Fireboy is still awestruck about how quick his life has taken off and he can’t seem to stop talking about it. It’s pretty dope, right? If he had debuted a decade ago, when the biggest song in the country was Kukere and there was no TikTok, no matter how great his songs are, he wouldn’t be touring Europe and casually slipping Chris Brown and Ed Sheeran on his third studio album. It’s mind-blowing, even for him. So as much as Fireboy tries to have fun on Playboy, he’s still stuck in the headspace of ‘I can’t believe this is happening to me’ and it’s everything he could do not to freak out.
With Playboy, Fireboy chronicles the typical day of a young Nigerian star in his 20s – girls, debauchery, contemplate taking his mum to France, superstar friends, make some songs with them, make some really bad ones, fall in love, then back into the street looking for another Diana or an unnamed “baby”, pretend he can rap, refuse to sell his soul, back to the studio, make some more deep but hard jams, put it all together, put out an album. Sound much? Give him a break, he’s in his 20s. He could care less about being a role model. Every single song he literally goes: I don’t do this very bad harmful behavior but I do this other bad very harmful behavior. It’s a mercurial form of duality that can only exhume from a creature that doesn’t party but makes party music.
When he isn’t grappling with the new life success has given him or making an anthem, he is wooing a different named girl. Fireboy is a gifted artiste who lives in his head – that makes for beautiful relatable tracks (if you are in your 20s and can’t believe the turn your life has taken) but other times, it leaves him out of touch. Like on Afro Highlife, where he joins a slew of new artistes trying to carve out their own Afrobeat subgenre. On this song, Fireboy felt the need to explain everything to his audience and he does come off as an auteur who thinks his audience is dim and he needs to spell everything out for them. Unfair? Maybe. Cos the greats like Orlando Owoh and Shina Peters have gone to similar lengths to cement their sound and stand out, as the case may be. But, here, Fireboy seemingly just wants to join a long list of African artistes who want to claim their territory as originators of one sound or one type of music; and he only has one track with the so-called ‘afro highlife’ on a fourteen track album, and that track is called “Afro Highlife”.
Again, on Having Fun, he felt inclined to let his audience know the song has Caribbean influences by making reference to a Caribbean girl in the first verse like his audience won’t be able to tell from the syncopated rhythm and the number of “big ups” in the lyrics. Don’t get me wrong, these are both really good songs that show his range and vocal ability (and readiness to conquer new grounds???). But his boyish delivery leaves listeners wanting… wanting for a new Fireboy, or a Fireman if that’s possible.
The previously released Bandana, Peru and the eponymous track Playboy do not sound out of place in this compilation. In fact, they are still the highlight of the album, except for the album opener Change (which is one of those tracks we can characterize as Fireboy’s signature songs) and Diana, a potential radio hit that could be at Peru’s level with the right promotion, guest starring Chris Brown and Sheenseea.
Playboy’s guest artistes, especially Sheeran and Brown excel in a genre they have little or no experience in. The Fireboy effect seem to rub off on them that they want to matchup the vibe. The same cannot be said for “Compromise”, a cringy Rema-featured song that sounds like a two-boys-discover-a-new-word-and-try-to-use-it-to-impress-the-first-girl-they-saw situation. They sing in-and-out of the connotations of ‘compromise’ with no skill or finesse. It’s a surprise that these two starlets don’t hit it off on their first song together – the melody doesn’t seem to sync and they either don’t know it or are just glad they found time to get in the booth together. However, unlike some other songs I won’t dare to namedrop, Compromise genuinely improves with repeated listens.
As much as I would like to tell you this is a compilation of hit songs, I can’t. But I can tell you it is a really good (and repeatable) album cos Fireboy is young, rich and famous and he is not over it yet. He wants you to know how it feels being this popular. Sometimes, he presents it to you in the sweetest jam you’ve ever listened to, other times, he’s lost in his headspace just singing his heart out without any care for anything in the world. He is just happy he’s able to do this. That happiness is infectious, especially the album closer, Glory, which either leaves you smiling or satisfied that you’ve completed one of the most beautiful trilogies in the Nigerian music space.
There is no doubt that he’s a talented star who can make hits and put out good albums. The time has come for Fireboy to move on, take on new challenges, and become a man. I’m sure his fans are ready to see this. I know I am. The question is, is he ready?