Olanrewaju ‘Sound Sultan’ Fasasi was a blessing while he was alive. He influenced us with pungent themes, changed lives through sports, made his mark in film, shared smiles for free and corrected societal ills with his music.
Even from the great beyond, Sound Sultan’s humanism remains true: the icon keeps giving and leaving a mark with his multiple gifts. And Reality Chq is one in a string of those many gifts that the legend left us with.
Reality Chq, produced by ID Cabasa, is a five-track EP that was near completion before the icon’s passing. Typical of Sound Sultan – a writer and righter through and through – the album communicates issues pertinent to society and man’s relationship with his environment.
Reality Chq album begins with ‘Friends’, a song that larger-than-life character and post-colonial crusader Fela Anikulapo-Kuti would be proud of. ‘Friends’ stands stately on Fela’s Afrobeat but takes it up a notch, building upon it. Trumpets accompany the refrain: “I get friends wey dey hold me down, I get friends when raba dey/ I get friends wey dey hold me down, I get friends when your yawa dey.”
Here, Sound Sultan encourages fake friends to do better and appreciates friends who stay through thick and thin. In the hook, the future meets the past as a smooth lyrical roll and impeccable end rhyme compliment a subtle percussion – Fela’s percussion. Sultan waxes: “I get friends no dey call me your friend, my friend/ We seen friends wey dey follow dem friends girlfriends/ Fake friends wey dey follow dem friends pretend/ Fake friends wey dey follow dem friends to trend.”
This simple yet poignant wordplay reminds us of Sultan’s comical side as his ‘Kate’ comedy show at the Night of a Thousand Laugh in 2008 comes to mind. Beyond that, it drives home its message: fake friends exist just as much as real friends do.
Thankfully for Sound Sultan, he had great friends around him since the track was “inspired by the overflow of love shown to him by his friends while he was on his sickbed.” Baba Dee, his brother, told me.
‘Siren’ takes a more revolutionary and daring stand by calling out corrupt politicians. Its intro, intentionally pitched by the sound of a siren, is a metonymy for constituted authority or a euphemism for dead bodies being carted away in an ambulance. It questions the Lekki Toll Gate incident that purportedly left nine people dead: “I heard Siren/ Firing, they keep firing”; it also condemns the offices that gave the command.
In Sultan’s opinion, while the children of the rich hobnob abroad, “soldiers dey die for Sambisa”. The Sambisa Forest is a forest in Borno State, northeast Nigeria. It is in the southwestern part of Chad Basin National Park, about 60km southeast of Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State. The Sambisa forest, especially the mountainous region of Gwoza near the Cameroon border, has been used as shelter by terrorist groups through the years. Soldiers have lost their lives fighting to purge the forest of anarchists.
Therefore, ‘Siren’ isn’t only reminiscent of Fela’s ‘Zombie’ in that it condemns the docility of soldiers. It’s a double-edged sword that also calls for a better structure and functioning system for forces.
2Baba uses the opportunity, as the song goes out, to provide a sequel to his classic: ‘E Be Like Say’, released in 2006. Sixteen years later, these politicians still want to “tell us another story again”.
The eponymous track ‘Reality Chq’ is a beautiful song whose sound paints pictures. Sound Sultan brings his mellifluous side to hone a message of contentment as lucent keys, and subtle chords help drag us back to reality, away from the cosmetic lifestyle of the digital age and the competition that pervades society.
“Follow me make I carry you to reality/ Take a break from the internet and vanity.” Sultan croons.
Bella Shmurda, in what has a Fuji vibe to it, dabs a street hop to ‘Reality Chq’, delivering an energetic yet simple verse. The song ends similarly to how it started: sweet, sensational and sober.
‘Levels’ begins with an anecdote about the need to have fun in an ephemeral world. Whether you are affluent, like Dangote “Aliko” – Aliko Dangote GCON is a Nigerian billionaire business magnate who doubles as the wealthiest man in Africa and the richest black man in the world. Or if you are an ordinary man like the intriguing “Alinco” from the soap opera Papa Ajasco, you should “party”.
A flute with a sound reminiscent of one from an Arabian festive night scaffolds ‘Levels’. While Zlatan’s soft rap complements Sultan’s lambency, melodic choruses from female backup singers hold the project aloft. ‘Levels’ doesn’t only tell its listeners to have fun while they can in a fleeting world; the sound, too, makes them want to buss a whine.
‘Naija Na Wa’, the outro track, again employs Fela’s Afrobeat as a backbone. The call and response patterns create a bounce that makes one dance, despite a poignant topic. The track croons about a dysfunctional society and the occurrences that are sometimes so ludicrous as to make us laugh and life-changing as to be condemnable.
Reality Chq is a melting pot of the past and the present, with Fela’s Afrobeat – blaring horns and a psychedelic vibe – appearing to be scaffoldings for and backdrops to Sultan’s usual acoustic soul and modern bounce. What you get is an album that does not only entertain but also speaks truth to power.
Sound Sultan died on Sunday, July 11, 2021, at 44 due to complications arising from Angioimmunoblastic T-Cell Lymphoma, a rare form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a cancer that affects the white blood cells. The icon was laid in his final resting place in Brooklyn, New York, the United States on the same day. He is survived by his wife, Farida, and their three children, Zara, Mayowa and Bidemi.
Widely regarded as one of the pacesetters of modern hip-hop in Nigeria, Sound Sultan lived a blessed life while he was here. He has also left us with legacies that should be treasured. Reality Chq should be treasured.