13 Dec 2011

Two weeks ago Nikki Mbishi dropped his debut album “Sauti ya Jogoo”, which surprised many of us. Having heard 4 or 5 hit singles before Jogoo hit the streets, most of us were not certain if Nikki still had enough Punchlines, and most importantlyChapters, in his tank to fill up the 22-track album.
Those who have listened to Sauti ya Jogoo will happily testify “Hakuna Mbishi kama Nikki!”
We have the luxury to hear from two reviewers, Bahati and Ender. What kept them fascinated? What are the strengths of Nikki Mbishi and particularly his debut album? Are there any shortcomings? Is it a classic album? How do they rate Sauti ya Jogoo, lyrically and production-wise?
Sauti ya Jogoo is driven by the adrenaline inside Nikki Mbishi; with well-chosen similes and metaphors patiently sewn together, flowing throughout the album, while Duke Tachez’s production accompanies the energy that sends chills, to both language fanatics and street stories enthusiasts. Each song is like a Chapter, provoking array of emotions, while engaging different subject matters — from stories of political and social activism to those about life.
Nikki’s voice reveals emotions, letting his descriptive lyrics paint-brush the images. This is one of the strengths of this album, apart from Duke’s melodies that serve as soundtracks to every scene. Nikki invites the listener to feel the emotions in his songs for themselves. The emotions are hidden inside the metaphors, something that demands full attention. And it is for this reason the album could be placed in the ‘timeless hip hop album’ category, because no song can be fully understood in one listening session.
The song “Kijusi”, which is my personal favorite, embodies Nikki’s brilliance in story-telling. Nikki raps about teenage pregnancy, a subject that is common, but adds his own twist, by rapping from the perspective of the real victim, whose voice usually goes silent — “kijusi”, the aborted zygote. The emotions captured by the saxophone add to the pain and sorrow in this tragic story. The creativity in this song deserves its rightful recognition. Rap meets poetry, with Nikki rapping and Dannie Sepetu doing Spoken Word on the hook. Whether this rare blend of rap and spoken word in Bongo Hip Hop is intentional or accidental leaves me curious. But it definitely makes the song extra special, creatively.
“Nimezama”, almost like a fast forwarded “Kijusi”, is a story of being born, but still ends up aborted by life. The struggles of a young man, who is trying to make ends meet, ends up in prison, without knowing that what he was doing was actually a crime. This theme of intentional or accidental seems to curve this album’s personality, even with how the songs are positioned; from “Playboy” which directly connects to “Au”, then “Kijusi” that is later followed by “Nimezama”. Just like Nikki’s metaphors that may sound accidentally placed if listened in a hurry, it’s something that creates the mystery and the curiosity, just like how the songs are placed, feeding into the appetite of wanting to listen to the songs again and again, to better understand Nikki’s chain of thoughts, hoping it will help to decipher the mystery.
Sauti ya Jogoo is not exhausted by too many collaborations; something that makes Nikki Mbishi both vulnerable while at the same time giving him an opportunity to prove himself. However, this album legitimizes Nikki Mbishi’s excellence as an emcee. The journey into different emotions in one album, without losing his audience, is one of the highlights of this album. I find myself, having to listen each song carefully, fascinated; as Nikki manages to engage us to listen to his powerful stories. Both his command of Swahili language and its use show how rich the language is, and the special relationship it has in Hip Hop music.
For old school Bongo Hip Hop heads, Sauti ya Jogoo would remind the audience of those good old days, while adding some controversies as it is the norm in Hip Hop. His song “Malimwengu” reminds me of Solo Thang’s “Homa ya Dunia”. While “Punchlines” starts with a controversial line, “Kivipi Nikki wa Pili, wa kwanza hajulikani; wakili unakosa dili, kwa stanza hatulingani”, shots fired or not, again Nikki does a tremendous work of making his audience having to listen bar by bar, metaphor by metaphor, to decipher the puzzle, without boring anyone in the process.
There is a Chapter for everyone in Sauti ya Jogoo, only time will tell as you listen from one track to the next. The only contradiction in the album is, as the last song draws to an end, you would realize your Wait Has Not Been in Vain, because the album delivers both Duke’s composition at the highest level and Nikki Mbishi’s lyrical supremacy. So, what is the message this album seems to communicate to the Bongo Hip Hop scene – it is clear; evolve or become extinct, because the crows of this roaster have just started.

Sauti ya Jogoo is a work of art, a modern day Tanzanian Hip Hop classic. I can honestly testify that, Sauti ya Jogoo is one of the top 10 Hip Hop albums I have listened to this year. And if you are a Hip Hop fan (which I suspect you are since you are reading this), then you know there have been great albums in 2011; which I term “The Year of Hip Hop Resurrection”… No, I did not term it as such as a thought while listening to this album.
Bahati has done a great job explaining what makes this a good album. Still, it remains to be seen if it is going to pass the test of time — that dreaded “replay value”. I personally think it is going to be just fine, because there is a joint for every occasion and everyone on this album. This by itself is a monumental achievement. I have seen great lyricists try to please everyone, resulting in great pool of dog sh*t – I am taking about the Jadakisses of this game.
How did Nikki accomplish this? It is simple. One word: “Production”. The album is versatile in subject matter and flows (I swear the flow on “Malimwengu” reminds me of the old Nigga Jay aka Prof. Jay of Hard Blasters Crew), but the consistency in production and focus on sound is what gels the album together. Nikki has a good ear for beats (something often ignored by most emcees), and it does not hurt to have people like Duke and Den Texas in your arsenal of producers.
This will not be a good review if I do not point out the “shortcomings”. We do not want Nikki, Duke and the whole M-Lab crew to stop improving and striving for perfection.
Two things drag this album a bit. Mind you, these are all very subjective. Firstly, the album is on the long side — 22 tracks of which 18 are actual songs. To their credit, it does not feel that long and this is the testament to the songs that made it. But it still feels songs like “Playboy” are there purely for the commercial aspect of the project. This particular song is not helped by the video as the whole acting out of lines from the song was way too much.
Track sequencing also needs some work. I am not sure who thought starting with love songs to the album titled Sauti ya Jogoo was a good idea. It is not. The song “Au’ is one of my favorites but its placement leaves a lot to be desired. Then again, the same people who did that are more likely to be the ones responsible for placing “Kila Siku” where it is, which I consider a perfect location.
“Chapter” was made to be the first track. I mean, how ill it is to have, “You already know I’m the one, among the best emcees”, as an opening line to a debut album. Plus, the beat has that intro feel. Missed opportunity indeed.
I am aware of the fact that I am really pushing it with the criticism, hence shortcomings being in quotes.
Nevertheless, Nikki has got a very strong debut with Sauti ya Jogoo. The length of the album reminds me of Reasonable Doubt, the feel is like something Common would do.
The Highs:
“Kijusi” is just off the beat and concept. The story-telling execution is an icing; “Future ni Leo”; “Punchlinez”, where Grace kills the hook; “Feedback”. “Au”… I don’t know why Duke wanted to shelf this beat; Nyakati I.
The Lows:
There are no lows really (bearing in mind “Playboy” is blocked).
Cop Sauti ya Jogoo, support Nikki Mbishi and Bongo Hip Hop. Stay tuned for the second part of the review, in which a guest content author will take us through the whole album — track by track!
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