Mr Eazi has been a leading figure in the world of Afrobeats for years, and he’s always had an expansive definition of that ever-rising music’s sonic and cultural possibilities. The Nigerian-born artist, who now mainly lives in Accra, Ghana, has collaborated with Beyoncé and Diplo, and among his most popular songs is a 2019 cut with J Balvin and Bad Bunny. In fact, as Afrobeats’ profile has grown, he’s bristled at broad catchall genre terms to characterize music from throughout Africa, arguing for less reductive treatment.
“I think it is unfair to even put everything [in] Afropop,” he recently told Rolling Stone. “Korean pop is pop music from Korea. We’re not calling it ‘Asia pop.’ ”
A sense of Mr Eazi as both a curator and an ambassador is all over his new album, The Evil Genius, which is technically his full-length debut after a run of buoyant, sumptuous hits including “Leg Over” and “Dance for Me,” and mixtape-style releases. The Evil Genius is expansively international. He wrote and recorded different parts of the LP in Benin, Ghana, Nigeria, Rwanda, the U.S., and the U.K., and you hear those places and more in its sound, from the palm-wine-guitar shimmer and highlife horns of “Fefe Ne Fefe” to the tough, moody Afro drill of “Advice” to “Exit,” a joyful stunner with an assist from the Soweto Gospel Choir.
Eazi even commissioned 16 works of art by African artists to accompany each of the album’s tracks. The Pan-African scope gives the album a sense of grand ambition that fits a major artist making his most coherent statement after several high-profile years in the game. But Eazi’s characteristic smooth, skittering rhythms, warmly insistent singing, and inviting melodies never feel overburdened by his big ideas, even when he’s linking his own legacy to those of Nelson Mandela and Fela Kuti, or dropping Drake-size self-mythologizing like, “First they love you, then they stab you/Omo na the story of my life.”
Eazi establishes his soulman bona fides on the elegant, subdued “Legalize,” and on “Òròkórò,” he shares the mic with iconic Beninese singer Angélique Kidjo, who makes a downright regal appearance. He declares himself “sentimental” and “monumental” on the amiably braggy single “Chop Time, No Friend,” co-produced by Andre Vibez, who was part of the team behind the Rema/Selena Gomez smash “Calm Down.” “Notorious,” one of six tracks helmed by leading Afrobeats producer Kel-P, riffs on the Duran Duran hit sampled by the Notorious B.I.G., merging pop and hip-hop history into its own radiant sound without Eazi seeming at all like he’s trying to nostalgia-mine an Anglo-American crossover. “Good Lovin’ ” is a similarly seamless confluence, with a reggae feel and guest vocals from Ghanaian singer Efya.
The album’s centerpiece is the swaying banger “We Dey,” titled after a pidgin phrase meaning “we are here.” Co-written by Whoisakin, an R&B artist from Lagos, it was recorded in L.A. and inspired in part by protests against police brutality in Nigeria. As the beat ascends, Eazi sings the title phrase with prayerful gravitas. In one elegant, danceable gesture, we hear personal pride, local struggle, and global ambitions. On The Evil Genius, that’s all there in generous doses, easily balanced in one man’s vision.