Rhythm and Tunes is a decent EP. While enjoyable, it offers very little surprise, feeling like a mostly average effort in line with the Afrobeats mainstream and without much to distinguish Lil Kesh as a distinctive voice in the Afrobeats space…
By Yinoluwa Olowofoyeku
Keshinro Ololade, professionally known as Lil Kesh, is a Nigerian singer and rapper born and raised in the Bariga area of Lagos State. He kicked off his music career in 2012 when he rapped amongst his friends and colleagues in Bariga. His talent caught the eye of Olamide, who eventually signed him to the YBNL Nation imprint.
It was through YBNL that Lil Kesh embarked on a sudden rise to prominence in 2014 with the release of his debut single, “Lyrically,” and then the effervescent hit single, “Shoki.” The then 19-year-old was immediately thrust into the limelight, dazzling his newfound fans with a number of follow-up singles. “Efejoku” and “Is It Because I Love You” were significant notches on his belt. “Shele Gan” was another banger that paved the way for his debut album, Yagi.
Yagi was well received, but the heat around Lil Kesh cooled off somewhat after the expiration of his YBNL contract. He then established his own imprint (YAGI Records) and continued to release music consistently under it, but he never achieved quite the same heights. Over time, there was a subtle shift in the sound, seeing him stray away from his raw gritty street-hop flows to a more relaxed attitude. The shift was cemented in his 2020 album, Ecstasy. It enjoyed moderate reception and reintroduced a more matured and experienced Lil Kesh to the industry.
This seems to be the same Lil Kesh that we now get to enjoy again in Rhythm and Tunes.
“Bus Stops” kicks the album off with boisterous strummed guitars, bodacious horns, and a bold bass guitar. Energetic drums complete the instrumental palette over which Lil Kesh employs a lively delivery as he tries to woo a prospective lover. He takes a mixed approach, starting with serviceable singing and including a rapped verse with a slightly underwhelming flow. Worse than the flow, though, is a number of clumsy lyrics that detract from the intended romance of the song, such as “I’m too bougee to stick my D in anyhow P. My D is for your P. Other Ps are counterfeit.”
“Feeling Funny” is next up. Released as a single earlier this year, “Feeling Funny” features fellow ex-YBNL act, Young Jonn, on a cheerful Amapiano-adjacent instrumental. The admittedly infectious tune is rife with thumping log drums and vibrant percussions layered over simple uplifting chord progressions. Young Jonn and Lil Kesh imbibe the song with witty, playful lyrics to express their feelings to their lover. Lil Kesh varies his deliveries well on the song, keeping the melodies and passages fresh as the song progresses, keeping the listener engrossed as the song steams on. This makes the song a very enjoyable listen even on repeat.
Young Jonn goes from featured artiste to credited producer (alongside Niphkeys) on the next song, “Don’t Call Me.” Initially released in 2021, the Zinoleesky-assisted hustler’s anthem keeps the energy up, boasting lively Afrobeats drums, a bouncy bass guitar line, and gentle synths. Zinoleesky and Kesh lace the song with money-focused lyrics that recount their journeys and predict their successful paths. The positive message of the song propels it forward, coming across clearly and making the song an uplifting one.
“Leke” is the first twist in the tale, completely switching genres to delve into a nostalgic brand of Hip-Hop, sounding like the songs that launched Olamide’s career. The rap-talk deliveries are very interesting, interlocking creatively with the off-kilter syncopation provided by the swinging Rap drums. However, the creative instrumentals and unique deliveries are let down a bit by unremarkable song-writing and slightly elementary lyrics. Thankfully, they don’t detract too much from the song. Especially due to its short length, making it feel almost like an interlude. With that considered, there is some enjoyment to be had in the uniqueness of the approach the song takes, but it could have been a bit more impressive if the lyrical content was a bit more considered.
2022’s “Vanilla Bottega” is the penultimate song. The cruise-focused song highlights the success and splendours available to Kesh because of his pedigree. Kesh’s verses take a self-aggrandising direction as he raps and sings over the largely static instrumentals. Backed by the deep rumbling filtered bassline, sporadic log drums, rattling shakers, and steady Afrobeats drums, featured artiste, Joeboy, provides a sweetly sung, similarly braggadocious verse. Joeboy also adds pleasant harmony lines over Kesh’s up-tempo choruses, and sprinkles some sonic spice on the song, keeping it from feeling monotonous.
The EP closes with “Ayawa,” a softer love-focused song featuring the romantic crooner, Chike. Together, they shower their lover with praises and admiration atop an instrumental comprised of soft-spoken key chords, light synth accents, and a fast-paced, repetitive percussion-driven drum pattern that feels a bit out of place on what you would expect to be a softer-toned love song. Chike’s pleasant voice and delightful lyrics ensure that he makes the most of his verse. Impressively, Lil Kesh is able to hold his own against Chike, matching the romantic energy with his own passages, subdued melodies and warm group vocals on the chorus.
Lil Kesh’s longevity is to be admired. Cropping up on the scene almost 10 years ago, and at such a young age, it is impressive that he has continued to create and release music after descending from the lofty heights he initially attained. Also admirable is his desire and ability to continuously evolve and adapt his artistry as time passes. However, it feels like while there has been stylistic evolution, there hasn’t been much in terms of expressive or artistic growth. The shifts in the general landscape of the Nigerian music industry have left many artists chasing trends and pursuing movements to stay in vogue. Sadly, this leaves many artistes devoid of a unique stylistic marker or hook that sets them apart. This is where it sounds like Lil Kesh currently is: evolving his sound to fall more in line with the Afrobeats zeitgeist, but yet to find the element that stands him out of the crowd.
Comprising three new songs and three previously-released singles, Rhythm and Tunes feels like a stop-gap release to hold fans’ interests until the eventual album comes out. On its own merit, Rhythm and Tunes is a decent EP. While enjoyable, it offers very little surprise, feeling like a mostly average effort in line with the Afrobeats mainstream, and without much to distinguish Lil Kesh as a distinctive voice in the Afrobeats space. The lyricism on display is pretty standard fare, with cliché-feeling lines about money, love, and the female body. The deliveries do well to supplement the danceable energy of the instrumentals but don’t really elevate the songs melodically. And even the danceable production is pretty standard and basic, relying heavily on fast-paced drums and thumping log drums. There is very little by way of innovation or inspiration except for the interlude-esque “Leke Leke.”
The engineering is also pretty blasé. Lil Kesh is not the strongest singer and there are moments where the autotuned assistance is starkly audible. The weaknesses in his vocal deliveries are not helped much, as the vocal lines come across clearly, but flatly. There is not much colour or style in how the layers are stacked or processed, leaving the listening experience bland.
The sad truth is that, while Kesh himself does a standard job across the Rhythm and Tunes, the weaknesses in his artistry are left glaring by the lack of anything else eye-catching happening around him. Stronger production, song-writing, or engineering could have been beneficial in elevating the level of the final product. That can be proven by the additive impact of the featured talents across the EP. My hope after listening to Rhythm and Tunes is that as Lil Kesh continues to build towards his next full-length project, he either stumbles on that X-factor that will put him on his own pedestal amongst his peers, or he surrounds himself with other dazzling elements that can uplift what he brings to the table.
Lyricism – 1.3
Tracklisting – 1.2
Sound Engineering – 1.4
Vocalisation – 1.3
Listening Experience – 1.2
Rating – 6.4/10
Yinoluwa “Yinoluu” Olowofoyeku is a multi-disciplinary artist and creative who finds expression in various media.