“That’s one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind”, I think of first-movers like Wizkid in the light of Neil Armstrong’s infamous first words on the moon. Maybe not necessarily about the grandeur of their work, but the transcendental ripple effect their action represents for everything that comes after. This ideal meets the overarching levels of expectations for Wizkid’s Sounds From The Other Side album at eye level. Wizkid’s insistent recourse that SFTOS was intended as a free project turned EP-Mixtape — a valid explanation for the eventual project’s lack of coherence— could be taken as a last ditch attempt to tamper the god-level expectations of a major-label debut with RCA records.
The reality, however, was stark. With the exception of critic’s favourite, “Sweet Love” (thank God for that Fela sample), “Daddy Yo”, “Come Closer” and “African Bad Gyal”, three of the other singles released off the twelve-track project were met with lukewarm reactions home and abroad. In fact, towards the last days before the project release last month, all Wizkid was only riding on was an army of adoring fans triggered with a string of suggestive social media posts they escalated with LOLs, LMAOs and memes as subs for his colleagues. While the media chattered about Davido’s supposed reply and Tekno’s rebuttal of what it means to be an international artist, attention veered away from the Messianic album Wizkid was dropping a few days later.
Ironically, the drama did nothing to water down the high-minded expectations for Wizkid’s next moves and the project. SFTOS was expected both as a seminal album for modern African pop music and as Wizkid’s gate pass into the big leagues, a decade long dream for Afropop music since D’banj and Don Jazzy’s stint with JayZ and Kanye West first made local news headlines.
Upon release, Wizkid fans rained praises on the Starboy, but first, listen takes by critics petered the project as a stray away from authenticity or direction. The polarised reaction on social media is reflected in the mixed reviews by local and international media. Vice writer, Lawrence Burney describes Sounds From The Other Side as feeling ‘scattered’ compared to Wizkid’s previous work, Britany Spanos of RollingStone gave a three star (out of five) review, closing with a bitter-sweet conclusion that “even if Wizkid doesn’t move these genres forward, the breezy set still goes by like the well-earned victory lap that it is”. In the same manner, PitchFork contributor, Claire Lobenfeld writes, ‘Wizkid is primed to carry Afrobeats to great heights’. While OlisaTv’s Dami Ajayi delivers the most scathing critique thus far, deriding SFTOS as a misstep in Wizkid’s catalogue that merely dresses Afrobeat in new makeup.
There are valid points from every perspective Wizkid’s latest work has been interpreted. Fans who have trailed Wizkid’s growth through the years are deserving of a Wiz leaning closer towards home. Even rightfully so are allowed to be offended by the presumptuous title of the LP that sells the idea of an “African” artist, a poster-boy narrative that wasn’t needed when Wizkid was still Wizkid (You know?). But none of this addresses the void between what was expected of Wizkid and the reality of the task he has been burdened with.
The mainstream global sound has long been permeated by sounds outside of America and Europe since the incursion of K-Pop in the early 2010s. Latino Pop began gaining foothold a few years later (see: Despacito), opening doors for Afro-Caribbean tinted pop which culminated Drake’s stint recursion of dancehall inspired Afro-rhythms in mainstream hip-hop. Wizkid’s cross-over venture if anything is a direct result of the rise of a global digital age and Western fascination with diaspora sounds. Not only is he not the first of his underdog outsider calibre, he is also not the messiah we all anticipated him to be, nor will anyone ever be.
Criticisms that argue Wizkid altered his original Afropop sound with EDM and Jamaican patois, can be countered with the mere fact that pop music all over the world is inherently set on genre-blending, hence the birth of sound innovation. King Sunny Ade’s major label debut, Juju Music with Island Records in 1982, similarly featured a reworking of traditional instruments with the same synths used in 80s pop. Even Fela’s critically acclaimed Afrobeats sound is a jazz-funk upgrade of traditional high-life, and the list goes on.
In terms of a legacy, SFTOS may live on as an undercut of what still looks like a promising career ahead for Wizkid. The giant step Wiz has taken with a major-label debut, however, stands for what it is. What’s left of this single leap for Wizkid would be reflected in the global attention towards African popular music and how the narrative that follows becomes a part of history. If SFTOS is not representative enough of the African sound, perhaps we can hope another artist who has both the musty and skillset can make an album that will.