The Review: On ‘Apollo’, Fireboy is Experimental and Familiar with a Few Hits and Misses.

Adedamola Adefolahan popularly known as Fireboy DML is as prophetic and as confident as they come. Back in 2018, he had a famous short exchange on twitter with close collaborator and companion, Oxlade.

Oxlade had originally tweeted ‘See you at the O2 by 2020’ to which Fireboy replied ‘next year guy’. Oxlade in his attempt to be both realistic and optimistic replied: ‘we gas plan am well…. so ‘20 is more realistic you get’ and Fireboy famously replied: ‘lmaoo wetin concern God with your own plans.

While to many, Fireboy might have seemed a little too optimistic seeing as they were still upcoming artists at the time. He, however, believed more than most, and just like he said, on the 19th of October, 2019, they both graced the stage of the renowned 20,000 capacity arena alongside Wizkid at his yearly show, Starboy Fest. 

On Wait and See, the outro of his debut album, Laughter, Tears, and Goosebumps he exudes similar confidence and belief. He basically challenges his naysayers to sit back and witness his shine in due time. He sings ‘Won so funmi, ki lon se? Mi sofun won wait and see / Won so funmi, ki lon ko? Mi sofun won, wait and see’ with the confidence of a man that has seen the future.

A couple of months after the release of the album, he celebrated over a hundred million streams across all streaming platforms, performed in various sold-out shows and venues and signed a major distribution deal with EMPIRE, a distribution company also responsible for acts like Kendrick Lamar, Jay Rock, Wande Coal, and many others. 

If there’s one thing that’s visibly entrenched in Fireboy’s DNA, it’s immense self-belief and confidence. It’s on this note that he kickstarts his sophomore album, Apollo. ‘I be king, I’m the best my generation has ever seen’ are the first words Fireboy utters on Champ, the album opener. The confidence and bravado he exudes here are almost next to none.

He belts ‘I’m a legend in the making, I’m a champion’ on the hook with similar confidence that Muhammad Ali spoke in his famous interview in February 1964 just before his heavyweight bout with Sonny Liston. Pheelz’s slow drums and choir-like back-up serves as a delightful backdrop for his bold proclamations. He enlists Rhythm and Flow winner, D Smoke on the song who delivers a pretty smooth verse but mostly struggles to stay on topic.

On the somewhat experimental Spell, Fireboy and veteran vocalist, Wande Coal glide and chant over eerie guitar riffs, percussion, and electronic production from Pheelz. While on first listen, their effort seems commendable, on a closer listen, it sounds painfully derivative. Almost like a Gesaffelstein and The Weeknd collaboration but sprinkled with Afrobeats elements here and there.

Dreamer is guilty of the same offence. Here, Fireboy stitches juvenile lyrics together over guitar chords as he sounds like he’s trying to reproduce a 2014 era One Direction song. While his vocal performance on the song is somewhat commendable, the song in itself is worryingly trite. 

Pre-released singles, Eli and New York City Girl do not do much for the album as a whole. On initial release, both songs were met with mixed reviews as most people failed to connect with them as much as they did with his previous singles. In the context of the album, they pretty much serve as fillers as they both lack any kind of vim or sweet spot.

On the disco-influenced Favourite Song, Fireboy invites us to the dance floor. Not the modern-day Nigerian dancefloor where we show off our various variations of the zanku or the tricky Poco dance. He throws it back to the ’70s and ’80s as he sings ‘Let’s pretend it’s 199something with bottles popping’ which gives you a feel of the dance moves that would be appropriate for this song. By the time he begins to sing ‘Let’s boogie and get it on’ repeatedly over glorious horns and a Macarena sample, the song becomes irresistible and you have no choice but to move your body. 

While confidence and self-belief have been one of the hallmarks of Fireboy’s short career, he never fails to show he’s only human at the end of the day. A quick dive into his Soundcloud archive and you’ll find one of his most vulnerable moments in the shape of I’ll Be Fine. Here, he struggles with self-belief and doubt as he sings: ‘they say I’m good, I get talent / but I’m not ready for this challenge’.  He however quickly reassures himself that he’ll be fine.

In a similar fashion, on the introspective cut, Airplane Mode, the Abeokuta-native quickly shrugs off his moments of weakness as he sings: ‘but I’m a god, I’m a stronger man / I be different breed, my kind no be normal one.’ Even though his shining armor of bravado is sometimes punctuated by moments of weaknesses, he never fails to reassure himself. His inflections here are also noteworthy as he uses his melodious and syrupy voice to carefully deliver his message. 

Cynicism is the central theme of Afar as Fireboy believes the current life he lives comes with enemies and rightly so. Here, his label boss, Olamide makes an appearance and he delivers one of his sturdiest verses in recent times. His verse is reminiscent of Naira Marley’s moment on Davido’s Sweet In The Middle, not necessarily because of the quality of the verse but because of the fashion in which it was delivered. 

‘Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.’ This quote, which has been severally associated with Irish Poet, Oscar Wilde has been floating around the internet for as long as I can remember. While its origin hasn’t exactly been asserted, it’s message is very much applicable to this project. What makes Fireboy special is his great penmanship, infectious rhythms and melodious voice coupled with his earlier mentioned self-assuredness and confidence.

All these attributes are what produced his stellar debut album, Laughter, Tears and Goosebumps less than a year ago. While on this album, these attributes are still glaring for all to see, he somehow manages to lose himself trying to be something that he isn’t. In truth, after the seismic success of his debut album, a lot more eyes are watching and a lot more ears are listening.

This might be what informed his decision to largely switch up his sound and try to appeal to a larger audience, more specifically, the western audience. And while sometimes, his effort is admirable, he mostly stumbles into the hole of sounding unoriginal. Songs like Spell, Dreamer, God Only Knows and a couple more others others particularly sound hacky, almost like a rip-off of other songs. 

While it is true the Afrobeats to the world movement is in full fledge and everyone is trying to jump on the bandwagon, Fireboy’s attempt at crafting songs that’ll appeal to a much larger audience feels like a miss more than anything else.

Superstars like Burna Boy, Davido, Wizkid and Tiwa Savage have relatively succeeded on the global stage because they have made music that’s true to themselves and that has garnered them fans from all corners of the world. Fireboy, however, seems to be doing the exact opposite.

He’s making music that’s already plentiful to the audience he’s trying to reach. In doing so, it feels like he’s partially neglecting his local audience while attempting to sell sand to the beach. 

Adeyemi Boluwatife

Boluwatife Adeyemi is a music enthusiast and critic. He’s a devout The 1975 fan and swears he’s their fifth invisible member. Reach him on twitter @the_bmarvin.

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