Bless Mary Slessor – she fought to convince 19th Century Nigerians that there was nothing wrong with twin babies. In certain cultures, twins were seen as evil, so when a mother gave birth to a pair of babies, they were sent right back to their Maker.
We might take it for granted that throughout the 21st Century, two of the most identifiable faces in Nigeria belonged to identical twins but really we ought not to, it actually wasn’t that long ago that Peter and Paul Okoye wouldn’t have been allowed to live, let alone allowed to be great. But today, P-Square is celebrated all around a country that was once afraid of their very existence.
P-Square’s illustrious career truly took off in 2001 when they won the music contest “Grab Da Mic”. Their debut album, Last Nite, was released 2 years later on Timbuk2 Music. It was a stellar offering but suffered from inadequate marketing and distribution. It was P-Square’s sophomore album, Get Squared, released 12 years ago this month, that really turned the dancing duo into legitimate pop stars.
That’s where famed Alaba marketer TJoe came in, Get Squared was released on the freshly-minted, family-owned Square Records but was marketed and distributed through TJoe, as a long and mutually-beneficial partnership was born. The urban philosopher MI Abaga immortalized this partnership years later on his song “Fast Money, Fast Cars”. Playing the role of a fictional runz girl sizing up the three men by their wallets, he rapped, “I like Peter and Paul, but I would do TJoe” – that’s how profitable P-Square’s catalog became for TJoe Ltd.
Get Squared was also the start of real commercial success for the twins and it became one of the – if not the – highest-selling albums of 2005. Being that P-Square were dancers before they became singers, the album contained a number of dance records specifically made for the club and for their high-octane stage performances. Bangers such as “Bizzy Body” and “Get Squared” became nationwide hits but every one of the nine songs on P-Square’s magnum opus received considerable airplay. Even its most serious moment “Oga Police”, where the twins spoke about police brutality from the viewpoint of a young Nigerian, got radio spins.
When the topic switched to love, P-Square shared the most gripping, melodramatic stories. The ballad “Omoge Mi” was about a cheating girlfriend who slept with, of all people, their best friend, while “Temptation”, brilliantly reversed places, with the twins doing the cheating or at least thinking seriously about it. It was like a telenovela sung to a beat. Get Squared excelled when P-Square was in storytelling mode, the album’s opener “Story” even reenacts the traditional African storytelling setting where children gather around an elder and listened intently.
Rather distractingly, the more intently you listened to P-Square, the more you heard their musical influences. On “Story” they sang:
12 years ago, when we started dancing
Imitating, miming Michael Jackson
They used to call us Paul and Peter
We realize say P-Square better
12 years on, P-Square never actually stopped looking for singers to be sonic photocopies of.
The twins pay homage to Michael Jackson in the “Personally” video (2014)
Making covers of popular Western pop songs was the norm circa 2000. Western music ruled our airwaves, so a few artists ‘tricked’ local stations into playing their songs by making local copies of records that the public was already familiar with. It was a creative low point in Nigerian music history but no one copied with as little shame as P-Square – the sad part is that, 12 years on, they still do.
“Story” contained a tale about the twin’s journey up until ‘05 but that was the only thing original about it. The very fabric of the song, right down to the kids singing, was lifted from R. Kelly’s “I Wish” and it didn’t stop there. The crunk-inspired “Get Squared” borrowed Lil Jon’s inimitable yelling ad-libs, the lady on “Your Number” sounded similar to the one on B.I.G.’s “More Money, More Problems”, a few lines from Fugees’ “Ready or Not” got rejigged on “Bizzy Body”, while the entire beat from Westlife’s “Soledad” was regurgitated on “Omoge Mi”.
To make matters worse, perhaps in keeping with their new image of self-sufficiency, none of those samples were credited. Although, that’s probably asking too much from an album where no other contributors were credited, never mind the samples. One of those contributors, Waje (on “Bizzy Body”), turned out to be a star in her own right and it makes you wonder who else was hidden in P-Square’s backroom when making this brilliant album.
Another criticism of Get Squared is that it wasn’t written with any respect to timelessness – the songs weren’t particularly intricately put together or layered with meaning for listeners to peel away through the years. This means that although many consider Get Squared to be a classic, that assessment is largely based on impact more than anything else. The album hasn’t aged as well as albums released around the same time like 2 Face’s Face 2 Face or Sunny Nneji’s Unchained.
However, these are all criticisms that P-Square have withstood in the 12 years that followed the release of Get Squared, the album that came in and changed their lives forever, 100-plus years after Mary Slessor came in and changed the lives of twins just like them.
Originally written for Guardian Nigeria