For the Okoye twins, now on their sixth album, musical maturity means more blatantly commercial fare. Never has a group taken the sell, sell, sell mantra quite as seriously.
And yet, every so often they approach some specifically Nigerian reality. Last time out, on Invasion, they infamously chanted, ‘I don’t mind if you chop my money.’ Of course, you wouldn’t mind if you had their type of money. That song ‘Chop my Money’ has done wonders for the rich Nigerian male abroad to the chagrin of his broke compatriot. If the song is a sly dig at gold-digging women, who is to say such women aren’t hunting these boys? A faulty clock, as they say, is right twice daily.
Because P-square’s one original contribution to Nigerian pop is a sellable unoriginality Double Trouble has a version of ‘Chop My Money’. Early on ‘Mugu Money Spender,’ the duo sings: “I go do anything when you want, I go give you anything you need/but I no wan be your mugu money spender.” From the glee of spending, they are somewhat resigned but it is essentially the same sentiment from fourth to fifth album. A couple of years between. Yet, boys will be boys. As any listener would aver pop music is hardly the place for originality. Making something pre-existing new is the genre’s lifeblood. (You could argue that it is art’s lifeblood.) P-Square’s uniqueness is how they approach what they figured must be done. Some artists do covers; others tweak the old so much it is unrecognisable. P-Square found a way to claim the middle: their versions were instantly recognisable but not covers. The lyrics were different from the original but familiar. Had their cake. Ate it.
The audience ate it, too. Grudgingly. Nigerian pop lovers danced in the clubs but dissed them in the pubs. Later singers learnt the lesson. Banky W came in with ‘Ebute Meta (2007),’ a remake of Rihanna’s ‘Umbrella’ and once he made us look, switched to his original songs. (Some years ago I was in the audience when someone requested ‘Ebute Meta’ during Banky’s set. ‘We have passed that one,’ was his response.) MI came in with a melodious mishmash of Nigeria’s favourite tunes in ‘Safe’ (2008) and then used his glaring gift of the gab for his own compositions. Ditto Wizkid. Recently, Adekunle Gold did it with the excellent ‘Sade’ (2014), pieced together wholesale from One Direction’s ‘Story of my Life’.
Get in, make it, get out is how it works. But P-Square stuck to the method for a while, to considerable sales but insufficient acclaim – until they had survived in the industry too long to be dismissed. They purchased regard not by talent but by doggedness. Which is not the same thing as saying their catalogue lacks merit. For one, ‘Am I still that Special Man’ evokes a strange melancholy. And we have no need to investigate where that emotion comes from – the lines or the pilfered beat from UK singer Craig David’s ‘Rendezvous’. In pop, as in Nigerian governance, if it works, it need not be probed after the fact.
So on Double Trouble, they have plagiarised their own song. And just as they did with Azonto dance producing ‘Alingo’, the popular Shoki dance has produced album opener ‘Shekini’. Wizkid beat them to naming a song Azonto (or perhaps he was just less self-conscious.) Both Orezi and Lil Kesh beat them to naming a song Shoki. So we get the thumping ‘Shekini,’ with its near-martial urgency. Yawn to the lyrics at home. But P-Square are not for the intimacy of indoor-listening. They are for clubs. For concerts. For canopied events. It is a canny system – the more people you can satisfy at once, the greater your utility. It is marketplace math.
To own more of that market, Don Jazzy shows up on album highlight ‘Collabo’. A sex song covered in the innuendo Don Jazzy perfected with D’Banj – ‘Baby, make we collabo. I know you want the collabo. I go sing for you, you go sing for me…she wants to collabo’ – it is sung with just enough room to deny the lewd charge if levied. For the Nigerian listener, the song has the sweetest piffle on the album: ‘As I done show, she no dey regret, no more had I known…If I no get money I get place to borrow’. That line has no real meaning on the track but in that irrational way of most pop it just works. The other highlight, ‘No be Joke’, is more straightforwardly carnal.
Both songs are aberrations since in keeping with the goal of satisfying groups, P-Square is also for family. No curse words, no edge; they provide a confection of sentiment flavoured with stylised emotion. Which is how we get ‘Bring it On’, Double Trouble’s inspirational. The song’s drums and saccharine chords drive home the import of the message: ‘Keep your head high…standing tall’. But in true P-Square style, the song is less spiritually concerned than financially-minded: the featured unknown Caucasian singer Dave Scott applies the hook, ‘Just as long as you chasing money…’
For P-Square, all success is financial; all growth commercial. If both notions are a countrywide problem, as I suspect they are, then Nigerian pop has produced a singing entity that doesn’t mirror as much as mimic the society that has shaped them. P-Square’s double trouble, it so happens, is also Nigeria’s.