The Nigerian rapper and singer’s easygoing charm guides this lush and freewheeling collection.
In 2010, the Nigerian musician Olamide introduced himself with colorful, relatable rhymes, a breathless flow, and youthful swagger. His breakthrough single “Eni Duro” displayed his undeniable confidence, confirming the then-21-year-old artist, who raps in both Yoruba and English, as a star in the making. More than a decade and a dozen releases later, he has become an emblem of Nigerian hip-hop, a self-proclaimed “voice of the street” with introspective tales of struggle and loss that extend hope to a new generation of listeners.
When Olamide’s label YBNL, home to Fireboy DML, inked a deal last year with U.S. music franchise Empire, it was unclear how his foray into the international music space would unfold. Prior to that moment, he’d rarely seemed interested in collaborating with artists outside his native country or in seeking recognition beyond his tight-knit scene. He tested the waters with 2020’s experimental 999 EP, which swayed more toward his rap tendencies. He followed it with the more varied and successful Carpe Diem, featuring singles like “Infinity” and “Loading” that would soundtrack plenty of outdoor parties.
On Carpe Diem, Olamide’s sound underwent a reconstruction, moving from his gruff early style toward a more soothing tone, with mid-tempo beats accompanying his tales of love, hustle, and celebration. The project had an aura of freshness, suggesting a restart in his career. His latest album, UY Scuti, takes a simpler approach but furthers this evolution. In the past, he has alternated between love songs and pop bangers laced with street lingua. UY Scuti condenses his sensibility to a chill, moody flow. The 10-song project is rife with romantic tales and emotional honesty, softened by Olamide’s melodic voice and easygoing charm.
Reunited with producer Eskeez, who also worked on 999, Olamide’s shapeshifting vocals are supported by a dynamic array of beats, ranging from the solemn “Need for Speed” to the fiery “Jailer.” Beneath the grandeur of the music, however, there is a vagueness that is hard to ignore. These songs conjure a gentle current of lushness, but some tracks feel lukewarm, lacking a spark of creativity. The highlight “Rock” resonates because of Olamide’s heartfelt lyrics, but when he approaches similar subject matter on “Cup of Tea” and “Want,” the writing lacks depth.
The guest artists attempt to enliven the music but sometimes fail to hide its flaws. Rising Afrobeats talent Jaywillz lights up the bouncy “Jailer” with his energetic, unrestrained flow, and Olamide’s longtime collaborator Phyno—who has made appearances on each of Olamide’s past four projects—offers vivid imagery on “Somebody.” But the casual tone of Olamide’s writing rarely provides the energy required to make these songs stick. The soul-baring singer Fave slides in with some smooth lines about desire on the rambling “PonPon,” but the overall effect is bland.
“My priority is to express myself freely like a bird right now,” Olamide recently told The Guardian, and you can hear the freedom of his approach throughout the album. He hops on dancehall beats (“Rough Up,” “So Much More”) and stretches beyond his comfort zone (“Julie”), testing the waters of new genres. This freewheeling mode, however, deprives UY Scuti of a concrete identity. He’s not sticking to his usual themes of struggle and hustle, or the party-anthem templates of his previous hits, but it’s unclear what exactly he wants to replace them. With its thematic variety and creative freedom, UY Scuti finds Olamide in a transitional stage, with plenty of room for improvement.