Nigerian singer Orezi tells us early on album opener ‘Asiko’ that ‘if you don’t know me, you don’t know nobody’. By the end of his fun, if disposable, debut The Gehn Gehn Album, you are not sure who he is. He may not know either.
Is he the new Wande Coal, the man whose indigenous pop throne everyone is unaware they covet? Who knows. Is he the R&B cat in the mould of Banky W? He’s not; Banky's too urbane and resides notches higher on the pop-perv scale. Is he afrobeat? He may channel elements of the genre on ‘Maserati’, he may be skinny, but he’s no Fela. Is Naija pop or western pop a key influence? The sounds are mostly from the former but he quotes everyone freely: from Salt-N-Pepa’s ‘Shoop’ to MI Abaga’s ‘Nobody’ to Patra’s ‘Worker Man’. There’s a Runtown riff on one song; he channels US singer Future on another.
Does Orezi rate Wizkid over Davido? He has them both on the album. Is he lover or cad? There’s evidence of both. Is he saint or sinner? There’s a song called ‘Jesus Pikin’ and there’s another asking an unnamed female to go ‘low low’. A young man from Nigeria’s south-south who schooled in the country’s southwest, there’s a chance the confusion goes much further than can be guessed from his scattershot music. Grandly, he adds a song in Hausa. Here then is a pop act whose outlook recalls his President’s inaugural “I belong to nobody. I belong to everybody” speech. Orezi is everybody and he is nobody. (There’s unintentional irony here: He did say if you don’t know him, you don’t know nobody.)
What does this mean for a pop singer? Just the small problem of being inferior to whatever song he puts out. ‘Shuperu’, released before the album, may be a hit but no one knows who has the song. It doesn’t help that 'Shuperu' features the immediately identifiable Davido, who alongside rival Wizkid, has a compulsion, an urge to steal shows with the briefest of cameos. This may not be a problem for a different kind of artist. Namely, the kind that doesn’t care for the fame. But Orezi has pop dreams. As mentioned above if you don’t know him…
In place of identity Orezi has money or some other capital recognised by the industry. He doesn’t get the bigwig Cobhams or the hard-hitting percussive maestro Sarz. But he can get the next best thing: producer Kiddominant and others, cheap and, on evidence here, ultra-consistent with dance beats. With this team Orezi has put out an album of stellar pop production back to back to back, the finest example of the sort since Banky W and company released the Empire Mates State of Mind album back in 2012. He may have done it cheaper than Banky managed as well.
The power of that capital Orezi possesses also shows in the album’s guest line-up. Of eight features, six are artists currently top of the line. Flavour, Ice Prince, Davido, Wizkid, Timaya and MI. The others are his collaborator Kiddominant and 9ice—no slouches either. 9ice actually takes the chance to remind his fans why he was rated highly not long ago.
For an artist without a defined identity, an unmissable trait does dominate the Gehn Gehn album’s 70 minutes runtime. Orezi likes women—especially those with, in HL Mencken’s words, ‘superior gluteal development’. Of course, this doesn’t mark him out. All of his contemporaries have expressed a fondness for flesh. But only Flavour comes close to the backside-focused anal retentiveness on The Gehn Gehn Album. On the deceptively titled ‘Mr Officer’, he implores a policeman to help his confusion by arresting a lady dancing with what one can only assume are weaponised assets. ‘Your bombom is a confam, like Nicki Minaj,’ he sings. ‘I know you like to shake it,’ he says on ‘Shoki’; ‘I like the way she rolls it,’ he says on ‘Dencinambari’; On ‘Low Low’: ‘Roll this your big nyash’ (Nyash is Nigerian pidgin for buttocks); On ‘Big Something’ which features Flavour: ‘Every time I dey see you baby, you dey waka with your very big something.’ (‘Every time I see you, you are walking with something big’—he doesn’t mean luggage). And on and on.
He is also a child of his time, singing ‘can I take a selfie with you’ to woo a woman. If for an artist with a pop persona eager to proclaim lasciviousness that doesn’t seem like a particularly effective line, it is because in Orezi’s world words are superfluous. He favours a minimalist approach to these things. While D’Banj labels his intended ‘sugar banana’ and Flavour has referred to a woman as ‘tomato-jos’ Orezi keeps things away from the alimentary tract: the album’s only obvious love song—it has a surfeit of lust songs—is titled ‘Sweet Yarinya’. On it the love interest is never more than a sweet yarinya, Hausa for sweet girl. It is an unconvincing song, with its alternations of falsetto and power-balladry. Yet as every charmer knows, if it works it works. He is a lot more convincing when he drops the true love pose and embraces the vulgar. As when at some point he chants, “Got me thinking of things I want to do to you baby when we under the blanket…”
He may like profuse backsides but he’ll go for lean verses. Like most of his pop peers Orezi is not a strong songwriter; like them his strengths lie elsewhere: riding those beats and a functional ear for melody. This is the reason producers have become indispensable and thus visible.
Mind you, in case those unconcealed come-ons don’t work, there’s money. ‘Scatter your body,’ he implores a female on the mid-tempo ‘Double Your Hustle’. ‘I want to spend my money’. (And if that work there’s something nastier hinted on ‘Ogede’, where he says in Yoruba, “She took rosé and champagne and she doesn’t want to follow me home...” This man may be both lover and fighter.)
‘Double Your Hustle’ is The Gehn Gehn Album’s anchor to real life. It broaches the aspirations of up and coming young pop artists. But enamoured as he is of pop success, Orezi buries the bitter truth under auto-proclamations of stardom and wealth. He misses the chance to show a self. It is early doors and he may yet rue the lack of an identifiable personality on this album. Then again he may not. This is pop music—who needs an identity when you can make the people dance?
Songs from The Gehn Gehn Album will excel on radio and in the clubs. As for Orezi himself, he’ll just have to come to terms with his own anonymity.