Review: AṢA’s “V” screams “commercial appeal” … and trying to explore new horizons

Asa, often regarded as a living legend and the greatest Nigerian alternative artiste of all time, recently released a new project titled “V”. The eclectic body of work is her first project since Lucid (2019), which is my favorite project of hers.

Bukola “Asa” Elemide has garnered a lot of respect today because of her eminent musicality, vivid storytelling and lyricism, with a voice that embodies her uniqueness as an artiste. But you wouldn’t have to go too far on her new album to figure out that something was off or different.

“Mayana” — the first single off the album — was a clear indication to an avid Asa listener that we’re about to be hit with something different from the veteran. Asa goes full throttle on love and cruise with Mayana, bringing in the rhymes “plenty fish and banana, I’ll be your mayana” to compliment the pulsating afrobeat on the song. It’s a song you would definitely have on repeat.

The energy continues on the second single off the album, “Ocean”. A melodious masterpiece with the talented WurlD bringing in the background blues, giving the song its colours and light. Ocean, along with Mayana, are songs that can give TikTok trends and gather waves for reputable awards. WurlD’s impact on the song begs for more collaboration between the two, music is like a bottomless ocean and we might just need to drown in an Asa-WurlD collab.

Speaking of collaborations, the Asa-Wizkid collab is one Nigerians have begged to see and the two didn’t disappoint on the song IDG(I Don’t Go). Still, on the love train, Asa steps in sonically with a sound popular to afro-pop artistes, though slightly different but still uniquely herself. The song got better when Wizkid delivered one of his best verses in a long while, it was reminiscent of the beauty we heard on Beyoncé’s Brown Skin Girl. The Asa-Wizkid collab is one I’d like to see again as they both almost sounded the same, imagine Wizkid on Mayana or Ocean? I’d give Star boy his flowers for effortlessly hopping on IDG.

The first twist on the album happened on the 4th track, “Nike”. We’ve heard Maserati, Dior and some other couple of songs promoting brands and so it wasn’t a surprise to see a song about “the fine boy in Nike”. This particular song elaborated how far Asa has come as an artist, in the sense that she can be different and still be herself at the same time. Nike isn’t the best heartbreak ballad from Asa — when you compare it to “Torn” from Lucid — but it’s just a special sound on the album that bodies the change the project was echoing. Nike started brightly and then dwindled into an emotional, heartbreaking end, a typical Asa flow.

Despite the melancholic end of the last song, Asa begs for love again like a young lover with “Show Me Off” — one of my favorites on the album. We are in a social media era, so this is probably one for the Gen Zs, the masters of PDA and YouTube couples. Show Me Off is groovy, an easy fan favorite, with lyrics simple and repetitive enough to stick.

On this album, love and romance are the clear destinations and so Asa goes again in “Morning Man” — a honeymoon or weekend getaway special. It’s a song you could listen to while your man serves you breakfast in bed. It is also the shortest song on the album at 2mins 29secs, that’s enough time for a quicky!

Breakfast in bed is a good thing and that perfectly ushered in the next and most special song on the album “Good Times”. The Cavemen have been in good form recently, and they brought in that highlife positivity on this song with their drums and strings. Asa, again, showed dynamism as she appreciates friendship, good people, and great relationships — things which are extremely rare to find these days.

Up till this point, the album has seemed like some sort of contemporary afro-pop record, but then Asa intensifies the core undertone of RnB present in the whole album on the last 3 tracks. “Believer” started like something you could hear from John Legend, then she switches quickly into the power of her voice and leans on it.

The waves spread and take another wild turn in the song “All I Ever Wanted” with the amazing Amaarae. Asa took the heat up a little on this one as the song was saturated with sexual and vulgar language. Musically, it is one of the best songs on the album as Asa showed how she could easily blend into a style that she isn’t known for. The tempo of the drums throughout the song is enough to keep you hooked till the end.

After all the lovey-dovey, Asa left us with questions in the last track of the album “Love Me or Give Me Red Wine”. We started well with ” I’ll be your mayana”, only to come to “why why you no kiss me? say, baby, I don’t love you anymore”. Which summarizes the full message of the album, love or pleasure. Love Me Or Give Me Red Wine is my least favorite on the album, it is also worthy to note that it was the only song where the veteran spoke her native language — Yoruba.

V isn’t Asa’s best album. By her standards, even Lucid was better. But I think it’s all based on perspective. Asa has received lots of critics since Lucid, with many questioning her dynamism. But in all truth, Asa has evolved uniquely over the years, mastering her sound and dwelling fully in herself — which has separated her from the rest.

Asa showed on this album that she can be dynamic and still be unique. The project screams “commercial appeal” on one hand, and on the other hand, it shows an artiste who has been relevant for nearly two decades just trying to explore new horizons. Though lyrically, the album didn’t portray the profound and in-depth songwriting Asa we all know. Even musically too, it wasn’t prime Asa.

But V is a love story. And love is not perfect, and so is this album. For avid Asa listeners, this isn’t an album you would love at first listen — I didn’t like it at first, too. But over time, as you embrace the truth about versatility, you would realize how victorious this album is and how lucky you are to witness this version of Asa.

I’d rate the album 7/10. She’s trying a new sound, eyes on the subsequent project(s) after this.