With 6 projects in about 4 years, Paybac is as prolific as they come. A situation made more impressive by the fact that he’s had to continually figure it out without the help of a backing machine. The number of years might oppose it, but with a well-stacked catalog, Paybac is at the very edge of being an indie rap veteran.
Where the clamor in recent months is that rappers need to fix up their lives, Paybac has been fixing up his craft, with each output annealing his capabilities as an artist. Paybac is a rapper that will easily tick the barometer of any rap fan with his ability to piece words together, with metaphors being a potent tool in his box. But far from being a rapper that raps about rapping, Paybac’s penchant for weaving situations based on his life into his raps is what gives his music relatability points.
While being an independent hip-hop artist is a major drag to gaining mainstream attention, it’s given Paybac an autonomy to create music as he sees fit. The aforementioned traits of his craft, combined with the (a)typical indie quirks of experimentation, has had effects on Paybac’s artistry, showcased on every self-released project. But none of his previous work coalesces these attributes more profoundly than Paybac’s debut solo album The Biggest Tree, released at the top of the month.
“A monument you can see from a mile away…trying to build something that will outlast you” is how Paybac explains his intent for The Biggest Tree, a sentiment he’s drummed up with utmost enthusiasm while promoting the album. Although aiming for immortality, Paybac’s mortality is the sole focus of Tree, an immersive narrative that unfolds his distressed existence linearly.
Ignorance Isn’t Always Bliss
Blowing hot about his current gloomy financial state over muffled vocal samples, meandering airy keys and frenzied bass drops on “A Naira To My Name” is how Paybac opens Tree. “Need all the money, get the fuck out my face” is laced with the aggression typical with having a scanty wallet and air-filled pockets, with enough blame subsequently laid at the feet of an inept government.
“Naira” is a typified rant common to many Nigerians, one that Paybac employs to channel the rage within him toward an outward establishment that isn’t helping to lighten his load. But also typical of Nigerians is our innate ability to subvert attention to ephemeral highs as coping mechanisms, and Paybac is not a stranger to indulging.
Produced by Black Intelligence, “The Mami Water Song” and “The Month End Song” are back-to-back tracks gleefully depicting the vices of lust and wasteful spending of month-end paychecks respectively. Both songs are the most viscerally enjoyable on Tree, with Paybac’s giddiness being matched by the rambunctiousness of Intel’s colorful, folk-tinged pop production.
Highlighted by gleaming horn themes and rambunctious drums, “Mami Water” and “Month End” are candy like, but the temporality of candy’s sweet taste in the mouth doesn’t repair sore throat. And even the solace of geographical familiarity on the stirring ode “Lagos On My Mind” – propelled by glassy guitar strums, percussions for skeletal frame and interjecting horns – isn’t enough to hide the chaos.
Ignoring chaos only works when it wants to ignore you back, a two-way transaction that Paybac eventually realizes he barely has any control.
“Hello Darkness, My Old Friend”
The hushes around the conversation might be building up (too) slowly, but the negative connotation attached to depression and other related mental illnesses in Nigeria has led to a widespread stigma, one that many mainstream artists who live with them aren’t willing to risk addressing at the expense of their picture perfect image. Stating that the “neglected, depressed West African kids” are the primary target of The Biggest Tree, Paybac taking the personal route as the album’s prime fixation is obviously far from being a contrived move.
Influenced by Gino’s Pain Plus Work and M.I’s Talk About It (amongst others), Paybac uses the emotional awareness displayed on these seminal hip-hop albums as a muse for his own brand of unashamed catharsis. Frank Ocean Type Beats dwells on the madness that is Paybac’s life, making it a fitting prequel to the more expansive experience detailed on Tree.
Although he’s no stranger to cutting himself open for listeners to watch him bleed, the autobiographical “House 22” pushes Paybac into another confessional stratosphere. Narrated somberly over a melancholic drums, the OG-produced “House 22” is a heartbreaking recount of how Paybac’s blissful innocence switched to arduous tumult, albeit dormantly at first.
Obviously, the first reaction to inner conflict is to either buck back, cry out for help or look for a way out, a scenario personified by “HELP ME!” Despair runs through the song (“trying to justify suicide for my mind”), with Paybac’s somewhat vacuous vocals pushed to center of circling eerie chants, like Will Byers calling out for help in the upside down.
“I accept chaos, I’m not sure whether it accepts me” – Bob Dylan
But just like Will, the darkness doesn’t just leave because Paybac yells “get out,” and he eventually decides to become friends with his “demons” in the hopes that “one day I will be fine.” The now symbiotic relationship is Paybac’s reactionary method of embracing the chaos, and using his music to reflect it out in all its absurdity.
“Demons is my best friends, my very best friends” is an absurd detail to say out loud, but Paybac’s exasperation as he utters those words on “Bush Bungalow” gives away the fact that he now shares an apartment with his demons. It’s an impasse Paybac has found an uneasy familiarity with, confirmed by its soulful hook, replete with afro-folk melodies by 3rty.
Also involved with the musical part, 3rty’s production heavy on African drums evokes the energy behind local folk music, jazzed up by soulful keys. Throughout its 50minute runtime, Tree runs on different variations of this type of peculiar, relatively lightweight Nu-Folk arrangements that both offset and accentuate the darkness emitted on the album. It’s tales by moonlight, except there’s no happy endings.
Also adjusting, Paybac fits in melodies without ditching rap. Not exactly an elite singer, Paybac’s voice isn’t chill inducing but he’s able to adequately express his emotions such that it’s easy to appreciate – at worst, acquiesce – the rawness of his voice.
Clinging To Silver Linings
Beyond it’s sonic innovation and subject matter bleakness, The Biggest Tree as a deeply personal record offers traces of how to move forward through bewildering times, both to himself and listeners.
Dedicated to his deceased sister, “Akikere” reads as a letter to his sister, giving her an all encompassing update of his life. A female voice fizzles in and out at several points with words of admonishments, Paybac’s sister seems to be the Angel on his shoulder, and there are traces of resilience in his letter.
Disruptive vigor gives energy to resilience on the following track “Seed Of Faith,” featuring an athletic verse by Boogey on which he has more questions than answers. Matching the energy, Paybac attacks the whirring production like a man possessed, with a rain of bars and an energetic flow, rueing the roughness of his life (tell me what I want to hear, not what I want to know/I’ve had enough real life to last me three lives”) but deciding to “have a little more faith at the end of the day.”
Packed with declarative mantras (“I feel like a billion bucks/I will sing a joyful song”), “Best Day Of My Life” banks on the preemptive act of resolution and speaking positive things into the universe. Featuring Bella’s wispy voice harmonizing on the extended bridge, these declarations hope to avoid the catastrophic day described in the “Best Day Of My Life” story penned by Paybac in the album’s accompanying book of short stories.
Faith and resolve are good, but working through chaos is a continuing struggle. Hopefully Paybac and affected listeners find continuing strength.