Death to the punchline.
That most basic staple of potent hip hop music- the heady mix of breezy wordplay and intelligent stream of thought, terminating with perfect poetic timing- has been officially declared endangered species.
The exact defining moment? Sometime in 2015, the year that witnessed the massive acceptance and chart domination of the song Local rappers, the second single off rapper Reminisce’s third studio album, Baba Hafusa.
The slow but steady rise of indigenous rap into mainstream consciousness hit troubled waters momentarily with the untimely death of its most celebrated champ, Da Grin. Years after his tragic passing, Olamide, Phyno and Reminisce, dudes who rap primarily in their local dialects are the new kings of rap music. This trio heralded their rise with the release of Local rappers, a 5-minute tongue in cheek affirmation of their newfound status and a declaration of the end of the somewhat unprofitable punchline.
With this newfound distaste for one of Hip hop’s primary elements, rap aficionados feared especially for Reminisce, the most underrated of the trio, as he was yet to equal the true mainstream acceptance that took Olamide 4 back to back studio albums, and Phyno, just one solo record to achieve.
Would this new but polarising position hurt Baba Hafusa, Reminisce’s hotly anticipated third merry go round? This was after all, the record that was expected to consolidate on the solid performances of his two previous efforts, 2012’s undervalued Book of rap stories and its follow up, 2013’s Alaga Ibile.
The striking cover art for Baba Hafusa featured the rapper, clad in a traditional outfit, menacing as usual, but clutching a teddy bear on one arm and an infant carrier on the other, both, presumably belonging to his daughter, Hafusa. This powerful imagery hinted of a more mature, reflective Reminisce taking on the challenges of family and fatherhood and eager to document his experiences.
After multiple spins of the album, it turns out the only inspiration tangentially relating to Hafusa on the record is financial security. No longer the wild, untamed, underground hot head, Reminisce has taken it upon himself to deliver a record that is as acceptable to mainstream audiences as anything his 2 more successful compatriots have done.
Why, he even bites Olamide’s style hard on Otiya, a pale replica of the former’s massive hit, Eleda mi.
Any fears of the Alaga Ibile diluting his sound are not totally unfounded. Reminisce’s scorcher of a voice is still as potent and attention grabbing as ever and he growls out threats- both of the violent and sexual kind- with equal aplomb. He still retains the core of his essence as the no nonsense dude from the wrong side of town, likely to club an adversary silly but dilutes the punch with a lot of ineffective songwriting.
The punch lines still come to the fore when he is so inclined and on tracks like album opener, Grind and lead single, the menacingly sex drenched Tesojue, there is proof that the punch line is alive and thriving.
There is hardly any mention of poor Hafusa here who was sadly reduced to a potent marketing gimmick. Instead Reminisce fills the album with songs about sex and male-female relationships. Of these, Tesojue and I need a girl, a brutal, graphic take down of a cheating lover shine the most. Voyeurs may want to check out the back and forth with Ice Prince on Busayo but after a while, one tires of Reminisce’s self advertised bedroom prowess.
Sean Tizzle and D’Tunes have made some seminal hits together but their contribution here, Gbamilago doesn’t quite rise beyond its filler material beginnings. Top shots like Sarz and Sossick share production credits with young guns Tyrone and Jospo.
On other parts, like the autobiographical title song and on Nothing (with Vector and label mate Sojay) he reinforces his street credentials and stresses the importance of the hustle.
There is a play for the pop charts- again by way of Olamide- with the Shoki infused Olomoge as well as the gyration tinged Saida.
The biggest letdown of the record may be its unwillingness to offer more of the man behind the tinted hair and danger tinged voice. No one comes any closer to knowing him better than on his previous records as he finds it safer to stick to nondescript subjects. Reminisce simply expends potential energy huffing and puffing and then huffing some more.
The bright side of the entire affair? Punchlines ain’t dead. Not quite. And they’ll definitely live to fight another day.
– Wilfred Okichie