One year ago, A-Q released Rose, an LP best described as an alternative to the zeitgeist. This year he is back, timing better than clockwork. He calls the latest album, Blessed Forever.
To an ardent listener, this title calls up memories of gospel albums, but Blessed Forever is subtitled with a descriptive caveat, Lives and 808s. A-Q’s references are clear. In 2008, American rapper and producer Kanye West released that crucial masterpiece, Heartbreaks and 808s, in which he croons his way through personal issues.
A-Q is no crooner. On this 11 tracker, he recruits crooners: Good girl LA, Wavy the Creator, Music Mash Group, Yoye and the ebullient Maka. If Rose features collaboration with mainstream acts, Blessed Forever is skewed to the alternative music scene. Clearly there are a few names like Funbi, Odunsi The Engine and BOJ are missing here but the music is still A list.
The album begins with ad libs and piano keys, but you would be mistaken to assume that it is heading to the church. Blessed Forever retains its gospel feel and flair but does something utterly different with it. Although the album experiments with different flavours of music—Afrobeat in Criminality, Fuji/Juju in Jazzman, House in Lekki Expressway—the abiding sound is that of the 808 drum machine and echoes of sparse acoustic sessions.
One of the songs on Rose, 80’s Baby, a retro feel song featuring Maka, chronicled with nostalgia, the delights of being born in the said time. In retrospect, it seems 80’s Baby belongs with Blessed Forever, or perhaps the triumph of that track emboldened A-Q to put his latest album in this direction. This retro direction, the practice of live music and the use of 808s is absolutely unheard of in a contemporary Nigerian rap album. If Rose was an alternative to the zeitgeist, Blessed Forever takes a farther distance from the zeitgeist.
Blessed Forever adds rich registers to the growing corpus of Lagos pop culture. Lekki Express way is indeed a statement of genius. Never in the history of the city has the Lekki-Epe Expressway, a conduit of daily commuting, been given its own song. Although the choice of House music for this expression is curious, it doesn’t take away from its importance.
Made by Voice only sits in the middle of the album, a fulcrum of sort. It takes the soothing a capella of Music Mash Group to match A-Q’s derring-do. A-Q begins a rhyme on the beat-less track, “International rapper dropped it was over for me/Vector used to be my homie, switched off on me”. Deeper into this verse, he raps about being blocked on Twitter by Mode Nine. In A-Q’s deft handling, this caustic song is purged of vitriol. He turns a diss track into an inventory of rhetoric while still bragging about his acumen and accomplishment.
As+As, a crushing love song about genotype incompatibility, is not the only song with relevant societal themes. Nigeria’s foremost female kleptocrat becomes a metaphor in a song called Diezani. It is a delight of brags and horns and trap drums. Jazzman stands out as the joker to crossover into mainstream success. Combining hip-hop aesthetic with Juju, Fuji and Highlife tendencies is not entirely a new endeavour. Show Dem Camp’s Feel Alright may have birth an entire rap subgenre but A-Q does not care for that easy feel, he speeds up the music’s tempo on Jazzman, recruiting incessant drumming and setting up a new type of contemporary self-praise song. No Problem, however belongs, in the realm of Palmwine music.
Less than one hour long, Blessed Forever’s reflections extend into the last song, Change One Thing, Change Everything, an emotional song that chronicles his brother’s death, a trigger that led to other family tragedies.
Blessed Forever is a journey, a deeply personal one by one of the most prolific Nigerian rappers till date. His industry and facility as an emcee is quite impressive. Ditto for his intellectual depth and playful flair. At a time when hip-hop has become a wholly commercial endeavour, A-Q is belting music that retains message and method.
Blessed Forever is a gem.