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“Ikigai” Review: Olamide’s New EP Expands His Cultural Cachet

“Ikigai” Review: Olamide’s New EP Expands His Cultural Cachet

Ikigai cover

Ikigai stands as a quintessential emblem of Olamide’s signature musical style that further reiterates his pre-eminence as the reigning monarch of contemporary Street-Hop.

By Abioye Damilare Samson

What do you do after announcing that your most recent project might be your final foray into album releases? If you’re Olamide, you don’t just rest on your laurels; instead, you surprise everyone by dropping another impressive project titled Ikigai eleven months later.

Throughout every phase of Afrobeats’ growth and evolution over the past two decades, Olamide has established himself as the most emblematic artiste in Street-Hop music. From his early days as a gritty rap star, to the hypersonic era of unrivalled hits between 2014 and 2016, he crested his totem as an artiste with his feet on the gas and has become an institution unto himself, heralded as one of Nigeria’s most consistent and versatile artiste.

By the time 2020 was bidding its final farewell, Olamide released his experimental album, Carpe Diem. This genre-bending project displayed a more refined artiste, open to evolution and ready to tap from the goldmine of Afrobeats as the genre was experiencing global domination. The songs and projects released after Carpe Diem further this quest. While Carpe Diem represents Olamide testing the waters of a more sophisticated Pop sound aimed at transcending local borders, his 2021 project, UY Scuti, distills his artistry into a more soothing tone.

The pulse’s defining quality that drives contemporary Nigerian music’s vehicle is that it is dance-oriented and night-club profiteering. In this spirit, Olamide released Unruly, his 2023 project that alternates between his gruffly early rap style and smooth Afro-Pop melodies with creative alliances of young generation artistes, Fireboy DML,  BNXN, Asake, and CKay.

His new EP, Ikigai—a Japanese phrase which translates to “a reason to live”—incorporates sound elements from Asian sounds and the hypnotic log drums of Amapiano with the production chiefly helmed by the fast-rising producer, Semzi. Across its seven tracks, zest for life, braggadocio, street lingua, and hedonism all take their places on the stage, to varying effect.

Nothing quite captures the scope of Olamide’s vision for this project like the Semzi-produced opener, “Metaverse”, does. Unlike the usual calm, low-tempo songs that open his projects, this track is cut from the same fabric of the barrel of core frenetic Street-Hop hit songs he’s known for. The line, “Jah, Eli Jah, mo ti ja, mo ti lọ metaverse, mo ti pada de with the lamba”, sends a message that he’s back to creating ferocious night-club banging music.

Ikigai cover
Ikigai cover art

Semzi and Eskeez, the two sonic architects behind the upbeat track “Uptown Disco”, had one goal in mind; to create an irresistible beat. Laced with polyrhythmic log drums, Fireboy DML rises to the occasion as the first artiste to deliver his fiery flow of braggadocio lines and a middle finger to naysayers. “Pure heavyweight, I get block every day (yea), Fuck what you think, they can talk anything (yea)”, he croons. Olamide handles the chorus, and Fireboy provides backup vocals. He also takes charge of the second verse, employing his signature comparison-driven delivery, rapping lines like, “Mi o l’epo loju like mallam (mallam)”, “My current dey flow like dollar”, and “Load them goal like Haaland”. Asake slides in on the final verse, delivering a smooth, energetic, unrestrained flow and street lingo lines like, “Ye, zigi-zaga-zoo. Ask your neighbour, nothing I can’t do” that drives the song to a halt.

The Semzi-produced “Makaveli” blurs the lines between Amapiano and Afro-Pop. This song conjures a gentle current of lushness, with piano chords and a tranquil saxophone tune operating underneath. Olamide sounds genuinely refreshed, eager to impress, and indulges his muse. “My dear mi (my dear mi), Ki lo fe? (Ki lo fe?), Make you tell me (make you tell me),” he proudly sings.

Olamide taps the Netherlands R&B rising star and Empire label mate, Sabri, on the sensual “Knock Out”. Shifting away from club bangers into a mid-tempo, hedonistic tune, the song is ushered in by Shakuhachi—a Japanese end-blown flute. Throughout the track, he expresses a longing for touch and intimacy, delivering two verses and the chorus before making way for Sabri, whose soft, melodic voice and moody flow enhance the song’s sensual theme.

Olamide
Olamide

Weeks before the release of Ikigai, “Hello Habibi” had already gained traction on the internet, especially on TikTok, where the song was first previewed. The Asian flute melody lingers underneath the groovy mid-tempo track as Olamide lyrically engages with his ‘Habibi’ — an Arabic term for ‘My love’ — inviting her to travel and enjoy leisurely vacations. He casually flexes his affluent lifestyle, singing, “This is how we live every day, in case you were wondering (okay)”, before transitioning into the infectious and repetitive chorus.

Olamide is not excluded from the operational framework of artists drawing inspiration from within, creating music that offers nostalgic novelty by sampling classic traditional sounds. The sixth track, “Morowore”, creatively reinterprets the 2002 classic Nigerian gospel record “Mo Wa Dupe” by Nigerian singer-songwriter, Paul Play Dairo, to a reflective song that sees him acknowledging God’s presence in his life.

While “Uptown Disco” features a collaboration with his label signees, the outro track “Synchro System” brings together his former YBNL signee, Lil Kesh, and ex-in-house producers, Pheelz and Young Jonn. Named after King Sunny Ade’s 1983 Juju classic album, the song sees them crooning about how life has been like a movie. They deliver their verses with spirited energy, enhanced by Japanese guitar riffs that enliven the track’s production.

Ikigai tracklist
Ikigai tracklist

Ikigai stands as a quintessential emblem of Olamide’s signature musical style that further reiterates his pre-eminence as the reigning monarch of contemporary Street-Hop. Demonstrating an unwavering commitment to sonic innovation, Olamide flawlessly integrates Asian production elements with Afropop influences, crafting a novel and distinct auditory experience.

The EP exudes a palpable sense of euphoria throughout its entirety, markedly diverging from the usual narrative of the hustle and struggle that frequently characterises his work. This departure not only enhances the listening experience but also introduces a fresh, invigorating dimension to his artistry. As the delivery and overall ambience of the music unlock a new chapter in our enjoyment, anticipation naturally builds for the forthcoming second volume of the Ikigai EP.

See Also
Afrocritik Weekly Music Spotlight 2024: Week 8

Lyricism – 1.4

Tracklisting – 1.3

Sound Engineering – 1.4

Vocalisation – 1.3

Listening Experience – 1.5

Rating – 6.9/10 

Abioye Damilare is a music journalist and culture writer focused on the African entertainment Industry. Reading new publications and listening to music are two of his favourite pastimes when he is not writing. Connect with him on Twitter and IG: @Dreyschronicle

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