At first they were 3, then became 4.
The prodigious rapper M.I, his even more versatile brother Jesse Jagz, the cheesy rapper, Ice Prince and the guy who sang the hooks that brought all of them together, Brymo.
They made up the starting foursome of Chocolate City, one of the most promising record labels on the music space. For a spell- one marked by numerous hit singles and a smattering of acclaimed albums- it looked like the Choc City empire was unsinkable.
But as these things go, there were cracks that couldn’t be papered. Jesse Jagz the in-house producer left the label in a hazy cloud of controversy and by the time the dust had settled, he had released two radically different classic rap albums. Records that would have been still birth at the Chocolate City of old. Brymo left acrimoniously too and in two short years delivered two stunning discs that made everything he had recorded at Choc City sound like one long rehearsal session.
M.I on the other side stayed and nurtured his fledging label, Loopy music, overseeing the careers of fresh talents like Ruby and DJ Lambo. Concerned primarily with playing the role of corporate suit, his sole output in this period of flux was last year’s The Chairman, a harmless, pandering record that failed to reinvent the wheel especially when placed side by side with Jagz’s recent output. Ice Prince on his part, put out a sophomore album and became one of the biggest names on the continent.
Blood they say, is thicker than water.
Early this year, Jesse Jagz made a 360 and returned to the label that made him famous, just as M.I was getting ready to take up the mantle of leading the re-organised team. Merging his Loopy imprint with the Chocolate City of old, a bigger, splashier behemoth beckoned. The new imprint is named Choc Boi Nation and houses 13 artistes with varying degrees of talent.
A compilation album was the next sensible step. For how better to (re)introduce the Choc Boi Nation than a display of disparate, singular styles in one big, rambling album?
A purely rap album at heart, The Indestructible Choc Boi Nation has Jesse Jagz tell his own side of the story on the album closer, the aptly titled Restoration, but not before declaring proceedings open on the mini reunion, Summertime, a pleasant, almost lazy ode to everyone’s favourite time of the year. Jago also shines on Suite 99 with Ice Prince, a ragga lite number that hearkens back to the glory days of his Thy Nation Come album.
The younger ones are hungry and eager to prove their mettle elsewhere and each of them gets at least one big moment to show the stuff they are made of. DJ Lambo cannot quite escape the shadow of Mustard and slips into the familiar DJ Khaled- Chris Brown-Drake formula on Drank with Milli and Dice Ailes substituting for the American superstars. The same fate almost befalls Dice Ailes once more on Oh no but his spunky individuality manages to shine through his bars.
The struggling Pryse who has managed to impress at least nobody since she was signed on a while back gets a solo nod on Ricochet and by Jove, she does enjoy her finest hour yet. Victoria Kimani is undistinguished on the snooze fest Loving you (Ice Prince certainly doesn’t help her) and the otherwise dependable Nosa does not quite get his Love is calling off the boring playground.
For the non-rappers, it is Koker who needs the boost the most and he gets one in his solo turn, Do Something, an instantly catchy, splashy Afro juju percussion heavy hit that pays ode to Shina Peters in his prime.
Featured heavily on M.I’s Chairman album, the talented youngster only managed to come across as a competent replacement for Brymo. He still sounds like Brymo’s double, but at least on Do Something, he gets material that is befitting of his talent and comes at least two steps away from those pesky comparisons.
Ruby Gyang is a class act with a capital C. She is yet to record a bad song and her stunning run continues with Loose soul, an adventurous trip in which DJ Caise concocts a trancey house sound to make listeners swoon at her technical depth. She is in familiar territory on No more where she plays off against Jesse Jagz’s inattentive loverman.
But rap music has always been Chocolate City’s mainstay and the bulk of material on this transition to Choc Boi Nation features sterling wordplay. M.I while not his fantastic best, shows a playful, competent side on 3rd mainland bridge, an ode to Lagos city that reunites him with his Bad belle mentee Moti Cakes.
Ice Prince has for the better part of his career, exhibited a tendency to be lazy when given too much leeway. His sing song rhymes are tired on Bass (with Koker) but Jesse Jagz breathes some life into him on the loosely structured Suite 99.
TICBN isn’t a shoo-in for album of the year but it plays way better than the average, vanity inspired label compilation label. Perhaps in recent times, only the EME State of Mind record can rival it for pure thrill seeking pleasure.
It puffs, it floats, it sings, but it doesn’t quite sting.
And if there is a tinge of dissatisfaction seeping out of this review, it is because the murder’s row line up of talent on Choc Boi Nation should be able to anything musically.
They haven’t really started.
– Wilfred Okiche (@DrWill20)