By Udochukwu Ikwuagwu
There is something baffling about Ice Prince and his artistry: the more projects he unleashes, the more glaring his faults appear, and the more he lets himself down. Born Panshak Zamani, Ice Prince’s initial releases pre-“Oleku” could pass for the works of a future hip hop OG, scaling brilliantly the lyricism test, even matching freestyle champ Teeto Ceemos bar for bar, wit for wit. Following his underground success as next-in-line to the rap throne in his hometown, Jos, and crowing as the city’s shining light in the game, Ice Prince’s status quickly changed on Jesse Jagz-produced “Rewind” — that song got so much buzz in the cold city, becoming a mild hit. Although “Rewind” got him that needed street credibility, he had to hustle hard in spite of financial difficulties. M.I, his Loopy boss, and Jesse Jagz, Loopy’s in-house producer, were yet to break into the game, so he had to wait. That Ice Prince got rapping skills isn’t in question: he rapped his hats off on M.I’s first two projects, Beatboxx’s “Wan Test Us”, Terry tha Rapman’s “John Blaze”, and his Hennessy Artistry-winning “Badman”. But Mr Zamani hasn’t grown musically, dropping duds after duds. On his third studio album, “Jos to the World”, he seeks home where his competence first got tested. Unfortunately, “Jos to the World” follows the uninteresting path of “Everybody Loves Ice Prince” and “Fire of Zamani”.
Ice Prince has stuck to his predictable, workmanlike template of writing songs: throw in songs about come-up, pen dance-ready anthems sung in ragga style, pine for love (lost love or otherwise), scribble piano-driven choruses to a deity, whine about naysayers and doubting Thomases, call-up singer-friends, who add nothing and are forced to run ad-libs and verses overshadowed by his uninspired ones. All these experiences patched over overworked beats that initially sound exciting but end up drowning in staleness. One would expect Ice Prince’s post-Choc City album to be packed with introspective, sombre songs, considering all his lows and highs before and after fame, and even touching on the ‘Jostified’ movement that has been humanized and have captured the heart and soul of his volatile hometown, which has been divided along religious and ethnic lines; but this expectation fails to materialized on “Jos to the World”. No songs to counter the hostile narrative peddled about J-Town over the years. No reminiscing on growing-up, untold stories of his experiences, hidden voices in his community, or his personal diary made music.
For the record, Ice Prince can tell these stories, and he did on the emotive ’09 “Feeling”, an ode to his city — that song touched the uneasiness felt by residents and the often ignored religious tolerance hidden behind the chaos. He can also be reflective when he tries. Months after losing his mother, Ice Prince wrote the heartfelt, emotional “Find You” to honour her memory. Though piercing and sorrowful, the song wiped the tears with his baby sister’s powerful lines at the end. But the problem with Mr Zamani: he prefers occasional brilliance to constantly dropping gorgeous music. For every pre-album “Can I Talk” he does, he follows up with terrible ones, as though making up for lost hours writing good music. And that accounts for Korede Bello-assisted “Chike”- a contender for the worst song of 2016- and the tepid “One Day” and “Elegushi” off “Trash Can” EP. To self-sabotage then becomes Ice Prince’s favourite pastime, and unsurprisingly, he continues to be his worst enemy on “Jos to the World”. When he raps “went from trash cans to the blueprint” on Drake-esque “2am in Chevron”, he recalls the forgettable experience that was the aptly-titled “Trash Can” EP. But reneges on his promise to give a blueprint following the underwhelming projects since his debut album “Everybody Loves Ice Prince”. On the aforementioned song, his deft lyricism comes out to play: “A wise man told me ‘go in or go home’/And I got a big dream of living in gold homes/So I had to go hard, and I put it on my mama/As long as I’m alive I’m never going to ‘go home’/How ironic is that?/Home is where the heart is, but brother out here really tryna build a throne.” Sadly, brilliant moments like this are far between on “Jos to the World”, and you will be hard pressed to find them. They come when he lets himself free of the nagging voice instructing him to delve into reggae-inflected songs. Ice Prince’s Evil Kermit holds this project down, in a wrong way. “Belinda”, a mishmash of The Outfield’s “Your Love” which got a reggae treatment by Wyclef, his own “Juju” off ELI and Shakira’s “Hips Don’t Lie”, is what happens when he stubbornly heeds that call. “For Yah” follows this template as a singing Ice Prince with a tepid hook, attempting to rescue the song’s cadence, runs to Wayne Wonder’s “No Letting Go”, even an uninspired Runtown couldn’t save it. Timaya-assisted “Belinda” and “For Yah” are the same songs, only featuring different artists. Patois-speaking Mr Zamani holds tightly to this unsuccessful style on “Looking at You”, “Play List” and “Want It All”. And added to this: his weird decision to write uninspired choruses even though he has access to delightful ones by guest artists. On his first two albums, Wizkid, 2Face, Wizboyy, Sound Sultan, Sunny Neji, Burna Boy and Yung L were relegated to the background, and that curious choice continues on “Jos to the World”. Tiwa Savage, Vanessa Mdee, Yemi Alade, Koker and DJ Buckz are seen nowhere near the hooks.
The corny-titled “Brokelyn” features a Young Thug-Drake hybrid Dice Ailes who manages to sound more excited than the award-winning host on Chopstix’s trap production. Dice Ailes’ “mama told me ‘boy, know yourself’… No man jacking my swag” sounds a bit ironic, though in retrospect, the line perfectly explains the whole album. Too many cheesy love songs fill JTTW, but this is expected from a man who went on a rant for days after being caught in a love triangle earlier in 2016. Not all love ditties deserve public listening sessions, but Ice Prince remains unaware of this singular fact. Not all romantic songs should enter the booth — but who will tell Mr Zamani? Like Robin Thicke’s unfortunate ballads to “Paula”, Ice Prince’s love songs should have been shelved. However, nothing was stopping a man who tweeted: “But thanks 4 inspiring another classic record I just wrote 4 her (sic).” Although he subtly addressed the cheating allegations on the part of his girlfriend, and subsequent unveiling of her alleged ‘sponsor’ on “No Mind Dem”, cussing out ‘aristos’, it was an afterthought for a man searching for a P-Square or Sisqo kind of dance song. Love songs and reggae anthems prove to be the project’s Achilles’ heel. One can assume that the dancehall-inflected songs- and UK guest artists- were strategically done to appeal to the UK’s growing Grime community. But the Krept and Konan-assisted “Want It All”, for example, does not push for such aspiration to break new grounds. As to international penetration, Ice Prince calls up his Washington friends, The Fresh Brit, Da Bantino, Phil Adé, Tone P and Ava Hovanka, perhaps introduced by Nigerian-American rapper Wale to pick up from where he left off on “Fire of Zamani”. And all artists put in satisfactory inputs, showing that the world entry may not entirely be unattainable — although the host does more for the guests rather than the other way around. TUC-produced “Trillions” offers JTTW’s highlight as Mr Zamani tries for his 2Chainz’ “Watch Out” impression with an impressive showing along with Phyno. If “2am in Chevron” Ice Prince or “Trillions” Ice Prince showed up throughout JTTW, it would have been a thrilling journey rather than the boring, tiring experience it ended up being.