For some reason, Ycee and his record label Tinny entertainment are working on an snail’s time table, only just releasing a paltry EP – The First Wave – in 2017. For an artist who broke into nationwide consciousness in 2015 with “Condo” and “Jagaban”, you’d think taking so much time would translate into a stellar offering, but TFW ended up being one of the most disappointing projects of 2017.
Off TFW though, the Maleek Berry-assisted “Juice” became a hugely successful single. Markedly different from his previous hit songs with Ycee showcasing more of his singing credentials, “Juice” legitimized Ycee’s versatility beyond being only a rapper. This extended skill set is an attribute he shares in common with fellow label mate Bella Alubo.
Although predominantly known for rapping during her budding, pre-label days, with more emphasis placed on her singing since joining up with Tinny, Bella’s rapping has completely gone incognito. It’s not an all sudden move though, she’s shown off her singing chops while flirting with R&B/Pop on her eponymous EP.
Starting off with “Radio” as her first official single, it’s quite obvious Tinny are looking to develop and cash in on Bella’s melodic side. It’s a contrived move considering rap is not in the best commercial place in Nigeria and Ycee was out of the rapper box many had put him in. “Radio” wasn’t a wildly successful single in commercial terms, but it’s a good song, and Ycee slotted in with a standard guest verse.
Most likely spiraling out of the relative ease of working together – distance and a budding chemistry through collective label loosie singles, Bella and Ycee linked up for Late Night Vibrations, a surprise EP released on Tuesday (Jan. 30th). Heavy on R&B melodies and steeped in intimacy, Vibrations is a 6-track project built on heart-to-heart conversations and bodily yearnings. A short and cozy set list for weather for two nights in front of a fireplace.
Dreary piano keys and slow, hard hitting 808s set the tone for the conversational opener “Wetin,” Bella is the forlorn lover demanding equal energy from her partner, “why don’t you love me like I love You,” she sings somberly. Being the conflicted, near stoic partner, Ycee replies with the typical excuses of having trust issues, even though he believes she’s the one for him. “Wetin” is an impressive depiction of a tilted relationship where the male counterpart is the scummy one. With palpable similarity, “Wetin” is a subtle iteration of “Love Galore” by buzzing American songstress SZA.
Still in search of her unique voice, Bella’s influences are slightly tuck out at various points, which she more than makes up for by doing a great job of expressing her own ideas. Obviously not rid of her sensibilities as a rapper, Bella’s songwriting is instinctively vivid and all the more impressive for it. The imagery she conjures of an alcohol-tinged car sex encounter on “Tropicana Fruit Juice” is stirring (“leather seats on my bare skin”), with her feather-light voice whistling steamy appeal.
Her voice also glistens sensually on “Tonight,” on which she promises to “put you in a vibe, ain’t no sleep tonight.” Bella’s go-to producer Syn X, perfectly accentuates the lusty scenery with saccharine guitar riffs reminiscent of early ’00s R&B and a more modern day drum pattern for a smooth bop.
Bella and Syn X form much of the cohesive anchor for Vibrations, good thing it fits Ycee as a worthy other vocal half. The druggy, wavy cool he usually emits is ever present, and with his raspy singing voice morphing into a more potent tool, his breezy contributions brings in added appeal to the EP.
Ycee leads the way on the melancholic “Empathy,” based on a bitter fight/break-up. He also ushers along the upbeat outlier “All Night,” with a couple of flirt lines (“let massage your legs ‘cos you’ve been running through my mind all day”), and Bella also brings a similar energy (“you dey shoot shot like say you be rifle”) with her siren-like vocals to fit the poppy sonic terrain.
The ease at finding a common ground for both artists on Vibrations is easier than getting a fat kid to eat a piece of cake. It’s quite obvious that Bella and Ycee have similarities in their arsenal, but working on a joint project, however short (and down played), is an experiment – one that worked.
Enjoying the accomplishments of this EP will most likely be of temporary concern, consolidating will be of more importance since both artists will definitely have to release solo bodies of work, preferably of more length. Of itself, Late Night Vibrations is a great offering, but it also piques attention for what Tinny’s frontline duo will offer going deeper into 2018. They just set the bar pretty high for themselves.