Rema arrived on the scene by way of a self-titled EP released in March 2019, and by the end of that year the Mavin Records signee was being heralded as leading a new generation of afrobeats artists. Since this acclaim the young artist has received even more praise with even heftier bangers like Woman, enjoyed collaborations with heavy hitters like Tiwa Savage (as well as been teased to collaborate with the likes of Lil Nas X and Drake), all while amassing a global fanbase. The road leading to his debut album has been paved with so much promise that to declare it much anticipated might be an understatement.
Even in this anticipation, there was still skepticism on whether the prodigal artist could convert his hit-making success into a lengthy and cohesive body of work that would hold its own in the current afrobeats, and musical landscape at large.
As we witness afrobeats mutate in all sorts of directions, it is fair to acknowledge that there is certainly merit in a constant reinvention, and the fusion of seemingly unrelated sounds to create something brilliantly fresh. Amaarae did this with her project, THE ANGEL YOU DON’T KNOW and Cruel Santino (previously Santi) did this most recently with Subaru Boys: FINAL HEAVEN. But there is also merit in recognising that your musical arsenal is more than capable of penetrating the dominant sound and absolutely bodying it.
Rema is truly the product of the incredible afrobeats artists that have come before him. You don’t get Rave & Roses without an Afro Pop, Vol.1 , or a Made in Lagos, solidly ushering this current dominating era of afro sounds into the mainstream. One that celebrates more instrument heavy beats that still have a stripped back quality, and one that is unmistakably infused with Jamaican sounds. In this project, the young talent is taking this beautifully crafted formula by his forerunners and doing it justice the best way that he can.
Rave & Roses is such a great time. For the most part, this album is the embodiment of what a good night out is made of. The ever so satisfying heavy use of drum and that low tone bass feels just as good as it sounds. And the perfectly placed saxophone on tracks like Dirty is intoxicating. A faster paced dancehall infused track (Are you there) as well as a slow paced one (Wine) perfectly embellished by Yseult’s silky vocals in French.
Rema has an uncanny ability to playfully hopscotch from one language to another and gibberish alike to create sonically gorgeous results. We saw this in his hit track Dumebi that introduced him to the afrobeats world. In Rave & Roses, we see him further exploring this quality with his lyrics, tapping into more playfulness. In Mara we see him likening his compatibility with his love interest with inanimate objects as he describes her as the, “spanner to my screw, baby.” And in Oroma Baby, he reveals that she “oppress me with her booty, she a Taliban.”
But it is this same cheekiness that has garnered the 21-year-old quite a bit of criticism for his lyrics, with most imploring him to write more maturely. In a GQ interview, he rightfully responded, “people expect complex lyricism, but let me grow…I’m a kid!” Also, some of what critics are quick to dismiss as immature lyricism has for ages been a staple of African wordplay. Lest we forget the 2Baba lyrics in an afrobeats classic: “you make my heart go ting-a-ling-a ling,” that we gleefully sang along too.
The album opener, Divine, an insight into Divine Ikubor- the person (not the artist), is more seriously delivered. The self-titled offering is vulnerable yet assertive. The Beninese artist has previously shared details of his turbulent childhood; we know from him that the journey has been far longer and more fraught than his outward success might reveal.
“Make nobody come against what me believe in/ If you come against my vision you know that it's treason/ It's been a long time I had this feeling I was chosen,”
he declares. If anyone still synonymised his rapid ascension with ease, Rema is here to set the record straight.
Complementary to his musical talents is this equally well-crafted cult of personality. Rema has all the makings of an afrobeats ‘it boy’ poised to transcend into global stardom. In fact, he has mentioned that the hallmark for success for him is global stardom. When we consider this, it is not shocking that his debut project features international acts. In an IG live, Rema recently chalked this up to him simply collaborating with artists who he is already friends with. But it is understandable that beyond collaborating with likeminded people, the young star also sees it as a stepping stone into expanding his sound and audience alike.
Rema has talked about getting his musical start as a rapper. And his debut EP Rema borrows from contemporary hip hop sounds including trap, most notably in the emo-trap track Why that emulates Juice Wrld’s pained vocals. With all this context, the features on his album start to feel less farfetched. Addicted, a standout on the track that veers off the afrobeats script as it heavily leans into mainstream pop to create what sounds like a The Weeknd and Young Thug musical love child. The features as well as sonic experimentation points towards the possibility of more solid genre expansion in the future.
It is also worth mentioning that with regards to breaking into foreign charts, even the biggest afrobeats artists struggle without a familiar feature for listeners to recognise. The beloved Essence (by WizKid and Tems) made it to the Top10 of the Billboard charts only after the remix featuring Justin Bieber. So, even if Rema plans to stick with the afrobeats lane, if his ambitions revolve around global stardom, international features seem like an apt move to make. We ought to give young artists the room to make these choices whether they align with our expectations of their sound or not.
And as far as expectations go, all the makings of an artist capable of delivering a compact album we have witnessed over the years came together rather beautifully in Rave & Roses. With this album, Rema is making a strong case for moving past the description of a hit-maker, to an artist solidifying his presence in the game with a meaningful body of work.