Over a few songs, it seemed the celebrated Sony Music deal was going to change Davido into a dancehall artist or a real singer. He was caught attempting semi-melismatics on ‘How Long’ with Tinashe; a Caribbean apprehension must have caught his fans when he came out with ‘Gbagbe Oshi’. He even attempted trap music on the Nasty C featured tune, ‘Coolest Kid in Africa’.
In fact, that last title must have come as a surprise: A Davido song title with four correctly spelled words adding up to a competently verbless sentence. Wonders.
Thankfully for his fans, the man is back to managing expectations and grammar. The new single, a deliciously produced minimalist courtship song, has a one-word title, ‘If’, which will remind the Nigerian pop faithful of Tekno. As I noted in an earlier review, Tekno has made a style of single-word titles: 'Holiday', 'Diana', 'Pana' etc.
Tekno isn’t far off on this one. He is the song’s producer. As with the typical Tekno song, sung or produced, there is an extra sensitivity to drum patterns, his propulsively percussive treatment of melody. So danceably Tekno-esque are the drums on 'If', with a variation of 'Pana's' intermittent harsh sound effects, that it could be a Davido featuring Tekno song or maybe even vice versa. Perhaps it is telling that Tekno does get to say some of the song’s first words; and his signature, “Your favourite boy, Tekno”, are nearly its last words. The one notable deviation from past Tekno songs is the introduction of horns on 'If'.
There have been reports suggesting Davido was unhappy with Sony's intereference, and resolved to go back to what made him a star in the first place—presumably his halfway between talking and rapping vocals, his say-it-as-it-comes songwriting, and his astute selection of local beatmakers. On 'If', local influences are just as perceptible within the song's lyrics. The line, “No do, no do, no do gra-gra for me” is taken directly from a Lagbaja song in the 2000s. “You know say nobody holy” is from early 2Baba. And the name of the female to whom the song is directed is ‘Obianuju’, also the eponymous subject of a song by south-south Nigeria artist Duncan Mighty; both these songs opt for the obvious Obianuju-juju rhyme.
Davido’s last few singles had him taking notes from non-Nigerians Sean Paul and trap acts like Young Thug, folks made global stars by American radio, a move perhaps appreciated by the folks at Sony who would like Nigerian music on US radio. Suggestive of a volte-face, ‘If’ has a sound-canvas provided by one of the men of the Nigerian moment, Tekno; it is filled in with Nigerian pidgin words ‘burukutu’ and ‘shukushuku’; and contains word combinations from older local music. Yet, there is western consolation in the shape of the occasional yelp ("Yeaah!") made ubiquituous in the 2000s by US crunk artist Lil Jon. (Even this use is becoming a Nigerian pop formula: the use of a familiar western strain of music on an apparently local production can also be heard on Wizkid's ‘Ojuelegba’ and Rayce’s 'Jack Sparrow', both of which employ a brief sampling of Dr. Dre's 1992 hit 'Nuthin' but a 'G' Thang'.)
On paper, all of these elements might appear disparate, and maybe even a little desperate. On radio, though, it is hit music. One made especially for the Nigerian ear by a back-to-his-roots Davido.