This project strictly adheres to the title as Nissi unboxes herself, or perhaps breaks the box to smithereens, calling on the best producers around to create a hybrid of Afrobeats tracks…
By Emmanuel Daraloye
Oftentimes, artistes confine themselves to a particular genre or sound, so much so that it takes some level of sonic development and boldness to break out of this box. While many have attempted to move away from their usual style, only a small fraction has been successful. Nigerian artiste, Nissi Ogulu, who is primarily known as Burna Boy’s younger sister, recently joined the rank of those able to branch out and reach into other genres with her extended play, Unboxed.
The seven-track project features some of the brightest Afrobeats artistes and producers, with Nissi exploring Amapiano and Afrobeats, while adding a bit of Jazz and Soul music to the mix.
Born in Port Harcourt close to three decades ago, Nissi discovered her love for music at the age of six. She wrote and sang while growing up, and also spent some leisure time painting. In the past five years, she has been part of her brother’s entourage. But while on this journey, she has not lost her flair for music and has on occasion opened at Burna Boy’s concerts.
This new EP comes three years after her genre-blending EP, Ignite, a seven-track solo project that won her some admiration from music lovers while also spotlighting her to some music industry heavyweights.
The Telz’s produced sunny track, “Heavy”, kicks off this EP. Over bright drum rolls and kicks, Nissi is unashamedly vulnerable to her lover. She folds up to others around as her love interest appears to tick all her boxes.
She pledges her loyalty to this love interest, with lines like “When the times ain’t cool/You light up the darkest mood/Life ain’t a perfect tune/It always plays better with you” vividly portraying a love-struck romantic. Nissi’s project opens on a mid-tempo as she sings about her state of mind, and this pace sufficiently eases listeners into the other tracks as the EP progresses.
“Higher”, the second track on this project, pays a copious tribute to Amapiano. Years ago, a track like this would have only been a dream for an artiste like Nissi. But as an ‘unboxed’ artiste now, she is more open to new genre-blending waves and styles. The ad-libs on this song are sung Yoruba language. The one-liner “Omo ope wa gbera” (move to the dance floor) is bound to rouse listeners to move their feet. In the first verse, Nissi sings about her displeasure in long talks and negative energy. The second verse finds her bragging about her vocal strength and ability to paint beautifully on a canvas, she even likens herself to a young Pablo Picasso – an audacity that does not come cheaply.
Multiple instrumentals make up the production of “Overthinking”, and this ingenuity is difficult to ignore. From the kicks and piano to the talking drum, even without the vocals, the production already moves the listeners to the dancefloor. As the title states, “Overthinking” is Nissi’s expression of emotional turmoil which finds the artiste letting go of some bottled-up emotions. In order not to overthink, she gives in to heavy drinking, letting the tequila work its magic while she eases herself into a softer side of life. The track is a short listen that when it comes to an end, one wonders whether the vocals do enough justice to this type of production.
“Nobody” features Nigerian singer, Fireboy, who brings a wealth of experience to this Soul-spiced tune. “Nobody can take my baby from me”, they both scream. In the first verse, Nissi sings about how her lover makes her feel and vows to keep him away from prying eyes. Fireboy starts off his verse with a promise to buy her luxury items and ends the track by alluding to Nissi’s opening. A track like “Nobody” shows the power of collaboration. Both artistes leverage each other’s strengths to create a standout track on this project.
She is jolly on “Unwind”. To put it loosely, she becomes an advocate of the ‘chop life geng’ – one only present for a good time. On “Unwind”, the singer urges her listeners to make time for pleasures amid life’s struggles. When she says “Problem no dey tire”, it reminds one of the popular Nigerian saying: ‘Problem no dey finish’, meaning that life issues are unending. “Unwind” is a ready-made track best suited for workaholics, to remind them to take breaks every now and then.
Teni Makanaki joins Nissi on the Jazzy tune, “Thunder”. Teni and Nissi are in their element as they attempt to sway the listeners to the dance floor. The chaotic production almost muddles up the beauty of this track. A better mixing and mastering could have greatly helped in the final output. Nevertheless, both artistes give a commendable account of their artistry on this track.
Unboxed ends with the moody, Jazz and Soul-inflected tune, “Gloves”. The track comes across as an open letter to a partner. The opening verse sways between Nissi singing about her mood swings and her state of mind. And that while these are stumbling blocks that impede the progress of their relationship, she is dogged in her resolve to not change. A typical descriptive of ‘take me as I am.’ “Gloves” effortlessly runs on this sunny piano/drum-filled production.
It has been seven years since Nissi officially began releasing music of her own, and it is exhilarating to find her seated among rising stars from Africa. As an artistes who has been heavily influenced by Western sound, for the first time, Nissi finally experiments with sound from the motherland, while also spicing it up with Jazz, Soul, R&B, and other musical leanings.
This project strictly adheres to the title as Nissi unboxes herself, or perhaps breaks the box to smithereens, calling on the best producers around to create a hybrid of Afrobeats tracks. The collaborations are deliberately kept short, allowing her to shine and give the best listening experience to her audience.
In about twenty-one minutes of the project’s runtime, Nissi takes listeners through her emotional turmoil, once in a while drawing them to the dance floor, and at the same time, retaining her flair. It is such a beauty to behold.
Lyricism – 2
Tracklisting – 1.2
Sound Engineering – 1.2
Vocalisation – 1.3
Listening Experience – 1.7
Rating – 7.4/10
Listed twice by “Black Pride Magazine” as one of the top 5 Music Journalists in Nigeria, Emmanuel Daraloye has over 600 album reviews in his archive.