M.I’s new album, Rendezvous, will cast him in a different light, to devoted fans who have followed his career since his breakthrough single Crowd Mentality, if only they appraise him differently.
Here is Mr Incredible, that short black dude, whose emergence and growth as an artist coincides, rather neatly, with the beginning of what some have termed the third wave in the Nigerian Contemporary music curve. It was prior to the rise of WizKid and Davido. In fact, M.I’s first studio album broke WizKid to our sound waves with Fast Money Fast Cars. Davido would find his stardom a few years down the line.
In retrospect it was a time of wokeness (even though the term hadn’t been latched upon then) where spoken word poetry and rap were totems of burgeoning identities under the canopy of the open mic. M.I was that fluent rapper whose flows and wordplay articulated a certain kind of bourgeois ethos that was definitely emerging out of the Nigerian Middle class.
Three albums and three Mixtapes afterwards, it is not quite clear to many what happened to the clarity of M.I’s vision. That Third Wave, unbeknownst to many, was the ascent of hip-hop steeped in local languages. M.I was no doubt at some form of disadvantage if he dared to perform in his home state language. This, of course, pre-supposes that he is actually proficient in that language.
This existential career crisis is best articulated via the trajectory of his third studio album. Called Chairman, M.I was insisting on some kind of relevance, but not on his own terms; he had a roster of featured shot-caller artistes to help him break into the zeitgest.
Rendezvous seems to ape Chairman’s artistic temperament but definitely with a different appeal and a lot of swank. Both albums are essentially collaborative efforts but whilst Chairman wears this tendency like a barge, Rendezvous is not as self-conscious.
Rendezvous is MI updating his music to be at par with the sounds of the future. Rather than dwell on the zeitgeist, Rendezvous is a playlist of niche sounds. At a time when there is an emergent cult following of an alternative Nigerian sound being championed by the likes of Show Dem Camp, Funbi, Nonso Amadi, Tomi Thomas, Odunsi The Engine on platforms like SoundCloud, M.I, a music mogul in his own right, seemingly comes to the table with his unique rap techniques for the single purpose of amusing himself.
RendezVous The Playlist of course is a success of sorts. It is to quote a voice on the album ‘something to vibe to’. It is mostly playful but poise is not lost, neither is his deliberate use of humour.
On songs like Your Father and Lekki, local metaphors meld rather generously with Americanese. That old signature M.I sound (Think Anoti, Action film) reclaims a moment of brilliance on a song like the Wande Coal assisted Kososhi.
Even though M.I is a rapper of clarity, the cadence of hip-hop has been subsumed, globally, by a wave of mumbling tendencies.
M.I goes after hip-hop locally and rather agreeably, he finds a unique middle-point where the music reflects on its currency without losing any of its relevance.