Right before our eyes, we are witnessing the growth of one of the four kings who have gained an early lead as part of Nigeria’s new guard.
If Laughter, Tears and Goosebumps was his battle cry to get noticed, Apollo is his victory parade. On its very first track, he screamed it and made everybody know. He sung-rapped, “I’m a king, I’m the best my generation ever seen…”
Apollo is more sonically and topically diverse than Laughter, Tears and Goosebumps. Laughter, Tears and Goosebumps and Apollo are just opposite sides of a coin nigh a sword. The music reflects his current stance in life and that of the current Nigerian soundscape just as on his debut. But dare I say that on Apollo, Fireboy makes better music.
Make no mistake, while both albums are both reflective of Fireboy’s sound and brand, they are markedly different – both sonically and topically. Olamide should take a bow for his A&R work on this album. You must really understand the importance of branding to A&R this album.
The Evolving Brand Of Fireboy
More than anything, Apollo is the creation of an increasingly confident young man and a cross-section of traits and occurrences that define his current life.
On Laughter, Tears and Goosebumps, he was a loverboy who hoped to create soundtracks to amorous occasions for his fellow youth while also hoping to make them dance. But on Apollo, he slightly steps away from that persona and becomes a more confident version of himself.
He even takes a nonchalant jibe at his haters on, ‘Lifestyle.’ He uses it as a weapon when he sang, “Ever since I got my first hit song, they’ve been jealous. Silly a** broke a** n***s, but since I got famous, I couldn’t care less… I nor dey fake am, it’s a lifestyle. Make I yarn you, I’m better than most of them…”
Some might argue that Fireboy’s more confident use of his voice – with lesser reliance on auto-tune and effects – is the best change about Fireboy on Apollo, but it’s not. The confident vanity and carefree braggadocio is the biggest change.
Some of this confidence and braggadocio were heard on, ‘Wait and See’ – the final track off Laughter, Tears and Goosebumps. But even as vindictive as that record was, that level of vanity and confidence has nothing on this version of Fireboy. Nonetheless, it’s so amazing to see him evolve at this pace and on this level.
Fireboy is known for his unproblematic and easy going personality and lifestyle. Those traits come to the fore on ‘Afar’ featuring Olamide as Fireboy shoos bad energy away. He tells haters to, “Love me from afar. E pay me o…” on this Afro-swing beat defined by that choir effect.
Fireboy also opens this track with aplomb – its first 40 second are amazing. Moreover, the confidence and dismissiveness with which he defiantly says, “E pay me o…” reeks of subtle ego from a young man who seriously seeks to protect his own mental health and space.
When he gets attracted to ‘Shade’ on that Electro-Pop beat with Eurodance essence and Afro-pop percussion, he wasn’t just singing about how his heart beats like a drum, he admired her dance skills and her sexy body. Guess who moves like that? Yoruba demons. He might have praised ‘Shade’ for holding him down, but he wasn’t in his loverboy bag.
It’s also great to see that he has claws, not just paws. On social media streets and in music circles across real life, the new guard of Rema, Fireboy, Joeboy and Omal Lay have been praised for their easy-going ways because Wizkid, Davido and Olamide already had major drama by 2011.
Yet, that perception always feels problematic because human beings are flawed. Just as it was nice to see Rema break the teenage shackles with his polygamous battle cry on, ‘Woman,’ Fireboy’s brand is evolving to make him more grown and human. This isn’t dissimilar to how EME helped Wizkid go from the loverboy on, ‘Holla At Your Boy’ to the bad boy on, ‘Tease Me’ and then the party monster on, ‘Pakurumo.’
This version of Fireboy exemplifies Pusha T’s lines on, ‘Games We Play.’ Those lines read, “No jewelry on, but you richer than everybody. You laugh a little louder, the DJ say your name a little prouder and we don’t need a globe to show you the world is ours.”
But even in all that, he still has enough humility to be grateful. He sings, “I’m thankful to the people that discovered me, Olamide Baddo and ST…”
“ST” stands for Seyi Tinubu, the CEO/Chairman, Loatsad Promomedia and Co-Founder, Noella Foundation. Word on the street is that Seyi Tinubu is to Fireboy what Jay Prince Jr. is to Drake – without the syndicate and crime part.
One of them worked, but outrageously awkward songs like, ‘Omo Ologo’ and ‘Scatter’ felt forced to get Fireboy hits and were against his brand. Commendably, they were replaced with more on-brand commercial offerings like, ‘Friday Feeling’ and ‘Sound’ – which is the best song on Apollo.
‘Sound’ feels like the sonic equivalent of attending a buffet at the opulent palace of the Sultan of Brunei before spending the night with a Persian bombshell. The song is that good.
Dealing With Life
On Laughter, Tears and Goosebumps, Fireboy was a wide-eyed dreamer on ‘Jealous’ and the beautiful vocal performance, ‘King.’ But on ‘Dreamer,’ he questions himself, “Am I only a dreamer?” as he questions a woman who leads him on.
But even with his growing confidence and his retention of his loverboy persona and humility, he gets tired of his new life sometimes. And on those days, he just wants to be on ‘Airplane Mode’ and use love as a refuge.
Also on those days, he is less obsessed with being the best as he confidently sings on, ‘Lifestyle’ and just settles for the reality that, “Some many legends dey, I’m just trying to be another one…” as he sang on, ‘Airplane Mode.’
As the Afro-swing track with Bashment percussion finds its cloak in woozy cloud strings of R&B, he also reveals stress from family members and his belief in God. He sings, “Grace na koko, the talent na jara, go down on my knees and pray to baba…” But the line, “Too much beef when I nor be mallam…” is hilarious.
In the end, he hopes to etch his name into the sands of time and the minds of music lovers on, ‘Remember Me.’
Loverboy And Culture Retained
While the Fireboy brand is getting more diverse and dense, his team has masterfully retained his loverboy side. A part of Apollo is still an Afro&B, delivered by way of a diverse range of pop music. Sometimes, that pop music is R&B-based like on, ‘Tattoo,’ or Guitar-based Afro-alternative music on, ‘New York City Girl’ or New Jack Swing on, ‘Favourite Girl.’
On his debut album, he was wilfully open to jumping at love and into amorous situations. But on Apollo, he’s grown. The Afro-pop of ‘Go Away’ houses a reluctance and fear to be, “catching feelings.” His debut felt more like the musings of a teenage boy who just loved love, but here is realism slapping him in the face. That hook is amazing, by the way.
He even admits, “I don’t like this feeling…” even though he describes the girl as, “You too bad, you dey burst brain…” That’s “bad” as in sexy. He has grown and has seen life. Thus, his demeanour to love has become less open and ‘good-boy-ish.’ While he reels from pain, he sings about messing a good thing up on the amazing, ‘God Only Knows.’
He cries for a chance, but we only got here because he broke a girl’s heart. When he sings about love, Fireboy wasn’t just the boy telling a girl to, “Carry me dey go…” as he did on ‘Vibration’ anymore. He had the audacity to tell a girl that, “Run away with me, I don’t care if you got a man…” on, ‘New York City Girl.’
Yet, he still finds a bridge between Yoruba demon and sexual discipline on ‘Lifestyle’ as he sings, “Many girls wey dey come find me, I nor get their time…” By far, ‘Lifestyle’ is the most substantiated song on Apollo.
Even though certain songs are flat and boring on Apollo, its production is impressive and pristine. P Prime did a madness on, ‘God Only Knows’ just as Type A and IamBeatz aced all their works. However, the showman on this sonic side is Pheelz. This is the greatest show of his range.
He has repeatedly shown range on Baddest Guy Ever Liveth for Olamide, Gold for Adekunle Gold, Laughter, Tears and Goosebumps for Fireboy, but he has again taken it up a notch with a sound like, ‘Favourite Song.’ Apollo means Pheelz has produced 65% or more of 14 albums in nine years. They are all critically acclaimed with three classics and a lot of hits.
He is now in the top three Nigerian music producers since ‘95 and he’s not No. 3.
Reaction: Perception Problems
Since Apollo dropped, most neutral music lovers who aren’t part of an extreme demography of haters or stans have delivered cynical reactions towards this album. The overwhelming reaction has called Apollo, ‘mid.’ Well, that’s not true. If anything, Apollo is yet another great album from a young man on his way to superstardom.
The problem with people is that they bought into the hype around Apollo. For most people, they were anxious and giddy at the prospect of another Fireboy album after the success of Laughter, Tears and Goosebumps – which hasn’t even properly sunk in with people yet.
On this note, Fireboy is like Salah – even if he produces regular quality, the hype of his debut moment means that people will never truly be satisfied. It’s the first in time bias and the sophomore curse as propelled by German Philosopher, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. This is also the problem with anticipation and expectations.
On the flip side and for some people who have also called Apollo ‘mid,’ is that Apollo feels slightly rushed with an inadequate buzz around its singles. The reaction to singles like, ‘New York City Girl’ and ‘ELI’ have been lukewarm, with ‘Tattoo’ still growing on people. This is probably due to expectation from EMPIRE. After Olamide announced the deal with EMPIRE, he also announced that he and Fireboy would release albums.
In contrast, Laughter, Tears and Goosebumps had proper hype. ‘Jealous’ was a certified hit and ‘Scatter’ was well-received before it dropped. ‘What If I Say’ might have had lukewarm reception, but ‘King’ is a well-liked song that was never going to be a hit. The buzz was well-built over time.
Another reason people are not properly enjoying the album is that the tracklisting and track sequencing of Apollo could have been better. The opening five tracks were understandable as leads, but the album truly came alive after track six.
Our generation has short attention spans, most people would have formed their opinions by that track six. ‘Afar’ would also have made sense as a last track. ‘Spell’ featuring Wande Coal is ever-so-slighly underwhelming.
But regardless of buzz, Apollo is another solid body of work. Not exceptional, but very good and people should give it time – they will come to enjoy it. Dare I say, it has better cohesion than Laughter, Tears and Goosebumps.
With an EMPIRE deal in place, Apollo was created with subtle international appeal. First, ‘Champion’ features Compton rapper, D Smoke. Second, the album is filled with electronic chops and electronic songs. Third, ‘New York City Girl’ and ‘Favourite Girl’ might be liked here, but they were created with more international appeal in mind.
‘24 (Interlude)’ is a piano-based ballad with a hook mixed like an Ambient and reminiscent of an Imogen Heap song. As Fireboy goes from just a loverboy to a comforter, it became obvious that this song has incredible international appeal.
Fourth, Apollo was mixed and engineered like a European album. More emphasis was placed on vocals and melodies than on drums.
‘New York City Girl’ should have been cut and Apollo as its title has some accuracy, but it doesn’t properly capture this album’s spirit. That cover art is also slightly too avant-garde, but regardless, Fireboy avoids the sophomore slump… Hoorah!
• 0-1.9: Flop
• 2.0-3.9: Near fall
• 4.0-5.9: Average
• 6.0-7.9: Victory
• 8.0-10: Champion
Pulse Rating: /10
Content and Themes: 1.8/2
Enjoyability and Satisfaction: 1.5/2
7.6 – Victory