You would be hard pressed to find a current afrobeats artist that does not find inspiration from an array of Caribbean sounds. From specific elements like the dancehall break and ad-libs, to more general infusions, new age artists like Burna Boy, WizKid, Mr Eazi and many more have generously borrowed from dancehall sounds. But with many afrobeats artists, the distinction between afrobeats and the dancehall elements, even when fused properly, is still pretty clear. The sound is also usually solidly based on afro sounds- where their expertise lies.
This isn’t the case in Hopeless Romantic, Tomi Thomas’ most recent drop. The Nigerian-New Yorker’s fuses afrobeats and dancehall whilst leaning quite generously on a spectrum of Caribbean influences. This wouldn’t be the singer/songwriter's first stint with other genres. His previous collaborations as well as released work is greatly experimental. But Hopeless Romantic doesn’t feel like a mere dip into a different genre. Considering the only feature being from one of the most heralded pioneers of the dancehall genre, Buju Banton, the intention of the project seems to pay homage to his musical inspiration.
The EP opens with Love Me Now, the fairly stripped back beginning making way for Tomi Thomas’ presence to take center stage. As he sing-raps, the artist makes his presence known with a plea for his love interest to reciprocate his feelings: “would you love me now/ please don’t love me later.” The sing-rapping you hear in the first track of the EP is one he invokes in varying ways throughout the project. What is now a popular flow, this form of delivery dates back to the 70s (insert from who) and has since found its way in all music genres, allowing artists to showcase both their rapping ability and vocal prowess. The latter of which Tomi Thomas has a lot of. In the next track, one of the singles and the project’s namesake, Hopeless Romantic, he shows off his vocal range with a key change mid-song. The song ends with a guitar solo- a surprising treat that will keep your attention to the very end of the track.
The tempo of the project is fairly moderate but it picks up in Again, a breezy, Summer dance anthem that is slowly becoming a staple in afrobeats artists’ discography. The visual is directed by Dalia Dias and stars Tomi Thomas himself alongside his love interest. It's a sweet Summer romance set in a just as sweet backdrop of an island. Both audio and visual are undoubtedly audibly and aesthetically pleasing, albeit not novel in any way.
A much subtler but consistent guitar in the background steals the show is the sensual GoGo Dancer. With sparse lyrics, Tomi Thomas’ leans on the melody to make a track that’ll make you want to buss a whine. Perhaps because it’s preceded by GoGo Dancer, which is undoubtedly a contender for best song in the project, Waiting falls way short. There is an odd pop feel to the track that makes for a slightly underwhelming sound.
The 6-track EP is compact, with the piece de resistance closing off the project featuring the legend that is Buju Banton. Apart from the obvious infusion of dancehall sounds in the whole project, a feature from one of the genre’s legends is a pretty effective way to communicate your inspiration. Buju Banton enters the track with his deep, hoarse voice and instantly arrests your senses. It feels intentional that a project that seeks to invoke sounds from both Africa and the Caribbean feature Buju Banton. In an interview with Okay Africa, Buju responds to a question about his connection to Africa by saying: “I am an African. I am a direct link…” And on being an inspiration to new age afrobeats artists like Tomi Thomas, he affirms “seeing that musical connection so strong, it makes my heart feel so high.”