It’s impossible not to draw parallels between Falz and Simi’s pseudo-relationship, and Big Sean and Jhené Aiko’s pseudo-relationship-turned-actual-relationship-turned-no-relationship, with Adekunle Gold and Dot da Genius as the third wheels.
Before the joint project, Twenty88, Sean and Aiko were good friends and had recorded some memorable songs together but earlier in the year, the twosome got together to make a short album chronicling the highs and lows of a relationship, with themselves as the subjects and subject matter experts. The only problem was, at that time Jhené was already married to Dot, who’s of Nigerian descent, but that marriage didn’t last very long. In a twisted case of life imitating art, music couples eventually became real life couples and Sean and Aiko started dating. That relationship didn’t last very long either. Only time will tell if lightning will strike twice – once in America, the other time in Nigeria – but my people say na from clap dance dey start.
Interestingly, Falz and Simi aren’t the ones doing most of the clapping, their audience is. The duo address the elephant in the room on their EP’s title track, where Simi teases –
We should stop fronting, maybe there’s something there?
And Falz responds,
I know there’s something.
But goes on to plant seeds of doubt – her boyfriend is a “street fighter”, he doesn’t want those problems. On “Want To” the tension heightens as the contrast between Simi’s sunny, smooth voice and Falz’ dark growl raises the temperature in the room. The duo express a desire that’s as strong in one of them as it is in the other, but they both seem somewhat reluctant to pursue all the way. The entire transaction feels illicit, like they’ve invited you into a private conversation that they’d rather the rest of the world didn’t listen to.
The EP also approaches other phases of a more traditional, wholesome love affair. The upbeat “Cinderella” captures the thrill of the chase in a very Indian movie sense, while “Enough” is what happens when the chaser and the chased both get tired and have to deal with the realities of now being in a relationship. One reality is the feeling of being inadequate for the other person, a feeling that this music couple seem like they’ll be able to navigate through. Fighting is another reality but it’s a bit more complicated. On “Show You Pepper”, the duo take a verse apiece to berate each other and to plot revenge after a fight, as if they’re truly going to call it a day.
But this EP isn’t all about a music couple with perfect creative synergy playing on our collective desire to see them together, it’s also about a producer, in Sess, who understands where exactly the duo want to go musically and gave them the tools to use and get there. Falz, being the more established act, is a known commodity, so you already know the kind of output you’re going to get from him, especially with Sess. Simi, on the other hand, is a singer on the rise and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect without her producer Oscar on the boards. I was therefore thrilled to listen to her set the tone on Chemistry, direct the tempo of the music and also show sides of her personality that, except you listened to the singer’s EP Restless or even her long-forgotten gospel project Ogaju, you probably had no clue existed.
Over the talking drums on “Shake Your Body”, she starts her verse off with a casual rap verse, while on “Foreign” she shows that her sense of humor and comedic timing is just as sharp as Falz’ –
Ewa agoyin is not my type oh, I’m into burger /
And if you can check my bank, I’m into dollar /
Which is impressive when you consider the fact that she’s on a project with a man who’s found a way to infuse bursts of hilarious, incorrect grammar into his raps and repertoires and made a career – excuse me, careers – out of doing so.
But Falz, for all his brilliance, comes with his own baggage. There’s a limit to how serious you can take a song about love and passion, when there’s always a joke on the horizon. But if you look at it another way, humor too is an important of any relationship, thus making the EP well-rounded and more believable! If the musical currency of love songs is believability, then Chemistry is an extremely rich EP. Let’s just hope that those concerned don’t confuse real money for monopoly money, even if everybody else does.