The 6 new songs buttress one of Rema’s strongest attributes, which is his stylistic versatility. While the original album already showcases the different angles of Rema’s artistry, he plugs in some gaps with the new offerings, further exemplifying his chameleonic nature…
By Yinoluwa Olowofoyeku
Divine Ikubor, professionally known as Rema, is one of Nigeria’s biggest musical exports at the moment. The Mavin Records front-man has enjoyed a meteoric rise since the release and adoption of his breakout hit, “Dumebi” off his Rema EP in 2019. The reception was uproarious and immediate, spurring a flurry of rapid releases with Freestyle EP and Bad Commando EP also released in 2019. The ascension was accelerated by a string of fantastic singles such as “Woman,” “Lady,” and “Ginger Me” and then a number of eye-catching international appearances such as for the COLORS show. The cumulative effect of all these well-timed occurrences was the solidifying of Rema as a musical phenom. In 2022, this momentum was capped off by his debut album that coalesced all of Rema into one all-encompassing album, Rave & Roses.
Rave & Roses was the feather in Rema’s cap, cementing his status so early in his career. The album gave every kind of Rema fan something to enjoy. And in the international scene, Rave & Roses came with tons of crossover appeal, spawning numerous remixes and leading Rema to performances on the most sought-after of international stages. Just over a year down the line, Rema returns with Rave & Roses Ultra, a deluxe version of the original, leading album.
The original album is already quite lengthy, clocking in with 16 songs. Rema adds 6 new ones on the deluxe version, which isn’t much in the grand scheme of things. However, the 6 new songs buttress one of Rema’s strongest attributes, which is his stylistic versatility. While the original album already showcases the different angles of Rema’s artistry, he plugs in some gaps with the new offerings, further exemplifying his chameleonic nature.
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“Holiday” is the first of the new songs, coming after “Wine” in its new position higher up the track list. The track was released as part of a 2-track single package earlier in the year and instantly struck a chord with fans. Built on a very simple Amapiano-influenced instrumental, “Holiday” is another of Rema’s autobiographical songs on which he sings about his personal life and challenges of his early career, following in the lines of songs like “Divine,” and “Are You There?” Beyond the introspective mood created by the instruments, the song is an uplifting encouraging one, with Rema acknowledging how far he has come. On the chorus, Rema employs a melodic interpolation of Aurora’s “Runaway,” blending it seamlessly with his own sonorous melodies. His lyrics are full of reminiscence and appreciation, displaying genuine humility that is heartfelt to listen to.
The next new track is the London-produced “Charm” built on mesmeric plucked guitars, wailing strings, a pulsing synth bassline, and bouncy mid-tempo Afrobeats percussions. This track adds a new, more relaxed dimension to the album. Although there are already a number of slower sensual songs such as “Hold Me,” “Dirty,” and “Wine,” “Charm” feels a bit more mature in its delivery, with an almost Wizkid-esque laid-back feel. Thankfully, being laid back does not hinder Rema’s melodic exploits as he chooses several moments across the song to add soaring backing vocals and sugary harmony lines.
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“Reason You” takes us in another new direction sonically. Sombre guitar lines and a deep kickdrum pattern define the emotional soundscape that form the foundation of this song. The almost sad song sees Rema pleading with the object of his affection in a bid to prove the genuineness of his feelings and his interest in her. The wide range of melodies Rema has at his disposal is frankly quite staggering. The subdued melodies he employs on this track are so fitting for the type of song it is, but he still delivers his unique gamaka inflections where they work. And the depth and sweetness of his harmonies cannot go unrecognised.
“Dunno Me Freestyle” throws yet another stylistic curveball at the listener and fills a gap that they must have identified in the original track list. Founded on deep rumbling 808 drums and sparse synth keys, this is a short Emo-trap offering and, ever the chameleon, Rema switches up again, delivering the whole song in a strained falsetto typical to this type of sound. The lyrics are equally genre-typical, centred around themes of unapologetic behaviour, external criticism, and apathy to outside perceptions.
The next new song is “Hov,” and it goes without saying that, once again, Rema takes us to a new place. A driving kick pattern is accompanied by rattling shakers, clacking off-kilter percussions, and cinematic pianos and strings to form the progressive instrumental base of the short song. The lyrics flow fast and free, sounding almost like another freestyle. Yet the keen ear cannuggets of advice and subtle bragging speak of a more intentional writing process. This is a difficult song to classify, but that seems to be precisely the thing with Rema; it doesn’t need to be classified. All that matters is that it sounds good.
The final new song is the embodiment of Rema’s global superstar status, “Calm Down” with Selena Gomez. The Billboard-topping song seems to have taken the world by storm, as evident all over TikTok and other social media. There was some initial backlash surrounding Selena Gomez’s pedigree but she does well to silence the critics. Approaching the song with sort of a Latin Pop melodic approach, she does not drop the ball with her verse. She matches Rema’s energy and the sincerity of delivery, using simple melodies and relatable lyrics to drive home the topic from the woman’s perspective. The instrumental has evolved to accommodate her as well, softening the instrumental around her vocals to create more space for her unique girlish timbre to shine through. She also makes more than a mere cameo appearance, joining Rema on the bridge of the song and harmonising beautifully with him frequently to tie the song together cohesively as a duet and not just a feature.
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Rema is undoubtedly a phenom. He is a rare combination of unabashed musical talent, industrious work-rate, global appeal, and commercial viability. Rave & Roses was already a crystallisation of all that. It is important to also keep in mind how young he is, both physically and in his career. Meaning there is a lot of potential for growth. The question always was, how much can someone grow when they are already so gifted? I think Rave & Roses Ultra comes with a few answers to that question.
As Rema rightfully says on “Dunno Me Freestyle,” we can’t put him in a box. Rema doesn’t just understand Afrobeats, he displays an understanding of music at large. Him drawing on melodic inspiration from Aurora for “Holiday,” as well as his signature use of South-Asian gamaka inflections tell me that Rema is inspired by a broad spectrum of music. Not only is his inspiration pool significant, he has demonstrated the ability to infuse those influences wisely and effectively. This gives me the impression that Rema can continue to freshen up his sound time and again.
When Rema debuted, he made sure to position his Afrobeats songs alongside more Trap-focused entries so show that he was not going to be a one-trick pony. As his popularity grew, it seemed that his Afropop side became more dominant to cater to the market. Yet even on the original, there were songs like the Synthpop “Addicted” to remind us that he can do so much more than people might think.
A common criticism of Afropop artists is the weakness of their lyrical content. And while that is true, it is because many of the accused have not demonstrated an ability to write without a heavy reliance on cliches. For me, Rema doesn’t stand amongst the accused because when the time calls for it, he shows a knack for writing personal, emotional, and even critical songs such as his autobiographical cuts or “Are You There?” on which he makes it known that his focus on so-called “party” music is a deliberate choice and is not a necessity dictated by limitations.
Each of the additional songs struck me as a testament to Rema’s versatility. His understanding of, and use of melody is second to very few. He switches between timely staccato and long vibrating runs with ease, utilising all the different qualities of his voice across the different songs. And his adaptability means that he can probably do something worthwhile on any instrumental he is given. This means the top-notch producers he has access to can bestow him with all manner of innovative and inventive instrumentals, increasing the quality of production.
At the end of it all, Rave & Roses Ultra is a spectacular deluxe edition. While it doesn’t add much quantitatively, there is a qualitative shift in the experience it affords over the original. The new songs feel slightly out of place and perhaps hurt the cohesiveness of the album ever so slightly, but they inject novelty and innovation into the track list. The original songs are shuffled around slightly to reorder the sonic flow around these new songs, modifying the roller coaster experience of emotions and moods through the album’s runtime. Were someone to tell me they had not heard Rema’s album yet; I would push them towards Rave & Roses Ultra as I believe that this is the definitive version of the crystallisation of Rema’s career to this point.
Lyricism – 1.4
Tracklisting – 1.6
Sound Engineering – 1.6
Vocalisation – 1.7
Listening Experience – 1.6
Rating – 7.9/10
Yinoluwa “Yinoluu” Olowofoyeku is a multi-disciplinary artist and creative who finds expression in various media.