Ten years ago, Nigerians woke to the most calamitous news: Mo’Hits, the cream of the crop of record labels, would be dismantled. As record label break-ups are often every bit as messy as romantic ones, accusations were quick to fly from (ex) label mates as fingers pointed in search of the exact reasons behind the end of an era.
And as accompanies many romantic break-ups, the principal actors were keen to be seen moving on quickly to bigger prospects. For D’banj, this came as a solidification of his partnership with GOOD music with the release of “Oliver Twist” video, with his new label boss, Kanye West making an appearance, where there probably would have been Don Jazzy.
Don Jazzy’s reply was even grander. He announced the creation of a new label only two months after the end of the last one, and for the icing on the cake, this label, the Supreme Mavin Dynasty (or Mavins) would be launched with a brand new compilation album — Solar Plexus.
This debuted to scorching reviews, with the poverty of time suffered by its creators given as a key culprit for its failure. Two months is hardly enough to create a proper album, let alone a group project featuring five different acts.
Don Jazzy would lay off compilation projects, more interested in posse cuts that recruited all current members of Mavins at each time for a track that would mostly dominate pop culture conversations for a while, (“Dorobucci”, “Adaobi”) or perhaps slip into the abyss of obscurity (“Looku Looku”).
The current set of Mavin artists —Rema, Ayra Starr, LADIPOE, Johnny Drille, Crayon, Boy Spyce, Magixx, Bayanni and Don Jazzy — seek to honour that legacy in Mavins “Chapter X”. With the addition of DJ Big N, the creators of the album become 10 in number, and as there are exactly the same number of tracks, no opportunity is missed to project the symbolic number on the album.
With this number of performers to accommodate, the album waxes and wanes in quality, but thankfully even in its lows it maintains above a certain threshold of quality, something that could not be said of the first Mavin attempt. As for highs, they are mostly crowded in the middle third of the album, in a blistering trio that features the album’s two singles.
The first of them arrived in February this year. It couldn’t quite decide on a title, swinging between “Overdose” and “Overloading”, but the statement it carried was unambiguous — one of a record label marking territory in Nigeria’s music industry in what was the first collaborative attempt from this batch of artists, and Mavins’ biggest one yet, at least numerically.
Crayon is in the driver’s seat in this, delivering an arresting opener and first verse that blends seamlessly into a hook that is just as good. The chorus is a bit of a drop off, but by the end of it, a third of the track is spent and other featured acts will chip in verses or half-verses, mostly trying to describe in words the euphoria of new love: “Never knew that love would taste like this.”
“Won Da Mo”, the other single that debuted before the album’s release, is starkly different, and it shows this from its first notes. Andre Vibez begins the song with an urgency, and a piano work that mimics a sirin sets the tone of the track.
Rema’s first verse is a narration of a day in his life, that starts with his waking up, takes in his daily hustle, and finally ends with him balling at a club. Other label mates take their turns to tell their own stories, before Johnny Drille winds things down with the final verse. The album is built on this format — each sing with one or two principal actors being backed up by a supporting cast.
Don Jazzy aims to project unity and cohesion across the album, so he has gone in a direction that is wildly different to Solar Plexus and more in line with Curriculum Vitae, Mo’Hits much more successful LP from 2007. Each track sports a cast of about 5, meaning the label mates break up and mix into unique combinations each time. This makes for a homogenous album, but it comes at an expense to diversity.
Naturally, the tracks which can provide an even platform for all its contributors to perform will find the most success, and bonus points if brings a tinge of uniqueness that distinguishes it from every other. “Amina,” the last of the trio, ticks both these boxes. Rema is once more the fulcrum, harnessing his higher pitched vocals to deliver on a track that was clearly inspired by Hausa culture and music.
Sadly, many other tracks cannot provide an extra ingredient like this to ensure distinctiveness, and the album’s homogeneity becomes a drawback as extra verses begin to feel redundant. In a way, any criticism of the album will be an offshoot of the label’s recruitment in recent years and its eye for young male artists with sonorous vocals. Multiple listens may be required to identify contributions from any male vocalists not named Rema, but even then, a glance at track’s cast might be the only way to determine who exactly is singing.
An increased involvement of Ayra Starr may have helped this, but the bonfide pop princess is mostly assigned a guest contributor status on tracks, when a few of them could have benefited from her increased presence. Tracks like “All I’m Saying”, “Alle” and “You”, mid-tempo ballads written to melt hearts and weaken knees, would leave a more memorable taste in the mouth if Chapter X did not carry so many similarly delicious offerings.
The last of these, “You”, is also the album’s parting shot, and it is a mish mash of Mavin talent. It proceeds without a proper chorus or focus, but it heads vaguely in the direction of the romantic. Don Jazzy, label huncho, contributes a verse, but that is not “You”‘s most special feature. The track, and by extension Chapter X, ends on an euphoric note, rolling back the years by having the iconic “Mavin” tag adlibbed in all its variations, after which current acts take turns stamping their individual signatures.
This is a young group of obviously talented acts, and even counting their exploits from the last few years, it is quite safe to assume their summit lies on the other side of this LP. Chapter X is decidedly the better of Mavins’ duo of group albums, but living up to the legacy set by predecessors will prove the more challenging endeavour. If this album tells anything, though, it is that these Mavin acts are in possession of every tool required for a journey to dominance.