[The Music Blog] Runtown’s new single says more about Nigerian Afropop than you think

Runtown

In a post decrying the old industry’s skewered perspective of this generation’s crop of uber-successful mumble rappers with drug-addled lyrics, 21 Savage described Hip-Hop as the biggest genre in the world at the moment. His statement could have used a lot less absoluteness for sure, but he’s not very far off.

As of today Billboard Hot 100’s features four rap songs from Post Malone, Lil Pump, Cardi B and Logic, plus “Havana” by Camilla Cabello in collaboration with Young Thug. That said, hip-hop if hip-hop is not decidedly the biggest genre in the world today, it’s sure right up there in contention with traditional pop’s long-reign at such chart peaks.

RunTown has been silent since the release of his previous single, “For Life”. Initial fan reaction invoked the ghost of RunTown’s late-2016 smash hit, “Mad Over You”, so it’s not odd that the singer took a minute—perhaps to reach for fresher ideas—before following up the release with another single.

His new single “Energy” , is not his most impressive outing, considering his relative consistency over the past year. However, Runtown seems to have taken some of the “For Life” criticism about sound repetition into account while creating “Energy”. The Del-B produced instrumental used for “Energy” sounds like a synth-based cut that was left off RunTown’s Ghetto University days. Though he is seemingly reassured and unfazed by all the negative energy people seem to be throwing his way, Runtown almost sounds like earlier, rawer version of himself, before he became chill, laid-back RunTown from “Mad Over You”.

Still creative direction aside, RunTown’s new single features lyrics that reference Drake’s 6God moxie. ‘Free Smoke, Free Hennessy, more life to my enemies’ , he sings, as if to casually shout out the Toronto-born rapper who is popularly affiliated with such expressions. While this could be seen as another typical Nigerian Afropop penchant for lyrical and vocal sampling, it also aptly captures some context for Afropop’s inherent fluidity and formlessness.

Afropop is often misconstrued to be a certain sound or specific genre, when in reality it’s less about the sound and more about the style of composition. The literal deconstruction of the word ‘Afropop’, spells, ‘African Popular Music’, meaning Afropop as a genre, is basically popular music made by Africans for Africans. It should be noted here, that popular music is merely reflective of the most popular sound of a certain era or place.

In recent times, the pon-pon style has been unanimously described as the sound of today’s modern Afropop, because of the number of artists who have released tracks bearing the same percussive indentation. This was initially largely due to the increasing penetration of EDM into the global mainstream sound (and in correlation, African music as well) since the turn of the decade. But this trend was interrupted less than two years ago by the increased acceptance for Caribbean and Latin sounds, thanks in part, to the success of Major Lazer and Drake. And thus explains why today’s percussion-based sound often leans towards and electronics and dancehall.

Popular African music, has always sort of absorbed whatever is popular globally, with African details thrown across the board for authenticity, but mostly to modulate relatability and the audience’s familiarity with the popular sound of the day. Questioning why RunTown makes Drake references on his new single would be questioning why Wizkid made dancehall mixtape-album, and that says a lot about what we can expect and not expect from Afropop and its firebrands.

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