Long Read: What Kizz Daniel’s #FvckYouChallenge says about all of us

Kizz Daniel

What does it take to get Nigerians excited in 2019?

The singer formerly known as Kiss Daniel certainly has some ideas. They include sex, infidelity and the bitter dissolution of a romantic relationship. For added effect, he throws in some name calling, slut shaming, plus a hint of colourism mixed with generous doses of the F- word.

Who knew?

In the years since his 2014 debut, Kizz Daniel has maintained a fresh, wholesome image that has helped him emerge one of the biggest stars in pop music. A tradition of hit making is necessary to book a spot in the music industry’s top five but achieving genuine cultural relevance usually requires much more than that. Kizz Daniel may have stumbled on it with Fvck You, his stormy, internet conquering single.

Released in March as a stand-alone single, separate from his No Bad Songz sophomore album, Fvck You’s arrival was inauspicious. Produced by wunderkind, Young John who had worked with Daniel earlier on the 2016 chart bursting Mama, also one of Kiss Daniel’s biggest hits, nothing could have predicted that Fvck You would connect on such a large scale, emerging as an early contender for song of the year.

Featuring guitar riffs on a mid-tempo lazy beat, Fvck You’s casual thrill lies in the lyrics, the storytelling and in Daniel’s impassioned delivery. Which is not to say that anything about Fvck You’s content is wholly original or even forward thinking. The music industry, from every corner of the globe, is littered with songs recorded about cheating lovers or no good spouses and Daniel’s isn’t much different, not afraid of tipping into potentially problematic territories.

As the song opens, Daniel accuses his unnamed lover of cheating, taking his pick of choice terms like Ashewo and Olosho and then puts himself through a wringer of emotions that include victim blaming and desperation. By the end of the song, Daniel finds the strength to flip the finger but not before listing out a roll call of industry colleagues that so-called lover has been with even while they were together. Apparently, she’s been with everyone.

It is all quite scandalous, the tale that Daniel unspools and the surprise here is the dependence on curse words, not only as shock value, but to paint a graphic visual image. Fvck You as narrated by Daniel, comes across as heartfelt and emotive, but in the laid back, detached way that only Daniel can quite manage. As long as people can relate viscerally to basic emotions like anger and disgust, sad love songs will always remain popular so on a cardinal level, the acceptance of Fvck You is far from surprising. But it is also likely that Fvck You would have disappeared into that place in the clouds were minor hits go if Daniel and his team hadn’t decided on an unusual promotion strategy.

READ MORE FROM WILFRED OKICHE: Okwui Enwezor, giant of contemporary African Art

The Challenge

The trick was simple. Post a one minute teaser of the instrumental online and have Kizz Daniel start up an online challenge. One that encourages listeners to be creative and drop their own verses to the beat. It is a gimmick that has been used in the past to varying degrees of success.

Olamide reached this strategy’s Valhalla when his 2016 Who you epp freestyle spawned so many copies from both superstars and underground artistes alike on its way to becoming one of the biggest songs of the year. Sometime in January this year, Mavin rapper, LadiPoe attempted the #Triple Homicide challenge to promote his Double Homicide duet with Show Dem Camp’s Ghost but this didn’t quite catch fire.

A man’s world

Daniel’s star power went a long way in cushioning the arrival of his #FvckYouchallenge and preempting the warm embrace with which the music industry welcomed it. But so did the record’s salacious content. Even more contributory was the fact that in its specificity, Fvck You as a music industry love story hit a nerve too sensitive to ignore. One that exposes the double standards inherent in the patriarchal set up of the industry. And this should hardly be surprising. After all the music industry is merely a microcosm of the larger, deeply unequal Nigerian society.

In this regressive, hidden-in-plain-sight world, the male star is at the white-hot center. The world revolves around him and the women in the business are not necessarily treated as equals but as part of the perks that come with celebrity.

So the idea of a huge (male) star in the elite category of Kizz Daniel being played by a partner who does not hesitate to bed as many of his colleagues as she can, strikes at the very heart of male chauvinism and must be punished appropriately. In many ways, and as gleaned from the raw emotions on display, this is the worst thing that can happen to the male artiste operating in Daniel’s elite league.

This explains why a great majority of the male artistes- from unknown strivers to superstar acts and everyone in between- who responded to Daniel’s call received the original as a slap on the male ego and pushed back accordingly. The shocking lack of creativity among even among some of the biggest names to jump on the trend is glaring. Instead of taking the opportunity to present a creative re-imagining, most chose merely to outdo Kizz Daniel in his attempt to weaponize of female sexual agency. This was mostly achieved by painting graphic pictures of sexual promiscuity.

One of such responders, rapper/actor Falz whose “I hate transactional sex’ comment from earlier in the year showed him up as lacking the range to properly grapple with matters concerning sexual and reproductive rights of women, predictably ran with this narrative. In his lukewarm telling, Falz is flattered by the idea of a partner branding his name on her body but is disappointed when he finds that she’s promised the same treatment to other stars. He doesn’t say much else beyond name obvious dropping.

Whereas Falz kept himself busy calling names like Femi Kuti and Don Jazzy, Chinko Ekun of the Able God fame is on the other end of the spectrum. He works himself up into a righteous fury expressing disgust at his erstwhile partner’s robust sexual appetite which in his telling may have led to trysts with a bricklayer and tailor. Dremo does nothing except throw slurs in between doing a body count meant only to shame. Ditto Skibii who turns in perhaps the blandest cover yet, an uninteresting  rehash of Daniel’s original. But what else does one expect from the dude who once faked his own death to stay in the news?

Right of reply

The music business might be a tough place for women to thrive but the #FvckYouChallenge presented a rare equal opportunity for the ladies to respond to many of the stereotypical assumptions that have plagued them for years. For the most part, female artistes gave the guys a run for their money, seizing the opportunity to put out much more compelling stuff.

Toby Grey who has been bubbling under for a number of years now documents her struggles, pointing out how hard it is for a female artiste to operate in today’s male driven industry. What is a girl to do when across the board, she is being hustled to trade something for any service rendered?

On her cover, Simi assumes the role of the much-maligned Jezebel, accepting the accusation but exposing her accusers as immature and incapable of emotional maturity in difficult situations. She also throws in a Yahoo boy dig for good measure. Tiwa Savage looks to be more interested in settling personal scores as her verse plays like a dig at her estranged hubby. She was quick to refute such premature conclusions though.

Kenyan Victoria Kimani who at the height of her fame was signed to Chocolate City (at the height of the label’s relevance) came in with a reminder as to why her career never quite took off. Apparently, she’s had a lot on her mind and they include theories on why her Nigerian adventure was cut short. In a most uncomfortable auto tuned pitch designed to actually hurt the ears, Kimani went for the jugular, calling out rapper Ycee for stealing her juice without pausing to give her any credit. She also went for a certain African bad gyal whom she accuses of undercutting her by blocking her show bookings and selling sex to get ahead.

It would be easy to dismiss Kimani’s cry for help because her attack lacks the depth and personal introspection that could have really challenged the industry, and instead chooses to adopt a confrontational tone that only points fingers. But autotune Kimani does elevate the dialogue surrounding the #FvckYouChallenge just a bit, bringing to light to issues surrounding intellectual property rights. These matters border on the legal (both civil and criminal) and for a long time, have been treated with levity by industry folks.

Ms Kimani finds an ally in Seyi Shay who has for a while now, shared a love-hate public relationship with Tiwa Savage. Shay’s cover peaks with a blow dispatched in the direction of Ms Savage (You know I’m not savage I dey pay my bills) but has a largely reductive vibe that pits one woman against the other.

For what is perhaps the best cover version done by an artiste-male or female- look no further than Eva Alordiah, a rapper who came out of retirement to send everyone else packing with a transgressive tour de force that mines both pain and pleasure while reintroducing an artiste who still has a few tricks up her sleeve. Vector’s also stands out because he finds humor in the entire situation and chooses not to take any of it seriously, something everyone else had forgotten to do.

Industry impact

Shaking up an industry in badly need of excitement, Kizz Daniel’s little gamble was effective across several levels and for various cadres of artistes. It is hard to judge impact- on Daniel’s career and beyond- immediately and perhaps the #FvckYouChallenge ultimately may not amount to anything beyond a passing curiosity. But underground artistes like Lyta and Dandizzy who rode on the coattails of the challenge to get their voices out might beg to differ. The same for upstarts like Cheque and Blaqbonez who demonstrated some layers to their craft and demanded to be taken seriously.

A-list stars may have fancied it all a welcome distraction from routine but the challenge played some part in bringing back to public consciousness, artistes who have fallen off the radar. Ice Prince praying for the legalization of marijuana so he can come up with richer lines than he’s been peddling his entire career, and Lil Kesh spewing usual slut shaming obscenities aren’t the finest display of their talents, granted, but we’ll take what we get from some of our favorites. For now.

Art imitating life

#FvckYouChallenge might have failed as a truly organic movement if the participating artistes did not come up with ways to connect it with the realities on ground, far beyond industry squabbles and bruised egos. Hotyce goes the Falz route, lamenting the troubling state of the nation with little sympathy for style or depth. Sound Sultan continues a tradition of sticking his middle finger up at the disappointing political class. Both artistes score points for trying. Both versions have their uses but in terms of useful social commentary, neither comes close to the insurgent Rugged Man whose anti-police tirade specifically plugs into the #EndSARS advocacy movement.

As is commonly the case when artistes are tapping into political or socially relevant issues, representation via the #FvckYouChallenge is considered enough and artistes who plug into these issues do not go beyond a rundown of the myriad of problems. Self-interrogation is rare and the culture runs the risk of elevating the socially relevant mistaking it for artistically sound. Both aren’t usually the same thing. As Ainehi Edoro writes in Africa is a Country while considering Falz’s This is Nigeria, ‘’Perhaps, we need to move away from asking artists how representative of reality is the work, how faithful to reality is the work and, instead, ask what exactly is artful about the work?’’

On the surface, this may seem like too much to expect from a challenge based on a song originally written as a kiss off to an unfaithful lover. How much of what is truly considered art can possibly come out of such a concept, one might ask? But not demanding such would be an even worse predicament to fall into. The challenge may have had modest origins, but who says it cannot- or should not- rise beyond them?


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