The Three: February Edition

Every month, I’ll write about three pop culture things I dis/liked. Could be anything — a book, an album, a TV show, a movie, a dish, anything. I’ll try and keep this a politics-free space, but no promises. As you can see, I barely managed it this edition.

First installment here. Here’s the second.

Clockwise from the top left: Falz’ cover art for his latest album Moral Instruction, a promo pic from Netflix for Sex Education, Show Dem Camp’s cover art for Clone Wars IV: These Buhari Times, and the two hosts for one of my favorite podcasts Still Processing.

Politically-Conscious Naija Rap

Besides performing at political rallies as usual and even the odd run for office (of which Banky W is far from the first), Nigerian entertainers have been busy this election season. Davido waded into the political waters, throwing his considerable weight behind his Uncle in the Osun State gubernatorial elections. Sound Sultan wrote and performed a politically-themed musical Jungle Story that showed at Terra Kulture in Lagos. Vice President Osinbajo visited Femi Kuti’s Afrikan Shrine in Ikeja, Lagos, during Felabrations 2018 and must’ve been really pissed off when Kuti told him he will not support his adminisitration’s reelection bid. Falz did a well-received riff on Donald Glover’s ‘This Is America’ which I also wrote about for my Guardian column. And now, early in 2019 and mere months away from the elections, Falz and Show Dem Camp dropped rap albums steeped heavily in the present political moment.

First, Falz‘s ‘Moral Instructions’. I don’t have the time/space to discuss the viral video where Falz was asked about his disdain for sex work and “run girls” (‘Timehin already wrote that essay), so let’s stick to the album itself. Moral Instructions employs Fela Kuti samples beautifully in ‘Johnny Just Come’, ‘Follow Follow’ and ‘Amen’. This album has barely any features outside the three on hooks, and it makes sense; it’s pretty much Falz’ musical wake-up call to Nigerians. Falz is the observer seething in the corner, raging at the machine and challenging us to see what he sees, as starkly as he sees it. It’s an angry record, yes, but it is also a sparse one, clocking in at only 25 minutes long. While it is a strong 25 minutes, the brevity is very much a wise decision (imagine someone maintaining anger for the typical 12 or 15 songs? *shudders*). He has grown tremendously as a rapper over the years, and on this record he delivered masterful rhymes that did much justice to the music he was sampling and framed his argument.

My only gripe is that there wasn’t a counterweight to all the anger. Seriously. In Jay-Z’s preachiest album 4:44, he began with ‘Fuck Jay-Z’, discussed his own money-related faux-pas as well as others’ on ‘The Story of O.J’ and self-flagellates on ‘4:44’. He did this for a reason; you kinda need to point the finger at yourself sometimes to lend credibility to your angrily jabbing the finger at others (and no, that tacked-on spoken word outro which still came across as preachy doesn’t count). It’s not even like he doesn’t have material. I’d have liked something self-aware examining, for example, his own privilege as a Nigerian man who grew up in a well-to-do home in this grossly unequal country, and how culpable he thinks he or indeed the entertainment industry he is a big part of is or isn’t in the ‘Sharp Guy’ culture he criticises.

While Falz opts to play observer, SDC push their way into the crowd by moving with ease familiar to any Nigerian between resignation, irony and defiance. The duo’s focus in ‘Clone Wars IV: These Buhari Times’ does address politics, but is more interested in Lagos and the people that give the city its vivid color. The ‘Center of Excellence’ intro (which is pretty much a full song) and songs like ‘Packaging’ and ‘Epigenetics’ are steeped in Lagos. Where they discuss these essential avatars of our urban life — the laptop wielding scammer, the runs babe, violent police — it is more with humor and morbid fascination than actual judgement (compare the tone on Falz’ “Follow Follow” with SDC’s “Packaging”). The Cina Soul and Tems’ hooks add soul to the vulnerability of ‘Duade’ and quiet despair on ‘Shadow of a Doubt’. Poe dropped one of the best verses I’ve heard from him on one of the album’s many standouts ‘Savage’. Ghost had appeared on M.I.’s ‘Popping’ on the latter’s Rendezvous mixtape, so it was nice to see M.I. returning the favor here on ‘Respect, Loyalty and Honor’. I’m even willing to forgive Tec’s verse on ‘Hunger Cries’ that veered decidedly off course from the political subject matter, and Ghost’s “too much mileage on that ass, oh boy/Sade, won’t you go and get a husband?” line in ‘Epigenetics’ for the sober reflection on masculinity in Nigerian society and then pressure it brings on ‘Duade’.

Clone Wars III was excellent, so I’m happy to say that I think SDC somehow managed to improve on it, much the same way Palmwine Sessions II more than met the high expectations that part 1 set. My favorite thing about the Palmwine Sessions and Clone Wars albums is how how the plethora of collaborations does not take away from their overall coherence. In a lot of ways, I think SDC may have even let themselves down by calling this album “These Buhari Times”. It does so much more than capture this particularly moment, painting nuanced portraits of a slice of this nation of strivers, both accomplices and victims of its collective dysfunction.

Aside: Falz’ Very Cool Cover Art

Falz deserves lots of credit for his attention to detail on his album. There is the aforementioned excellent use of the Fela samples, but there is also actually crediting Fela Kuti’s estate (Nigerian artists bite from Fela routinely) and even enlisting Lemi Ghariokwu, the mastermind behind Fela’s iconic album art, to make the Moral Instructions cover. An Uncle of mine met Ghariokwu last year and got him to sign all his old original Fela vinyls. I was kinda jealous. Judging from this interview he granted from OkayAfrica, Ghariokwu has stories for days.

Podcastin’ on Sex Education

Do you have Netflix? WTF??? You know what…. Go on, open another browser. Yes, now type out “netflix.com”. Set up an account if you don’t have one. Got that? Good. Now, go find Sex Education and binge. Binge, I say.

The show is absolutely brilliant. It’s essentially about Otis, son of a sex therapist, who starts being a sex therapist helping his peers at school navigate their way through the murkiness of sexual relationships and their changing bodies, while having a fear of having sex that borders on phobia. Otis learns a lot about people at his school, but also about himself, love, sex and ease in his own skin.

When you watch this show, don’t do what I did. Don’t get caught up in Maeve and Otis’ drama. Don’t swoon at the sight of Gillian Anderson and wonder if you’ll ever in your life approach her level of hotness (or do, your call). It’s all worth your attention, but don’t miss what happens with Eric. My favorite thing about the show is how it fully realizes its supporting cast, even characters we really only get to see for an episode or two. Eric Effiong is a gay Nigerian-Brit first-generation child of immigrants. His portrayal is layered and thoughtfully-drawn. His storyline, specifically how his relationship with his father evolves, is one of my favorite things about the show. Fully-realized, thoughtful adolescent and young adults characters with agency is one of the things I often envy in television abroad, especially as a Nigerian where one is essentially infantilized until you get married. I also really like the idea of a show that dares to treat sex as the messy, clumsy, confusing thing that it often actually is, and encourage us to see beyond the act and consider the relationships we have with our bodies.

Given our prevailing social moment with #MeToo leading to a heightened awareness of the need for a better understanding of bodily autonomy and consent, I cannot think of content more timely. Perhaps the big lesson here is it shows what can happen when a show takes the current moment as a challenge, and meets it. More than anything else, I appreciate the gentleness with which it takes on the topics it does, and the pacing that really gives space for its characters to unfurl and shrugs off any attempts at easy judgments. One of my favorite podcasts Still Processing’s latest episode Relations discusses the place of shows like Sex Education in a part of the larger pantheon of work about sex, from sexy thrillers like Fatal Attraction, to the comedy Knocked Up, and the groundbreaking Sex and The City. In recent history, they argue, there has been a dearth of content that treats sex as a main event, and not an aside. I especially thought that the observation on how content dealt with sex changed with the advent of cable especially interesting. I like Still Processing because Wesley and Jenna’s conversations always make me think, “wow, I’ve never thought of it that way.”

Bonus: This time next month, I very likely will be writing about Siempra Bruja, a show about a 17th-century Afro-Colombian witch who was burned to death then somehow re-emerges in modern-day Cartagena to seek revenge. Sounds amazing, right?

Loved Up: The Playlist (Yes, I missed the opportunity to call it Boo’d Up)

Are you solo or loved up on Valentine’s Day? Either way, I’m not here to judge. I am here to share a playlist I made just for you. Y’know, because I’m nice. The music is everything from ‘80s R’n’B quiet storm to Naija pop songs, house music from the late 90s-early 00s to gems you may or may not have heard before. Check it out on Apple Music (no Spotify, because I’m a Nigerian living in Nigeria who has hit her cap on streaming services). I enjoyed making this, and it works very well for listening straight through, but you can hit shuffle if you want to.

Until next time.