By Jerry Chiemeke
It was always going to come to this.
For every “La Fete” there was a “Way”, for every “Soft Work” there was a “Wehdone Sir”, and even being a “Sweet Boy” wasn’t enough to stop him from jumping on Childish Gambino’s viral track. Even on features, there has always been a need to sneak in a social commentary (cue, MI Abaga’s “Lekki”).
Folarin “Falz The Bahd Guy” Falana’s music has been garbed with a huge flavour of socio-political consciousness for a while now, but the urge to embark on social crusades has heavily influenced him lately. From criticising fellow artistes who glorify internet fraud, to the “On The Couch” sessions with political aspirants in the buildup to the 2019 general elections, there has (apparently) been a paradigm shift from “Marry Me” and “Ello Bae”.
It was no surprise, then, when Lemi Ghariokwu, the illustrator behind the album covers for 26 of Fela’s records, teased the artwork for Falz’s fourth studio album, Moral Instruction, on his Instagram page. The nine-track compilation, released under the Bahd Guys Entertainment record label on January 15, 2019, has a wide range of instrumentals behind its production, with the mixing and mastering undertaken by Focus Ramon.
The album gets off to a flying start with “Johnny”, a track produced by TMX O that samples the classic “J.J.D” (Johnny Just Drop) and dwells on ethnic violence and trigger-happy policemen. The pace of his rapping, along with lyrics like “it’s the same sad story, just another chapter/Johnny drop for Borno, Johnny kpai for Plateau/Johnny drop for Lagos because a foolish man overdo/Johnny continue to drop/eyan melo lo ma ku?” make for a highly charged opener.
The momentum is maintained in the Sess-produced “Follow Follow”, which samples “Zombie” and is basically a sermon on false appearances induced by social media pressures. Demmie Vee provides some vocal assistance on the intense “Hypocrite” (whose instrumentals are similar to “Money” from the 27 album) where he addresses the subject of specks and logs like “we dey talk human rights, we nor respect am/who are we to crucify the homosexuals?/most of una don dey devour from time/but nor be anybody business who you wan climb/you dey form gentleman when we dey with you/but you go still go home beat your wife to stupor.”
“Talk” is a song whose tune employs the Old Roger nursery rhyme to throw jabs at corrupt politician institutions, with hints at the fact that there are tools other than umbrellas and brooms. There are a few words for flamboyant clergymen and doctrines bordering on compulsory tithing on “Amen”, which heavily samples (once more) “Coffin For Head of State”. The theme of humanity is explored on “Brother’s Keeper”, with backing vocals from Deena Ade, Sess, and Big Brother Naija: Double Wahala contestant BamBam. The influence of Afrobeat is evident on “Paper”, a track with an “Ojuelegba”-esque tune, which questions the desperation for material wealth and involves vocal contribution from Chillz. “E No Finish” is pretty much a 2019 cover of “Army Arrangement”, and the album closes out with “After All Said And Done”, a spoken word performance whose instrumentation is supplied by Tee Mothi and Alabama Georgia.
The record starts out with sparks in the first three tracks, but slowly begins to wind down from there, and by the penultimate song, what we are left with is repetitive, flogged-to-death monotony. Sure enough, there are messages that need to be resounded, but for artistes, there are, certainly, more ingenious ways to go about that. Some of the lyrics will also rub off the wrong way on some sections of the socio-culturally aware; 2019 was the wrong year to pan transactional sex, and “Talk” as well as “E No Finish” got him dragged for slut-shaming. That being said, the production and sound filtering on each track are top-notch, with the samples bearing the effect of proper studio chopping.
Ultimately, it takes a lot more than didactic music to earn comparisons to dead musical icons. Abami Eda’s craft was more than social commentary, it was religious, the artistic range was unassailable, and while nothing should be taken away from Falz’s effort, it would take a lot to dig into something to the tune of the Underground Spiritual Game. He is no Fela, but he doesn’t have to be, anyways. He is doing fairly well with his attempts at social crusading, putting out a project thematically comparable with Eedris Abulkareem’s Jaga Jaga and Kahli Abdu’s (less heralded) Ministry of Corruption mixtape from 2010, but a cheesy title is not the only thing that is wrong with Moral Instruction; this could have been more, it could have been something beyond paying tribute to the Black President, and while we will enjoy this, Falz may have passed up the opportunity to find his true voice on this one.