It is not enough that Patoranking is having the time of his life, he is also having the best of two worlds. Nigeria; Ghana. Jamaican patois; Nigerian pidgin. 90s’ Nigerian music; today’s sound. Let’s say he is having the best combination of several worlds. It’s a great formula for a pop artist: hard work + greed.
From his breakout single ‘Alubarika’ (2013) to the recent ‘Another Level’, his star hasn’t dimmed. How has he done it? First, consistency. In today’s climate of an avalanche of songs per week, he has released new music almost constantly. His management seems to understand that the songs have to be there to be played, and the name hovering near the lips of a pop enthusiast. Nowadays, lengthy contemplation is the enemy. The popular phobia of oversaturation now long over, risk is overbalanced against the vacationing pop star.
“Put it out and do so now” is the pop zeitgeist. Disregard it and witness your own slide into irrelevance.
Second, variation. Patoranking is well served by an upbringing with as much pop-Nigeriana as it had Ghanaian influences. He has made a curious remark about the music scenes in both countries, declaring Ghana’s scene richer than Nigeria’s. It is the kind of statement that can be made only by an artist sure of the statement and of his own craft. However dubious his judgement, his music has maintained a uniform listenability. Even the songs that failed to become hits gathered enough attention to be modestly rewarded with airplay.
If his statement about the Ghanaian and Nigerian music scenes was divisive, on the new song ‘No Kissing Baby,’ he finds a way to bring both west African countries together. He has been to Ghana before, back when his reggae-dancehall colleague Stonebwoy had him on the remix to ‘Pull Up’. There, however, the dominant sound was Jamaican.
This time, with the excellent Sarkodie, the sound is very clearly African. There’s that pidgin hook: “If you no gimme I no go take o” [If you don’t give me, I won’t take it] There is Sarkodie’s twice-as-fast Twi-flow, the Ghanaian rapper including a Nigerian slang in his verse. There’s the GospelOnTheBeatz densely-percussive, Afro-popped dance-ready production.
What has been levelled as criticism—Patoranking’s penchant for pidgin over patois while claiming reggae—is actually a skill, one that has pop utility: the ability to insert a novel content into an old form. Or vice versa. What this means practically is that the artist is walking the path to the hearts of two groups of fans. If he hasn’t already, he will in time make fans of both Jamaicans and Nigerians. Purists will be pissed, but that can be chucked off as collateral damage.
As for the lyrics, it is hard to think of any song in recent mainstream pop that has made a delightful tune from a lady’s rebuffing of a man’s amorous overtures. Wizkid declaring “I want your body sleeping in my bed”, Banky W’s pledge to make a woman “hit high notes”, Lil Kesh’s mocking “Is it because I love you” are the models for a slew of songs with a male and female protagonist. Patoranking bucks the trend with his never-mind acceptance of his lady’s wishes. This rather agreeable approach to wooing rubs off on Sarkodie whose working genre is not known for tenderness. The rapper actually asks, “Can I touch you?”
Surprise, surprise? Maybe not. Over the course of their careers, both Patoranking and Sarkodie have telegraphed a somewhat conservative core; with this song, there’s an echo of a disavowal of extra-marital sex. “No kissing, baby,” the lady says. “Alright,” Patoranking appears to say in the music video, “let’s take a walk.”
So man and woman are seen in friendly but not quite intimate terms in the video. (It is a semi-love song; but that “if you don’t give me, I won’t take it” line is quite a definitive anti-rape statement. Who would have thought that this era of profane lyrics might provide a catchy slogan for rape activism?) Directed by former American athlete, the UK-raised Dapo Fagbenle (aka Daps), the video is a pleasant, colourful throwback to hip hop videos of the 90s, its bright and sunny façade emphasising the song’s lightheartedness.
One last note. ‘No Kissing Baby’ is being sold as the first track from Patoranking’s forthcoming debut album, God Over Everything. Imagine this: first fruits from Nigerian and Ghanaian ingredients with a side-serving of Jamaica, plus a video showing the shoki dance, a variation of the azonto dance, and retro outfits from the west. Best of two dishes? Not even. More like, Mister Patoranking has the continent on a fork—and the world on his plate.
*This review was first published on MusicInAfrica July 12, 2016.
Oris Aigbokhaevbolo is West African editor at the Music in Africa website. A film and music critic, he won the 2015 All Africa Music Award for Music/Entertainment Journalism. Follow @catchoris