Being talented could be problematic. It could sometimes, injure the talented person through constant self-doubt and self-consciousness. The question of whether what they are putting out would satisfy the fans has the potential of capping their ability to create what they may consider great. The quest for perfection and no room for errors, even if minor, could be a chip on their shoulders.
For the expectant supporters and admirers of such talented persons, the expectations are mostly high that anything short of premium quality is deemed as failure. The circumstances that contributed to the final output is often shoved aside. The weighing scale should not hang in a balance. It should tilt towards excellence. Good effort isn’t tolerated. Excellence ride supreme. These high expectations from fans and the fear to be mediocre no matter the situation from the talented individual often become a difficult situation to navigate.
This trap is what A.I seem to have found himself entangled in following the release of his highly anticipated debut EP, “Headstrong”. For years – since his thoughtful single ‘Anger Management’ hit radio and music blogs in 2014- A.I (or AYISI) has been very reticent about releasing any major project; something he blames on finding the perfect time. For the last two years, he had been playing the role of a guest act on songs. And as expected, he sparkled on these features. The exhibition of vintage performances sparked the desire for a body of work.
“Headstrong” is therefore an open invitation to exploring the musical talent of A.I. in full. Across the nine songs- which crosses the soundscape of afropop, trap and shades of hip hop- the 2ligit artist dishes musings on how chasing success means sacrificing some aspect of his life, including the most important people in their circle. This is vividly demonstrated on the trap and piano chords and synths saturated “Holla Sometime”. He appeals to her not to be ‘jealous of the grind’ since ‘I do it for you/ so soon as it drops/ you should holla sometime’. The taut baseline at the end carries a riveting appeal.
The theme of love is further explored on ‘Tiwaa”, and ‘’About Her’’. ‘Tiwaa’’ carries a mellow, afropop tinged influence whose enchanting beauty lies in how A.I delivers his wooing lines- the playfulness in his delivery is reminiscent of Okomfo Kwadei; ‘’About Her’’ breathes with the staccato, highlife rhythmic feel with A.I infusing a bit of Ghanaian folk song towards the end for authenticity after exalting her qualities: “I found myself drowning in you”.
Late last year, following the musical tremor that the spectacular “Grind” caused across the music space, A.I released a chain of singles to fan the attention he courted. “Moving On”, Burn Fat, “Paper” made waves adding to his commercial portfolio which was ascending. These are very catch, happy and danceable tunes that are meant to please listeners. Cue up these three songs at any event and you are assured to get a very vivacious reaction from the audience.
Unlike the above mentioned songs, “Medicating” is cast in trap sound and from the opening lines, one is presented with the theme of the song: “shout out to my stoners/high as fuck but still rolling’. The hip hop flavoured “Last One” describes his sexual encounter with and proficiency of his lover before she leaves town. “2li 4 Life” introduces a side of A.I unknown to many: proof that he can out-rap your favourite rapper.
The verdict on “Headstrong” varies, depending on where one stands. For those staunch fans, this EP would fly a little below their expectations for reasons which may include songs featured on EP and beat shopping. Adding songs like the almost year old singles – ‘’Paper’’, ‘’Moving On’’, ‘’Burn Fat’’- comes across like a man desperate to have a hit song on the EP when he could have at least, kept two of those and replaced the others with new songs. Also, why were the horns on ‘’Tiwaa’’ and ‘’About Her’’ not allowed to blitz through these songs?
And for those hearing A.I for the first time, “Headstrong” would be received with such profound enthusiasm. His energy was perfect, his lyrics were quirky; it swings from a TEDx talk session to debauchery tales without losing its brilliance. If there was another sign of how entertaining and refreshing an artist A.I is, it’s found on “Holla Sometime” and “Tiwaa”, where he chose to deliver his lyrics in a spoken word, conversational style- a style reminiscent of Okomfo Kwadei- rather than singing them with the verve of a 90s RnB artist. This unforced, ‘i-can-do-it-in-my-sleep” appeal cut across the EP.
For a debut EP, A.I approached it in a way that many in his situation would: capitalize on the current music wave, offer them your various styles while broaching the topics of love, determination and success. As a body of work, “Headstrong” sit just below excellent for one single reason: the old singles on the album stole a bit from the overall score of the EP.
For what the EP failed to nail, it is my hope that the album he’d be putting out would level that. A.I. has the potential of becoming our biggest music export considering his enormous talent. He and his team are aware of that. But, he needs to be reminded of the need to always put his best foot forward in an industry where sometimes, talent is overlooked for what is hot and trendy.