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Wizkid's 'More Love, Less Ego' is so relaxed it's nearly static

The work that so clearly went into sharpening Wizkid's delivery bristles against the listlessness applied to his writing. His voice alone can no longer sustain him.
Fawaz Ibrahim
The work that so clearly went into sharpening Wizkid's delivery bristles against the listlessness applied to his writing. His voice alone can no longer sustain him.

Wizkid will not be rushed. Famous for teasing albums years before they drop, he's constantly driving his devoted fan base, Wizkid FC, into a frenzy on social media. But the long waits have often paid off. His 2020 full-length, Made In Lagos, then his first album in three years, arrived brimming with confidence at a time of widespread uncertainty. As America headed into winter amid an ongoing pandemic, the West African warmth emanating from songs like "Ginger" and, of course, his breakaway hit "Essence" with Tems sustained many through to a jubilant summer. In return, "Essence" emerged as the song of the season and broke records stateside, becoming the first song led by an Afrobeats artist to crack the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. On the first anniversary of Made In Lagos, Wizkid announced that his follow-up album, More Love, Less Ego, would appear in January at the end of his tour. But, in true Wizkid fashion, it didn't materialize until nine months later. It seems his preference for leisure has left a noticeable imprint on his music: His first album following his big American breakthrough is so chill it can feel languid.

Wizkid has moved invariably along genre lines. Afrobeats mellowed out significantly in the mid-2010s, with the groundbreaking success of Afro-fusionist Mr. Eazi and his producer Juls, on spacious collaborations like "Bankulize" and "Skintight," and Wizkid soon hopped on the wave, spending years fine-tuning his unhurried approach. Between 2017 and 2019, the Nigerian singer produced blockbuster singles like the Drake-assisted "Come Closer" and the slow-winding "Joro," which brought a mellowness to his sound. He showed that a song's BPM is really just a number; that an artist can make gentler music with enough muscle to soundtrack a beachside sundowner and a sweaty afterparty. Made In Lagos was a product of his steadiness, accommodating vigorous dancing or comfortable swaying.

More Love, Less Ego, is an extension of Made In Lagos; instead of advancing, Wizkid opts largely to remain idle. The album is so reposed it is nearly sedated, but its relaxed stride gives ample breathing room for his vocals. The gains he's made as a singer, though incremental, are precise, and it's satisfying to hear that improvement. He's more in control of his vibrato and the extremities of his range have softened, making his voice sound effortless across the album. On the amapiano-inflected "Bad To Me," he seamlessly floats between octaves. Later, on the tender love song "Frames (Who's Gonna Know)," he extends his falsetto with incredible delicacy and patience producing some of his most emotive music. But the work that so clearly went into sharpening his delivery bristles against the listlessness applied to his writing, especially when considering the proverb-like mandate of the album's title. His voice alone can no longer sustain him. Wizkid has long been a standout in a small field, but with a new crop of young stars budding quickly, he can't afford to rest on his laurels anymore.

At their best, the vocal exercises reinforce the album's central themes: romantic love, kind of, but mostly sex and the pursuit of it. "I'm not looking for your love, I'm honest / I just want a piece of that," he sings on "Deep." Wizkid doesn't abide by the mantra he sets forth, instead choosing to lead with his ego. The first words out of his mouth, on "Money & Love," are, "Nobody like me," before he dubs himself "Mr. Shift-Your-Panties." But his singing can communicate desire where his lyrics are lacking. Whispers, staggered intakes of breath and dips into the gravel of his lower register, add dimension and heat to the bedroom jam "Flower Pad," where the actual come-ons ("Play for your body like piano") fall short. Similarly, on "Pressure," he finds balance between quasi rapping and mellifluous singing, the former communicating the urgency of his attraction and the latter adding the necessary element of seduction.

Wizkid's voice has always paired well with collaborators but sometimes, for better ("Essence") or worse (Drake's megahit "One Dance"), he's been relegated to second fiddle. His singing can offer the support needed for other voices to soar. On this album he's much more assertive, making the features bend toward him. The Juls-produced "Special" unlocks new levels of sincerity in the rugged crooning of trap R&B star Don Toliver, making it easy to forget the hedonism his music is usually steeped in. By centering his own voice, Wizkid shares a window into his priorities as an artist, but without a fully realized vision, this scans more as inflexibility. In effect, the album loses some of the dimensionality that working more fluidly with other voices can allow.

Wizkid reunites with his Made in Lagos partner P2J on More Love, Less Ego, and the British-Nigerian producer's layering of velvety basslines, sweet chords and gentle drum patterns provide cushion for Wizkid to play with his vocals. It also ensures that the singer doesn't have to take any risks. Mirroring Wizkid, P2J makes slight adjustments from their prior collaborations. The saxophone permeated the last album, but the most notable instrumental addition here is the amapiano log drum. The stuttering digital drum has set American dancefloors alight in the past year, and in Wizkid and P2J's hands, it's less party starter than party favor, an inessential yet nice flourish to boost the music. It's refreshing to hear the two incorporate the sound to suit their own style, but the underuse of the drum feels like a missed chance to evolve. The dynamic drum preset could've aided a push into new spaces for the artists; diluting it not only minimizes the percussive tool's power, but leaves the duo in the same place creatively. The diminishing returns of this combo prevent the album from crossing a threshold and becoming more than mood music.

More Love, Less Ego is pleasant enough but it is rarely bracing. Complacency seems to have set in. The British-Nigerian rapper Skepta's verse, on the song "Wow," is like a splash of cold water, a brief shock that illuminates how little energy the record has expended. While Wizkid has mastered this particular pace of Afrobeats in the past, this album doesn't always keep its head afloat, at times slipping into lulls. Its rare turns feel like imitation. "Everyday" brings to mind the socio-political positioning of Burna Boy, an emergent, Grammy-winning star whose music grapples with colonial history. The track appeals to the common man by vaguely referencing the struggles of daily life, but it quickly loses the plot as it devolves into playboy antics. (Wizkid, missing the point, likens his lifestyle to that of Jay Gatsby.) Elsewhere, on "Pressure," Wizkid seems to evoke Rema's "Calm Down" and the song's staccato repetition. Rema, who bowed before Wizkid, is now an innovator in his own right, and "Pressure" is a rare full circle moment — the longtime influencer taking inspiration from someone he likely influenced. Perhaps Wizkid's constant delays have left him a little out of step with his contemporaries and he is feeling the pressure to catch up. As Afrobeats continues to grow in popularity, so does the standard of the music. Audiences want more than just to vibe; they want to dance, they want to feel, they want to think. With so many other artists embracing that challenge, there's less of a reason to wait on Wizkid. Time is of the essence.

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Jessica Kariisa