It's tempting to succumb to cliché and describe Stormrex as Nigeria’s music industry best kept secret. Other than the laziness of the description, it's not quite the whole story. If only because she has had spots on a number of songs by famous artists.
She is a favourite of rappers, dousing their hyper-masculinity with tenderness, their rap with a peculiarly melodious singing. She anchored 'Carry You Go', from the Phyno and Olamide collaborative album 2 Kings. The album, filled with the violence of rap-bragging, needed a love song. The guys, laden with testosterone, needed a lady. Both requirements were fulfilled with a single song. Neither rapper excels on the song. But Stormrex delivers it with a drum-backed chorus.
She's also the sole female on the MI Abaga’s ‘Bullion Van’, off his last studio album The Chairman. And her voice drives solo Phyno’s ‘Nnunu’. The videos for both 'Bullion Van' and 'Nnunu' feature Stormrex. As Ill Bliss declared on 'Naalu Ekene', “Stormrex [is] the next thing.”
So she has been hanging out with the big boys. Somehow all of these haven’t resulted in a fame equal with the lady’s vocal gift. What’s a lady to do but keep at it?
On her new song ‘30’, she does keep at it, presenting three more minutes of that gift. Her voice isn't piercing as it was on ‘Naalu Ekene’, or soaked in swag as on ‘Bullion Van’. This is a love song: her voice is a caress, perhaps the most valuable kind of touch in a loving relationship. Beneath her vocals is a beat part engineered by afrobeat. Her song shares a similar progression of the initial moments of Burna Boy's ‘Run My Race’, and may call Wizkid's ‘Ojuelegba’ to mind.
Because Fela's afrobeat is recognisable not just for its sound but also for the dance it furnishes, all three songs lend themselves to that rhythmic sideways sway of the hipbone the maestro made famous. If that dance proves too complex, a swaying head bop impossible to annotate will do.
The beat as concocted by the Enugu-based Kezyklef uses Igbo highlife obliquely as well. Ordinarily, because of his prominence, this should connect ‘30’ to Flavour, yet it isn't so. While Flavour's method has been to blend R&B with joyful Igbo highlife, as heard on his remarkable 2015 album Thankful, ‘30’ broods, and breaks the afrobeat with an interlude of the Igbo flute, so that with Flavour it’s a blend of genres, with Stormrex’s ‘30’ the genres are sequenced, with the modern iteration of afrobeat dominant.
A rap verse is offered by Ill Bliss, a rapper who occupies a category of one in Nigerian rap because he occasionally performs in a local language but without the grit of the streets. When he raps in Igbo, Ill Bliss becomes that predictable and yet unexpected thing: a luxury rapper in a local language. Predictable because male singers from the east have never been shy in mentioning money in music; unexpected because the prominent local rappers have made their own hard knock beginnings appear inseparable from their language of rap-expression.
Phyno, the other prominent Igbo rapper, has a street-demeanour whereas Ill Bliss calls himself boss and has a wealthy stance—supported by his portly, well-fed appearance. On ‘30’ he steps in and falters immediately, stating that "Behind every boss is a boss-queen/When I'm gone you'll be the next of kin." As people in love know, such practical considerations like wills and death forms are not part of lusty love’s baggage.
His well-worked delivery saves the verse and he later steadies himself, choosing to compare the relationship under discussion to Jay Z and Beyonce's. A rather curious line given the narrative pursued by Beyonce’s recent album Lemonade. Perhaps the song was written before that album’s release. ‘30’ isn’t the happiest of love songs. Stormrex’s verses are plaintive and sound haunted by that scary worry of a person in love: what if the object of affection doesn’t feel that way? "You've made me 30," she laments semi-cryptically. You sense that in this relationship, the song's narrator will lose herself, but is more worried about losing her love.
For watchers of the Nigerian music scene, one question remains: Will ‘30’ give Stormrex the large audience her talent deserves? Too tricky to tell. Intimate and mid-tempo, the song hardly fits with the hit-market’s current penchant for dance-ready music. But everyone who comes to ‘30’ will be gratified. It may not be enough for the next (big) thing. But a song of brooding intimacy, too, has value.