Obongjayar’s debut album, Some Nights I Dream of Doors, finds the U.K.-based rapper-singer fiercely drawing on in his Nigerian roots. Several of the album’s songs combine American R&B with African rhythms, but the influence of Obongjayar’s place of birth can also be found in the lyrical themes that he explores throughout.
“Message in a Hammer,” the video for which sees Obongjayar playing a chauffeur in a netherworld of gangsters, was inspired by a 2020 massacre of protesters in Nigeria. “You can beat me, shoot me, kill me, throw me in jail/You can strip me, use me, abuse me ‘til nothing remains/We won’t take it kindly, take it smiling,” he sings, recalling Fela Kuti.
That song, like many on Some Nights I Dream of Doors, eschews typical verse-chorus-verse pop structure. Obongjayar likewise flips the formula of rapped verses followed by sung choruses on its head, beginning with a sweet, high-pitched voice before switching to a low monotone. It’s safe to say that few vocalists sound as confident at both ends of the spectrum. Obongjayar uses his voice like a percussion instrument, emphasizing his changes in timbre and using overdubs and loops to create a lush one-man choir.
In much the same way that he juxtaposes Afropop and R&B, Obongjayar alternates between modes of vulnerability and swagger throughout Some Nights I Dream of Doors. In “Tinko Tinko (Don’t Take Me for a Fool),” he comes to view a lover with a suspicion that verges on bitterness, but he hits a more open-hearted and confessional note on “All the Difference,” singing “Last night, I was so scared, and it changed me like a good song.”
Stripped down to just vocals and piano, the album’s final track, “Wind Sailor,” shows off the sheer power of Obongjayar’s voice. He displays an inner strength as he comes to terms with the fact that he loves “this place” even though “it’s breaking my heart every day.” Reflective of Some Nights I Dream of Doors as a whole, the track’s sparse, haunting arrangement and melody prove just how much Obongjayar is able to accomplish with a few bells and whistles.
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