Falz may well be the most hard-working Nigerian rapper alive.
With three studio albums and one duet EP with Simi already in his kitty (not counting his retinue of comic routines in cyber archives) the lawyer-turned-rapper’s work ethic is quite commendable.
If his initial shtick of channelling the deadpan comic alter-ego Brother Taju seemed to have been his claim to fame, Folarin Falana has been redefining himself, subtly, since the arrival of his surprise third album, 27, and more tenaciously with his controversial cover of Childish Gambino’s hit, This is America.
Regardless, he gestures forward in his attempt at redefinition, stripping the toga of harmless comic for the gauntlet of acerbic social commentary—and we should not be surprised; is he not the son of the legal luminary and activist, Femi Falana?
In a swift and suave move, he launched Talk, a fresh single with an accompanying video which announced his latest work, Moral Instruction, a 9 track long EP lasting 24 minutes.
Talk is deceptively humorous and lampoons the polity. Falz’s rhymes are witty but the music video takes the cake for brazen political symbolism. Add to this the playfulness of the gaming interface and you will find a song that succeeds where This is Nigeria fails.
Moral Instruction is an ambitious project that tries to grapple with the trouble in Nigeria. To Falz’s mind, you cannot initiate a discourse about Nigeria without waking up the ghost of Fela, that maverick musician who composed fiery lyrics and groovy tunes, who understoosd how to make a protest song you can dance to.
Hence, Moral Instruction is a love note to Fela. Lemi Gharioku who designed the cover art of Fela’s vinyls, illustrates its cover art. There is a depiction of a classroom which Falz runs with for the album’s listening party.
It opens with Johnny which samples a mid-career Fela cheery tune, Johnny Just Drop. Whilst Fela’s JJD lampoons returnees from abroad, Falz’s Johnny retrieves the anonymity of the name, Johnny, to depict different tragic scenarios of how Nigerians die (read drop). Although, the music dampens the brio of Fela’s JDD, it strives for the pathos of Bob Marley’s Johnny Was.
Follow Follow, the next song, is unpredictable. Not modelled after Fela’s Mr Follow Follow, rather it leans into the uptempo Zombie, Fela’s most hilarious take-down of the military.
Hypocrite hardly borrows from Fela. Didactic and mellifluent, it recruits a curse word in its hook for emphasis. Falz speaks truth to power about the two-faced nature of humans. In his reckoning, fake pastors, venal politicians and complacent electorates belong in the same corner of condemnation.
Amen attacks the kings at the pulpit, the ever-flamboyant, suave Pentecostal pastors who own private jets and flaunt their prosperity in sharp contrast with the poverty of their flock.
Paper lingers within the Afrobeat influences that Falz has become known for (Think My people on Stories That Touch). Without being bogged down by the anxieties of a forthright message, it feels refreshingly original.
E No Finish is a jaunty song that has the feel of an ending even though its title indicates a lack thereof. Taking cues from Fela’s lyrics in Army Arrangement, it gives Falz the impetus to reiterate his thesis about the woes of his home country, Nigeria.
Moral Instruction ends with a moralistic epilogue, After All Is Said and Done. Rendered in the manner of dub poetry and a smattering of church-cadence Yoruba words of exhortation, Falz renders a needless afterword on the resilience of Nigerians and how we deploy it to overcome our precarious realities.
Moral Instruction is a timely and welcome addition to the ever-growing corpus of conscious Nigerian music. More importantly, it sits comfortably within familiar but forgotten traditions of how the artist should use his creativity to address the urgent realities of his existence.
Falz has only taken the baton from his father who has been in the vanguard of activism for the masses for years now.
Although a lawyer like his father, he has chosen music as his own medium, and not straying too far from his father, he picked Fela, his father’s client at some time, as his role model.
But this is 2019. A lot has happened in the Nigerian project and a lot has remained the same. Falz’s appraisal of our problems hardly evinces ingenuity or noveltt. Rather, it sounds almost like the perfunctory complaints of a nag.
Known for his predilection for wit and mimicry in older materials, his creative devices in engendering a socio-political consciousness seems limited.
There is the occasional and apt use of satire but his articulation of our problems is hardly refreshing.
When he goes for humour, his material appears facile. When he goes for candour, his consideration appears hackneyed. Yet when he attempts pathos, his invocations are ingloriously bathetic.
Sampling is integral to Hip-Hop culture, but Falz was hardly circumspect about sampling Fela, that treasure trove whose creative pinch may outdo your most power-packed punch.
Falz’s use of Fela hardly champions new ways of reading or listening to Fela. And one may surmise invariably that Falz’s Moral Instruction is a hack job.