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Bella Shmurda uses ‘High Tension’ to find positivity in ‘2020’ [EP Review]

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For a lot of reasons, Bella Shmurda is defining 2020 – a word of such questionable connotation to the Nigerian polity – in his own way; positivity.

Bella Shmurda uses 'High Tension' to find positivity in '2020' [EP Review]

Not much is known about Bella Shmurda asides his ownership of a song titled, ‘Vision 2020’. The song documents the millennial struggles of ‘adulting.’ Fast forward to February 2020, millennials are actually frustrated by the #OkadaBan and #KekeBan – talk about a prophetic song.

The song aligns with what ‘2020’ represents to Nigerians. For a subtext that was first associated with former President, Olusegun Obasanjo in the early 2000s, it’s grown exemplify the limiations of Nigerian state and its ineptitude in governance and vision. In a lot of ways, it also represents delusion.

Bella Shmurda uses 'High Tension' to find positivity in '2020' [EP Review]

While Bella Shmurda ties into that narrative to tell tales about problems in his life with the song, ‘Vision 2020,’ it also typifies the vision, attention to detail and talent with which Bella Shmurda is growing with as an artist. These traits are becoming recognizable.

It’s amazing how a powerful phrase to a people can be so central to an entire career in music. While Shmurda bought into the ‘Vision 2020’ narrative, his character traits and career represent everything that ‘Vision 2020′ lacked. These are vision, execution and accountability.Although his career is still embryonic, his movement has been intentional.

Over the past six months, the big names have started looking the Lagos State University Alumnus’ way. In the thick of 2019’s Detty December, Bella Shmurda performed at quite a couple of shows. At Zlatan’s show, the response he got from the crowd while performing ‘Vision 2020’ was incredible.

He also has released a remix to ‘Vision 2020’ which features Olamide. Seven days ago, he was featured by Runtown on ‘Body Riddim’ and he had the best verse on the song by far. It’s also quite pungent that 2020 might be his break out year. To start the year, he releases his debut EP, the 7-track High Tension.

Kudos to the producers and mixers on this EP, by the way. In his voice cut from the depths of Yoruba folk and Fuji, Shmurda discusses the dreams of the average young Nigerian man from inner-city Lagos realities. He deals with struggles in school, a life of insufficiency, the doubts that beset young minds and the pressures of growing up in the present Nigeria.

The EP excels on relatable messaging and apt songwriting. Just like you seldom find any meaningless line enshrined in an expletive/adlib, the EP is rippled in the beauty of linear substance and storytelling. The EP also has no significant weakness. With his brand of music, Bella Shmurda is like 6lack – a singer with the storytelling of a Hip-Hop artist.

‘Ginger Me’ opens up the EP to a brilliant, mellow production built on guitars, methodical percussion and wonderful guitar chords. Lyrically, Bella Shmurda sings from a place of pain about his need for a lift in life. He sings, “Somebody call my name, tell me it’s gonna be fine, somebody do something…” His frustration is palpable as he sings about pressure from home and school.

The best part of the song is, “I don’t know what to say my brother, I don’t know what to say my sister. I’m careful of those who call me brother…” It displays apprehension, despite hunger – amazing. While the song is mellow and lo-fi, Bella Shmurda is not. The tension mounts and it provides ample links to the EP’s title, ‘High Tension.’

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Omnipotent’ feels wrongly placed on this track list, but it’s both a tale of gratitude, socio-political commentary on the vain pursuit of wealth amongst young Nigerians and the power of retribution. The beat is built on woozy, cloud strings and one-off guitar chords that are more peculiar to Noah ‘40′ Shebib.

‘Liquor’ also comes too early in the EP. The topical transition from track-to-track has failed so far. Sounding like something DJ Coublon would have produced for Kizz Daniel in 2014, the beat is melodious and methodical. The song is a metaphor about the effect a woman has on Shmurda – she intoxicates him like ‘Liquor.’

‘Sho Mo Mi’ is another love song that continues the sonic cohesion this EP runs on so far – the beats are cut from similar instruments and on similar beats patterns. Lyrically, Shmurda describes finding love after finding success. ‘Amope’ is the KezyKlef-produced love that runs on a beat that’s cut from Igbo folk music.

The guitars on the beat cut into the subconscious while Shmurda ‘washes’ an innocent woman. The ID Cabasa-produced ‘Vision 2020’ features legendary rapper, Olamide. The song is a socio-political chatter that Bella Shmurda told from a first-person perspective. He discusses how he dropped out of school and how his girlfriend got pregnant.

‘Upgrade’ is built on a pon pon beat that sounds like a distant cousin to Runtown’s ‘Mad Over You.’ Shmurda uses it to discuss the journey of Fatima, a LASU student and her questionable life choices. She left school to become a stripper and consume pills. Impressively, Shmurda didn’t shame Fatima, he only discusses how life’s pressures inspire bad decisions.

Final thoughts

Asides the topical excellence in songwriting on this EP, Shmurda also creates something with commendable sonic cohesion. Due to that cohesion, some will argue that some songs on the EP sound similar, but that will be wrong. It’s impressive how Shmurda manages to find the right amount of sonic cohesion.

If High Tension EP had one more song, the EP could have become exhausting and monotonic. This is also a lesson on the importance of album length. Shout-out to the A&R on this album – if any.

The major weakness on this EP is its tracklisting. With an EP that came fitted with sonic cohesion, all it needed was topical cohesion to be top notch – it lacked that. The EP should have been arranged thus;

Ginger Me

Vision 2020

Upgrade

Omnipotent

Liquor

Amope

Sho Mo Mi

But all in all, ‘High Tension’ seems a perfect title for this EP; a pun for all intents and purpose with a two-pronged meaning. On the first part, ‘High Tension’ means the pressures society has put on Bella Shmurda as a young man. On the second part, it’s a metaphor for the quality of this EP and its reflection of Shmurda’s talent.

For a lot of reasons, Bella Shmurda is defining 2020 – a word of such questionable character to the Nigerian polity – in his own way; positivity.

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