Album: Stories That Touch
Label & Year: Bahdguys Entertainment, 2015
On Stories That Touch, an album title that is Nigerianese for a tongue-in-cheek display of sympathy, flecks of Falz’s true status mix with the fabricated. Real name Folarin Falana, he is the barrister son of a famous Nigerian lawyer. Following his abandonment of wig for snapback, he created a comic character Brother Taju, who is the uncouth but somewhat-cool alter ego of his creator. It is easy to see both aspects of Falz on television, where his stylish outfits blend with bad English. On the album under review, his second after 2014's Waz Up Guy, the best example of his two-timing is the song 'Karishika' and its remix.
Falz features Phyno on the original 'Karishika'; MI and Show Dem Camp rap on the remix. In essence, one version has a local rapper, the other has returnee rappers. Both songs are enjoyable but none of the featured stars spits a line with enough connection to the source of the title (a Nollywood film) to produce something truly culturally resonant. Although MI’s “She started to levitate/she was higher than kpoli” comes close.
Thus both versions belong to Falz who, in choosing that title, shows just how connected he is to the cultural life of the average Nigerian. Perhaps because the film was released in 1996, years before the former law student’s time at the UK’s University of Reading. Both songs are also tributes to Nollywood, back when the film industry was monolithic and yet to split into distinct cinema and home video sections.
Further, there is the mellow tune 'Time Difference' about a man in Lag but his ‘shorty dey for Yankee’. The relationship is complicated by an actual time difference and the hopelessness of a sexual side to the affair. Absolutely one of the highlights of Stories that Touch, it is also one of a few Falz songs that could be sung without the interference of Brother Taju’s accent. Regardless of the geographical inversion—Falz’s male narrator is the one in Lagos—it is no stretch to assume that Time Difference may owe some of its excellence to the rapper’s familiarity with the situation.
So Falz has it both ways, whipping out his ‘abroad-status’ when it serves, turning local when it helps (which maybe how he received a Best Street Hop nomination at the 2015 Headies).
Is this fair? Maybe. Maybe not.
Whatever the case, it isn’t Falz’s fault. Privilege works like gravity. It’s tricky but easier to move down the class pole; moving up is nearly impossible. Put differently, his colleague and compatriot Olamide will always have a whiff of Bariga and his lower-class upbringing in his music—this is true of love songs 'Melo Melo' and the Phyno duet 'Carry Me Go' as it is of the straight-up English 'Boom, Boom, Boom'. Of course, this is irrelevant to Olamide because he now has a sizable audience and has almost completely defied his own class origins. On the other hand, MI is thought of as elitist, but he appealed somewhat to a different class when he used pidgin on 'My Belle My Head' from MI2. He went one better aided by Reminisce on 'Shekpe' from The Chairman. Falz may have found the link between both classes.
And yet. For Falz, the sole disadvantage of his class shape-shifting is that for such a gifted rapper, he'll never be an MI or an Olamide. Falz will never command a class. This, you could say, is the upshot of being Falz of both classes and master of none. A truly talented rapper, his gift is his curse: He escapes charges of class appropriation because he’s funny; yet partly for the same reason, he’ll never be rated as highly as those two.
If you think this is unfair, just imagine what Falz himself thinks. The man begins his album by calling himself 'kabiyesi', a Yoruba word used for kings. Is this another story that touch? You bet.