Trench to Triumph is not another “grass-to-grace” episode. We’ve seen and heard enough of such over-flogged templates over the years and are frankly tired of it. This album is Crayon’s tale of waiting for the right time to shine, and it is beautiful to experience.
By Emmanuel Okoro
Nigerian artiste, Crayon’s debut album, Trench to Triumph, is a celebration of love and life, and the importance of waiting for the right moment. The Nigerian music industry is competitive, and the burning desire to make it big can make one feel pressured to move when the stars don’t align yet. It makes one feel a plethora of emotions – ambition, restlessness, sadness, and sometimes, even self-doubt.
No one likes the idea of waiting. No one. Particularly as a Nigerian firstborn, burdened with the “Black tax,” or as an artiste brimming with talent, with eyes set on taking on global stages. Especially as other label signees are already taking giant strides on the same paths that you want to lead.
But when your name is Charles Chibueze Chukwu, with a stage name that symbolises your creativity – Crayon – somehow, you learn to wait it out and trust the process.
Crayon has kept a very busy portfolio while in wait. Since signing to Baby Fresh’s Blowtime Entertainment (an imprint of Mavin Records) in 2019, he has released two EPs: 2019’s Cray Cray and 2021’s Twelve A.M. He has also earned a nod for being nominated in the ‘Rookie of the Year’ category at the 2019 Headies Awards.
One cannot help but also recognise his distinct verses and hooks on the Mavin Record collaborative singles, “Overloading” and “Won Da Mo,” and his hit single “Ijo (Laba Laba),” released last year. These songs served as shining moments that brought him into the spotlight, and all of these processes have led to this point, Trench to Triumph.
The album’s opener, “Calvary Kid,” chronicles his triumph in the best way possible. Set against stirring electro chords and hypnotic background choir vocals, Crayon draws parallels between his walk to fame to Jesus Christ’s persecution journey. Lyrics like “Yeah, I know, got to walk alone on this lonely road/ Gat to weather the storm” captures the sacrifices and hardships he has faced in his pursuit.
However, Crayon finds solace in the knowledge that he’s not entirely alone. He remarks on the support and prayers from friends and family, which he believes has been significant. The sonic feel of “Calvary Kid” is a faint call back to Kanye West’s introspective and spiritually charged “Ultralight Beam,” which, ironically, is the intro to West’s 2016 album, The Life of Pablo. “Calvary Kid” sets high artistic expectations for the album.
Crayon smoothly slides into the next song, “Trench Kid,” which heralds his humble beginnings and serves as a quick autobiography. Here, he is not ashamed of where he comes from, whether it is Ebonyi – a State in South-Eastern Nigeria – where Crayon is from, or Orile-Iganmu, where he grew up, or Ojo-Iba, where he settled, both small towns in Lagos State. He adorns the “Trench Kid’’ tag and wears it as a badge of honour. Crayon also reveals his battles with depression and a resolve to keep moving. There is beauty in the lyrics, “I remember 2015 o, I was depressed/I was a broken crayon [but] I still dey colour.” Crayon taps superstar Oxlade on the record, who also shares insights into his troubled upbringing. Ozedikus’ signature production and Wademix’s live guitar runs give the track a rich and organic feel.
“Ngozi,” a lover’s anthem, comes next. It is an instant bop. The pop-infused record features Mavin Records label mate and superstar, Ayra Starr. The song is ladled with promises of love and devotion, delivered through their enchanting voices and undeniable chemistry. Seasoned music producer Sarz elevates this jam’s soundscape with expert production.
“Ijo (Laba Laba),” the vibrant and infectious leading single, eases in. Sarz, is once again, on the dashboard, delivering an Amapiano-infused and lamba-filled track. Crayon focuses on teaching a new dance style that he hopes will catch on. Frankly, it didn’t.
The chorus, “Ijo laba laba/Gimme your hand and shoulder/Kosi isoro get up/Blessing for your head top,” exudes a sense of joy and enthusiasm, inviting listeners to join in the dance and celebration.
Trench to Triumph swings into a new soundscape with “Belle Full,” a heartfelt ballad of love and affection. Crayon teams up with Victony as they create a masterpiece. The duo are a match made for the ages.
Victony takes the lead, using a football analogy to playfully capture his desire to love someone completely, “I go like, I go like, I go like/I go like to be your number 9/Say na only your post I go shootin’ my shot/Even De Gea no fit save am.” These lines add a touch of playfulness to the track’s narrative. Crayon’s chorus and verses add more layers, making the track an enjoyable listen. “Belle Full,” without a doubt, is easily one of the album’s best offerings.
Crayon revisits love and devotion on “You vs You,” featuring another Mavin Records label mate, Magixx. Set against frenetic beats and hints of mellow chords, Crayon reminds a love interest that there’s no one to compare her with.
“You versus you, You versus you/You no getty competition (Competi)” reflects Crayon’s unwavering commitment to the love interest, emphasising her unquestionable place in his life. Crayon and Magixx’s versatility on the Baby Fresh-produced tune makes “You vs You” a captivating moment on the album.
Electric guitars and busy log drums lead the way on “Modupe,” another hit record on the album. On the Andre Vibez-produced Amapaino song, Crayon expresses profound gratitude to a higher power for bringing him thus far in his journey. However, he reminds listeners, “I gat only one life o/Make I just dey jogodo jogodo till I go kpai oh.” This underscores his determination to live fully and make the most of every moment.
There is a slight shift in Trench to Triumph when “The One (Chop Life)” featuring Mozambican group, Yaba Buluku Boyz, comes in. “The One (Chop Life)” is an anthem of celebration amidst lounging at high-end nightclubs. Crayon reminds us that he’s the boss and is not afraid of calling the shots – literally and figuratively. With the infusion of enough Nigerian pidgin and Yoruba slang, “The One (Chop Life)” fits perfectly into a typical Nigerian party playlist. Yaba Buluku Boyz maintain the momentum of the Afrobeats and Amapiano number, but quite noticeably, offer little experimental element or innovation to the collaboration.
Set against mellow violin runs and log drums, “Superwoman” charges in. Crayon serenades a love interest with cheesy lines:
“They cannot be like you/Sweet accent like Brittico/Everything I do/Girl you dey start to finito,” Crayon sings, painting a picture of a deep and genuine connection between them. And just before one gets into the zone of what “Superwoman” expresses, the song ends abruptly, and it leaves me yearning for more.
But I suppose the sudden end is deliberate, as Crayon revisits the “love and commitment” theme again when “Adey” comes on, and I soon forgive the artiste for leaving me hanging. The familiarity of “Adey,” places Crayon back in his comfort zone, presenting a pop tune that is another heartfelt ode to love and commitment. The lyrics, “You be the light for my darkness/Girl, I like the way you dey shine/Come on and fly with me/Kaba kaba make you no miss your flight,” create colourful and picturesque images of romantic destinations and scenic sights.
Crayon embraces street lingua and slang on “L’Eko.” The sparse log drums and laid-back piano create the sense of a charismatic vibe. However, Crayon relies more on the sonic elements than his lyrics to carry the song.
If the classic phrase ‘Que sera sera’ had a Nigerian pidgin variation, it would be “Wetin Go Be,” the penultimate track. While Crayon echoes a sense of allowing events to unfold naturally, he doesn’t neglect the importance of hard work, dedication, and supplications to a higher power.
Trench to Triumph ends with the feel-good tune, “Good Day,” which is a hit track. Here, Crayon offers listeners glimpses into a day in his life. Between jetting off to Santa Monica and popping champagne in nightclubs, Crayon weaves a YOLO narrative filled with excitement and adventure. He playfully reminds us that he’s Captain Hook, an alias for his lyrical prowess in creating catchy hooks.
Overall, Trench to Triumph is not another “grass-to-grace” project. We’ve seen and heard enough of such over-flogged templates over the years and are, frankly, tired of it. This album is a beautiful tale of Crayon waiting for the right time to launch.
In 38 minutes, Crayon dotes on gratitude, love, adventure, and an affinity to his roots. The album is laden with superior production and seamless track listing, which makes for an enjoyable listen. The features slide themselves and contribute thematically to create a cohesive feel to the album. With his eyes set on taking on the world, Trench to Triumph is a fantastic start.
Lyricism – 1.5
Tracklisting – 1.7
Sound Engineering – 1.6
Vocalisation – 1.6
Listening Experience – 1.5
Rating – 7.9/10
Emmanuel Okoro is a content writer and journo with an insatiable knack for music and pop culture. When he’s not writing, you will find him arguing why Arsenal FC is the best football club in the multiverse. Connect with him on Twitter, Instagram, and Threads: @BughiLorde