There are rappers who transcend music to become lifestyle ambassadors and cultural influencers – so not only do they dictate the sound of the era they operate in, they also move youth culture.
Naeto C was undoubtedly a cultural icon and Ice Prince right after him. Those 2 influenced the lingo, pushed street fashion and inspired a mini-movement, they embodied what it meant to be ‘cool’ – I see Ycee as their descendent.
With tattooed arms, well-tended locks and a druggy, low energy, Ycee’s aura is so right now. Even though he is primed to be the hip-hop cultural influencer of this era, the rapper is operating on a music roll out timetable that is at least half a decade old! Hit songs hardly last more than 3 months these days before the Nigerian audience moves on. Too much time has passed since Ycee ruled the airwaves with “Jagaban” and “Omo Alhaji”, and you cannot help but feel like the FESTAC-bred rapper needs another one of those to reignite interest in his much-delayed debut EP The First Wave.
Those records weren’t included on this project, all 8 of the songs that were are either brand new or were released as singles in the weeks leading up to it. One of those singles is “Link Up” a bouncy party jam which, unlike Ycee’s previous solo hits, relies a bit too heavily on a strong hook from a guest, Reekado Banks in this case, to catch on. It’s no “Jagaban”, it’s no “Omo Alhaji” but what the song is is a conversation starter and it has gotten people talking about Ycee once again.
“Link Up” was produced by Adey who produced 3 out of the 8 songs on this project. The 5 other records had 5 different producers and they pulled The First Wave in different musical directions. E-Kelly, the producer with whom the rapper seemed to have struck a decent working relationship, doesn’t feature at all, which is a bit disappointing. E-Kelly produced “Omo Alhaji” and “Condo”, “Condo” in particular was the record that got Ycee popping. Both songs were released in 2015, on “Wavy” – the EP’s opener – Ycee apologizes for taking so long to follow those records up with a full body of work:
And I’m so sorry for the wait, and the delay
Before emphatically announcing his presence:
One more thing I need to say, Jagaban is what they call me
This ain’t just the wave, my G it’s the fucking tsunami
The record is super-trippy, the production from South African beat maker Thai is cloudy and Ycee’s muffled rap style bellies the clarity of his thoughts. The rapper talks about his journey so far, how hip-hop heads have put up barricades to wall off his wavy, Afrotrap sound but how he has been able to break through nonetheless.
In hip-hop, the term ‘wave’ is widely attributed to French Montana’s longtime friend and associate Max B, so much so that more than 10 years after he started using the slang, Wiz Khalifa G-checked Kanye West for wanting to title his last album WAVES without acknowledging its originator. But let me not bore you with an unsolicited hip-hop history lesson, the word obviously means different things to different rappers these days. However, before he got sentenced to 75 years in prison in ’09, Max was renowned for being a stylish rapper with a great ear for melody – does that sound familiar?
Ycee recruited Maleek Berry for his latest single “Juice” but he didn’t need to. The chorus of record was written with the melodic framework of a traditional R&B record, Adey sped up the beat to a danceable tempo and Ycee approached the verses with his characteristic laid back cadence.
Maleek and Ycee combine again but to a less devastating effect on “Don’t Need Bae”. This time, Maleek only provides production. The record is a shout-out to independent women, one of the few times the project approaches substantive topics.
Ycee recently inked a deal with Sony Music Africa and his is the second Nigerian release on the label after Davido’s disappointing Son of Mercy EP. A big reason why Davido’s project didn’t connect with his audience was that it chased too many sounds and tried too hard to offer variety rather than consistency, The First Wave goes down a similar over-accommodating path. Ycee follows a few current waves rather than continuing to push his own – from a copycat Bay Area, DJ Mustard-inspired bounce on “N.O.U.N”, to mimicking Falz’ goofiness on “Bubbly”, a weak attempt at a shayo anthem.
Perhaps in not wanting to be pidgeonholed into the Afrotrap lane, Ycee felt that the best idea was to diversify the sound of the EP. But in showing his versatility, the rapper inadvertently filled the project with records that are all over the place musically and downgraded The First Wave EP to a forewarning of the greatness that could be on his upcoming album, rather than the disrupting influence that it could have been by itself.