Debut albums are the hardest, especially for stars: let’s face it, the more famous and successful an artist becomes the more difficult it’s for them to fully satisfy their wide listener base through their first long-form project.
Perhaps one of the reasons why Nigerian artists have struggled to put out critically acclaimed debut albums after establishing themselves as stars is because they attempt to overthink the project in a bid to deliver a project that retains identity is appealing to their wide listener base and is also commercially serviceable.
Rema‘s debut album is decent but in this writer’s opinion, it is a result of overthinking in an artistic desire to come off as a genius and this led to a project that was a little too Rema for the average consumer.
Naira Marley‘s debut album also suffered the same faith as it was a critical failure and a commercial disaster. Similarly, CKay‘s debut album has also divided opinions as the average Afrobeats listener struggles to derive sufficient gratification from it.
Bella’s album suffers from similar faith as it doesn’t deliver the sonic familiarity that endeared fans to him nor does it offer quality in its ambitious pursuit of international success. In summary, it’s neither good enough for the Nigerian listeners and neither is it good enough for the international audience who appears to be the focus.
The Music in ‘Hypertension’
Bella Shmurda is an artist whose music doesn’t require sophisticated deconstruction to digest and neither does it require intellectual calisthenics in deriving its context. Like other street-pop acts who have enjoyed mainstream success, their music gained wide acceptance primarily for its sheer acoustic appeal.
Chaotically thematic: The average intentional consumer knows not to bother with thematic coherence with a Bella album, especially as the promotional singles ‘New Born Fela’ and ‘Philo’ feat. Omah Lay offered no clear direction.
However, while a singular theme isn’t necessary for an album, a dominant theme allows for easier digestion. In ‘Hypertension’, Bella combines different songs that shallowly talk about different subjects. Perhaps, the most recognizable theme on the album is his desire to talk up to himself which he does in ‘New Born Fela’, ‘Fire’, ‘Level Up’, and ‘Man of the Year’ and he combined this with banal talks about Lagos, women, and love.
Poor Writing: Bella is a decent writer albeit his thoughts are simplistically conveyed, and a song like ‘World’ highlights what his penmanship could be should he push himself.
While his desire to rhyme words in a way that conveys no meaning and is only bearable because it rolls off the tongue nicely is often overlooked in his singles, and because it’s an element of street music, it can’t be ignored throughout 15-tracks, especially when he steers away from the street-pop sound.
In ‘Contraband’, he talks about a lady he calls a bandit, and he’s the addict, and he says the government will legalize it (banditry, I assume) obviously, this looks like a love song then he meanders and starts throwing shades “Too many advisers” before rhyming “Kilotunde and Yetunde” just because he can then proceeding to hype up himself as a bad man. This chaotic flow of thought plays out across the album. In ‘Loose It,’ he rhymes “Nintendo” with “Telemundo”, “Atarado”, and “Commando”.
No sonic coherence: The album also lacks sonic coherence as he slouches from Afrobeat in ‘New Born Fela’ to Highlife in ‘Ase’ to AfroSwing in ‘Contraband’. In the middle of the album, he explores Afroswing, Dancehall Ragga, and Pop. The last 4 songs on the album which are terribly underwhelming explore Pop, Swing, and Dancehall. The track arrangement carries listeners across different soundscapes without letting them settle down.
Poor Delivery: The album is littered with underwhelming songs primarily because Bella chooses to deliver a similar melody throughout the track.
In the Swing record ‘Loose It’ where Simi delivered an impressive verse that almost drowns in Bella’s poor writing and delivery. Similarly, he fails to score an easy Amapiano hit as his melody is bland and underwhelming in ‘Level Up’, and in the Pop record ‘No Order’ feat. Victony delivery is flat and painfully mediocre.
In ‘Man of the Year’ where he sings his delivery is similarly poor and uninspiring, especially for a song that’s meant to inspire.
Overburdening Swing/Dancehall/Raggae element: It appears someone from the UK worked on this project as an A&R and somehow managed to convince Bella that it’s a smart move to make the album lean towards an international Afrobeats audience.
Tracks 2, 3, and 4 are Swing records, and tracks 5, 6, 7, 11, and 15 are Dancehall records.
These singles are unappealing to the average Afrobeats listener and they don’t deliver sufficient quality to inspire gratification.
Terrible album sequencing: It’s quite difficult for the average listener to see the album through, let alone attempt a second listen.
The A&R behind this album need to answer for the choice of the tracks on the albums as individually, some songs are good enough but together, they make for a mediocre album.
The album has weak runs that are simply unforgivable. Tracks 6 – 9 are weak and forgettable. Similarly, track 12 – 15 are basic and unforgettable. Together, that’s 8 terribly mediocre singles listeners are consecutively subjected to.
The choice of Popcaan for ‘So Cold’ an Afrobeats record is ridiculous and the choice of the single as the closing track is awful. Likewise, Victony was underwhelming on ‘No Other’. The featured artists bar Simi and Omah Lay all struggled to replicate the brilliance they can deliver and this blame falls at the feet of the A&Rs who worked on the album.
Overall, the album suffers from poor creativity on all fronts
‘Hypertension’ appears to be an album with a leaning toward foreign consumers.
This has turned out to be a terrible strategy as the project, is neither good enough for Nigerian listeners nor possesses sufficient quality for it to excel internationally.
Besides, the success of Afrobeats over the years has shown that the international audience tends to like what the Nigerian audience loves as we have seen with Asake’s music.
From all indications, ‘Hypertension’ is set to be a critical failure, and the only mitigating factor that might placate Bella Shmurda and his team is if he somehow manages to get a hit or two off this album.
Songs like ‘Oh Oh Oh’ and ‘Loose It’ are good singles that might be worth servicing.
However, as a project, it is simply not good enough.
Songwriting, Themes, and Delivery: 1/2
Enjoyability and Satisfaction: 1/2