It is tempting to think of the self-titled album by the Collectiv3 as the revenge of Nigeria’s cool kids. One of their presumed playgrounds, pop music, has been taken over and is now bossed by a bunch of local rappers. Two episodes have so far dominated this version of events. Sometime in 2015, three of those local rappers came together to sing a song called ‘Local Rappers’. Months later a few of the cool ones, with their outside-of-the-mainstream influences, formed a collective named the Collectiv3 and released the eponymous album under review.
What rescues this self-titled debut from the temptation in the paragraph you have just read is its ambition—a loose thing to be sure, but present nonetheless. Made of singers Temi Dollface and Funbi, rap duo Show Dem Camp, instrumentalist Nsikak, rapper Poe, and producers Kid Konnect and IKON, the Collectiv3 presents a compilation of sounds not usually heard on Nigerian radio. (It is for sounds like those collected on The Collectiv3 LP that the term ‘alternative’ can finally be applied to Nigerian music.) The effort does bear western traces that maybe marks out their economic privilege and cultural influences, but that is only half the story. What comes through just as clearly is the group’s courage and refusal to pander to sounds of the status quo.
A caveat: To speak of the courage of the group is to mistake them for newbies. Yet most of the group have had moderate mainstream excursions on Nigerian radio. Temi Dollface scored a hit with 2013's ‘Pata Pata’; SDC have had a couple of modest hits, stretching as far back as 2010’s ‘Farabale’ featuring Mister May D. Producers Kid Konnect and IKON have worked with a slew of artists. The rest of the group, if not quite as successful, have spent a while on the music scene.
With The Collectiv3 these discrete entities bring their experience to individual songs that somehow manage to achieve a cohesiveness missing from recent albums by solo Nigerian artists. That is down to the number of songs: nine plus two radio cuts. It is also down to the chemistry between artists and producers.
One of the group’s producers kicks off the album, spitting verses like a rapper. The rap form has always been based on boasts. So IKON, a normally self-effacing producer, is a chest-thumper here, claiming right from the title that ‘Akintunde’—meaning ‘the king is back.’
Starting off with a Yoruba-titled song connects the group to the current trend of rendering Nigerian pop music in local languages. And yet, peel off that local veneer and you uncover the song’s western influences. The obvious one is in its name, derived from the Oscar winning third instalment of the Lord of the Ring trilogy, The Return of the King. The less obvious one is from Jay-Z’s The Blueprint from 2001. The first song on that album, which showed the American rapper in classic chest-thumping mode, was titled ‘The Ruler’s Back’. Clearly, the guys from The Collecti3 know their pop culture.
They also know that in rap, masculinity and money are best played against women:
It is thus up to Temi Dollface to temper libido with self-awareness. The ‘drama-soul’ proponent contributes two songs, a new one, ‘School Your Face’, and the older ‘Just Like That’. Both songs, among other concerns, deliver a slice of social commentary dipped in sass.
Ms Dollface is, however, not the one who delivers The Collectiv3’s sole love song. That duty falls to Poe and Funbi, who, over sounds of an iron rod beating a tin, pledge to ‘adore’ a lady. As always there’s a sure suaveness to Poe’s approach. “Know I’m gonna leave this place with your number,” he says, “like you’re gonna leave that church with my name.”
In Nigeria today, the sound of the Collectiv3 may not be very viable in commercial terms. There is a temptation to label it bourgeois-indulgent. But listen closely, and what you hear just might be the future sound. Or, at the minimum, a part of it.