerian music lovers. His unique calling card was his soft and airy voice, which he used to deliver swooping melodies enriched with thoughtful evocative lyricism, all bound together by his exemplary layered production. In 2017, he teamed up with another young rising star, Odunsi the Engine, for the collaborative War EP, where both their talents and styles melded beautifully, giving fans gems, such as “Don’t.”
The following years saw Amadi release a slew of singles as he continued his education in Swansea University in the UK, before crossing over to Canada. These cross-continental moves saw Amadi picking up influences along the way, developing his style into a unique blend of Soul, Afropop, Afrobeats, R&B, and even Hip-Hop as he cites the fluidity of the likes of Drake as an inspiration for his ability to explore and fuse different musical textures. Following his Free EP in 2019, Amadi made a decision to take a hiatus, allowing himself the time and space to internally explore the depths of his artistry. And now, 7 years after his breakout, Amadi has returned with When It Blooms; backed by Universal Music Canada and armed with mountains of influences, years of introspection, and a mission to create an album that reveals his true person to the listener.
“Here for It” kicks off the album in incredible fashion, beginning with a cinematic opening, ushering in the storytelling that is about to follow. Immediately, Amadi’s immaculate production is on display; built up by rich chords, a sweet whistling synth, powerful bass, and light percussion-driven drums. He has a penchant for delivering instrumentals that are simultaneously spacious and airy, while still being deep and intricate in sound selection and the interweaving of sonic textures. Then he tops this brilliant production with brilliant vocal work. The timbre of his voice seems to have evolved from his earlier days.
He now sings with a lighter tone, allowing him to deliver deft melodies, switching from falsetto to strong belted notes with noticeable ease. His vocals are then deliciously layered with an array of harmonies and effects, creating rich swathes of vocal textures throughout the song, sometimes even becoming part of the instrumental tapestry. This song is a delectable intro to the album. It sets the atmosphere, introducing the listener to the sonic depth to expect. Even the narrative of the album is expertly put forth here as he sings about how prepared he is for the journey ahead, stating that he has what it takes to walk this path as an artist. The song concludes with a brief spoken passage establishing an understanding and connection with those who have sat where he sits, unsure of their direction in the world. His contemplations are backed by an atmospheric ensemble of sounds; from the crackle of a fire and other sounds of nature, to the swelling strings and soft pads.
Frankly, I was taken aback by the depth of “Here for It.” The song displays a unique level of intentionality and craftsmanship. And many of the songs on this album do the same, hitting this upper echelon of creative composition. You can tell that this song is more than just an artiste singing his verses over a beat. The ceiling of this album is Amadi marrying his experiences as a storyteller, a producer, and a singer-songwriter into songs that come together to become greater than the sum of their parts and “Here for It” is a perfect introduction to that Nonso Amadi.
“NASA” comes close with Pop-Rap influences rippling through the song. The instrumental brings that Hip-Hop energy with rattling hats and a sharp snare contrasted by deep 808 kicks. Amadi’s voice floats atop the bass heavy beat, sporting Trap-like deliveries and inflections, with a half-sung, half-rapped cadence. The lyrics of the hook seem a bit simplistic, but as the song evolves on the back end, Amadi hits full rapped flow and he spits lyrics drawn from personal experiences and introspection. The beat evolves again as he fades out, premiering “Lock Up” before we fully dive into it.
“Lock Up” then hits with the full punch of its Afrobeats energy. Amadi’s delivery morphs effortlessly from “NASA” into “Lock Up,” exemplifying his versatility. Even the instrumental ventures beyond cliché Afrobeat staples, employing log drums in new and different ways, stacking them up with domineering basses and speaker-knocking 808 drums. As the song winds down and you expect it to end, again Amadi has the instrumental evolve, giving him some space to wax personal again, saying things like “Omona twelve years, I never see Port Harcourt for twelve years, Based on some complications.” Zinoleesky comes through with a strong verse as well. While it is slightly understated, Zinoleesky comes with a guaranteed standard of clever song-writing and simple but effective melodies.
“Pieces” with Tay Iwar comes in as another entry in the upper echelon of the album. As he did all those years back on War EP, Amadi shows just how potent his talent is when paired with another illustrious multifaceted talent, and Tay Iwar is always breathtaking. The instrumentals are unusual and beautifully so, sporting rolling synth chords and sparkling keys that seem to melt in with Iwar’s phenomenally agile vocals. Amadi picks up right as Iwar ends off, melding R&B sensibilities over the kick heavy off-kilter drums that provide the expressive swing of the heart-warming love song. The song ends with a growling guitar solo that provides a contrasting rough edge before giving way to sweetly-strummed Spanish guitars.
The next tier of the album is populated by the songs where the production is allowed to take the backseat, playing the more traditional backing role, while Amadi’s vocal dexterity and delivery come to the fore to carry the song. These songs display another side of Amadi, drawing on his abilities as a vocalist and artiste to generate calming, soothing vibes.
This can be found on “Kilimanjaro” which sets its soothing vibe with a bright, delayed chord pattern. The light drums provide the subtle Afrobeat energy and are accented by powerful sporadic 808 kicks. Amadi is quoted as saying the relaxing vibes were intended to reflect the calming environment he experienced in Cotonou, where he was when he wrote the song. The instrumentals stay minimal enough for all the focus to be given to Amadi’s cheery vocals and Jamaican-American rapper, BEAM’s harder-laced energetic verse.
“Eye to Eye” is another such song. The song was previously released as a single and it connected with its listeners off the back of its brilliant elements. The production is fantastic, featuring minimal filtered plucks and percussion-driven drums. Amadi brings a captivating energy with the sincerity and emotion in his vocal delivery. The rich swirling harmonies and reverb-heavy inflections soak the song in an emotive and expressive atmosphere.
This trend continues on “Night in Maryland.” TSB provides another vibe-filled instrumental, built upon smooth Rhodes keys, periodic bright pianos, and a selection of subtle synths. The drums themselves are simple Afrobeats drums, augmented by layers of percussions and extra effects panned around the listeners’ ears in all directions. Amadi reaches into his bag of tricks for a more measured delivery, keeping the melodies simple but effective as he recounts experiences from his youth in Maryland. This song could be the “Ozumba Mbadiwe” for the Maryland axis of Lagos, with its catchy, anthemic hook. This is also another song that ends with an evolving instrumental that plays host to a spoken passage that ties back into the general theme of the album, the development and blooming of Amadi, from his roots up till this moment. These addendums can make the songs feel longer than they need to but then they make up for it by steeping the songs in deeper meaning and intention that contributes to the album’s whole narrative.
“Shivers” slows us down and gives us sensual vibes bolstered by a web of soft jazzy guitars and Dancehall-tinged drums. London-based singer-songwriter, Tamera, is recruited to compliment Amadi on this song with her silky sultry vocals that play perfectly against his. Their vocal chemistry lends the song a heat and tension that can be transferred through them to wherever the song may eventually be played. Their harmonies and backing vocals reverberate around each other, seemingly entwined in a sonic dance.
“How Love Works” is an interlude that also contains this energy, with chords and a lone keyboard providing the backing for Soulful exultations and a short, emotional exploration of the themes and characteristics of love.
“Paper” picks up the pace right after, bringing a completely new energy. The deep synth bass and energetic percussions supply a House vibe, bolstered by Afro drums and Amapiano influences. The stab synth in the breakdown cement the song in AfroHouse territory, and once again, Amadi’s chameleonic deliveries match up with ease; using vocal effects and mantra-like flows to ride the wave supplied by the guitars in the verses. Amadi is not ashamed of his influences and he has cited Amaarae’s vocal stylings as something he drew on for this song. It can be heard in some of the breathier passages.
“Cali Was the Mission” leans into the stylings of contemporary R&B, with a smooth beat comprised of filtered pads, deep sultry basses and groovy straight-laced drums. Amadi’s versatility comes to the fore again as he adjusts his delivery on a dime, never seeming to skip a beat whenever he shifts styles. His vocals match the sonic atmosphere, his deliveries keeping step with the rhythm of the drums, and his rich backing vocals stacking the song with warm layers that swim in the listeners’ ears.
“Ease Up” features the most jarring transition in the album’s runtime. However, it leads into a fun, energetic bounce propelled by strummed guitars and a driving kick pattern. Amadi sings about the troubles of Lagos youths just trying to catch a break with reassuring deliveries. He brings a sincerity and honesty to his lyrics, which he marries with rich group vocals and a fun cadence. A slight nitpick I have with the song is that the main snare gets a bit grating after a while, but I cannot detract from the song for that alone.
I think it’s saying a lot that the songs I would put in the lowest tier for this album would make it in the top tiers of many albums that have already been released this year. For me, these are the songs that didn’t quite hit the same heights of the others, suffering a dip in either production quality or Amadi’s deliveries. It is important and commendable to note that these dips are marginal.
This tier is where “Foreigner” falls for me. It achieved a degree of success as a single ahead of the album, but I find a few issues with it. For an album that has been very idiosyncratic in many ways, “Foreigner” comes in with a number of cliché lyrics and melodies. The instrumental features a number of guitar lines, but there doesn’t seem to be any strong bass to round them out. There’s a bass synth in the hook, but it sounds subdued and there’s a distracting bass synth somewhere in the verses. The song ends with a lovely saxophone solo but up to that point, it was a slightly run-of-the mill Afrobeats jam. The instrumentals come alive with additional keys at the end, and I wished there was more of that earlier on.
The other song I would put here is another previously-released single, “Different.” Just like “Foreigner,” I think the Majid Jordan-assisted “Different” is a bit too typical for everything else the album does. The drums are standard Afroswing fare, with drums that fall a bit flat and feel sparse in areas. The plucked chords and accompanying pads are a bit too predictable. And while Amadi still pulls through with interesting enough vocals on the hook, “Different” ends up feeling a bit too samey.
When It Blooms concludes with “Thankful,” which is the customary ode to the journey, the fans, support systems, and parents. Though this type of song is becoming ubiquitous, they will always be a welcome conclusion to an album because they allow an artiste to shed their performative façade and bare themselves to the people and moments they recognise as instrumental to their development. Amadi uses the opportunity masterfully, expressively naming people and moments that have contributed to who he is. He does this over a fittingly emotional instrumental composed with soft guitars, soft pianos, sweeping pads and clacking percussive drums. As the instrumental evolves into a cinematic string-heavy overture, we hear a voicemail from Amadi’s mother, chronicling his blooming and admonishing praises on him. It is hard not to succumb to the emotion this track is infused with, and I did catch a stray falling tear.
When It Blooms is a masterful debut. Amadi has said that he wanted to create an album that would introduce people to who he is as a person and as a musician. I think he has delivered tremendously on that goal.
With production credits on 10 of the 15 tracks, Amadi first expresses his talents as a producer. Amadi’s production style has always been very rich and layered. He has an innate aptitude for combining sounds and instruments in stacks that allow them to amplify and harmonise the best parts of each other. His sense of rhythm is exemplary as well, as he tends to find unique syncopations and rhythmic pockets for drums that could otherwise have been bog standard, and still sufficed. The production across When It Blooms seems responsive to the album’s title, constantly growing, shifting, evolving. There are numerous songs that feature multiple compositional ideas as elements fade and warp in and out of each other. The interlude and the ways the songs resolve into new phases and bleed into one another display a tremendous level of intention and creative vision, reinforcing the idea that these songs are lending themselves towards a greater cohesive whole.
And then once he removes his producer hat, Amadi steps into his own as a vocalist. He has always been a gifted singer, but When It Blooms showcases more than just his singing prowess. Across the various styles, genres, and themes of the album, Amadi is able to keep pace seamlessly. His deliveries oscillate between playful, sensual, hopeful, honest, and so many other expressions. He goes from speedy almost-rapped flows to concise Afrobeats cadences at the drop of a hat. He makes strong use of the particular lightness of his vocal timbre by continuously balancing it out with deep bass instrumental elements and a host of backing vocals across different octaves to accentuate the melodies. And these melodies are also so varied, starting at the simple pentatonic scales of “Night in Maryland,” and ramping up all the way to the vocal gymnastics of “Pieces.”
Features are sparing, allowing Amadi to carry the bulk of the album himself. Barring Majid Jordan, the chosen features all accentuate what Amadi brings to the table. BEAM supplies a tougher, gruffer edge on the laid-back “Kilimanjaro.” Tamera duets Amadi perfectly on “Shivers,” and both Tay Iwar and Zinoleesky match Amadi with a sprinkle of their own established flavours.
All of this instrumental and vocal excellence is finally married together with exemplary engineering. Considering the density of the sonic layers Amadi employs on the album, the clarity and sharpness of each one shining through is a remarkable feat, a perk of having serious institutional backing.
With all that considered, When It Blooms is the kind of marquee debut project that sets the trajectory for a meteoric rise. It presents Nonso Amadi and the excellence of his artistic totality, as a culmination of past experiences, numerous influences, and a burning ambition. And now that it has bloomed, it is safe to say that many will be watching with keen eyes to see just how brightly it flowers from here forwards.
Lyricism – 1.5
Tracklisting – 1.4
Sound Engineering – 1.8
Vocalisation – 1.7
Listening Experience – 1.5
Rating – 7.9/10
Yinoluwa “Yinoluu” Olowofoyeku is a multi-disciplinary artist and creative who finds expression in various media.