Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Sasha's First Lady

Music - Review - Album

Artiste: Sasha

Album: First Lady

Tracks: 14 plus 2 Bonus (64 mins 34 secs)

Producers: BIG-LO, TY Mix, Naeto-C, Paul Play, VC Perez, Cobhams Asuquo, el Dee Tha Don, Panji
Label: Storm Records Nigeria

Released: 2007

Reviewed: 15th Jan 2008

Remember Evi Edna Ogoli? Forget her for a while … Forget Onyeka Onwenu… Forget even the Muma Gees, Kweens, BOUQUI and the infrequent Stella Damasus Aboderin. Forget for a moment all the beautiful female Nigerian musicians who have ever sung a chord. Sasha is undoubtedly the SEXIEST, SASSIEST, BOMBSHELL WHO HAS EVER ROCKED A MIC. PERIOD!

In the good looks arena, this female MC has all it takes to grace the screen confirming the sculpting prowess of the Creator. Oozing pure sexual appeal despite her modest and sensible dress sense this rapper/lawyer/fashion designer/columnist drops the lines hotter than any other female on the Nigerian lyrical map creating a very wide gap between her and any other wannabes. In an industry where the female gladiators are virtually scarce, this Word Empress definitely wears the crown. And she never lets you forget it.

Okay… the male drooling is over.

Physical looks aside, what many critics might have against Sasha and her breed is their seeming lack of originality. You need not be a professor of music to know that Sasha and virtually all other female rappers borrow heavily from the likes of the original “Pitbull in a Skirt”, the rapper Eve and Lil’ Kim. Even the title of this album seems to supports this: Eve’s debut album was actually titled “Ruff Ryders' First Lady” but as Sasha repeatedly points out, this is Storm Records “First Lady” though… Same difference.

One aspect of being the leader in a game of few is that by now almost everyone knows the in-depth history of Sasha right from when she first hooked up with the OB Crew then later blew up with the Trybesmen. Reeling out her history is thus like retelling a time-worn story. After a hit single, several guest appearances and a 3-year semi-hiatus, Sasha herself confirms on her First Lady album sleeve that the dream of putting all her individually talented mind-blowing acts together to form an album has been a long time coming. That time has now come.

First Lady is a 14-track album (with 2 bonus tracks) that features collaborations with the likes of Naeto-C, Ikechukwu, GT the Guitarman, (all from the Storm label), Niyola and Asa. One look at this potpourri of some of Nigeria’s best vocal talents could instantly make an audiophile develop an anticipatory hunger for the ultimate audio experience. Unfortunately these gale-force winds rarely approach the hurricane level the listener might hope for after going through the album cover. These stars no doubt, shine on the individual tracks they feature on but apart from a few exceptions the general feeling is that they sometimes sound a bit downplayed so as not to divert attention from Sasha’s lines.

A similar mention goes for the production crew. Having as much as 8 producers on a CD (though not an error in ANY way) obviously makes it look like everyone wants a taste of the Sasha action. Nothing is wrong with having multiple producers on tracks (especially if the end result is the desired one) except the production talent does seems a tad too crowded.

Take out the all-black CD from its well-designed cardboard (?) jacket, pop it into your CD players and you definitely won’t be disappointed. Beginning with the opening bars of the National anthem and a blare of horns, Sasha starts to stamp her authority right from the “Intro”. She proclaims herself the legendry queen of the rap game in so many words and figuratively tells the competition what exactly to do with themselves: Bow Down!

The same theme also pervades the second track “E Ti Da Mo” which makes this Big-Lo produced track sound a bit clichĂ©. You’d be forgiven if you think it’s basically an extension of the Intro but with a Yoruba hook. The self-proclaimed Naija’s Female MVP rides roughshod over all her competition in her lyrics and then throws in a mischievous-sounding chant towards the very end. As is usual with Western Nigeria-influenced music in general, if you do not know the language, you end up being forced to sing a chorus and lyrics which you barely understand. E Ti Da Mo’s chorus is very catchy but: Translations anyone?

After that comes “Adara”, Sasha’s love song from the heart telling the story of the struggles she and other musicians alike face while also doubling as a female liberation anthem in its very last verse. Comprising of the best rap lines, flow, hook, instrumentation and production, THIS is UNDOUBTEDLY the VERY BEST track in the whole CD! And 140 over million Nigerians can’t be wrong. Enough said!

The entire album does suffer slightly from this single song’s success. As many people were quick to learn with the 100% success of Olu Maintain’s “Yahoozee!” track, the biggest friends and fiends of a hit song are over-rotation and excessive airplay. Long before many even knew Sasha would drop an album, its hit single “Adara” was already racking up points on local radio and TV (as well as that international barometer of music videos known as MTV Base). Those in the know could sense she had something hot cooking. The rest of the general populace just danced their heart out to the beat, sang the hook and didn’t pay too much attention to the lyrics…

“Only One” picks up on the second theme of this CD. Featuring a very good hook (most likely sung by Naeto-C) this love ballad tells of a guy promising all the lovely things he can offer to a choosy, very doubtful yet boastful Sasha. As she says, “It’s gonna take a whole lot more to drive me crazy”. A very sing-able track, it catches on quickly with continuous replay which is a good thing by the way.

By the time you get to track 5, “Not 2nite” it seems one gets what the drift of the entire CD is. Sad but true, this CD seems to be dogged by a continuation of themes from the previous track to the next with just slight variations. In similar fashion, “Not 2nite” represents the same ideas only this time the guy seems more convincing while the gal more pliable as she promises to “ride with him but not tonight”. For continuity sake, this track is equivalent to the satisfaction of taking the same boring journey twice but with a slightly different diversion.

The love story theme unfolds further as Sasha discovers the guy has been doing some cheating on the side in “Strong Thing”. Another very catchy track, the irresistible dancehall flavour as well as the singing style smells very strongly of the Sean Paul experience. Pype who features on this one sounds like a mix of 70% Sean Paul and 30% Marvelous Bengy. Great song undoubtedly… if only he’d create his own individual style. But we’re not reviewing his album right now, are we?

The love chase/cheating theme does an about-turn for a while in “Jeje” which Sasha delivers mostly in her synthesized singsong “squeal baby/ little girl” vocal style. This deviation from her normal rapping flow makes a refreshing change to the tempo of all the previous songs as she tells a promiscuous guy that wants her to go jeje (slowly). The language barrier does come in a bit in this song too though it isn’t difficult to figure out what it’s all about. This is another wonderfully lovable song.

“So Occupied” tells two stories to show how we neglect those around us when they most need a helping hand. Without intentionally wanting to draw parallels, this track quickly brings to mind Kelly Rowland’s “Stole” or Eminem’s “Stan” though the similarities end there. Sasha’s very positive vibes drives the message straight home as she says, “If you want to help, you don’t need an invite/ Spread love, give life”.

The lyrics to this track put you in a deeply pensive, reflective mood as Sasha’s last words echo through your head: “This is feel-good music but don’t lose the lesson”

Still rolling on the success of his hit single, “The Dreamer”, GT The Guitarman features on “Baba Mi”, a tribute to Sasha’s deceased father. Apart from probably strumming his guitar and singing a few chords in the chorus his contribution though seems a bit hazy. This is probably due to the fact that the female background vocalist would have carried off the chorus all on her own. A Yoruba incantation (also known as an “Oriki”?) is thrown in for full measure. This song is perceptibly Sasha’s second love song from the heart emphasizing the strong father-daughter bond that must have existed between them.

To round off the picture a little, Sasha throws in the ubiquitous National chant seemingly necessary in every Nigerian hip-hop CD with its patriotic or unpatriotic bent depending on the discretion of the artiste. Similarities are an issue here again as “Proudly Nigerian” very loosely mirrors Infinity’s “Nigerian” even down to the children doing the vocals towards the end. Niyola does a very good job on the secondary vocals.

Back to the love/cheating/break-up theme (again?) as Asa pitches in her flavour to make “Let Me Go” a success. This track which sounds like what you’d hear in a Blues - Soul cafĂ© makes the message clear as both females tell the guy in question to basically hit the road, grey and don’t come back no more. If not for the over-popularity of “Adara”, one can say without question that this is the numero uno of the entire CD. Asa’s yoruba-rized Eryka Badu-esque soul tones and Sasha’s rhyme flow makes this a favourite any time.

“Always” is yet another sisters' anthem with a lovely beat but the Queen of Beats Award definitely goes to “Run With It”. This is the kind of dancehall vibe that makes you hungry to watch its music video whenever it eventually comes out. It would be wonderful to see how the choreographer interprets the beat. Curiously, Sasha’s hype woman (whoever she is) is definitely another talented female rapper as she effortlessly escorts Sasha vocally throughout the track. Unfortunately she remains uncredited on the album sleeve.

By the time you get to the “Outro” which is almost the same as the Intro with additional material from Ikechukwu and Naeto-C and appreciations from Sasha, you either want to begin the entire experience all over again or you just keep away the CD for now for the next inevitable rotation. Why? Because this CD definitely has longetivity ingrained in its grooves, pits and tracks. As a bonus, the listener gets a remix of “E Ti Da Mo” (which though, like most remixes, is actually unnecessary) and “Emile Gan”, the joint that really blew her up all over the place before her romance with the Storm Records label.

In conclusion, the greatest nightmare that bedevils any album is the singular popularity of just one track over the entire album and First Lady suffers the same dilemma. This album will definitely be a hard sell for anyone over the 35-year-old age mark mainly due to its very strong hip-hop flavour which Sasha successfully tries to tone down with the inclusion of her heartfelt tracks. She therefore deserves ALL the FULL commendation for this worthwhile effort and here’s hoping she keeps looking ravishing while spitting those lines and hooks for years to come. This album rates at 3.5 out of 5 so what more is there to say? Go buy this CD because the Storm is definitely in the building!

PS: Can’t get enough of Sasha? Check out her MySpace page here. Be ready for a design shock though because the black background and mixed colour fonts just don’t cut it. Storm, are you in this building?


trae_z said...

I'm telling you man that guy Pype sounds exactly like Sean Paul. when i first heard the song on radio i was happy that Sasha was going international.

her "sho like eh" collabo is in my opinion and to the best of my memory the only and best male singing-female rapping song in Naija. great stuff.

it's nice discovering you/your blog. you might want to checkout my past stuff:

Muchas gracias!

Naughty Eyes said...

@ TRAE: Men! Thanks for the comment. Glad someone is reading at least. I do agree somewhat with you on Sasha’s collabo with Jazzman but his predictability makes me decline buying his CD. Or maybe I’m just being hard-assed and biased. As for Pype, I never knew the hommie on the music scene till hearing him ride on the Sasha track. I still think he needs to work on developing his own ORIGINAL style. It’s just like when you hear one bar of any Fela Kuti copycat’s track and you can INSTANTLY know where the inspiration comes from. It CAN’T EVER be as good as the ORIGINAL!
PS: Checked out your previous stuff and I sure do like what I see. Will send you a full mail ASAP if it’s ok with you. Peace!