T. I. Blaze was one of a number of up-and-coming street artists to benefit from Olamide’s benevolent return to the genre in late 2021. The street pop don and rapper had found success in a rebrand as a RnB sweet talker on his last album, with which he made a crack at foreign markets and dominance. The final quarter of last year, however, signalled a homecoming of sorts for him, which he achieved in verses for a number of street acts – including Portable, Bad Boy Timz, Asake, and T. I. Blaze.
For T. I. Blaze, this came as a remix of his song “Something”, and it is immediately apparent in this album the different state of mind the singer is currently in. The original track was a snapshot of his lowest, with his frustration apparent in a line like “why life come hard, and man no want to do bad”, while its famed chorus offered an escape for those in a similar situation – substance abuse. The aura of the streets is often depicted in mainstream and social media with rose tinted glasses, with the public preferring to focus on the values of camaraderie and the hustle spirit it forces you to imbibe, reasons which appeal so easily to social media users who are quick to associate with the trenches. We can rely on our street pop artists for a more balanced picture, and as this music is often able to uplift them from these conditions, at least for the lucky ones, it can also track their mental and financial situation with time.
The Fresh Prince of Lagos EP released in February captured him in an ascendency, in that weird space fast rising upcoming artists find themselves in where the fame has arrived with the money still some distance behind. On El Major, he wants you to know they are present and intact. His opener reveals as much, by even as little as its name – “Good Life”. He spares a moment for the philosophical – “I don know say nothing good comes easily,” he says, offering advice to those still in the process, to persevere. The next track, “Benefit”, contains more verses plucked from the ghetto gospel, including a timeless classic like “Dem no dey tell person to work oh/ Dem no dey tell person, suffer dey somewhere dey hide”.
Under these tracks he keeps the beat bouncy, with hop hop patterns slowed down, though the melodies he weaves over them are unmistakably assembled from home, as he is an ardent student of the Neo-fuji school. On some other tracks these indigenous leanings manifest in the production as well. “Lock Up” leans heavily into a slowed Fuji, with more modern log drums replacing what should have been the talking drum.
Halfway through the album, he takes a break from the pulpit of the ghetto gospel for a dip into erotica. The resulting song, however, “Vigure” is likely to be seen through as an attempt to squeeze in a bit of lascivious writing into the album, which would be In line with the direction of popular Nigerian music. With that out of the way, the second half of the album introduces its guests, and it’s clear they have been brought to contribute some diversity to the sonic bucket, which they do. The album itself never steps out of its established comfort zone, but across individual verses and choruses, little flutters of other genres can be explored.
Fave, of the “Baby Riddim” fame, was not anyone’s first guess for a feature coming into this album, especially as albums like this were not known to take a stroll down the lane of love and heartbreak, where she is most often found. She opens “Play” in a fiery fashion, warning off a partner who is quick to spend money on her whilst withholding affection – “no come dey use me dey play, emotions are crazy”. This partner is played by T. I. Blaze on his verses, and the pair engage in the ping pong of blame that often accompanies couples quarrels.
LADIPOE is invited to bring some hip hop rhymes to “Frenemies”, a song about two-faced friends in the industry, and of gratitude on surmounting the challenges they posed. “Wetin me face if you talk you go tire,” T. I. says on the post chorus, before LADIPOE dips into his own bag of bad experiences for his verse. “Kilo”, the release from April which co-stars Skibii, is another fine feature, and Bella Shmurda’s contribution on the closer makes for a change of pace, with its beats slowing down to achieve a more intimate setting, a great choice for a curtain raiser. Sadly not all features maintain these standards. Backroad Gee is the only feature that appears in the album’s first half, but he makes for an odd mixture with the rest of the song and album, a rare misstep for an album that particularly excels in this department.
Street pop music is admittedly much better suited to being released as singles, where a hit song can be dropped and expected to dominate clubs and dance floors for the next few months, after which the artist will renew his subscription to the airwaves with another such track. With albums it can become rather hit or miss. Even Zlatan and Naira Marley, dominant names in modern day street pop with a league of hit singles between them, discovered their star power stopped short of pushing an album to similar heights. But T. I. Blaze proves with his first effort he is well aware of common missteps and how to avoid them. He blends fuji, Amapiano and contemporary pop to draws a mixture that is different every time, and with just the right amount of diversity brought to the mix by featured acts, he ensures El Major is an excellent cap to a year that has seen him lifted from relative obscurity to national attention.