Naetochukwu Chikwe, once heralded as the great future of rap music quietly put out Festival, his second album of 2015. A companion piece to the more hard core Day 1, Festival, with its highlife leaning, dance friendly, pseudo traditional vibes came as something of a shock to many folks familiar with the Naeto C brand.
The very married rapper and father has always worn his Igbo roots proudly but this seeming full scale turn around was worsened by the fact that after his leave of absence – his last album Super C Season was released in 2011-, his delivery and word play appeared to have been the first victims of his time away.
The market responded in kind. If Naeto C could not be bothered with coming up with the goods lyrically after a four year spell, it would be hard to fault fickle audiences justifying their indifference to his comeback on his unpreparedness.
Granted, Festival is not the kind of record one would expect from the guy who brought us You know my P and Kini big deal but the current era of local rappers taking over the imagination of audiences nationwide has at the very least called for a realignment of strategies and expectations. Festival is simply Naeto C adjusting to the realities on ground that have made such sonic powerhouses of Olamide and Phyno in the space of time he has been away.
On one hand Festival can be appreciated as evidence of a young man getting in touch with his roots in the most crowd pleasing way possible. On the other hand, more cynical folks are likely to see it as a desperate play for relevance by an artiste whose influences are more westernized than indigenous. Both sides of this divide are probably right but such over thinking is likely to cloud the fact that as a piece of art, Festival is made up of both upsides and downsides.
Some of the highlights are when Naeto C teams with new school superstars like Cynthia Morgan on the change of pace Never forget this and Olamide on the boisterous, radio friendly Fuji laced Kere. Both songs are as disparate as the featured artistes are different, but they serve the same purpose. They help the often cold rapper warm up to new audiences and provide credibility for him as he tests the waters of new genres.
Naeto C appears convinced that repetition is a virtue, hence the common denominator for the record is to repeat terms, titles and choruses long enough to make them stick in that part of the brain that all pop singles and advert jingles bind themselves to for easy recall. This casual trick works when it does, like on light, harmless fare like the auto tuned Ordinary as well as the album opener Ati de. But they are not always successful and on duds like Langbe jina, Shake yeah (with Bular), and Complete– featuring a contribution from Omawumi which she will spend the rest of her career distancing herself from,- they only manage to induce mild headaches.
The record is drenched in traditional sounds and every track is doused in highlife instrumentations, be they Yoruba or Igbo. The only exception to this is Soft, an updated rappers delight (considering what else is on offer here) that for just over 3 minutes, brings back the Naeto C older fans will be more familiar with.
The major problem with Festival isn’t that Naeto C has gone all local, it lies in the fact that with many things Nigerian, this reversal of sound wasn’t thought out properly, neither was it planned and communicated effectively. Naeto C has always flirted with a pop sound most of his career (Ten over ten, 5 and 6) so a total venture into indigenous, crowd pleasing sounds ideally should not be a concept so hard to sell. But Naeto C and his management (if there is any) have surprisingly botched this outing so spectacularly.
The tunes are mostly easy on the ear and go down well enough but his song writing, not exactly on Kendrick Lamar levels even at his prime is severely anaemic on Festival, problematic even for a light hearted feel good record. He falls under that industry impression that what is meant to be fun doesn’t deserve to be smart and even the cover of the album shows a kind of carelessness that shouldn’t be forgiven easily.
It may well be that Naeto C put out this record as some sort of compromise, even as he re-enters an industry that has learnt to move on without him. With this logic, the more detailed Day 1 is for the fans of old while the broadly embarrassing Festival stakes out new listeners and supplies the hit singles that will keep him on the Globacom endorsement roster.
But if Naeto C cannot respect his anticipated audience enough to package his product and brand properly, he does not deserve their attention.
– Wilfred Okiche (@DrWill20)