P-Square, the superstar Nigerian group featuring identical twins Peter and Paul Okoye, has been responsible for some of the most irresistible ear candy to come out of West Africa in the past half-decade. Standing out from the flood of slickly produced pop pouring from Nigeria and Ghana, hits like “Chop My Money” and “Alingo” featured intensely pop-smart composition, fusing the polyrhythmic beats and Autotuned vocals that have come to define Nigerian music with hooks strong enough to compete with Western pop. It’s not for nothing that Akon (who knows his way around a hook) signed these guys.
P-Square just dropped the first three singles from what will be their sixth album (excluding 2013’s Greatest Hits), and the variety of sounds they employ give us an intriguing hint about the direction the group is looking to take. The first of the three to be released was “Shekini,” a tough slice of dance-floor fodder, all tinny synthesizer lines, multitracked handclaps, and Autotuned call and response. The beat, shuddering around a bruising four-on-the-floor bass line, is strewn with sudden micro-pauses to emphasize the rhythmic aggression. It’s nearly perfect, an example of just how good this music can be.
The next single, “Ejeajo,” couldn’t be more different. Featuring the southern rapper T.I. on a Daft Punk-style disco groove, the track is a homage to the Michael Jackson tunes that first inspired P-Square. It’s also, in a post- “Happy”/“Get Lucky” world, a pretty good stab at an international hit. While less distinctive than “Shekini,” it’s still good, a reminder that these musicians can do Western-style pop as well as anyone. It’s probably not the U.S. breakthrough that P-Square has to be looking for, but you never know. Still, the fact the group went for this kind of track means that they’re in the running. As we’ve said for years, it’s only a matter of time.
“Bring It On,” the final track to be released, is an r&b-style ballad, mixing gospel piano with the barest suggestion of trap percussion. The group is less convincing on this down-tempo excursion, and it’s easily the weakest of the three singles.
Taken as a whole, it’s a little hard to know what to make of these three tracks. Clearly, the quality of P-Square’s music remains undiminished, but it’s tricky to see what they’re aiming at. Superstars at home, popular in the diaspora, and relatively unknown beyond that, the question of whether to focus on the domestic market or transform their sound in an attempt to move beyond it has to be on the twins’ minds. What will they do next? Anyone’s guess.