Existentialism, Lyricism, and Voluptuous Artistry: a Review of Gilbert Bani – A-Q’s God’s Engineering 2

“Best thing since sliced bread and a slice of pizza/ The worst thing since Domino’s pizza and Monalisa”

My reaction rattled with blithe when those words marinat“ed with rich rhythm, figurative fumes, and sick word-play gallantly jumped out of AQ’s mouth and littered the streets of my ears with their feline prances on 11th September 2019 while I listened to the Martell Cypher II, which had on it, other rappers; M.I, Blaqbonez and Loose Kaynon who would become all-time favourites of mine. Since then, I have proudly occupied the numero uno spot as a big fan of Gilbert Bani popularly known as AQ such that my head plays host to the recurring ricocheting thoughts of what it would feel like to read a collection of poems written by him. God’s Engineering 2, his sixth studio album is what one could refer to as a compact with a renaissance of the mind for a myriad of Nigerians yoked to an unending tryst with music, devoid of rich lyrical embellishment that are churned out daily in the entertainment terrain and devoured with gusto – a horrendously banal ritual. Interestingly, Ifesinachi Nwadike, the 2020 ANA Poetry Prize first-runner-up, pitched AQ as one of the most brilliant rappers alive.

Implicitly as an artistic archetype, AQ underscores his place as a vanguard of the existentialist ideology through the thematic preoccupations of his artistic creations that doesn’t only mirror realistic issues in our contemporary society, but also personal life experiences. Ushering us into this buxom of peculiar artistry with Family, featuring Blaqbonez, AQ hammers on the issue of betrayal, hate, and deceit shown by the supposed family who smiles in your face and plots your downfall behind you …same family that’s supposed to support me try to negate me… a plethora of individuals can identify with this particular issue as its tentacles can be found among individuals in churches, offices, neighborhoods, industries and even amongst blood family members, hatred usurps love, a virtue, whose practice the holy book termed as the greatest of all commandments, what a world? AQ didn’t fail to satirically shove the music industry for its clandestine theatrics, and sinister hullabaloo in All Paid For, highlighting the morbid stench of rot and impunity that adorns the music industry like ornaments, cases of record labels enslaving artistes through Faustian-record-deals take the front row in this one. In my view, AQ’s concern for intending artists is the motive behind this track, hence to achieve the goal of helping them swing their pendulum toward a trajectory devoid of regret and of course, uses himself as an archetype who beat these Iscariots at their own game … You pay your dues to the majors and got a pop-through-deal with a razor/ now they deep in your pocket/ pity for your wallets/ now you looking up to me like a saviour… posts and tweets are paid for… they put me in a game I was made for/ all my contracts got the same clause… everything I own is paid for/ this is God’s will…. 

Remarkably, and in a somewhat rhetorical inclination, the third track What’s Happening plays the voice-of-reason to question the current hik-ups in the globe implicit in all sectors such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the aftermath of the covid-19 pandemic, as well as our politicians and their recycled gambits which has shoved our dear nation into the chasm of stagnancy; moribund, with no hope for the masses even after 63 years of independence. Moreover, AQ doesn’t exempt the unethical and draconian swap of the new 200, 500- & 1000-naira notes in the wake of 2023 which created a semi-dystopian system whilst grim-reaping some souls to the great beyond. The identity crisis which is gradually engulfing the world is, perhaps, my favourite part of this track …Now they even got different pro nouns/ I don’t know them or how they pronounce/ I don’t really know who’s gonna go pro now/ I just wanna know where they peep them hoes now… This clearly emphasizes the interwoven feelings of melancholy and pity for mankind that dance repetitively in my cranium at the thought of this insanity, where an individual would slap God in the face by joining the cesspool of transgendermatics to swap a penis for a vagina and vice versa, and boldly coming out to identify as a supposed new gender. In reaction to this tragic catastrophe, I have maintained that “The world has gone mad.”

Cobhams Asuquo blesses Fate vs Destiny with his alluring vocals. Through this track, AQ gives credence to fate and destiny as life’s major compasses, of course, subject to God’s omniscience. As a poet, I have inadvertently and repetitively mused and philosophized on FATE as the orchestrator of mankind’s path bounding on all, willing or unwilling. According to Lucius Annaeus Seneca, stoic philosopher of ancient Rome (4BC – 65AD) “Fate leads the willing; the unwilling it drags”. This solidifies Cobham’s hook …Cos I was born to be/ A victim of my fate you see/ A victor of my destiny/ it’s been decided and I won’t fight it/ Cos I’m winning… AQ maintains his stand of being born to do what he is doing and underscores the distinctive roles of destiny and fate …Destiny is about timing; fate is what the time brings… this is perhaps the most intellectually-tasking track in this album.

Featuring Blaqbonez yet again on PS2, this track strips bare a myriad about the two 100-crowns-rap-gods whilst littering the ears of listeners with didactic vibes. Blaqbonez tells of how recklessness which peaked with his irresponsible inclination of playing ps2 games with his tuition fees almost ruined him, ps2 as the track of the title is endowed, metaphorically, as a seductress that led him astray, regardless, he has risen to become an artiste to be reckoned with, thanking God for coming through for him, this can be said to solidify the argumentum ad populum fallacy that what works for A may not work for B, hence, grace varies amongst individuals …Made it to where I am at it’s a blessing/ Cause back when I was young, I was reckless/ Played ps2 with my tuition/ From a broke as dude, I’m a magician/ Thank God for Melodies in my head still/ I for no fit to feed my family… AQ introduces himself as an artiste of reason which he truly is, revealing his subscription to selling ideas, and wisdom via his music, self-awareness, risk-taking underscored by the talents in 100-Crowns such as BEATS BY JAY (of blessed memory) and Blaqbonez, his support towards younger talents and ever-open-arms to upcoming talents, of course, he cautions about the morbid-ills in the industry …Found 100 crowns when all hope was dead/ I gave hip-hop some of its golden years/…Reezy please tell them how they stole my shares/…Ckay came knocking on my door that year/ Congratulations guy it’s all platinum I hear/ I still open doors we don’t close around here/ I still got enough for more young careers/ …But me I no go lie this game is cold I swear/ You let a nigga drill a hole in your rear for money and fame… Those who listened to the controversial interview granted by Nollywood actor Kunle Remi can resonate with the last line of the lyric in quote.

Friction presents AQ who after facing a plethora of battles and tempests in life has emerged a mature and progressive mind full of wisdom and intellect …Left my pride in my daughters’ eyes, ego on the other side/ Wherever life takes me I’d enjoy the ride… Furthermore, the track title metaphorically expresses the fact that for progress to occur in the industry there must be periodic confrontations and lyrical battles as we already know that when two objects rub against each other, there is friction which leads to heat, and fire in some cases. Surely, we aren’t foreign to the beefs in the global rap terrain. This track sanitizes our minds to keep us on the same page with the necessary condiments for growth, particularly in the rap game, as these lyrical confrontations tend to keep rappers in check and bring out the best in everyone …When iron sharpens iron there’s friction involved/ So, when you see us clashing it’s a definitive cure/ For the culture that’s the image from an infinity curve.

Its endowment of a thing’s distinctive features and qualities on another has made me perceive metaphor as an extraordinary figure of speech. Mogadishu metaphorically bares AQ’s challenges, fears, and battles. Mogadishu is the unsafe capital of Somalia characterized by extreme security volatility and high threat of domestic terrorism. One could say that his life was more or less a battle against life’s never-ending-intricacies, and complexities ranging from loss of loved ones to the jaws of terminal diseases, discrimination faced in the music industry, currently, the danger posed by the internet to children while most parents remain carefree in the pursuit of vanity and volatile wealth, and how he intends to go hard at life since life is for the strong and not for the weak. However, he still prays for a better morrow for the country and children …Escaping generational cycles wasn’t an issue/ Still I had to watch diabetes rip apart the tissues of my loved ones/ Unborn sons I pray that shit miss you/ Sipping and reminiscing of the coast of Mogadishu/ Nigeria I pray that shit miss you/  Unborn sons, I pray that shit miss you/…Mehn I’m not trying to live a soft life, I’m trying to go hard all my life/ Life is hard, and you got to be hard to get it/…It’s funny we still buying all the Balenciaga clothing/ They targeting our kids while we social media joking and sharing memes/It’s either we are stupid or we just coping my any means…  

Outrospection is yet another heart-melting track that creates a nexus between listeners and AQ’s life – childhood mostly and how traumatic it was, from the pages of his diaries to song lyrics. Comparatively, he outrospects by taking a look at his own life. Regardless, listeners can resonate with most, if not all, of these life experiences of his, I, for instance, do. His traumatic growth is reiterated a few times as the lyrics feed us with imageries of how he became violent and confrontational as a result of the kind of Father he had, this gives credence to the naturalism ideology which pitches man as a product of his immediate environment …My pops was a decent man, hot-tempered/ Never spared the rod, he used the cane for his children to learn/ And I physically fought my brothers and then I physically fought classmates and friends…  He praises his mum for being an amazing woman, perhaps we might agree that irrespective of her not having enough time for him, she was his peace. The second verse solidifies how all these have prepared him for this crazy world in which we see ourselves …Below water I’m a submarine/ Above water I’m a navy scout… Comparatively, this track shares similarities with Jay Z’s U Don’t Know in which he asserts that he was raised a strong man, he applauds his mother too …Momma ain’t raised no fool/ Put me anywhere on God’s green earth, I’ll triple my worth motherfucker/ …I sell ice in the winter, I sold fire in hell/ I am a hustler baby, I’ll sell water to a well….I advise extreme patience while listen to this track for a personalized interpretation. It is golden.

Man Made is filled with great lessons about how we are the architects of our fortunes or misfortunes. AQ exemplifies this with an insight into his life.  The lyrical accuracy and exactness of this particular track made it seem like he was rapping my thoughts. Ranging from failed relationships to either being a failure or success in one’s chosen path, the truth remains that we get whatever we want or what we put in, hence the title Man Made …It’s what we do, it’s really not what we lose/ Sometimes it’s up to you, Sometimes it’s up to… It’s really not luck my dude, I’m proof, I’m living up with my youth/…Sometimes it’s up to God/ But there’s power in you to manifest the things you want, the things you need/ Be careful with your time and energy, do your thing mehn, do your thing my guy… 

My favourite track off the album, Blueprint, extols his originality as he states how unbothered he is with the current trends that lack originality solidifying himself as the blueprint, irrespective of who plays and or listens to his music. AQ takes a sarcastic jab at the lack of creativity amongst Afrobeat artists whose complacency has taken a banal inclination in all the dimensions of their craft, he doesn’t leave out people who value money more than family. He mentions the sheer wickedness of individuals who plot his downfall through clandestine and petty means, against which he still remains the blueprint – GOD’S ENGINEERING. He plays (figuratively working in the studio) to make a blueprint (Money and legacy) …You cannot replicate my grace is a case study/ Of God’s Engineering you’re a bug standing near him/ Never gave a fuck when these blogs start comparing/ what’s glaring, I’m miles ahead of them/ Every conversation around that is irrelevant/…New circle, new peeps, done with all the loose lips/ To black ball me you need more than just a cue stick/…How many times have they tried to finish me/ The lies are killing me, they can’t get rid of me/ Cos the Lord’s will is my ability/ I will willingly blow them to smithereens… I must state that the word-play, figurative inclination and rich lyricism of this track have it living in my head rent-free.

Finally, AQ further blesses this gift of voluptuous artistry with King Solomon, a track rooted in biblical allusion, and metaphor whose beat/ instrumental has a special place in my heart. He insists on the role wisdom plays in our decisions which, of course, includes the discarding of pride which leads to one’s fall from grace when God decides to remind you who is boss. AQ seems to be tasking the intelligent-quotient of listeners via this track as he gives us something to ponder upon. He yokes listeners to an unending tryst with wise tit-bits, perhaps, regarding one’s conduct towards glory when it comes to life plans, business, among others …That’s how you sold your soul without even negotiating one/ The cost of living a conceded life/ Giving up your choices, your voice, the force that gave you life/ Got your houses and your cars but you can’t sleep at night/ A simple math of profit and loss could have made your business right…. Clearly, this track amongst other things elicits how vapid and unattractive the absence of wisdom is whilst making sensitive decisions in life, and should be listened to with extreme scrupulosity.   

AQ has once more proven himself as a quintessence of brilliant artistry marinated in excellent plumes with the voluptuousness of this sixth album of his. There is hardly a track not to like in this buxom of artistic creation, there is a track, at the least, which every individual from all walks of life can resonate with whilst nodding to the excellent instrumentals echoing all 11 tracks as artistically relevant till eternity. With GOD’S ENGINEERING 2, AQ bequeaths a vestige posterity would always smile at. 

Listen to this album.

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