Crayon plots his growth as an artist and a person on Trench to Triumph, which isn’t really the branding you would expect from an Afropop vocalist. It is a common storyline for artists in Nigeria and beyond to have to surmount challenging circumstances of birth and numerous other economic hurdles. However, the artists who translate this into their music are more likely to be in the genres of hip-hop or Nigerian Street Pop, where coarse delivery and writing can match the streetwise attitude needed to effectively portray, and not just discuss, the streets from which they came.
But what happens when singers who operate chiefly in matters of the romantic and luscious, need to tell their own stories? Crayon uses Trench To Triumph as a scripting of the hard life, or trenches, he has endured, but it is in how he embeds this into his natural fun, happy personality that makes the album a sonic triumph and a true reflection of his real-life story.
He says on Trench Kid, “Was a broken crayon, I still dey colour o”, speaking on how the darkness around him never obtunded his creativity, and his album reflects that, so that songs like these that speak on his journey sits beside “Ngozi” and “Ijo Laba Laba”, which showcase his fun side.
It is also a testament to his storytelling that the stories of the album are set in the past tense, he makes it very clear that those days are behind him now. It is why the album begins with the tracks, “Calvary Kid” and “Trench Kid”, before he takes in songs like the grateful “Modupe” and ends with the triumphant “Good Day”.
His opening duo of songs, apart from contrasting his current life, also bear contrasts to one another in sonic approach. Both tracks make reference to the role played by God, but “Calvary kid” is decidedly more spiritual, especially because a back-up choir helps enunciate the message.
It is the more album opener material, but “Trench Kid”, with Ozedikus’ Street Pop production that beckons on the dancing feet to legwork, is more ‘trench-worthy’. These songs allow for a dual-faceted approach to his upbringing.
But nearly every story, no matter how tenuous, can be helped by a romantic subplot, so Crayon intersperses this journey from trench to triumph with songs that are more his speed. Like “Ngozi”, where declares his woman a blessing in his life, “God don bless me Ngozi/ No deserve this kind loving”, before making known his intentions to spoil her accordingly.
A song like this works better with a female romantic foil to bounce lines off, and Crayon sharing a record label with a pop songstress like Ayra Starr made for an easy collaboration.
She slots in effortlessly, bringing all of her pop verve and vocal flair, but by limiting her contribution to the second verse, and not allowing her waft into the chorus that comes after, we are robbed of a proper duet between these stars, like she had with Magixx on the 2021 hit, “Love Don’t Cost A Dime”.
Magixx is the only other Mavin label mate that appears here, and his contribution is on the similarly love-laced “You vs You”, where Crayon is once more the exultant partner—“You Vs You, you no get competition—while Magixx reiterates these sentiments in his rich vocal set. “Superwoman”, too, resonates this, but his message would’ve been lifted further with better writing.
This trio of songs all bear different production credits, from Sarz through Baby Fresh to Blaise Beats, but they share a colourful, vivid soundscape, sliding into that narrow sonic space where they can be danced to without needing an exerting drum arrangement. A combination of this bright production with heartfelt, vulnerable writing is what makes Crayon who he is.
His romance is innocent, leaning away from the luscious, body-ogling material more likely to be found in Afropop. It was with these ingredients that he made his introduction to the mainstream four years ago—via “So Fine’’ and the tender feeling it carried. On Trench To Triumph these songs are side dishes rather than the main, but they are handled excellently.
When he isn’t scripting ballads in appreciation of a lover, he finds other ways to diversify from his message, and songs like “Ijo Laba Laba” and “Chop Life” were created for the dance floor. They carry imprints of Amapiano, South Africa’s bustling world-conquering genre, but to various extents; “Chop Life”, featuring DJ Tarico, Preck and Nelson Tivane, or the Yaba Buluku boys, is the more danceable affair.
As expected, DJ Tarico slots in behind the boards, and Crayon gives an insight into the life he now lives on the other side of the struggle—”Let’s make it rain/ More champagne/ Chop the life and forget the pain”
The last lap of the album contains songs, like “L’eko”, a tribute to Lagos, the city of his birth, that do not live up to the standards of what came before. But even here he is able to tie into the overarching theme of the album.
He closes with the rejoicing “Wetin Go Be” and “Good Day”, a contrast to the bleakness of the past he began with, and it affirms the excellence of Crayon’s album arrangement and storytelling to be one of the major strengths of Trench To Triumph.
It was hard to fit in a lifetime’s journey into one album, and especially to make it work without losing the essence of who he is, but Crayon proves he can bring colour to every story.