On ‘Site 15’, R2Bees’ new album, the hiplife band perpetuate the exact sonic defiance that has secured them repetitive triumph in a radio climate structured on transient ‘vibes’ and perishable ‘waves’.
A radio fixture since ‘Da Revolution I’, their searing 2009 debut, the duo — Faisal Hakeem (Paedae da Pralem/ Omar Sterling) and Rashid Mugeez (Mugeez) — have stuck to a specific set of tempi and accordingly risen to the status of ‘specialists’ across the fundamental sounds of hip-hop/hiplife, Afrobeats/Afropop and Caribbean grooves.
Highlife, too. They may not be accorded sufficient praise for their inroads with this last genre, but the R2Bees catalogue has offered some of the most exciting highlife staples in the last decade. List five of your favourite R2Bees records and, surely, it will be dominated by their highlife submissions.
Years on, R2Bees continue to represent the genre creditably. Indeed, the most brilliant moments off this fresh 15-track set are the highlife minutes, pouring with textbook 60s guitar sessions and percussion pulses that instantly identify the genre: tracks like ‘Picture’, ‘I Dey Miss You’, ‘Ex’, ‘Yesterday’ and ‘Over’ all deftly lean toward that musical strain.
It doesn’t end there though; lyrical references, especially on a song like ‘Dangerous’ — which recalls highlife legend Rex Omar’s 90s classic of the same title — also exposes how diligently the pair has adapted the genre into their pieces. Paedae and Mugeez — who also happen to be cousins — have mastered that sound on their own terms, doing so far better than many of their pop colleagues who claim to practice highlife today. And, over here, a project constructed around highlife hardly ever turns out to be a misstep.
Also, often, a highlife-heavy body of work is one pregnant with love subjects. Thus, while the album pays homage to the Tema block the men grew up on — as can be seen on the title track and another, ‘Never Again’ — love stories abound on the piece.
That is where their unique writing stencil comes to play. Reliant on raw humor and crafty storytelling, the duo masterfully take on a multiplicity of subjects — sometimes on the same song — and execute them in a way that manages to remain captivating. The verses that typically constitute an R2Bees tune trap everyday soul accurately, bringing listeners closest to the thoughts and experiences of the Ghanaian man.
Once again, we don’t only notice R2Bees’ strategic artistic nonchalance with the interval of their releases (their last album was six years ago) and their overall conduct within showbiz, but also in the unpressured demeanor they assume on tracks, both with the use of their vocal chords and in lyrics — even if they’re discussing affection, hence why their verses are populated with lines like “we go love from a distance, me I no get credit to call you,” “afei na wobisa me [if] I’m in love or not/yes and no; I be on and off,” “21st century, so she go tell it to my face oh: ‘it’s over’,” and song titles like ‘Wabaso’ (to wit, ‘you’ve grown wings’).
As expected, Mugeez shoulders majority of the vocal allotment. A hermit who emerges only occasionally, he is highly regarded as a singer/songwriter and deemed mentor by many colleagues. Every note of his feels unforced, and the soft power of his vocal gift does not go unnoticed. Still, Paedae does significantly more singing than he’s done on their previous submissions, offering both a deep serving (see ‘Boys Kasa’ and ‘Never Again’) and a commendably throaty bellowing as we hear on tracks like ‘Sunshine’ and ‘Over’. Paedae’s singing aptitudes are notable as prelude to his verses, adlib, or actual stanzas. Otherwise, R2Bees tap crooners Wizkid, Burna Boy, and King Promise for remaining melody tasks.
Production-wise, beyond the bold highlife statement, ‘Site 15’ also invokes parallels. It sees a reincarnation of earlier works, but not necessarily in a way that is unoriginal. ‘Sunshine’ and ‘Yesterday’ recollect the non-album singles ‘Beautiful’ and ‘Supa’ (featuring Wizkid but conspicuously absent from the project); ‘I dey Miss You’ evokes ‘Odo’ (off ‘Da Revolution II’, their sophomore album).
There’s more: ‘Ex’, because of how it begins, harks back to ‘Bokor’, a hopeful 2017 Killbeatz production; while the title track of the record takes us all the way back to ‘Yawa Gal’, their very first single. Paedae’s part on ‘My Baby’ (assisted by Burna Boy) reuses the entire first stanza of ‘I Dey Mad’ (2008).
Now, there are two ways of interpreting this move.
One: Killbeatz — who has been integral in the creation of the R2Bees sound — is also heavily present on ‘Site 15’, and his signature spills all over the project.
Two: seeing as the R2Bees template has hardly underdelivered over the years, who are they to change a working formula?
“Over a decade in the game,” Paedae points out on ‘I Dey Miss You’, “we spit the same flows.”
Finally, as it does not turn to ‘certified’ templates that guarantee hits in 2019, ‘Site 15’ doesn’t cater to instant satiation; there isn’t a song to ‘shaku’ or ‘zanku’ to straightaway, even though the project isn’t hostile to dance in its entirety. But it is a sound album and further validates R2Bees as musicians who go against the tide and still prevail.
Get “Site 15” on iTunes