Fans who thought the startling Iyanya move to Don Jazzy's Mavins Records might lead to a change in the sound of the ‘Kukere’ man will be surprised – and disappointed – by parts of the new EP. The first few songs on the eight-tracker, ‘Odoyewu’ and ‘Baby Answer’ in particular, feel like surplus cuts from his under-promoted third studio album, Applaudise.
The Afro-R&B tinge heard on Iyanya's remarkable first single since the move, ‘Up 2 Sumting’, has been abandoned on those two songs, with the singer chilling in his vocal comfort zone as though on a chaise longue. Some of us hopefuls thought updating or pushing the singing was partly the reason for the Don Jazzy move. No such luck.
Over both Applaudise and the sophomore Desire, the emphasis was on club/dance music even on 'Mama', a tribute to his mother from Applaudise, which was perhaps the only time Iyanya name-dropped Don Jazzy before joining the famous producer. The need to have fans dance remains on this EP. There's also a tribute to his mum here titled ‘Not Forgotten’. This time, the song doesn't quite work.
It is not in good taste to question a man’s way of remembering his own parent, yet the decision to have his late mother share singing time with his departed “homies” is a head-scratching one. And when he says that the song is "to the homies we lost", it is hard to shake off the thought that he has taken the idea from R Kelly's 'I Wish (Remix)' from 2000 (And if the song is actually influenced by Kelly, then there is some misunderstanding: The original ‘I Wish’ was for Kelly’s mother; its remix was for the man’s departed friends. Iyanya combines tributes and both mum and homies receive less than their due.) Even the dependable rapper Poe starts off his guest verse on the song amateurishly: "I was scared to jump on this song 'cause I thought I didn't have the words..."
Elsewhere, there is a strange bid to go X-rated on ‘Nobody Has To Know’. “Nobody has to know that we f*ck*ng on the low,” he sings, and a cloying “wet, wet, wet” is sprinkled liberally around the sedate trap beat supplied by Altims, one of Don Jazzy's producing proteges. Sure it sounds like there’s consent, but the whole thing comes off as creepy. Suddenly, you want him to go back to singing the fun, childish ‘Ur Waist’.
Iyanya is hardly the first pop singer who wants his sexual needs satisfied away from the public. Indeed, both R Kelly and Banky W have variations on the topic on ‘Down Low’ and ‘Low Key’ respectively. Both songs are slow-burners like Iyanya’s but both are better written and way more suave; Kelly’s song has an entertaining story as backbone; Banky sounds like he’s having fun on his. Both are far from explicit and more potent perhaps for that reason.
The better songs on the Signature EP are the ones Iyanya does what his fans have come to expect: sing to a dance tune, as on the first two songs mentioned here. The other single released earlier, ‘Hold On’, is a good track destroyed by a chorus that has a distracting double entendre on a song that is supposed to seriously console the heartbroken: “Hold on, when e enter you go feel am…” (Hold on, when it enters, you’ll feel it). It is so silly a line, the sexual interpretation overwhelms whatever honourable intention there was. The standout track on Singature remains ‘Up 2 Sumting’. ‘Celebrate’, which could have been on any of his last two albums, is a close second. That title could be the theme of Iyanya’s entire pop existence. Seriousness, it would seem, is this man’s enemy.
Nigerian pop has seen a few noteworthy EPs in recent times. Iyanya’s Signature isn’t one of them. It is a passable project, but where more was expected, Iyanya has delivered less. But perhaps this is only something to clear his throat. Who's to say the man's album as a Mavin Records act won't soar?