Is ‘Boy Alone’ The Best Afropop Debut Album Of Recent Times?

Wonu Osikoya

July 3rd, 2023

For as long as I can remember, music has always been a safe space for me and growing up around music only affirmed my safety even more. While there were so many theories that simply did not make sense to me about music and how it should be consumed, one stood out and stuck to me for so long. Growing up, I was forced to believe that you have to attain a certain level of mental firmness to understand how rappers such as J Cole, Tyler The Creator and Kendrick Lamar lay down bars and for this reason, I just did not pay attention to them as artists even though I unconsciously think about these rappers when I think about the word depth. But now, I understand why such statements would have been made. Every form of art sells an emotion and what Omah Lay has decided to sell with ‘Boy Alone’ is pain — an emotion just as fragile as its direct opposite — love. 

Pain is that one emotion that is complex but differs greatly from person to person. It encompasses a range of intense emotions and sensations that can be both psychological and physical. Communicating an emotion as delicate as this is one thing but merging this with unique storytelling and painting near perfect pictures in the minds of listeners is a different sort of prowess. So, whether or not Omah Lay is highlighting a matter which may not necessarily be deep, the musician has mastered the art of translating every emotion felt directly to the audience, a skill which not many can exude.   

Omah Lay stepped into the scene in 2020 with the release of his debut EP ‘Get Layd,’ a 5-tracker which allowed the artist gain a seat at the table of new cats of Afropop. His peculiar pen game and ability to tell stories from the lenses of a young boy from Marine Base — the deepest slums of Port Harcourt — is rather impeccable. Few months later, he returned with ‘What Have We Done?,’ a product of an artist who had become an overnight success and was dealing with the uncertainty and anxiety that came with it. The project featured fan favourites such as “Godly” and “Confession.” Both EPs played their roles in modern day Afropop and allowed the artist to maintain firmness in Afropop conversations. With every new body of work, Omah Lay is making music that defines its time. Omah Lay’s pre-debut run prepared listeners for what to expect on his debut album but arrived with an even more unique style to it. ‘Boy Alone’ arrived in July 2022 and saw him at his most introspective. 

The first part hosted 14 tracks and spans through topics such as grief, loss, pain and more, all experienced and penned down in the most unique and symphonic way possible. The album remains a statement by an artist who has a lot of emotions to let go of. On ‘Boy Alone,’ Omah Lay fixed himself as a valuable voice in emo-Afropop — a genre that blends elements of emo music and Afropop music. Its introspective and confessional lyrics, often dealing with themes of heartbreak, loneliness, and personal struggles, helps listeners connect with themselves and their own personal emotions. His ability to convert raw undiluted emotions into his music, through lyrics, production and across the engineering of the vocal texture allows it to feel as if the music caresses the skin. 

On the production of the project, he teamed up with the likes of P.Priime, Niphkeys, Tempoe, Semzi and more to bring records such as “Soso,” “Woman” and “I’m A Mess'’ to life. The emotional range within Omah Lay's music is one of the key factors that has not only contributed to his success but to the success of the sub genre. The vulnerability and rawness of emotions through his soulful vocals is what creates the connection between Omah Lay and his cult following. The album produced commercial gems such as “Understand” and Tempoe-assisted “Soso.” , although the latter only gained its mainstream momentum seven months after the official release of the project. It has been recorded by TurnTable Charts that the album has seen these two songs as no. 1 on both the radio and streaming charts in Nigeria. Despite being released in July 2022, it rose to No. 1 on the weekly Official Top 50 Albums Chart in March 2023, TurnTable also reported.

The build up to the success of ‘Boy Alone’ has been rather peculiar but worthwhile and rewarding. Unlike many other classic albums, it did not have an easy path to success. Prior to its release, the album witnessed two release date push backs and arrived exactly a week after Burna Boy’s ‘Love, Damini’ which took away the attention of many listeners. On arrival, the album did not appear as if it could spill over to the mainstream market, as not many of the records had the commercial potential of a great debut album but Omah Lay was willing to take the long road. ‘Boy Alone’ took the long but gratifying route to commercial success. While many were not convinced of Omah Lay’s fitness to release an album at the time,  the artist was well prepared, confident and ready to take on the next phase of his career __— his debut album. His level of confidence oozed through the project as he opened the tape chanting the lyrics “Only the real fit recognise” — a solid opener for an album which did not become an overnight success. It is clear that Boy Alone does not follow the style of conventional Afropop music. For Valo, taking such a daring step required trusting in Omah Lay’s vision “I only had to trust Omah Lay. that’s all I had to do on this project; it was entirely his idea from start to finish,”

In a bid to showcase additional creative work and paint out an even clearer picture for the listeners, Omah Lay has arrived with a deluxe version for the album, extending his run of introspection. At a time where deluxe albums have become a trend in Nigerian Afropop, the track arrangement of the album makes a statement to stand out in its own way. The 5 new records are arranged above the already existing tracks, breathing a more refreshing life into the body of work with the help of British rapper Aitch and Puerto Rican singer and songwriter Ozuna . The album opens up with sharp electric guitar strings that capture your attention on first listen. On “Reason” and similar to the rest of records on the project, he pairs groove with stellar writing as he sheds light on existential crisis and its difficulties from his point of view. Omah Lay and Semzi go together like two peas in a pod. After displaying undeniable synergy on the initial project with the record “Never Forget, the pair have teamed once again but this time for a 3-streak run. Produced by Semzi, “Come Closer” tackles the feeling of insecurity. On the record, he fixes his attention on his muse, creating a safe space for her with his stellar lyricism. On this record, the vulnerability lies in the lyrics; “Do you even listen to yourself, you’re living inside your own head/You should come out of your shell, nothing is wrong with your dress,” he chants to his love interest as he affirms her security. The technicality in the delivery of “Come Closer” is the artist flaunting his ability to mould each track into its authentic form. Melodies remain a heavy composition of Omah Lay’s music and he projects this skill on  “It’s Yours.” 

An evident standout on the project will be the guest performances. Across the entire body of work, Omah Lay teams up with artists who bring the picture together vividly. Aitch’s emits top level confidence on the record “Imagine” as he slides over the BGRZ-production. Similar to his performance on the production of “Temptations,” he maintains simplicity but ties all elements of the beat together as neatly as possible. The beauty of Semzi-produced “Joanna” is in the rawness of the vocals, coupled with the heavy bass of the log drums which serve as 808s in the context of the record. Omah Lay cries out to his lover to remain with him**.** On the remix of “Soso,” he collaborates with Ozuna who breathes new life into the record and takes it in a different direction. 

‘Boy Alone’ is the gift that won’t stop giving. Sonically, the music on the deluxe is more radiant, but still carries all the emotions it intends to carry, blending perfectly into the old tracks. It reflects where Omah Lay is currently and how much brighter his mind is, now willing to offer a helping hand to listeners and fans. If there was ever a debate about whether or not ‘Boy Alone’ is a classic album or not, the arrival of the deluxe version should shut down these discussions completely.  As I see it, the deluxe is simply an affirmation of Omah Lay’s unquestionable and unassailable talent. With the addition of these six new tracks, ‘Boy Alone’ exhibits qualities of an evergreen album that would stand the test of time, taking its seat at the table with the likes of Wande Coal’s ‘Mushin 2 Mohits,’ Wizkid’s ‘Superstar’ and TuFace Idiba’s ‘Grass 2 Grace.’ 

Music is and will always be a healing tool and ‘Boy Alone’ has offered me the healing I didn’t realise I needed. The body of work has easily become the music soundtracking how I feel about life, guiding me through the gloomy days. The comfort in realising someone somewhere is experiencing similar situations and converting this into timeless art is not just an inspiration, but also a form of security and self expression from my lenses. Speaking about what is next for him now that the journey of Boy Alone has ended, Omah Lay said “At this moment, I’m not thinking about the next step. I’m just happy the fans are loving the project, so I’m out here on the road enjoying them singing it back to me”

‘Boy Alone’ has garnered 1 Billion streams across all platforms as reported by TurnTable. With the recent arrival of what is arguably the most well composed deluxe album which has been released this year, the body of work is only set to leave its forever mark on Afropop. Modern day poetry is the most minimal description of the flawless writing on ‘Boy Alone.’ 

On what the goal for  creating Boy Alone was, Marshall of KeyQaad revealed that “The goal was to create a classic, an iconic project, a gem that will live forever; holistically that’s what we stand for at KeyQaad”. It is safe to say that that goal has been achieved, as Boy Alone has become a benchmark for what emo afropop should sound like. The project is a masterclass in production. Omah Lay started out producing music for artists and his ability to discern with his beat selection is a reminder for listeners that he still and will always have the ears for production. He flaunts these qualities in his choice of melodies on records such as “Come Closer” and “It’s Yours.” Yes, ‘Boy Alone’ maintains a strong footing in the conversation of classics in the Nigerian Afropop hall of fame  but is it the best Afropop debut album in recent times?

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