A hard to describe, multidisciplinary creative with a track record of performing on the edge of acceptability; Cruel Santino is as much a mode of expression as an Afropop superstar. There’s a certain aura to the experimental lane that the Lagos-born artist has painstakingly crafted for himself; amidst the global rise of what is tenuously described as ‘Afrobeats’. It is a kind of feeling that radiates through his music, visuals, and general aesthetic. An early innovator and prolific collaborator in the Alte scene, the swaggering rapper-turned-singer has always had something to say.
Subaru Boys: Final Heaven is the latest sonically delightful entrant into Cruel Santino’s now hallowed musical legacy. We get to experience the artist formerly known as Santi in the full light of his creative vision. Unfazed by copyright-enforced name changes, shifts in the global music culture, and industry doubts; he appears to us now in his most coherent form. A storytelling maverick with buckets of talent and the desire to show it.
On his second full-length release, he manages to achieve a kind of rare symmetry; where the body of work mirrors the sheer uniqueness of its maker. There’s enough thumping rap to evoke memories of early Ozzy B, and just as much of the dizzying melodic cadence affectionately called Santinese. Subaru Boys: Final Heaven showcases the clarity of vision that has ensured Cruel Santino has remained one-of-one since his debut more than a decade ago. His dedication to world-building, uncanny ability to make the strange feel familiar, and the sense that he could show us more if so wished to combine to make this a seminal musical moment. A moment, he has been preparing for his entire career.
Benevolent in his ways, the scion of Subaru delivers deft dream-like sequences (BEAUTIFUL NOTHING ft Gus Dapperton) that fit seamlessly with gritty, energetic, mosh-friendly thrashers (FINAL CHAMPION). WAY OF THE SERPENT, a rocking number that calls back to Lil Wayne’s Rebirth era is followed up with the mellowed out, electronica-infused SUCRE/SAGA SHIP. All over the album, there are sonical odes to funk, pop, and even reggae inspirations.
The ability to house such diversity of expression, whilst holding on to a recognizable essence makes every Santi body of work feel disjointed in a cohesive way. If that’s hard to catch, that’s kind of the point. An avid employer of themes like surrealism and fantasy, it’s no surprise that SB: FH plays out as an auditory adventure. A fun ride, that’s as much about the journey as the destination.
The range of sounds and influences on the show is only bettered by Cruel Santino’s on-track chemistry with the album’s dazzling array of featured artists. On BORN AGAIN, Amaarae restates her claim as one of the most dazzling pop talents anywhere. DEADMAN BONE sees a resurgent Koffee drop an absolute showstopper, and the stellar production from Odunsi The Engine (FIRST HEAVEN), Genio Bambino (SWAGGER BACK ft. WifiGAWD) and Le Mav (THE PEARLS ft. Maison2500) would stand out on any album.
That these masterful collaborations have come to be standard fare for Cruel Santino serves as the biggest testament to the talent of the man and his team. The album’s fantasy-inspired interludes point to themes of transformation; perhaps teasing at his well-covered but often misunderstood musical journey. The coverage of his story and methods has often become news in its own right. Lucky for us, mixed reception and unwilling ears are unlikely to ever cage the creative edge that makes Cruel Santino so special.
The overriding feeling, hard as it is to place, is that of an artist at ease with himself and the many eclectic musical tools at his disposal. He explores worlds of his own creation throughout the album, attempting to paint uniquely vivid scenes. Nestled in the midst of lush production and anime-inspired imagery is the story of artistic culmination.