{Album Review}Blaqbonez — Young Preacher

Patrick Ezema
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Young Preacher arrives in the closing moments of a year that has been bountiful for albums in both volume and quality. Blaqbonez, of course, will be rest assured that none of these will provide him any real competition, for he is a man operating in his own niche—a purveyor of the sex-driven rap music that runs counter to Nigeria’s conservative sensibilities. In this regard, Young Preacher is a seamless sequel to 2021’s acclaimed Sex Over Love, for better and worse.

To guide you through the album’s different segments, you are chaperoned by a female voice, who informs you when the young preacher wants to educate on a new subject. In spite of this attempt by Blaqbonez to segregate the album into clusters of different topics, the impression most listeners will pick up after their first listen is an acute lack of diversity of subject.

Titillating songwriting makes for a welcome change from typical Nigerian songwriting, especially when it is laced with humor as Blaqbonez is often wont to do, but there is a certain numbness that comes with 3 or 4 songs in succession describing the act of coitus in several different ways.

To ignore this brevity of thematic diversity and focus on the actual music, though, will reveal the gem Blaqbonez has created. He may be a rapper in the nominal sense, but every successful Nigerian rapper will tell you the importance of dipping into traditional Afropop and ceding the chorus of your song to a vocalist as a trade-off for more enjoyable music. 

A song like “WHISTLE” initially forms the appearance of a Nigerian afropop love song in both sound and content: “Know it’s been a rough couple months we are apart and I’m missing you, you oh,” goes the intro from Lojay. Blaqbonez, being who he is, laces his verse with sexual innuendos (“Yeah, she wants a gangster fillin’ her tank”), but this time at least he’s spared us the minute details. Rounding up the track is the delectable Amaarae, and who better to make a track drip with sexiness if not her?

Also crucial to making this rap album integrate properly in a Nigerian context are its samples. There are four of them, three Nigerian RnB classics (Styl Plus’ “Runaway” on “YOUNG PREACHER,” Paul Play’s “Forever” on “LOYALTY,” and Asa’s “360” on “I’D BE WAITING”), while a sax riff borrowed from Fela’s iconic “Water” closes out “SHE LIKE IGBO,” a playful interlude about a woman who needs a kilo of marijuana to get through a weekend.

The similarities between this woman’s and Fela’s love for the substance aside, the most creative use of these samples appears in “LOYALTY,”  where Blaqbonez gives his best impression of a 90s R&B singer, though he couldn’t be more averse in content. 

He is explicit and transparent with his intentions, as he offers love but withholds exclusivity with a new partner: “You know I’ll probably fuck around and cheat / ‘Cause you want some loyalty and I can’t give you loyalty,” he says, and if this woman was an ardent listener of his music, she wouldn’t have expected any less. And while it is a far cry from the song it samples (Paul Play exhausted just about every metaphor of love and commitment in five minutes), taking on a different sound and executing it with the expertise of a natural R&B singer is a credit to his quality.

Guest contributors on the album put in a decent shift. The most memorable of them have already been mentioned, but other features also add flecks of glitter to Young Preacher. For “FAKE NIKES,” Blaqbonez, his frequent contributor Superboy Cheque, and American rapper Blxckie take turns dishing out financial advice. It would be priceless to see the faces of Chocolate City executives when Blaqbonez first suggested to them a song about the merits of buying counterfeit products, but the end product is a fine addition to the album. Interestingly, in his highly optimistic assertion of saving money from shoes to buy cars and houses, Blaqbonez unironically comes closest to being an actual Nigerian “aspire to perspire” preacher.

Tay Iwar makes an appearance here, and after featuring in Omah Lay’s Boy Alone, DJ Tunez’s Cruise Control Vol. 1, and Show Dem Camp’s Palmwine Express 2 in just the last four months, he knows a thing or two about collaboration. This time around, he glides with Blaqbonez over a classic hip-hop beat. He shows good adeptness for rap, and as their song is titled “RING RING,” a lot of it is spent in discussion of a monitoring partner: “You’re calling my line, tracking my movements/ Shawty you bad, shawty you bad.”

On the last lap of the album, unassisted by guest artists, Blaqbonez flexes his range and talent. STAR LIFE sounds like the love child of Joeboy’s “Contour” and CKay’s “You,” with its simple, bass-heavy beat on the verses melting into Amapiano goodness on the chorus. The other tracks don’t show this sonic duplicity, but the closer, “I’D BE WAITING,” with its chorus reconstructed from Asa’s “360,” shares a similar theme, as Blaqbonez compresses all of the self-reflection for this album into these two tracks.

He name-drops CKay, a friend and fellow artist who has made an astronomical trajectory in the last two years, but while he wishes something like this for himself, he’s more focused on taking each step as it comes. “I’m still movin’ at a good pace, he says, before adding, “But I ain’t in a rush; I’ma get there in my own way.” That’s proof he has a good head on his shoulders, even with all that eccentricity.

And if he can trim the fat around some of his more vulgar material to embrace more varied themes while maintaining the quality of his delivery, there is no reason why he cannot make an accelerated run of his own in the next few years and give some credibility to his self-given title of Africa’s best rapper.

Patrick Ezema

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