Review: On “Lava Feels”, Joey B Punched Below Expectation
Joey B is like Peter Pan; caught up in his world of youthfulness and scared to emerge out of that cocoon despite his abundant potential.
“7 years, are you not entertained?”. Joey B quizzed on his star-studded trap anthem “La Familia”. The accuracy of his calculation in terms of his active years as a rapper could be challenged but one can also understand what he means. For that “7 years”, Joey B has morphed from a young rapper with potential to a leader in his own right. He has grown into both a cheerleader and a frontliner who spreads out his versatility to the fullest, something that has inspired a crop of artists in the process. He is also the ‘patriarch’- as I refer to him- of the trap music wave and a major player within the alte music space. Tagging him to a musical trope would be a mistake. He effortlessly transverses between mainstream and the constantly evolving alte music scene in Ghana.
When the wind of trap music was making a swoosh across the world- including Ghana, Joey B was one of its earliest proponents. With his influence and visibility, the rapper, who has tasted mainstream success with his memorable verse on “Vera” by his former label boss D-Black and the biggest single in his music career thus far, “Tonga”, embraced the trap sound as his own. This, he validated on singles like “Waves” (2014) and “Realer” (2014) with Pappy Kojo. Joey B was not only riding the trap wave, he also embraced the culture of the genre – dyed hair, skinny, tattered jeans, showing off tattoos. Along with Pappy Kojo, they became the face of the new genre.
After years of expectation by fans fuelled by the artist’s claim to releasing his debut album that never materialized, Joey B finally debuted “Daryl EP” in 2017, his first complete body of work. Heavily influenced by the emerging trap sound, “Daryl EP” spurned singles like the reggae sounding ”Maria”, the gospel-esque “Rangers”, the country trap “Sunshine”, and the azonto fuelled “Chorkor”. “Daryl EP” exhibited the sonic range of Joey B as well as his versatility. He also established his love for minimalistic sound and effect.
Despite the goodwill earned across the years, both from fans and some music critics, there appears to be a lingering sense of fear gleaned from the actions of Joey B when it comes to his art. Perhaps, not fear but a degree of self-doubt. He seems too concerned with negative critique or opinions should his creation fail to meet the mark. This was illustrated by the constant postponement of the release date of “Daryl EP” for close to two years.
READ: Video Review: Joey B- 89
Days before the release of his new project, the rapper posted on social media a video of him explaining what the tape was. Joey B would call his tape a ‘collection of songs’. He failed to call his latest creation what it is: an album. Whatever his reason for that description- which he has the right to do anyway, one can not, including this writer, fault him. After all, it’s his project and has the right to call it whatever he pleases.
“Lava Feels” dropped on May 5. Composed of 9-tracks, the project sparkles with trap music aesthetics. Like his previous EP, this project is minimal in its production. The unmissable element off ”Lava Feels” is the sonic beauty that encompasses the tape. Production and vocal contributions comes by way of Altra Nova, Kuvie, A-Town, DJ Krept, Yung Fly, E.L, Odunsi as well as a list of guest features.
“Lava Feels” is the canopy that forms over the tape, thanks to its serene infectiousness. Joey B attacks the beat with his low pitched crooning. His voice trails the beat in a relaxed manner. As his opening words: ”Why you over here moving like you no dey see the vibes?” indicates after the melting synths had waivered, the song is built on vibes. It’s a perfect curtain-raiser, both for an album, EP or a ‘collection of songs’. It also cut as the perfect entrance song for a concert. The trap gloved song, “La Bamba”, featuring Sarkodie however sounds dated, like a song recorded two years ago. Joey B’s one-bar-at- a-time flow is devoid of any enthralling moments. His verse sounds more like a freestyle than an excellently written piece. Sarkodie is the saving grace of “La Bamba”, with his boastful rhymes about money, his status (“I paved the way for new artists”) and convincing flow.
On the DJ Krept and A-Townproduced “Silicon Valley”, Joey B would render a sad tale about getting cheated on by a girl. He hacked back into his Skillions days, showing glimpses of his humorous side on the song. He recruits Bosom P-Yung to ride shotgun. P-Yung delivers a hook that caps the tale of heartbreak and unfaithfulness. Joey B presented. The gloss of “Silicon Valley” lies in the reality of the story narrated by Joey B- the rap scheme used on the second verse is very impressive.
We begin to feel the real ‘lava’ pouring over this project from the second half of the tape, commencing with the Stonebwoy assisted love throbbing “Affection”. Cast in mellow, swinging afropop fervour, Joey would sketch why he loves his girl (“She brings me blessing, what she wants is more of attention”). Stonebwoy would spread his name over the record, interspersing his delivery with his trademark patois accent.
“Far Away” featuring M3NSA is a brilliant output off the project. Joey B highlights the pressures and challenges of life that confronts a multitude of people, especially today’s youth- the lack of jobs, dealing with pressure from family, society and friends. The effects of such pressures are summed up by M3NSA on his buttery hook (“Sometimes, I just wanna go away, Far Away”). The veteran rapper would deliver a sharp and incisive outlook on life that mirrors his own responses to frivolous interrogations. His flow and acerbic missive is reminiscent of M3NSA across three phases of his career – Shine (2001), Wofa B (2011) and M3NS (2018/19).
The transition between “Far Away” and “Hard Knocks” is undoubtedly one of the best in terms of production and themes. “Hard Knocks” is an extension of the story packed on “Far Away” through a different prism. “Hard Knocks” is a ‘road to success’ story, indicating the hurdles one has to navigate in life. The producer, Classick excellently flips Anita Baker’s “No One In The World” (Rapture, 1986) for Joey B and Ko-Jo Cue to lyrically dance across the soulful beat.
Closing the tape on a high note, is the E.L produced, high tempo, electro dance tune “Too Hot”. Featuring long time collaborators – E.L and Pappy Kojo, the rappers take turn to emphasize how ‘hot” their women are. E.L flexes his production skills by crafting a beat that is skeletal, composed mainly of a taut bassline, drums and kicks that exudes 70s psychedelic feel. Its energetic fissures makes it extra groovy; a perfect fit for the clubs.
“Lava Feels” is the kind of tape that fans of Joey B expect him to make. It feeds and satisfies their musical palette. Joey B is not oblivious of their needs hence his attempt at striking a balance between satisfying his core fans and stretching a bit more to give his more matured fans something to appreciate. The latter, unfortunately, is not fully expressed on ”Lava Feels”. What Joey B is failing to do is stepping beyond his comfort zone- that ‘vibes only’ mindset and pushing his art forward. Granted, his appreciation of beats and excellent production can never be faltered. The content of his music, however, must evolve considering his experience as an artist.
In a period where his contemporaries like Ko-Jo Cue had released projects that reflected their own realities and that of their age mates, one would have expected Joey B to be more daring in his art. As things stand, Joey B is like Peter Pan; caught up in his world of youthfulness and scared to emerge out of that cocoon despite his abundant potential. Unlike ”Darryl EP”, this collection lacks depth and replay value. The expectation for a new Joey B project outweighed what he delivered.
“Lava Feels” is a tape you listen once it is released and never go back to it again. Considering Joey B’s reticence at putting out projects, he missed out on the opportunity to create a career-defining tape with ‘Lava Feels’. I’m sure Joey B would appreciate some level of respectful critique.
Words by Swaye Kidd