What makes ‘Expressions’ one of the greatest albums in the Afrobeats era is its completeness. The album embodies all the essential characteristics of a classic Afrobeats project.
Two decades ago, before Afrofuision was coined and Nigerian artists began tripping over themselves in a narcissistic attempt to define their sound by prefixing ‘Afro’ to about any word, ‘Expressions’ offered a true blend of imported sound and Afrobeats.
This article takes a look at Styl-Plus‘ timeless album ‘Expressions’.
Afrofusion before Afrofusion: Styl-Plus was referred to as the Boys II Men of Nigeria because of the group’s vocal blend and their lover boy content. However, Styl-Plus was a quintessential Nigerian group and they displayed this in their music.
Styl-Plus’ debut album took Nigeria by storm when US R&B where there was a coming together of Hip Hop and R&B and this was reflected in their music. They were able to adopt this style and replace some of the imported elements with indigenous markers such as the language, drums, and harmony.
‘Drive Me Crazy’, ‘Hadiza’, ‘Don’t want to see you Again’, ‘Runaway’, and ‘Olufunmi’ were singles that carried a sonic resemblance to the music of American R&B stars of that era such as Usher, Joe, and Nelly. However, Styl-Plus was able to bring it home and added some Nigerian flavor, and serve this music to a Nigerian audience who already had a large appetite for foreign music.
‘Coming Home’ is a reggae acapella performance, and ‘Iya Basira’ is a blend of hip hop and Afrobeats. ‘Mase’ is a blend is Highlife and R&B to deliver an Afrobeats single.
This collection of sounds was the dominant global music influence in Nigeria at the time, and Style-Plus was able to bring it all together in one album.
Storytelling: As far as storytelling goes, ‘Expressions’ is like an Afrobeats storybook with different chapters that touch on love and betrayal.
‘Drive Me Crazy’ tells the story of a two-timing lady with Tunde, Zeal, and Shifi taking turns to narrate their experience. ‘Hadiza’ and ‘Olufunmi’ narrates the story of a lover who has fallen hopelessly in love with a woman who is doomed to break his heart.
‘Call My Name’ tells the story of a man who’s stunned by a woman he met in a club and who attempts to devise a format with which to get her attention. And ‘Iya Basira’ is a comedic tale that serves as a tribute to local restaurants scattered around Nigeria.
Blend of languages: Styl-Plus created an album that combines English, Pidgin, Yoruba, Igbo, and even Ibibio to offer content that’s relatable across all parts of the country.
Styl-Plus was formed in Abuja and all members of the group attended the Federal University of Technology Akure where they met. They display this cultural cross-pollination in ‘Hadiza’, ‘Olufunmi’, ‘Drive Me Crazy’, and ‘Ima’ where they turn to Ibibio to pass the message of national love, peace, and harmony which Nigeria could really use.
Commercial Appeal: ‘Expressions’ is a classic mainly because most of the songs on the album are still instantly recognizable by listeners. The album was a huge commercial success with ‘Olufunmi’, ‘Imagine That’, ‘Drive Me Crazy’, and ‘Iya Basira’ achieving nationwide commercial success.
As a primary school kid in Kano state in 2006, ‘Expressions’ was a regular on the sound system of my neighbor and through his walls, I was able to learn the lyrics to ‘Olufunmi’ and ‘Imagine That’ which were also regulars at parties at the time.
In terms of sustained success for group culture in Afrobeats and mainstream R&B sex symbols that inspired religious followership from female fans, we can’t look any further than the legendary group, Styl-Plus.
‘Expressions’ holds a precious place in the hearts of Afrobeats fans who grew up on the music and who 16 years later, still find the album refreshing and enjoyable. And this is why it’s an Afrobeats Classic.