Ric Hassani Is Not Whom He Thinks He Is
by Wale Owoade
Ric Hassani is not whom he thinks he is. No, he is not a pop artiste and he has proven he yearns to be more than a gentleman. His gentlemanlity may be a brand after all. Who wouldn’t love a lanky suit and beard-wearing guy who sings about love and what else? His oeuvre is a loosely melodious vocal and a repetitive penchant for romance. It is a far cry in a pop gentrifying culture like ours. But now, it doesn’t matter whether it is a brand or an obsession, what matters is that it sold in 2016 when he debuted with Gentleman, that single messianic and miraculous act—to breakout with a romantic gait, however mildly—in a year that probably witnessed the rise of ‘the shaku shaku generation’. This may be the reason why we are still listening to him today.
For what it is worth, breaking out as an indie artiste in Nigeria is hard and almost a slippery cliff, especially when the music is sane. Pop music in Nigeria is a restless beast—one might sleep, wake up and lose track of what pop music is, who is a pop artiste or who is ruling the chart. It is a tricky concept and a skillful business for those who can make the most noise. Guys like Hassani don’t shout, they don’t make noise and they sing to light drums. At least, that was what we believed before he released his debut studio album, ‘The African Gentleman’, which ironically, coupled with events after, told us something different about him.
As much as it sounds like a pigeonhole, there is a reason why guys like Hassani are called alternative artistes. It is the only way our society thinks it can separate the wheat from the trash worthy. The success of the chief commanders of that movement, Simi and Adekunle Gold makes a perfect Hollywood story that could dare anyone to dream. So, when Hassani independently popped his pop appeal in 2016 with a song on self-love and Southern African aesthetics, it was natural for him to dream and that was exactly what he did with ‘The African Gentleman’ a year after, continuing with his romantic signature, a theme that lasted only till the first half of the album.
In that short while where he is Hassani, he is a lyrical genius. Gentleman, Police, Sing and Marry You are songs where Hassani lived up to his gentlemanlity with clusters of romantic lyrics and gimmicks amidst the slow and mid-tempo. Marry You is that protrusible proposal song and with Sing and Police, it is as if Hassani can’t do any wrong with a love song. Truth be told, in ‘The African Gentleman’, Hassani makes singing look so easy. The problem, however, begins when he starts to be more than Hassani, but it might not be a problem, after all, it might just be Ric Hassani being what he has always or suddenly wanted to be: a pop star.
‘I best define myself as a pop artiste.’ he said in an interview with The Guardian. Ironically, in that same interview, The Guardian wrote an intro on how the artiste is rising into the ranks of Timi Dakolo, Darey Art Alade and Praiz. Of course, Hassani knew exactly who a pop artiste is and tried woefully to live up that expectation. Beautiful to Me, a song torn between dancehall and R&B started the confusion. Hassani couldn’t tag pop stars like Davido or 2face to make his appeal but was able to bring in MI and Yung L from Chocolate City to record One, Two where he almost pulls off a Wizkid song that is unfortunately forgettable. “Whine for the bass line…get down low, no dey waste time”. If not for his voice, you could pull your shirt off to argue it is not Hassani, but who can argue with a man’s influence?
Yes, it is surprising but true. Ric Hassani’s inspiration is Wizkid. He mentioned in an interview, how the kid’s rise from the streets of Ojuelegba to limelight inspires him. Honestly, there is nothing wrong in trying to be Wizkid or switching between styles once in a while but it is collusive when a gentleman like Ric Hassani fights for a space in contemporary pop music where he can be easily sidelined. It is more disturbing knowing that Hassani, with the right kind of focus, could get into the pop space with his suit, gentle and romantic persona. Like Adekunle Gold and Simi, he can create his own door and slide in through it.
No doubt, Hassani is a versatile singer, in fact, in Oge Na Ga and Sweet Mother, he successfully demonstrated how he can command and blend between sounds and style, while bringing in Cabo Snoop, Xcellente, Mr Nomsy and Mambi Yachi. In February this year, to buttress his aspiration, Hassani brought in Falz and Olamide to make a remix of Believe. The end result, however, jam-packed confirms Hassani’s desperate search for popular ties.
Ric Hassani is not a pop artiste, at least, not yet. Though he might be in conflict with his music, it’s certain that his story is not over yet, in fact, he is just beginning. But our fear, however, is that Hassani is not only too good for the pop party, he may eventually get tired of waiting on the queue as that crazily competitive space is not ready to host gentlemen. On a clearer note, Hassani’s ‘The African Gentleman’ story would have ended like Simi’s ‘Simisola’, but unfortunately, it didn’t. Not because he is not a great singer, but because in his own world, in front of his mirror, he wanted to be more than Hassani.
September 11, 2019