Introducing, ON WAX: A Spoken Word Album Review Series curated by TPQ Editor in Chief Chris L. Butler
Since the Recording Academy announced that the GRAMMY Awards was adding a Best Spoken Word Poetry Album, there is another renaissance happening on the microphone for poets. The conversation page versus stage still continues, only now with another element — spoken word poetry albums.
Abu Ibrahim, AKA The poet known as “IB” however had been making spoken word recordings before the announcement. Despite this, he answered this call with his debut poetry album, Music Has Failed Us. IB’s project is the first of our new ongoing spoken poetry review series ON WAX.
Tracklist & review from IB’s Music Has Failed Us (distributed through CD Baby)
“Everything” — on IB’s opening track, he unpacks how not only how important poetry is to his soul, but also how it serves as a vessel that opens the door to IB’s deepest feelings with the world and listener. Whether shearing his work for the first time, or returning for your cup to be filled you will feel IB’s passion for the art form from the first second.
“We Know What Terrorism Is” — on this harrowingly truthful song, IB discusses the darkness that looms over our heads around tragedies like the missing girls connected to Boko Haram, a major tragedy impacting Nigerians and and the African diaspora as a whole for over a decade. IB also reflects on other moments of terrorism, including the Christchurch shooting in New Zealand in his other home. Most importantly, the poet combines the best elements of spoken word cadence in a way that pairs smoothly with the melody he proffers over. He writes, “hopeless is a pond we drink from / and it’s terrible.”
“Outsiders” — In this poem, IB leaves it all on the mic. With lines like “call us the conductors of the invisible / voyaging into void / conjuring the unseen / we are bleeding mannequins with thumbs spilling truth / void of emotion / a clan fresh from the unbreakable /” what more could you want lyrically?
“Outsiders” is full of emotion in all the right ways, while reflecting on the ultimate question “What is the Nigerian dream?”
“Music Has Failed Us” — in this symphonic eight minute long ballad IB really gets to the crux and heart of this album’s message, how society continuously focuses on and amplifies the negative. IB confronts the constant fascination of men with drugs, alcohol, obsession with clubbing, and the impact of the hyper sexualization of women. But unlike other artists, IB does not blame hip hop culture. He understands that these issues are a core disease of western society who’s viral implications have reached Africa, the rest of the world. Personally, I found this poetic longing to be the be the one of most enjoyable on the album. It is clear why IB would make it the titular poem/track. Not everyone could pull off an eight minute song, much less poem. OutKast would be proud.
IB’s next two songs, “Daddy Said” and “Mother” face fatherhood and motherhood head on. This juxtaposition is both surprising, and relatable. I don’t want to say too much about these two songs, without giving too much away. To do these tracks proper justice, you’ll have to just hear them for yourself. One line that stuck out to me was, “home is a place called mother.”
“How We Die” — In the final poem, IB looks political deaths in Nigeria head on. Death from SARS, death from interpersonal violence, and the weight that it brings on IB and his people. “lately it’s been so grave we’ve been running out of graves.” This personally was my favorite piece on the album. It is one I will be thinking about for a long time to come.
I recommend this album for anyone trying to engage with spoken word albums, but also in general. Its melodies match IB’s voice as a perfect partner. A lot of musicians’ vocals often get drowned out by the background music. This is not the case for Music Has Failed Us. Most of all, these poems stand firm on their own, music and sound effects aside making its strongest case for good poetics.
IB is not only of the spoken word album renaissance, but also a piece in the of the moment Nigerian poetic renaissance happening across the literary world. I look forward to future projects from him.