Praiz: The last of a dying breed
R&B is the unofficial theme music for the month; it is to February what Christmas songs are to December. We are still in the month of love, and there isn’t a genre of music that communicates the emotion more fluently and deeply than R&B does. But sadly, this type of music doesn’t get nearly as much airtime at every other time of the year – the tempo is too slow, the emotions it comes with are too heavy. If you truly want to be immersed in the soundtrack of love, sex and relationships, you’d have to wait for Cupid season to come all over again.
R&B is going through an evolution; it’s no longer the golden era of the 90’s filled with US bands and vocal powerhouses; or the 2000’s when dancing became deeper ingrained in the art form. Over the past decade or so, R&B music has been so closely alloyed with other genres that it has lost a lot of its own identity. The genre has also lost its dominance on the charts. In 2004, 80% of the songs that topped the Billboard R&B charts were also on top of the Hot 100. Compare that to last year when, according to Billboard, R&B only ‘managed’ to filter its way into the mainstream charts.
In Nigeria, R&B music has also shrunk to become a niche genre. According to PlayData, none of the 10 most played songs released last year were R&B. Songs by Ed Sheeran, Omarion and Charlie Puth did, however, make it to the top 20, where Nonso Amadi’s “Tonight” and Simi’s “Joromi” were the only ‘R&B-ish’ entries from local acts. Furthermore, of all the mainstream Nigeria albums that were released in 2017, only a handful, such as Banky W’s Songs About U, Ric Hassani’s African Gentleman and Omawumi’s Timeless, truly fit the format. What’s even more discouraging is that none of those projects were particularly impactful culturally.
However, even though the indices for success aren’t very good, every February provides R&B singers the opportunity to warm up their vocal chords and try again. For as long as there is love, there is hope. X3Music’s R&B heartthrob, Praiz, released a brand new EP titled 2 Mins on Valentine’s Day, and held a listening session on the 10th of February for friends and tastemakers to have a feel. It’s the singer’s first body of work since 2014’s double album Rich & Famous, which was a fascinating debut.
Praiz served two masters on that album, or at least, he tried to. The “Rich” side of the album contained 14 records dedicated to love, while the “Famous” side was filled with 12 straight-up, unapologetic pop bangers. It was an interesting contrast; music from the heart and of the heart keeps Praiz rich and fulfilled, not actually in material things but as a musician and a person. And then there’s the other music, the music that keeps Praiz relevant, or famous, enough to continue to do as his heart pleases.
The success of that album afforded the Kaduna-bred singer the creative leeway to create 2 Mins – a mostly self-produced, 5-track EP that contains nothing but heartfelt love ballads. 2 Mins is unlike any other thing that’s out right now. It’s a project that doesn’t reach for any form of radio play or try to be trendy or try to appeal to any audience other than lovers. There is no experimentation or pop lean; this is R&B music delivered from the part of the heart where the blood is reddest.
The mood of the project is mostly forlorn; Praiz sets the tone on the opener and title track where he sings about putting a bow on a relationship that simply isn’t going anywhere. In a manner that’s as cold as it’s calculative, Praiz has his finger on the buzzer – he’s counting down. Even though 120 seconds is barely enough time for them to say their goodbyes, he doesn’t care, he’s eager to move on. Cleverly, the record itself is 2 minutes and sounds more like a long skit than a full track.
On “I Don’t Wanna Love You,” there’s a conflict of emotions. It’s Praiz’ last night with his lover and he wants her. But only for the night, it’s over, or at least that’s what he tells himself. Having hastily called things off, “Save Us” sounds like Praiz is now full of regret; he wants that old thing back. However, after being so disrespectful, he has a lot of wooing to do; “Champagne and Flowers” is part of the apology package. With his apology seemingly accepted, “Here and Now” is a commitment, more like a vow, to remain together for the rest of their lives.
This is the kind of music that comforts you as you hold on to your pillow at night, wishing it was a real person. Songs that make you want to risk it all and ring up that ex that your spouse is unhappy that you still keep in contact with and apologize. The music is that gripping. Praiz really put his best foot forward. Although, you can almost tell that, with this peace offering to the R&B gods, the versatile singer is about to go ahead to commit pop sin on his sophomore project.