About seven years ago, Olamide set up his record label and released his sophomore album.
The record label YBNL came from the sophomore album’s title – Yahoo Boy No Laptop. This epithet did not only ring true at the time, it marked the spirit of the era and became a selling point as well as a popular motivation street pitch for how the underdog conquers even though it hints at crime.
Olamide, today, is an accomplished musician. Seven studio albums or so later, Olamide’s discography is a seemingly endless cart of hit songs. He has set his career to a laudable trajectory and, currently, it is on cruise control. He is able to belt out hits at measured paces. 2018 was not particularly his year but he managed to mark time with a few crucial hits.
His Yahoo Boy No Laptop record label has grown marginally, if not in leaps and bounds. It has been responsible for breaking out some talents in the recent past; most notably, Lil Kesh and Adekunle Gold. Both acts dropped important first albums on YBNL. While Adekunle Gold has captivated listeners by modernising melodies popular within the south-west caucus for a global audience, Lil Kesh set a precedence for being a hit-maker of facile braggadocio. With hit song after hit song, YBNL’s demeanour at the instance of the Next Rated category of 2015 Headies Award going to Reekado Banks was almost excusable.
Today, the relationship between YBNL, Adekunle Gold and Lil Kesh is ambiguous. Adekunle Gold has left YBNL in pursuit of a personal odyssey on his own terms. With his lukewarm sophomore album, About 30, he has showed more discipline than craft. Lil Kesh seems to circle around his previous achievements, perhaps waiting to break out of the inertia of ambling around proven methods.
There is Chinko Ekun who joined YBNL as a law undergraduate of Obafemi Awolowo University. An unsung lyrical genius in his own right, he beat about the bush for the most part of his stay with the record label trying to prime himself for a hit song despite the fact that he had a unique technique. Any avid listener would observe the efforts he put into forging a breakthrough—so it was not surprising when he eventually parted ways with YBNL.
His first record for the Dubai-based Dek Niyor Entertainment was Bodija, a duet with Reminisce which seemed to throw subliminal jabs at his previous loyalties. Within the same year, Ekun cranked out Able God, his first ever hit song, which became a street anthem complete with a vogue dance called Zanku.
Rapper Davolee, signed to the YBNL record label, has also not quite hit it big. In spite of his major lyrical triumph on a song like Festival Bar, one of the first full-length rap song in Yoruba that took story-telling to an unprecedented level, Davolee’s career appears confused in its trajectory. He has tried for a number of club bangers but his resolve comes out stronger than his successes. Yet, he has no album to his name and no clear career path. Just a clutch of singles that pale when compared to his earlier breakthrough, Festival Bar.
Temmie Ovwasa, fondly called YBNL little princess, is also not in a better place. Three years since she was courted and signed she is yet to put out any formidable volume of work. She courts our airwaves every now and then with a decent single. A ready excuse will be that she is pursuing a university degree on the side, but for how much longer can she sustain a placeholder in lieu of an actual foot in the door?
Now let us bring the elephant into the room.
As part of the yuletide shenanigans and in lieu of the annual Olamide album release, YBNL put out a mixtape called YBNL Mafia Family.
A 13 track album with Pheelz steering the production of most songs, this mixtape is best described as a brochure of compilation and corroborative efforts by the teeming gang of YomiBlaze, FireBoy, Picazzo, DJ Enimoney, Lyta, Limerick, Temmie Ovwasa, Lil Kesh and Olamide, the head honcho. Full house you will agree, but it is quite conspicuous that Davolee is under-represented on the rooster, appearing as cameo on only a handful of songs.
Easily, YBNL Mafia family could have been an Olamide project. He appears to be the face of the album and, quite frankly, he is stretched out thin on the album. Listing in solo songs like Motigbana and Poverty Die would have sufficed but the avid Olamide fan is fed with guest verses on almost every song on the project especially on songs featuring his latest signees.
Picazzo and Yomi Blaze are battle cats. Not quite tamed into the practice of making songs, they kick bars with startling energy and ferocity as if in cipher mode. At other times, the music is not tender; rather it is brash and brazen and obsessing either about female anatomy or the act of coitus. Olamide, rather than play the adult in the room, eggs on the masturbatory displays of these young cats.
Fire Boy stands apart as the soulful singer, meditative and mellifluent in a manner reminiscent of Reekado Banks and he may as well be named the most impressive act on the rooster. Temmie Ovwasa’s appearance is sketchy. In fact, she hardly spent ample time in the studio booth to leave any kind of impression.
YBNL Mafia Family did not enjoy any kind of curatorial contemplation from either a solid artist and repertoire team or a benevolent producer. Songs are logged in as if to promote a certain kind of music that Olamide has characterised in the past as Lamba music. Lamba music is summarily navel-gazing pre-mating dance music—and this album ensures that not all acts on the label get full representation. For instance, this would have been a good chance to couch some great songs like Festival Bar on a project, but Davolee hardly gets more than a nominal recognition here and there.
This is the conversation looping behind the soundbite. The pondering question that seems to ask how effective Olamide is as a Record Label Executive. Who should we ascribe Lil Kesh’s inertia to? Who do we berate for Davolee’s floundering? Who should take the fall for Temmie Ovwasa’s hesitance to blow? How soon should we expect a Fire Boy EP and who should we hold responsible for its delay when it comes? How will Yomi Blaze and Picazzo properly transition from battle cats to mainstream local rappers?
Running through these questions is a need to take responsibility. And if we were to rate YBNL Mafia Family mixtape by the grains, it is an uneven exhibit of dubious curatorial merit that insists largely on conjuring graphic sexual imagery and mating dance.