Ric Hassani’s opus, Gentleman is at least two years old now, dating back to 2016, the year of Fada fada, Pana and Kiss Daniel. These songs, and the guys who croaked them, for better or worse, ruled the charts and the clubs back then. But while the artistes still claim some relevancy, the songs themselves have been consigned to the dustbin of history, exactly where they belong.
Gentleman on the other hand still sounds as fresh a 2018 summer release. The appeal is easy to trace. Stripped down to its bare essence, Gentleman consists of Hassani’s mellifluous voice, fluent taps of the silt drum and chants borrowed from Southern Africa. To cap off what would have at this point been a decent aural experience, Hassani makes the experience even more worthwhile by passing across a message of self-worth.
Songs like Gentleman have sadly become the rarity in today’s mainstream music landscape, saturated as it is with dance heavy manufactured products, and artistes like Ric Hassani, remain at the fringes of pop music, doing something akin to crying out in the wilderness. Ever so often, one of these outliers manages to break out. Gentleman was Ric Hassani’s break out moment.
Best classified as a sleeper hit, Gentleman was enough to give Hassani the impetus to put out his debut album, The African Gentleman. The storybook end result would have been something similar to Simi and her magical X3M music debut. Real life is often more complicated and Hassani’s debut is more true to life than fairytales.
The African Gentleman cannot rise beyond its realities. And what are those? An independent artiste in LMIC Nigeria, making music that is off the beaten path of commercial radio. Resources are limited, so is the audience. The imagination tends to follow.
The African Gentleman never quite matches up to the promise of its lead single but Hassani gives it a try, especially in the album’s first half. Love is the central theme of the record and Hassani is the well-behaved salesman, hawking lyrics of treating his woman right, crossing the seven seas and risking the judgement of dissenters on songs like Police, Sing and Marry You, all produced by Doron Clinton. It isn’t Pulitzer winning stuff but Hassani’s voice has a careful earnestness that carries him through the layers of cheese that inevitably builds around this kind of material.
Hassani begins to run into trouble when he raises the tempo in a not too successful bid to open up the material. Beautiful to Me isn’t quite sure if it wants to be R&B or dancehall and As Long As You Love Me is simply forgettable. There are probably hundreds of songs titled, I Love You but Hassani’s entry must be one of the most uninvolving, this despite a sax solo riff.
The back half of the record shows the weakness of Hassani’s management. Songs are clumped so haphazardly without any nod for the rigor of an efficient A&R process, all under the cover of putting out a deluxe edition record. Gentleman has at least one remix too many and guest artistes like Johnny Drille fail to bring any spark. Hassani goes as far as Zambia and Angola to import Mambi Yachi (Sweet Mother) and Cabo Snoop (Oge Na Ga). They do what they can but the entire arrangement does them no favors.
Following all of these unforced errors, it becomes hard to take The African Gentleman seriously. Indeed, it is a cold world out there and it wouldn’t be fair to knock a young man’s hustle but Hassani is one of those artistes in dire need of a solid team, knowledgeable in the art of managing projects. Hassani may have showed potential of blossoming into a major talent on Gentleman, but his debut album is a minor effort.