Album review: Phyno’s ‘No guts, no glory’ is the feel good album of the year

by Wilfred Okiche

Phyno...

Phyno, indigenous rapper, man of the year and self-titled beast from the East goes in hard.

We know this from his work as producer; most notably on Ill Bliss’ ‘Anamachikwanu’ and ‘Ghost mode’, his very own face off with rapper Olamide. Both singles were powerful, unflinching documents that not only ushered in a major new talent, but also carved a niche for him as the serious rapper cum producer with a deep bias for hard core hip hop packaged in pulsating, foreboding but downright appealing beats.

As a solo artiste, he followed up with the power singles ‘Man of the year’ and ‘Parcel’. Where the former was raw, gritty and unpretentiously hip hop, the latter had this subtle nod to dance floors nationwide but retained that all important authenticity of the best of modern hip hop anthems. This was an artiste discerning enough to discover his own sound early enough, it seemed. A prodigy willing to walk the long winding road to success.

When his debut album titled ‘No guts no glory’ was announced, expectations built up instinctively. This young man from Anambra state would slay ‘em all with the depth of his skills, we assumed. He would come hard, take no prisoners and leave only when his job was done. After multiple listens of ‘NGNG’, it begins to settle gradually that we may have pre-empted him. Or maybe he had misled us. Probably both.

Sure he still goes hard. Infact ‘NGNG’ delivers the best intro recorded this year so far. On a banging beat, and with a superior assist from Eastern underground queen Stormrex, he lets audiences into the man behind the mohawk. Narrating his life story in a burst of energy, Azubuike Nelson brags and huffs and puffs his way to the brilliant end. Following closely is ‘Alobam’, (loosely translated as hommies), an ode to his friends back in the east as well as his newly minted industry colleagues. Phyno’s gratitude and loyalty inspires envy among listeners and you want to be acquainted with these homies of his who answer to names like Fatboy, Slow diggy and Chidi White. Hell, you want to be his Alobam too. The beat and delivery are a cross between Drake’s ‘Worst behaviour’ and Olamide’s ‘Sitting on the throne’ but our man’s infectious energy and skill makes it sound afresh.

His ferocious run continues through the previously released singles (Man of the year, Parcel), to high powered anthems like ‘Aju’ with soul mate Olamide (who does not quite match up), Kush music, ‘Anamachi Versace’ with Runtown and climaxes with the standout ‘Good die young’ a tour de force that samples the late great Marvin Gaye. He reveals his vulnerable side as he pays tribute to comrades lost to disease, accident and armed robbery. Although he raps in Igbo, the painful emotions are passed across and non-Igbo speakers will gladly relate.

If ‘NGNG’ were made up only of songs like the above mentioned, it would be an instant classic. However, Phyno has hatched other plans and some of them include pop chart and club domination. Such deviations purists believe are beneath him and are better left to the Ice Princes of this world but they have become a necessary evil. When done right, they are even enjoyable. Like the groovy highlife throwback ‘Nme nme’that grates at first but grows on you after multiple listens. It is easy to dismiss this song but this is the one that will be playing in beer parlours and gyration spots across the South East. Omawumi stops by and pulls a Waje, lending her sizzling vocals (and sweetened adlibs) to ‘Chukwu na enye’,a take-it-to-church number that is sure to be a crowd pleaser. ‘Ojigi’ is a cheezy but hard to resist call to get up and dance.

The duds come in the form of the Psquare assisted ‘O set’. It is empty, devoid of life and has the Okoye brothers at their most materialistic; mumbling nonsensically about activating money. But it will thrill the clubs. ‘Shey you know’ is a love song that won’t stick and ‘Holiday’ may appeal only to the hardcore fans.

If only ‘NGNG’ were better arranged and all those fillers cut to a tight 12 or 13 tracks, it would have been an instant contender for album of the year. Phyno makes some dubious decisions instead and dilutes the punch hinted at by the title. While the choice of songs are, understandable and maybe even necessary, ‘NGNG’ will have to settle for a different kind of honor.

The feel good album of the year.

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