By Boluwatife Adeyemi
On the 27th of June, 2008, the Nelson Mandela 90th Birthday Tribute was held in Hyde Park, London to commemorate Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday. The concert was attended by about 47,000 people and was hosted by Will Smith, his wife, Jada, and British television broadcaster June Sarpong. Global stars like Annie Lennox, Amy Winehouse, Leona Lewis, Eddy Grant, Josh Groban among many others graced the stage, giving different enthralling performances to honor the occasion. Sandwiched however amongst these superstars was a gangly 9ice who was introduced as ‘Nine Ice’ by co-host, June Sarpong. Dressed in baggy jeans, dark goggles, a striped shirt, and a slim-fit suit, 9ice walked on stage briskly, oozing confidence. The floodlights, sea of heads, and the large band behind him did not seem to faze him. His ‘People are you ready?’ call was met with a massive roar. 9ice did not feel out of place, He felt among. As soon as the horns started blaring and the live drums kicked in, 9ice’s husky voice led the band like a captain at sea leading his crew. 9ice was right where he belonged.
Back home in Nigeria, 9ice was a national sensation. After a couple of years of being underground, he teamed up with Id Cabasa 一 head of Coded Tunes, a label which housed acts like Olamide, Jahbless and Seriki 一to release Gongo Aso. A song which erupted like a volcano and took 9ice to great lofty heights ultimately earning him a performance at Nelson Mandela’s 90th Birthday Tribute. It instantly took over the airwaves, dancefloors, and raves. At the time, only the nation’s national anthem could rival it. 9ice’s unique delivery, proverbial lyrics coupled with Id Cabasa’s hard-hitting beat, almost like a punch from heavyweight boxer Anthony Joshua made Gongo Aso undeniably ravishing. Following the success of Gongo Aso, 9ice went on to release his sophomore album, also titled Gongo Aso which produced hit songs like Street Credibility, Wedding Day, Party Rider, and Photocopy. The album was met with immediate critical acclaim. It appealed to everyone, both young and old. His mostly proverbial and idiosyncratic lyrics appealed to the older generation while his vibrant, unique delivery and flow on mostly hip-hop production from the executive producer — Id Cabasa — drew the younger generation in. Gongo Aso went on to earn 9ice several awards including a MOBO award for Best African Act and a controversial MTV Award for the Best Hip-hop Act. 9ice was a phenomenon. In a year that saw career-defining releases from artistes like D’banj and Faze, 9ice arguably soared above most. His rise after the release of Gongo Aso was astronomical and he became one of the biggest names around.
Following the immense success of Gongo Aso, 9ice went on tour, singing in different cities on different nights. Everybody wanted a piece of him, he was a superstar now. While on tour, on a warm evening in late 2008, Dudu Radio, a premier online radio station back in the late 2000s caught up with 9ice for an interview in a semi-filled car park in Houston, Texas. Like most interviews go, he was asked about new material he was working on and he calmly said ‘Right now we are working on a new album. It’s going to be dropping early next year…. The title is Tradition’ with similar confidence he exuded while on stage in London, performing to thousands. He looked like a man who knew what was at stake and was up for the challenge. Just like 9ice mentioned, Tradition, his third album dropped on the 15th of March, 2009.
From the get-go, it was quite obvious 9ice wasn’t looking to recreate the songs or capture the same sounds he did on his sophomore project as he proved he’s an elastic band and he can be as versatile as he needs to be. On Show Some Love, the album opener, 9ice preaches unreserved love as he sings “Show some love to the brother next door/Show some love to needy and the poor/Show some to the hood you come from” over smooth reggae production. He, however, isn’t sanctimonious in his attempt to preach love. He also takes an introspective look at himself as he carefully sings “Those that I’m supposed to love are those that I hate/ Why? Cause I believe in pain” which speaks largely to his consciousness and self-awareness. He also employs the services of soul-singer, Nneka who perfectly complements him by delivering a heartfelt and memorable verse to make Show Some Love a compelling duet. On the sensual, Bluetooth, 9ice’s lyrical dexterity comes to the fore as he expertly rhymes words like genotype, stereotype and archetype. On the equally sultry Bo Kini Yen, 9ice is looking to risk it all as he comically sings “Mo le kirun l’express nitori your bobby” which loosely translates to “I’m willing to put my life at risk because of your bosom”
9ice, however, isn’t just all about love and lust. On the guitar-driven Anytime, 9ice masterfully tells his coming-of-age story as he paints vivid pictures with his lyrics. He gives us a front-row seat to his journey to stardom as he sings: “Scale through the bondage It was a very big mess, as our lives was played like chess”. On Once Bitten Twice Shy, the Bariga-born singer slips into the role of a gashed lover who has been consistently cheated on, a song which has been speculatively tied to his marriage to ex-wife and media personality, Toni Payne. 9ice, however, has subsequently denied these claims saying: “I would like to use this opportunity to state categorically that the song Once Bitten Twice shy was not and can never be about Toni Payne. I have NEVER accused her or told anybody that she cheated on me because she DID NOT. It did not happen and it was never an issue. Let me be very clear. Toni Payne NEVER cheated on me.”
On the centrepiece of the album, Gbamu Gbamu, 9ice reunites with Id Cabasa as they once again cooked up an instant classic hit. 9ice’s monster intro: “Adigun singing, Cabasa producing, Coded Tunes supersede, Alapomeji is distinct” remains one of the best intros to a record. He delightfully places this intro on Id Cabasa’s bubbling synths, follows through with his idiosyncratic proverbial salad as they once again took over the dancefloors. Hits are almost second nature to 9ice. He proved that on his eponymous sophomore album and he once again proves that on Tradition as he scores another massive hit on the party anthem, No Be Mistake.
On the penultimate track, Pete Pete, 9ice teams up with Nigerian-French singer, Asa to deliver a socio-political duet. 9ice juxtaposes the ecstatic feeling the masses had when Nigeria got her independence in 1960 to the feeling we have today. You can hear the painーjust like mostー in his voice as he sings “Ominira indeed abi, ewo naira wa” which loosely translates to “Independence right? Look at the value of our currency now.” He cleverly employs the use of adages to dig into the government. A government he claims has failed its people. Asa’s powerful opening line: “Kini suuru ti o l’ere?” essentially challenges the notion that there is light at the end of the tunnel for us. “Kini suuru ti o l’ere?” which translates to what’s the point of pain and patience with no gain sees Asa at her most pessimistic, understandably so. 9ice and Asa, however, conclude that the change we want to see in our leaders would have to start from us.
Unlike Gongo Aso, 9ice’s breakthrough album which contained a lot of hard-hitting songs and beats, 9ice employed a more mellow approach in crafting Tradition. This album saw 9ice double down on the vivacious songs as he expanded his sonic palette, exploring different genres ranging from reggae to R’n’B to soul while still maintaining his usual lyrical dexterity. Not only did 9ice expand his sonic palette, he also broadened the scope of his music. The music on Tradition covers ubiquitous themes like love, lust, infidelity, and politics, amongst several others. In an interview with Saturday Beats, 9ice revealed that Tradition is his best album in terms of content and lyrics. He had this to say: “Although people believe that Gongo Aso is my best album, to me, my album, Tradition still remains my best album in terms of content and lyrics” and rightly so. Tradition arguably remains 9ice’s most complete body of work to date. It is an exquisite body of work that combines 9ice’s intentional, astute songwriting, his husky, seasoned voice with varied and intricate production to make a potpourri of evergreen music.