Historically, there is a thing in music that has been associated with artists changing sound. That public glare at an artist willing to forfeit all critical abandon to be sold as a cheap commodity instead. For an artist like Poe who came from being part of The Collectiv3—one of the strongest progressive subset of the music industry—to signing a record deal with Mavin CEO, Don Jazzy, parallels can be drawn.
Obviously, Poe signed with Jazzy to be a part of a later generation to leverage Mavin’s success and influence over the years for mainstream success. But the thinking behind the move is questionable when Poe’s deal mirrors the current era in music. All the middlemen between the artist and the final consumers of music have always been the biggest winners. Today, artists all over the world are cutting label ties and turning to independent production, publishing and digital distribution. Albeit a deserved spotlight for a rapper who has reigned on the industry with nothing but a handful of singles and guest verses, it also somewhat glimpsed Poe‘s desperation to – as they say – blow.
Poe‘s latest single, “Are You Down”, confirms a few things. Before “Are You Down”, Poe worked bars into a Grime-inspired single, “Man Already”, as his first official single under his new management. UK Grime is a mainstream genre in many parts of the world but the sound is still in its infancy in Nigeria. The composition’s focus on keywords indicated Poe may have intended “Man Already” as a potential radio hit to corner new fans without betraying his old ones with the barest minimum genre-blending to still sound distinct.
The truth-tellers, however, are fans who are more familiar with Poe‘s most soulful musings with the Collectiv3 or his masterful fusion of trip-hop and highlife on last year’s “Can’t Forget”. For them, his latest single, “Are You Down” will ring too close to their worst fears, as it is naturally expected that a record deal with a label known for creating Afropop stars to influence the sound of a rapper who grew support from the ground up by serving a unique style.
For everyone else (if you’re tired of listening to the same mid-tempo percussion-led instrumentals, yes, you) “Are You Down” is an Afropop sparkle. Alongside Poe, “Are You Down” from Don Jazzy who makes a surprise reemergence after revealing he was taking a break from music and new work many months ago. From its opening moments “Are You Down” is immediately Don Jazzy’s calmest production in years, with nothing but bass guitars, soft drums and trumpets opening for Poe to come in with the same slurry mumble rap style YCEE also occasionally incorporates. But Poe is singing in a lower register, melding along the bass-heavy Afro-Latin composition. The set piece is perfect for the interchange with a chorus from Tiwa Savage, who has quietly begun to write her way back to her R&B roots lately.
“Are You Down”, is presumably the first taste of ‘Pop Ladipoe’, but it doesn’t sound any less Poe than we’re used to. He is as confident and as lyrically clairvoyant as ever, with some of his wit and light humour bearing mark as he alternates between singing and rapping. If this is merely considered for its attempt to throw Poe into the mainstream, without consideration for its musical element, everyone will miss the point.
Stream Ladipoe’s “Are You Down” featuring Tiwa Savage below.