While none of the songs on this album are identifiably bad, it is telling that none of them are also immediately iconic…
By Yinoluwa Olowofoyeku
Ayodeji Ibrahim Balogun needs absolutely no introduction at this point. If he wasn’t already the most prominent Nigerian/Afrobeats artiste, then his record-shattering album, Made in Lagos, cemented that title as his. Two years after that ground-breaking project, the Star Boy has returned with arguably the most anticipated album of the year, More Love, Less Ego.
Officially, this is Wizkid’s 5th studio album, which might be a surprisingly small number considering he has been consistently active in the industry for over 10 years. His rise to superstardom was almost immediate. He announced himself on his aptly named Superstar album with legendary immortal tracks such as “Pakurumo,” “Don’t Dull,” “Tease Me,” and “Holla at Your Boy.” Although, it took a considerable amount of time for him to follow Superstar up, he maintained his berth at the forefront of Afrobeats with a smattering of diverse singles and features that solidified him as a pioneer and trendsetter. 2017 saw him release two projects that would set the tone for his career moving forward. On Sounds From the Other Side, he leveraged his newfound status as an international sensation to bridge global industries and influences with chart-topping songs like “Daddy Yo,” the Chris Brown-assisted “African Bad Gyal”, and the quintessential summer anthem, “Come Closer” with Drake. Meanwhile on Ayo, he continued to redefine the sonic boundaries of Afrobeats with monster hits like “Jaiye Jaiye,”“Caro,” and of course, the evergreen “Ojuelegba.” After these rapturous successes, Wizkid evolved his sound even further, slowing things down with landmark singles like “Fever,” Joro,” and the eventual SoundMan Vol.1 project. The trajectory seemed to summit with Made in Lagos and the global stir that was wrought by “Essence,” which subsequently earned Wizkid a Grammy nomination.
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More Love, Less Ego begins on an immediate high with “Money & Love.” Wizkid slips right into his usual cadence, wooing an intended lover with his sexual and financial prowess. Over a bouncy beat built on rumbling percussions, swinging drums, lush chords, and smooth bass guitars, Wizkid displays his naughty side saying, “Big lollipop, baby lick like ice cream, Big bad Wiz, Mr. Shift-Your-Panties, Fuck you to Buju Banton or Buju Benson, Girl any record, I go make you sing…” There is a contagious confidence in the way Wizkid delivers his lyrics. When he says his money is long from L.A to Okokomaiko, it is sung with the same kind of luxurious swagger that artistes like Rick Ross exude.
“Balance” is up next, and the instrumental catches my ear right away. While the beat initially seems to follow the formula typical for Wizkid songs (minimal chords and a simple driving drumline), the different sounds selected by producers Kel P and KDaGreat lend the song a unique feel. The drums and shimmering electric pianos sound reminiscent of 80’s Pop. This is beautifully juxtaposed against pounding synth basses that bring up the feeling of Amapiano log drums without actually delving into that genre fully. Subtle saxophone passages and bongo drums phase in and out to infuse the essential Afro energy. The result is an innovative sonic mix that Wizkid can ride with relaxed melodies and a syncopated flow that mimics the rhythms of the instrumental. While the track is light on harmonies or adlibs, Wizkid imbibes the hook with a call-and-response feeling as he intersperses chants of “Balance” between the lyrics. Together, the elements of the song strike a beautiful balance between sounding familiar and new.
“Bad to Me” was released as the lead single preceding the album’s release, and it pays homage to the Amapiano trend sweeping the continent. Sharp snares are sprinkled over rattling shakers, thumping log drums, lively guitar synths, and simple electric piano chords. Wizkid nails the Amapiano energy with the ululations and group vocals on the hook. However, the rest of song comes across like any other Wizkid song. I had hoped he would use the opportunity to experiment with his melodies a bit more (like he did on Kabza De Small’s “Sponono”). Even the lyricism is very typical of Wizkid. While “Casamigos, for my amigos” has already become a sort of catchphrase, the rest of the lyrics seem to come from a bag of staples, featuring lines like “When we leave, we fit do am your way, Or if you want, we fit do am my way… You turn me on, I no dey go, I wan dey, I no dey care say the bad mind dem pree, Money on mi mind all day.”
Next up is “2 Sugar” featuring Ayra Starr. This song is the first exhibition of some vulnerability and depth in the songwriting. Starr kicks it off with a very short verse to set the tone of the song, singing “Got a bag full of feeling and a house full of regret…” She also handles the chorus, injecting it with her signature blend of wit, honesty, and vibrant melodies. Wizkid keeps the pace with a high-pitched melody that I really enjoyed as it displayed a different dimension of his voice. He returns to his regular range as he speaks on living a simple life to maintain the right energies around him. This is done on a sparse but bouncy instrumental, featuring more e-piano chords and a steady drumline. Amapiano log drums are dotted around the beat, and while they don’t directly detract from the sound, I wonder if they were necessary in this instance.
“Everyday” begins with a voiceover that explains the album title, espousing the difference between ego and love. I expected the song to continue along these lines, but it settles right back into typical Wizkid. We get another beat built around a simple two-chord progression, pulsing basslines and straightforward Afrobeats drums. My biggest problem with this song is the thematic inconsistency. After starting with an explanation of love, Wizkid does very little to explore that idea on the song. The chorus is centred around understanding the daily struggles we all face, saying “…Every day, I know struggle dey, My brother we dey pray, Every day, I say every day, Problem no dey finish, but my brother we dey play.” Then the first verse begins with “Mogbe oh, Rotate this kind low waist, wey dey make me grab my J and Moet…” The lyrics of the song alternate frustratingly between topics, and the song ends unsure over what it is really about.
“Slip N Slide” is a sultry, sexual song from top to bottom. Wizkid recruits Dancehall sensations, Skillibeng, and Shenseea to infuse that authentic Dancehall rawness into the song. This song exemplifies one of the perks of Wizkid’s international appeal. He is positioned to broaden what is possible with Afrobeats by enlisting artistes with vastly different styles and sounds. The instrumental is another from what I imagine is P2J’s vast collection of Wizkid-type beats: smooth and simple chords, with clean, simple drums (albeit with a tinge of tropical flavour). As such, the uniqueness of the song is fully derived from hearing entirely novel deliveries on the familiar beat. Skillibeng approaches his refrain with a gruff and grimy style: a low throaty delivery that augments the dirtiness of the lyrics. Shenseea takes a softer route, with sweet, candied melodies that camouflage the teasing nature of her lyrics. “Come make me put it pon ya, wet wet wet, slip it and slide, set set set, grip it up tight.”
“Deep” is one of the faster songs on the album. Wizkid confesses to his lover that he’s not in this for love, he simply wants to be deep in her. “I’m not looking for your love, I’m honest, I just want a piece of that… I don’t need your love, I just want your body,” he admits over an energetic drumline supported by lively guitars and brass passages. These sexual songs seem to be the ones with the clearest thematic focus. The song is, thankfully, quite short as it doesn’t really provide anything to latch on to. “Deep” would make a good song to dance to, but it makes for a relatively innocuous listen.
“Flower Pads” follows in almost the exact same lane. The song begins with a voiceover claiming, “This one’s nasty.” And it definitely is. However, unlike “Deep,”this track is a more palatable listen. The P2J-produced instrumental deviates from the archetype a bit, with a heavier pounding feeling. The simple chords are still present, but the booming percussions overpower them and give the song a more rhythmic presence. Wizkid also switches up his melody and delivery a bit, utilising more of his vocal range. He has sections where he strains his voice a bit higher to exercise his higher register. He also has these soft whispered passages in the chorus that heighten the sensuality of the song. The lyrics are extremely simplistic once again. However, here, the simplicity of the lyrics serves the intention of the song. The song ends with a voiceover in Spanish which bookends the sensual sizzle palpable throughout.
“Wow” is up next and right away. The instrumental is reminiscent of “Soco” with its exuberant mallets and percussion-heavy drums. Wizkid acts as a stylistic bridge once again, combining the intercontinental swagger of frequent collaborator, Skepta, with the local street energy of Naira Marley. I wish Wizkid had done more of this on the album, as the juxtaposition of styles provides such a unique listening experience. Naira Marley is in his stride, bringing catchy boisterous cadences with playfully explicit lyrics “When I saw you inna bumbum short, Loje kin fe try my luck, make I dey chop your work, If we knack you won’t want to stop.” Skepta delivers as you would expect, reminding us of his pedigree as a fashionable, wealthy boss. Wizkid grounds the contributions of his guests with his typical flavour, singing “Call me daddy oh, Whine am for me oh, Love a bad boy like me oh, Diamonds on me oh,” in melodies that you might have heard him use somewhere before.
“Pressure” is produced by P.Priime whose impact is immediately apparent. It makes me wonder why Wizkid didn’t employ the services of more producers. P2J is undoubtedly talented, but a lot of the beats he provided have similar elements. P.Priime injects a new energy into the album; his drums have a different slant with little rolls and live accents; his chords have a different feel, including jazzy flourishes, and he uses the Amapiano log drums in conjunction with 808s to give them a distinct zest. This difference in the sonic tapestry consequently ushers Wizkid in an alternative direction. While the lyrics remain firmly in the typical Wizkid basket, “na only you wey dey make me dey love every night, wey dey make me dey nono…,” he is inspired to explore more varied melodies and play around with the delivery and cadence. The notes he hits on the chorus and refrain breathe fresh air into the album and I can’t help but dance as he goes “Pi pi pi pi pi pi, baby girl I want you make you, make you bring am swing my way.”
“Plenty Loving” brings me down from the high of “Pressure.” The song is a P2J-produced, Amapiano-inspired offering, sporting the structured shakers, percussions, rippling log drums, straightforward 2-chord progression, with saxophone and flute accents. Wizkid keeps the melodies simple as well, using maybe 2 or 3 distinct vocal patterns on the song. The lyrics don’t bring much to the table either. They are centred on promises to provide substantial loving. “Cause I go love you jeje, And I go give you make you sempe oh, I go love you baby, sempe oh, I’m loving all on your touch, I wan pepe oh.” Although, it’s an inoffensive song, my interest wavered across polar ends each time I listened.
The penultimate track, “Special,” reinforces what I said earlier about the benefits of using different producers. Juls brings his trademark laid-back vibes to the song, with low frequency kick drums under his definitive percussive style, and Highlife-inspired guitars. While I welcome the change, I feel like Juls could have given a bit more to this instrumental. It repeats exactly for the full runtime of the song without any variations, accents, or additions, and that becomes grating after a while. However, what the beat lacks, Don Toliver makes up for with his appearance. As I stated earlier, Wizkid’s global status allows him to invite artistes with unique and particular sounds into the Afrobeats realms, allowing them to expand the sonic possibilities and potential with their idiosyncratic imprints. Don Toliver does exactly this. His Trap vocal timbre and melodies are so peculiar and distinctive set against African percussions. He steals the spotlight with his hook, and it made me wish desperately he had been given a whole verse to fully explore. Wizkid holds his own on the song, switching up his flow as he heaps adoration on this special lady.
More Love, Less Ego rounds off with “Frames (Who’s Gonna Know)” which sees Wizkid express loving sentiments that are surprisingly rare considering the title of the album. “You making me lose my eyes for other girls, No do me something wey go make me stress, Give me less of that, give me more of you, Give me something I’ll never want to lose,” he sings over a cheerful P2J beat. The instrumental is founded upon a pleasing bass guitar riff, andsupported by bright piano chords and steady Afrobeat drums. The pleasant surprises continue as Wizkid reaches into his melodic bag of tricks and pulls out inflections I didn’t know he was capable of. He employs sweet cadences that remind me of Asa. And then on the hook, he reaches this delicious falsetto that swims and floats in your ears. This song reminded me just how dexterous Wizkid can be with his melodies, a quality I wished was was present on more parts of the album.
More Love, Less Ego is a difficult album to review. Wizkid is one of the biggest artistes in the world, and that can come with weighty expectations, especially in light of the heights he achieved with Made in Lagos. He has also garnered a reputation as an innovator, a pioneer, and a trendsetter. Historically, he has been ahead of the curve with his releases, outperforming other artistes in his wake, and building a trail of artistes who aim to sound like him. So, it is almost painful to feel like Wizkid is simply giving us more of the same. He sounds comfortable on this project, and that is a double-edged sword. The comfort means that he is extremely refined in the things he does well. Very few people can provide vibes the way Wizkid can. There is an ease and confidence in his delivery that is evident of a seasoned veteran. His profile allows him to work with the best of the best, meaning the engineering of the album is spotless and perfect. On the flipside, the comfort means he doesn’t seem to be pushing himselfso much.
More Love, Less Ego demonstrates the least growth in Wizkid’s discography. The melodies he chooses begin to blend together on most songs, and it feels like we’ve heard them before. The exceptions are few and stand out obviously because of it. He rarely goes outside of his resting vocal range. He rarely builds his songs around his vocals with harmonies and adlibs. There doesn’t seem to be any maturation in terms of lyrical depth or emotional vulnerability which came as a bit of a disappointment given the album’s title. The songs with the sharpest topical focus are the ones centred around sex. Love, money, and the female body comprise the rest of the lyrics. Even when love is the topic, it is simply mentioned and is not explained or explored to any significant degree. There is no hint of personality in terms of opinions, experiences, thoughts, wishes, or any of those elements that allow artistes to connect intimately with their listeners. The songs don’t seem like a lot of time or intention was spent on them in terms of writing and crafting.
Sonically as well, the album is pretty stationary. Wizkid’s comfort and familiarity with P2J and his sound results in minimal sonic diversity. There is almost a formula to the instrumentals chosen,and this is only broken up by the inclusion of Juls and P.Priime. The album could have benefitted from a few more musical perspectives. Its coherence would not have suffered much. If some of these songs were played in rotation with Made in Lagos, an inattentive ear might believe they all belonged on the same project. These disparate musical perspectives could also have been provided by features. The features on this album excelled at adding novel dimensions to the songs they were featured on. It was a genius move to call on artistes who typically ply their trade in different genres. Don Toliver and Shenseea were major highlights, greatly diversifying the melodic range of the album with their presence. Even Naira Marley injected an enormous contrast with his feature, and it added a certain life to the project.
While none of the songs on this album are identifiably bad, it is telling that none of them are also immediately iconic. That is unusual for Wizkid. Each individual song is a quality song in its own right but as a collection, and as the latest album from the biggest name in Afrobeats, More Love, Less Ego, is a bit of a let-down, and it pains me greatly to say so.
Lyricism – 0.7
Tracklisting – 1.2
Sound Engineering – 1.7
Vocalisation – 1.1
Listening Experience – 1
Rating – 5.7/10
Yinoluwa “Yinoluu” Olowofoyeku is a multi-disciplinary artist and creative who finds expression in various media.