“This Is Not An Album Review.” On appraising “Golden” by A-Q.
Laptop on. Microsoft word blank page open. Hands on my keyboard with my back arched straight to get my sitting pose right just as the good woman "Mavis Beacon" taught us. A deep sigh and before I type a word, the first thing that comes to mind is "I fucking hate music reviews".
So before I proceed, a disclaimer: "This is not an album review!" Instead, this is what happens when you have too much time on your hands and a rapper who has been famously clowned and (in some circles) revered for dissing Domino Pizza’s (I supported that diss, wholeheartedly, by the way) decides to drop a project which he describes as "very dear to me". And indeed, every rapper or artiste claims that whatever project they release is dear to them, but for some reason, whenever this rapper says it, you tend to want to believe him. He has the sort of charisma that makes these new generation pastors want to learn at his feet.
AQ has been in the Naija rap scene for more than a decade now and there is no denying it, (not even for a Vector stan like myself) that he is one of the illest with the pen and one of the best to ever do it this side of the Atlantic. A few days ago, infact, Rapper Boogey made a tweet naming a couple of hip-hop artistes in the Naija scene and made a comment (paraphrasing here) about hoping all these folks get their flowers when it is due. One of the names on his list was AQ’s. Yes, AQ is your favorite rapper’s rapper; and even if you hate on him for dissing Domino pizza or for coming for the jugular of Vector in the heat of the MI/Vector tryst, you cannot help but Stan his longevity and skill set as a rapper who has fought tooth and nails to be at the pinnacle of his game so far. Since the start of his career, he has continuously churned out bodies of work that no matter how you feel about him, personally, you could never call those works average. His skills are proven. He has shown that he can spar with the best of them as seen on his collaborative project with MI called "The Live Report" as well as with his Co-label owner Loose Kaynon on the project "The Crown". He has also shown that he can be an inspiration and a beacon of support to the youngins on the come up as seen by the blossoming success of rapper (and blooming comedian), Blaqbonez, as well as other guest features on various novel projects of rapping folks that some of us might still need a year or two to get to know better on the rap scene. So, when a week earlier he mentioned that he had an album on the way, the only questions on my mind were: "why?" "What else did he have to prove?" Most importantly, I wanted to know "what else can a rapper of AQs caliber rap about that he hasn’t already rapped about over and over again?" Well, the album is here, and I guess I got my answer.
Before I proceed, I think it is important to once again mention that this is not an album review. What is it? I do not know for now. However, if it were an album review and I had to surmise, in one sentence, what AQ’s latest album release which he titled "Golden" was, I’d simply say this: “AQ’s album, Golden, is basically a rendition of "The Live Report" with just one news anchor." And I know that in some circles that sentence might come off as a slight, but it really isn’t. The Live Report was one of the best albums that dropped in 2020 and even with all its pontifications from both rappers, it hit the nail on the head with regards highlighting a lot of the social issues that plagued not just the country but the world in general. And on this new album from AQ you can tell that he has not stopped watching the news or being aware of his surroundings and environment, which is something that a lot of artistes, the minute they hit their pinnacle of success, tend to lose sight of.
Not AQ though, and we appreciate him for that. No one should get tired of hearing about how much the FemCo. movement did for so many youths during the #ENDSARS protests or how much we all, as youths, did for ourselves in our bid to effect change in a country hell-bent and determined to end us; and AQ makes sure of that on the track called "Shoot the Messenger" – he reminds us. Granted, listening to the gunshots sounds ring out at the end of this cut was just as triggering as it was watching that dreary night unfold before our eyes and the eyes of the world on the 20th of October 2020; and even more poignant is that whilst rapping and taking us down memory lane on the event, AQ appears to take the view point of one of the lives lost and as we get to the end of the track and hear the words "...and this is how I lost my life, don’t you ever forget, keep up the fight, see you in the afterlife" we are forced to relieve those moments and remember not to forget the souls, hundreds of them, that were lost on that day and during the course of the protests. RIP.
If the track "Shoot the messenger" does not give you a hint of what this body of work is about and why AQ, himself, in announcing the work, says it is dear to him, then a track like "System Failure" should do the trick. The track is for me, one of the best, not for the philosophical or existential rhetoric that is emblazoned on the entire track but simply for the fact that AQ, as always, reminds us that he is not your average rapping rapper. He is aware and whilst that can sometimes come off as pretentious and bothering on virtue-signaling, phrases like "...we fight for equality but it’s the classes that kill us more." makes you realize that this man here, even whilst having the sort of life that some would envy has not lost all his connections to the struggles of the everyday person. CEO of his own label or not, AQ appears to be just as grounded as the sands of time he wishes to plant his legacy on.
Still on about the track "System Failure", AQ also raps on the first verse saying, "...money is white Jesus, the government is your black God", I must admit, witty lines like these are spread across the track and listening to the track, one can tell that AQ isn’t trying to come off as overly deep or anything, because nothing he is saying is new or novel but it is the fact that he can say it in his own down to earth, guy next door, dry-ish voice that makes you feel drawn to his words and artistry. And yes, this goes without saying that there are some lines on this track that legit sound like something out of a nursery rhyme book (some have food and can’t eat, some can eat and have no food...yes, he said that!). Nevertheless, as much as he has been often criticized about rapping off beat in a bid to fit in his rhymes and multi-syllables or not sounding as posh or as polished intonation and inflection-wise, as do most of your favorite rappers (I think so too, by the way, but that would be for another piece), AQ can never be criticized about not actually using his music to stick it to the man. In fact, his entire discography is replete with such songs that could force you to take up a banner and hit the streets in protest. And that for me is one of the best things about him as a rapper: you can tell that Gilbert Bani, the man, with his sometimes controversial or alienating views about social issues, has found a conduit to air these views through AQ, the rapper. And whenever there is a fusion between man and rapper, you can be sure to be getting the best of both.
Again, this is not an album review. Personally, I do not think it is fair calling this an album in a sense. Listening to this a third time before penning this down, one might be forced to think what we got here was a few pages from the current thesis on the state of affairs of the world, seen through the eyes of one man who has fought so hard to be where he currently is and instead of doing what most would have done in such an elevated position, which would be to come at us with some aspire to perspire motivational shit, has opted to instead sit with us at the bar (Probably CCX lounge. Lol) and share his thoughts on what he thinks of what has been happening. Nevertheless, it goes without saying that not all the opinions or thoughts on this thesis should be taken as facts or absolute truths. They are just his truths, and you are welcome to disagree. Plus, on the music side, not all the tracks are without lapses. But again, this is not a music review.
Cue in the last track titled "Read the Room" and you will clearly see that AQ’s goal for this album or thesis (going by the previous paragraph’s allusion) was not to preach or pontificate about how we should know that we are all puppets of a system that is rigged to work against us ninety-nine percent of the time, instead it would appear that the goal is to remind us that just as in the midst of our own busy, oft hard lives, we are sometimes plagued by so many questions and doubts and fierce dread for what the future holds or what the present is hiding, he too grapples with these thoughts and fears and uncertainty as well. In fact, on the last track of the album, he speaks on just how aware he is of the newest craze of social media "cancelling" syndrome. He touches on how most of us, if not all of us, are one wrongly perceived tweet or comments or post away from having the unforgiving hammer of the mob that is disguised as social justice and activism coming down on us and everything that we hold dear.
I believe it is such unpretentious awareness of the current socio-economic climate that makes this a much better body of work, in my opinion, than his previous collaborative effort with MI. On the one hand, this album "Golden" sounds genuine and feels a lot like one anchor giving us a rundown of what’s been going through his head recently, nothing scripted, no teleprompter, just getting shit off his chest, whilst on the other hand with "The Live Report" it felt like we had two trained anchors, doing what they have been trained to do for so long.
AQ’s album "Golden" gives us a front row seat to listen to a man speak on some of the things that trouble him about life, reality, the political landscape, capitalism and so much more, without him needing to stand on a podium to address us like his subjects or subordinates. Doing things this way, I reckon he hints at the fact that he is open to hearing back from us once he puts the mic down.
Well, Gilbert, you did good. I do agree with a lot of the things you say on this album. Yes, I do think capitalism is a bitch but one that we all want a piece of that ass with, nonetheless. And yes, our government should opt to take a crash course with the FemCo. movement on how to run things without any hiccups. And truthfully, we can only hope that those who lost their lives during the #ENDSARS protest can rest on knowing that we will never forget to remember them.
Finally, you honestly should consider making a video with Chike for the track "Breathe". It was also one of my favorites from the cut and props to Chike for coming correct as always.
With that said, cheers to another round of beers (or whatever your poison is), AQ. I am about to go back on Twitter to scroll through the TL of nothingness, and you can bet your ass I’d be sure to come across a few reviews about your album too. However, I may likely not read them. I dunno why, but I guess I still fucking hate music reviews.
WRITTEN BY: Mifa Adejumo.
For Urban Central.
“Having the most powerful voice in Hip-Hop right now means I always have to live up to it. This project is dear to me, and I hope it travels far and is deeply felt by everyone who listens to it.
Ladies and Gents, I present to you, "GOLDEN"” — A-Q