Legend Or No Legend was born, or at least christened, by a series of Twitter arguments that held as their crux the status of Wande Coal in Nigerian music. Music fans are, understandably, prone to having these arguments and discourses over artists and their art like they would do with sport clubs and players.
Which artist is most influential? Whose song is a bigger hit? Which album is a classic? are some of the more common talking points that attempt to quantify attributes that are ultimately subjective, and after the digital release of Mushin 2 Mohits, Wande Coal’s debut album and a fan favorite, Wande found himself at the centre of a conversation surrounding his ‘legend’ status, and what was first his response to this would become the title of his third studio album.
Seven months and two postponements later, Legend Or No Legend’s arrival might not be the definitive end to the doubts of some. It’s hard to tell if Wande truly means it to be, though, and the casualness he displays in its rollout makes it more likely that he wants to step out of the discussion altogether. Legend Or No Legend is therefore as unbothered as it suggests, and having made the most of his career, he is not particularly concerned where he ranks on arbitrary lists.
There are some who regard his tenuous position in the industry to be the result of a lack of effort, and the singer himself alludes to not having the largest ambitions for his career. “I go do the one wey I fit do/ As an average student I must get C sha/ I dey kick ball but I’m not Okocha”, he sings on “Let Them Know”, eager to downplay his ability and thus reduce the standard he is being held to.
But Mushin 2 Mo’Hits, now 14 years old, was a flamboyant display of resplendent talent on a scale rarely seen before or since in Nigerian music. It wasn’t just the power of his head voice and how well he utilised it. It was the off-handed coolness with which he pulled off vocal feats only a few other artists would even attempt. These raw expressions of unscripted cadences have remained a mainstay in his discography.
You are serenaded by it in the last minute of “Gentility,” the 2019 release turned 2022 hit, when he warps a single word—”stupidity”–through a variety of vocal pitches, producing a kaleidoscope of sound that is different each time; you bounce to it on the chorus of “Iskaba”, when he turns a gibberish sentence—”Iskaba/ Iskele bete, Iskolo boto”—into a fire chorus, with no doubt in his mind that this unintelligible writing would not hamper its chances on dance floors and music charts. As always, he was right.
Legend Or No Legend struggles because Wande’s recreation of his characteristic carefree writing is without the stellar melody making that was supposed to paper over it. For “3 Square Meal” and “Dues”, which share a bouncy hip-hop soundscape as well as the fixation on money that often comes with it, Wande’s outros are spent in not so focused warbling, that does not have the same endearing appeal.
But hard as it may be, to cast aside the feats we have seen Wande Coal achieve in music over the last decade, take the bar down a notch, and gems appear. “Nobody Holy” is about as fine an opener as you will hear these days, brought to perfection by the exquisite inclusion of Spanish and South American cultures in its sound and lyrics—inventive, yet unforced.
He bursts into near-perfect Spanish on its last verse, over production pulled from somewhere between West Africa and Latin America by Dunnie, but this surprising culture shift from Wande Coal is about the extent of his diversity from the Afropop–hip-hop plane.
Other tracks site him much closer to home. His status in the industry easily grants him a vast pool of Nigerian artists to pick from for collaboration, and he recruits industry heavyweights Wizkid and Olamide, as well as Fireboy, the latter’s protégé.
His international feature is limited to T-Pain, but the artist turning up with rap bars rather than RnB melodies put an asterisk to what was a highly-anticipated collaboration. Both Nigerian veterans delivered side by side in polar opposite ways. Olamide bringing all of his street-ready essence to the Fuji-leaning “Kpe Paso”, while Wizkid reprises his laid-back, sensual role from his last album on the brilliant P.Priime production on “Ebelebe”.
Wande Coal closes with “Don’t Feel Love”, one of the better written songs of the album, which attributes his current anhedonia to the lack of reciprocity he received in the past. “She never never loved me/ She tell me that she want me but she no mean” he says, after namedropping Brick and Lace’s “Love Is Wicked”.
This curtain raiser is given even more puissance by Wande Coal’s sidestepping of the subject of love for most of the album, not a common theme for Afropop projects. It is understandable, though, given that he is a little more preoccupied with the recent criticism directed at him.
To this, he sums up a retort in the bouncy “Genesis”, where he turns out in combative form against naysayers and fellow artists alike. “Let me take you back to the genesis, when I dey score like Tuta Batis”, he says, comparing himself to Batistuta, the retired Argentine footballer who possessed a legendary prowess in front of goal.
He dwells momentarily on his brilliant past—”I dey give them classics/ And I be setting a legacy”—and while every word of this is true, it cannot be missed that a better way to silence the critics would have been the entirety of the album.
So while Legend Or No Legend is a fine addition to Wande Coal’s discography and a satisfactory return after an eight-year album break, it does not do enough to end the conversation preceeding its arrival, falling short of the expectations of many listeners of Nigerian music. It asks a question that is perhaps rhetorical, and not seeking an answer.