One of the more striking things about God Over Everything, the debut album from Nigerian reggae-dancehall artist Patoranking, is the man’s approach to rhyming. We get the harmless: hero, pillow, mirror, biko (Igbo for ‘please’)—from ‘Forever’. We get the obvious: future, picture, injure, mixture—from ‘Killing Me’. Most memorably, we get the embarrassing: Tamara, camera, stammerer, umbrella—from ‘Stammerer’.
You get the idea that with Patoranking on occasion rhyme overrides reason. How else to explain this exchange from the delightful reggae tune ‘Cheating Zone’:
Fortunately, the song has a good refrain—I know you gotta man but me got a better plan—and ends with a surprise—She say no cheating zone/She love her man to the man bone/Small boy leave me alone/You can’t turn my sand to stone. There aren’t too many Nigerian songs that end with a woman refusing a pop star’s advances.
There aren’t too many albums that insist on putting God over everything either. As Patoranking himself knows, the normal thing is to put money over everything—since Wu Tang Clan proclaimed "Cash Rules Everything Around Me" in 1993. The man born Patrick Okorie is apparently positioning himself as the wholesome contemporary artist, the kind that can be enjoyed by your family. Your mum won’t recoil from his words; you can play him in the sitting room as your dad listens.
You can almost play him in church: the song ‘Beautiful’ is about a woman, but churchgoing Nigerians have heard the piano chords and plaintive horns that open the track after the Sunday sermon and just before you give your life to Christ. He even sneaks in a saintly rhyme: Me may not be righteous / but with you me make the right choice. There's some ambiguity here. Is he talking about a love-interest or the Lord?
Patoranking, it seems, would take his dates to mid-week prayer meetings faster than he would take them to the movies. (By contrast, his Igbo-American brother Jidenna sings about taking a girl to his shrine on ‘Little Bit More’. For these men, taking a date to the club or a classy restaurant is passé.)
Patoranking’s emergence as a mainstream artist in the present climate of Nigerian pop is so unlikely, his debut album can be seen as nothing less than a win for his management. He is perhaps the only artist since General Pype's brief prominence to cling to reggae, more than pop, and succeed in appealing to a large percentage of the population. Burna Boy may fall into this category but his own influences are more diverse.
For Patoranking, this unlikely success is attributable to his ability to blend patois, pidgin and pop into something that forces you to listen and dance sometimes. This puts him in a similar spot as early Timaya, who incidentally was his chaperon at the start of his career. Early Timaya, however, was not quite as righteous nor as slick in his appropriation of patois. Where Timaya had clear south-south Nigeria influences, Patoranking is blank: he sounds like he can insert or calibrate his pidgin-patois to fit any genre. He did so with the pop/dancehall ‘Girlie O’ and scored a hit. He toned down his patois and amplified his pidgin and scored a hit with the 1990s Nigerian pop indebted ‘Make Am’. He went to Ghana with Sarkodie on the azonto-compliant ‘No Kissing Baby’ and racked up around 5 million views on YouTube in a few months.
His success is not his alone though. Nigerian music has veered off the lone genius paradigm of Fela (although even he had Tony Allen) Today, every album is made possible by a team of collaborators. Among the producers on GOE, Gospelondebeatz, who produced ‘No Kissing’, gets 2 over 2. His work on ‘Writing on the Wall’, with its blunted drums, puts both his songs as highlights on GOE.
There is also Wizkid, who pretty much hijacks ‘This Kind Luv’. Patoranking lays down and dies on his own song because that is what you do when you feature Wizkid—especially on a beat by Sarz. (The only artist who does as well on a beat by Sarz is Reminisce. The song that features all three of Wizkid, Sarz and Reminisce, ‘Eleniyan’, is as notable song in their careers as it is on Reminisce’s Alaga Ibile album.)
The other method of preventing Wizkid’s dominance is to not let him have the chorus, which is what Tiwa Savage does on ‘Bad’. But it’s understandable that Patoranking gives him a beat by Sarz and allows him take the chorus: If a recent revelation by Patoranking is to be believed he recorded a large amount of what became GOE years ago, when one assumes he wasn’t quite as confident of carrying a song to hit status on his own.
The most surprising of the collaborations is ‘Ayinde’ which features KWAM 1. A fuji song, it works in much the same way as ‘Make Am’. Patoranking pumps up his pidgin, sprinkling it freely on the song’s fuji drums. KWAM 1, king of fuji music since forever, doesn’t have to exert himself: his voice is his instrument of instruction and dominance and guidance and whatever else royalty is supposed to own without fuss. There is also Olamide on the noisy-to-no-end ‘Mama Aboyo’. The song with Phyno, ‘Money’, works better. Autobiographical, with some great guitar licks by Fiokee, ‘Money’ has an agreeable take on poverty that is only possible when money is no longer a problem: “The money full bank and e full purse/Even oga dey call me yes boss/The suffer good—omo, nothing when loss.“
Still, Patoranking works well alone. There is no better demonstration of his qualities—his levelheadedness, his smoothness over a mellow beat, his family friendliness, his love-interest/Lord ambiguity, even his unstable rhyming ability—than on the E Kelly produced ‘Halé Halé’. It is unclear if this song will get plays in the club but it has fan-favourite potential.
Since the success of Wizkid’s Superstar, Nigerian music has insisted on the club-ready album. God Over Everything isn’t that, even if certain songs will be played in the club. GOE is something else: a parlour-ready and family friendly package. It is no classic but in shifting the focus of the Nigerian album away from the club, it is at least subversive.