“What is the essence of debating, when you know the truth in our mind” – Falz, Hypocrite
2018 was the year Nigerian rapper cum social commentator, Falz earned his recognition as one of the most socially conscious rappers of his generation. This accolade came at the back of his “This Is Nigeria” song and video released in May. The song and video was his version of the highly regarded ‘This Is America’ video by American rapper/actor Childish Gambino.
Just like the dust the Childish Gambino kicked in America with regards to the violence that blacks in America face, Falz’s version elicited major reaction among many since it spoke the truth about Nigeria in stark terms. What even made it more profound was the fact that, the song came at a time when Nigeria was (and is still) reeling under a lot of socio-political issues: Buhari and his government were being accused of corruption, the para-military outfit, SARS were arbitrary abusing civilians, the terror group, Boko Haram was still indulged in gruesome killings and abduction of girls with impunity- along with the over 100 other challenges that the Nigerian state was or is facing.
The crossover success of the song and the truth it held suddenly saw many opining and conferring the title of ‘new Fela’ on Falz. He joined the growing list of Nigerian artists who are constantly tagging themselves as “The New Fela”, sometimes leaving you to wonder which aspect of Fela are some these guys laying claim to. For years, the search for the ‘New Fela’ has been on. This can be seen in the Fela samples, interpolations or channeling some of his gestures during their performances. At various points, the likes of Wizkid, Skepta, Burna Boy have all laid claims to being that new ‘Fela’.
Falz joined the growing list after “This Is Nigeria”. But, the trained lawyer and son of a bourgeois family didn’t make an entry into the Nigeria music space off the back of blatant socio- politically charged songs. His songs have always carried a humorous tone to it. But, as music journalist, Joey Akan indicated in his brilliant article, “Falz: Receive Your Moral Instruction’, a few weeks ago about Falz, the rapper has littered his album with socially conscious songs. He writes: “From his debut album, ‘Wazup Guy’ through ‘Stories That Touch’ and ‘27’, listeners have had a sense that this is a journey that we are all on, with the man. Two songs off of his ‘27’ album – ‘Child of the world’ and ‘Confirm’ carried a lot of weight because they touched on the perils of transactional sex and internet fraud (Yahoo Yahoo).
Falz has been preaching but his voice seems not to travel far. If previously, he has been preaching with just his voice, Falz recognized he needed a PA system to carry his voice. That was what ” This Is Nigeria” offered him. On his third album, “Moral Instruction”, he was brave, expressive and to a degree, fed up with the many ills tainting the great prosperity of his beloved green- white- green nation. He tackles the subjects of corruption, sexual abuse, religious and tribal conflicts, classism, elitism, women empowerment, human rights (specifically gay rights), widening gap between the rich and the poor.
On the album opener “Johnny”, Falz tackled the issue of arbitrary killing and abuse of power festering from corruption. A young, poor man with ambition to elevate his family out of poverty is gunned down at a road check, unprovoked by policemen.
‘’Johnny no get privilege/ But Johnny want more /Him wan go study’’. Falz rapped, ending with this profound question: “Just him and his guys in his car / You have the guts too tell me/ You accidentally discharged?’’ Johnny” does provoke a discussion on how the poor, the vulnerable, the marginalized in society are often treated with contempt, like aliens from another planet. The law does not work when it comes to the poor.
“Talk”, the lead single of ”Moral Instruction” surgically cut open the bowels of Nigerian society where its ills – corruption, politics, abuse, ignorance – were identified one after the other by Falz. The lyrics: ‘‘Eh eh, ‘Cause no be your tribe I come from /Small man thief for market/ You set fire for ‘em body/ Big man thief money we dey hail am like dummy” encapsulated the sense on “Talk”. These themes were further discussed on “E No Finish” and ”Follow Follow”; a song that calls on people to live within their means.
The highly infectious, and, arguably the standout of the album, “Hypocrite” featuring Dimmie Vee broached these same theme- this time, the mirror is placed in front of citizens to judge themselves and their actions: “You dey form gentleman when we dey with you, but you still go home beat your wife to stupor”. Dimmie Vee hook tied everything together with this popular reference: “Nobody wan sow where e no dey reap o/ Everybody is a mothafuckin’ hypocrite o”. Sharp, unapologetic and truthful delivery.
“Amen” highlighted the holes in religion; the soulful, piano driven “Brothers Keeper” is a cautionary tale about humanity and the need to love one another. “Paper” stewed in highlife grooves centered on ‘get rich quick” mentality of today’s generation. Despite this applaudable work by Falz across the 9 tracks of “Moral Instruction”, it’s not the only standout on the album. The technical aspect of the project cannot be lost on anyone who knows their music. Falz did not bestow on himself the ‘next Fela” accolade, the spirit of Fela runs across the album.
First, it radiated through his ‘speak – to- power’ approach of delivery message. Every citizen could find him/herself as a victim or culprit of the crimes enumerated. Second, the spirit of Fela lives through the music- the production. The engineers and producers who worked on the album chopped and stitched the Fela Kuti samples over today’s sounds. “Johnny” sampled and found inspiration in Fela’s 1977 song “Johnny Just Drop” (JJD), which also was about police abuse and extra judiciary killings in Nigeria. “Follow Follow” sampled the unmistakable classic “Zombie”, a song that mocked the” obey before complaint” rule of the military. (Soldiers are to obey orders and not challenge it, no matter how untenable they are). Here, the criticism or ‘diss’ is not towards the military. It was directed at clout chasers and wannabe celebs who borrow and adopt certain lifestyles they cannot find.
Falz again took the vocals of Fela and repurposed it on “Amen”, whereas Fela did on ”Coffin of Head of State”- mocking religious bodies for their deafening ears towards the excesses of the military government in Nigeria in the 80s, Falz, this time turned lights on the materialistic tendencies of today’s men of God. One quality present on this album with regards to the samples is that, they were used to further the themes that the original songs were recorded or intended to achieve: to speak truth to power.
Falz might not be everybody’s favourite and that’s fine. And he might not be oblivious of that. Everybody has a reason for loving his or her favourite artist. That said, no one can claim “Moral Instruction” does not deserve praise as a body of work. Falz is sure the themes he tackled, and the manner in which he did, would certainly provoke repercussions. Thankfully, that’s the kind of art that artist who are political savvy, socially conscious and can read between the bullshit and the reality usually make. Such albums are like time capsules: they capture the spirit of the time in which they are made, both sonically and content -wise.
The 28-year-old Falz might not be the ‘new Fela’. I doubt he’d like that label, no matter how flattering it is. He’d rather be inspired by the legend’s sense of activism, consciousness, bravery and middle finger to the chains that inhibit the freedoms of people. Joey Akan was right when he wrote that Falz approach “is one of the best use of voice and celebrity”. Not many could debate this opinion.