King Adekunle Gold and His Newly-Found Fame at About 30

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On the cover art of his latest album, he is a king. He is poised on a horse, barefoot with his chest barely covered and his left hand firmly on the reigns. He is a king, and his crown, a gold-laced traditional cap reminds one of King Sunny Ade’s fashion aesthetics in his 30s. It’s more significant that King Adekunle Gold’s latest album, ‘About 30’ is a story of a 30-something-year-old man’s road to success.

Sunny Ade, the ‘Minister of Enjoyment’ was about 30 when he was undisputedly declared “King of Juju”. It was after the release of ‘Juju Music’ in 1982 with Island Records. Then, he was already a global phenomenon with the Trouser Press declaring him “one of the most captivating and important musical artistes anywhere in the world”. It was Ade’s road to the first Nigerian Grammy Award nomination.

For Adekunle Gold, music has been a game of patience. There are popular stories about his Photoshop days, his cover of One Direction’s Story of My Life — a small pop slash enough to win him a deal with Olamide’s YBNL—his 2016 debut studio album ‘Gold’, and his less talked-about fallout from the YBNL nation. Fast forward to two years after debuting with ‘Gold’, and he has gained a large number of fans and style loyalists, established his own label, Afro Urban Records, headlined a sold out concert in London, inaugurated The 79th Element, his star choked musical band and most recently, a sold-out concert at 02 in London!

It’s hard to gyrate about an artiste like Adekunle Gold, for all we know, he has been tactically uncontroversial, leaving the mainstream with missing links like his romance with Simi and his less dramatic fall out with YBNL; and he has a knack for telling his own story. For instance, before we got a chance to listen to his new album, he took to Twitter and declared “This album, ‘About 30’, is a reflection of my heart, my fears, my pleasures, my pain, my losses and my faith”. Heartfelt and maybe unconsciously, it is Gold’s way of staying in front of his own stories.

At 30, Adekunle Gold is a popular singer and an unpopular maverick who, like Asa and Brymo assure us that Nigerian consumers pay attention to content. In other words, he is popular for his music, and maybe recently, his wardrobe, and neither for a clash with Olamide or Falz nor for whining about the “30 billion” in his account. Alternatively, he sings maturely about himself, his love and recently, his fame, shifting between genres, and sounds clearly avoiding any defined pigeon hole—not even Juju.

Adekunle Gold’s ‘About 30’ is an autobiographical project, the album opens with Ire, the core song of the album and Gold’s personal reflection, “The grass is greener on the other side/that’s what I thought before I took the ride” he sings on the opening track. The slow tempo thrives on Adekunle’s usual traditional drums, a soulful and confessional Yoruba chorus like many other songs on the album.

Except for the increased tempo and his subtle global attempt, Adekunle’s style hasn’t changed much, for example, in Money, a pre-released song on the album that opens with drum and guitar sounds probably lifted from Robin Schultz remix of Mr Probz’s Waves. The evident foreign elements of the sound are brilliantly corrupted into a native vibe. A flurry of talking drums leads to the peak, “Bless me, bless me papa, give me good life father/Ki’n ma yan fanda loju elegan mi o/Money money ego ko ma bo o”, he sings in the bridge.

Like Seun Kuti, he tries to tap into Afrobeat but fails to deliver in originality; Seun takes the political edge while Gold preaches morals in Mr Foolish, a song performed live with Seyi Keys brilliant inputs. Unlike Pablo Alakori, an Afro-highlife and controversial Twitter-character influenced song that thrives on originality, Adekunle’s lines in Mr Foolish pauce in content.

In Fame, he reminds us of his infectiously depressive style, a dominant aesthetic of his debut album and singles. He continues his love story in ‘About 30’, but this time, he is not the heartbroken and lonely guy in Sade and Ready. In Somebody, a song beginning with a funky beat that immediately reminds one of Asa’s No One Knows, Gold is all lovey-dovey with a girl, and can’t be distracted. The mid-tempo dance floor jam, Surrenda will join our favourite Saturday wedding playlist and so will Down with You, especially for Dyo’s vocals, the synthetic drums and the duo lingo exchange of vows.

However, it was obvious that the core theme of the album is Adekunle Gold’s success story, his road to ‘kingship’, and newly-found fame. Remember emotionally reminisces Gold’s road to success, reeking of a very important and possibly controversial story that transcends the boastful statement, “I go make am without you for sure”. It is a timely jab for the 02-London-sold-out-Hall-of-Fame guy whose first single we listened to with doubt simply because of his status as the “Photoshop guy”.

Like Leonard Cohen, Debbie Harry, Matt Berninger and Sunny Ade, Adekunle Gold joins our list of artistes that made it big at 30 and it is significant not because he used an album to remind us but because he hit a mainstream dominated by young pop culturists while staying sane with his style. He is King Adekunle Gold on his Twitter handle but more importantly, he is king because he has maturely climbed to the top of our playlist.

If I had known, the life I was searching for was looking me right in the eye / If I had known, the life I was searching for was already my own. ­

Adekunle Gold, Ire

Wale Owoade is a writer, music journalist and pop culture critic. His works have been published in African American Review, Transition, Guernica, Bettering American Poetry, Poet Lore, Duende, The Brooklyn Review, and The Collagist. He received the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominations and was shortlisted for the 2017 Brittle Paper Literary Awards. In 2016, Owoade won a scholarship from Research and World History Institute (Tokyo) and was invited to attend the 2017 Callaloo Writers Workshop at Oxford University. His works have been translated into Bengali, German and Spanish. He currently writes on music and pop culture for The Afrovibe, Pan-African Music magazine and Omenka magazine.

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