Every critical piece of writing on Nigerian rapper Ice Prince might have to ask this question: What happened to Ice Prince? I'm not sure but I suspect the answer is located between laziness and the lure of material success. He has gone from being a rapper of vaunted potential to being dismissed as an “afrobeats artist” by many—within a decade.
Laziness first. The man may have seen that the bickering attending his first album didn’t affect his popularity. That success was probably down to the Brymo-assisted 'Oleku' but well it all counts. The material success showed up on time and he possibly realized that without spending more time tightening his verses, he could make hits. This, naturally, pisses off hip-hop fans and critics.
So we have an Ice Prince who is popular but also the recipient of some heavy critical bashing. His new album, Jos to the World, won’t change his status, but parts of it should. The intro to the album shows that somewhere within the new Ice Prince, there is the old one. Within the swollen 19 tracks of the album is a decent hip-hop album.
We never get that album. There are too many derivative notes on display. Attempts at bringing dancehall, Nigerian pop, South African pop, trap music are less innovative than plainly unoriginal. And not just in terms of production. The song '2AM in Chevron,' for example, takes it title and mood from Drake's '5AM in Toronto'. On 'For Yah,' Wayne Wonder's chorus on 'No Letting Go' turns up. This may be tribute but it's hard to tell given the hook, line and sinker appropriation. A portion of Marvin Gaye's 'Sexual Healing' is used on 'No Mind Dem' but the song works on its own, which is in part due to the sensual stylings of the featured Tanzanian singer Vanessa Mdee. Her delightful contribution trumps those by Ice Prince's female compatriots Yemi Alade and Tiwa Savage.
Ice Prince has always had influences from outside the country, but he has also craved a Nigerian sound. But his method hasn't quite worked overall even as it has produced hits. The failure of his first album to match his rap potential means he never quite established himself as a fearsome rapper before delving into less than original pop. He isn't much far from a pop act who raps. Olamide, who established himself as a rapper before making several big pop tunes, is the obverse: a rapper who indulges his pop instincts.
“Can’t see no one else. It’s just me versus me,” goes the chorus of the intro song. Ice Prince gets full marks for self-awareness then. The song shows the frustration with the man. He has quite a delivery, his vocal phrasing his impressive, he affects an American diction, and adopts Jay-Z’s use of chanting on the song ‘Encore’. With these, he could be classed with the English rappers like his childhood friend MI Abaga. Instead he wants to have it both ways, with the singing and presenting of songs like the hit song ‘Aboki’. The result is his dwelling in the Neverland of the Nigerian pop scene. He has little chance at getting the street following of the local rappers; or the respect of the foreign ones.
Dancehall is one of the album's dominant sound. ‘Playlist’ is perhaps the most innovative dancehall tune with horns showing up on occasion in between synthesized drum rhythms. Same dancehall shows up with the British duo Krept and Konan on ‘Want It All’, who donate some lewd lines. Both songs are serviceable. The picture of just how far Ice Prince is from that Ice Prince from way back is on the song ‘Stand Out’. The song features an artist named BRE-Z on a hard-hitting beat that recalls Snoop Dogg’s ‘I Wanna Rock’. BRE-Z, on a single verse, attacks the song and blows the man out the song even if Ice Prince isn’t terrible over the length of his two verses.
“I’m a rapper, I'm a singer, I’m an MC eh,” he says on 'Hello'. Indeed. And that’s the problem. What happened to Ice Prince? He found a different route to wealth. He has made an album that like him is in the middle of the road. No greatness here; some good cuts. No real awfulness either—save for a few selfconsciously Nigerian songs like the Tiwa Savage feature 'No Be Today'. You'll shake your body at some songs. On others, you'll shake your head.
Jos to the World is available on iTunes.