AQ, Brymo & Ethos, A Spiral Of Struggles

Ethos is a project that is similar to an onion bulb. The different problems addressed on the project weave into one another endlessly. At the moment you hope both artistes find peace on the next track, the previous track extends its arm like a bridge and the problem flows onto the next track in another form like a river.

Both artistes are not new to joint projects, though this is their first time of working together. AQ has had joint projects with MI and Blaqbonez respectively. Brymo too had a joint project titled AAA few years ago. AQ has had an unmatched run in his craft. You can say the same for Brymo.

This is why Ethos is not just a project; it is an assembly of two masters of two different crafts; the result is a never-seen-before wonder. Both artistes on this project shared the same label in the past, though not at the same time.

Background of the Artistes

Brymo took the role of singing chorus for the members of Chocolate City, his former label, and Nigerians will forever remember his excellence on the hook of Ice Prince’s decade-old Oleku. Brymo, however, relives the same experience with AQ on Ethos as he is deployed to take all the hooks on the ten songs that make up the album. Brymo brought along his new producer, Big Foot, who takes all the credits for the production of Ethos.

Gilbert Bani, or AQ, 36 years old, began his career as a solo artiste in 2001 and went on to release Listen, his debut album in 2005. Now an older adult, Ethos makes the album in AQ’s discography 8 in number, minus the 6 mixtapes and EPs in his discography.

Brymo too, on the other hand, has constantly and judiciously released projects on his own since he became an independent artiste in 2013. He too has 10 different albums amongst several other EPs and live projects.

Themes of the Album
1. Struggles, Success & Self-Acknowledgement

Wón Dé, which roughly translates to “they arrive” in English, is Brymo announcing their arrival to the listeners. Brymo focuses on his rivals, highlighting how his arrival has dealt a blow to the their campaign.

AQ, after ensuring the listeners of the worth of the project they just cut open, tells the story of his past poverty including sleeping on a bare floor because the “bed had bedbugs”, inability to pay “the light bills”, roaming the streets for “connections” (literally and figuratively) and having to cook “that beans with bread and garri” in “different ways”.

Wón Dé is a regular grass-to-grace story of an average Nigerian, and as it turns out more often than not, there was a light at the end of the tunnel for AQ. The rapper’s beliefs in God’s “fear not” saved the moments. AQ would later record success in the second verse as he boasts of his makings, independence and achievements.

Though Wón Dé is the rapper’s autobiographical sketch of his early struggles in life, he does not fail to use it as an opportunity to taunt an unnamed rival addressed in the second person pronounce “you” on the second verse.

Big Foot, AQ & Brymo
2. Personal Values & Clarity

Ní Tèmi is the mirror that ultimately reflects the title of the sterling project Ethos. Ní Tèmi grammatically implies “as for me” in English Language. Brymo’s hook simplifies the essence of Ethos as a project that unsheathes the core values, principles and personalities of the two artistes.

Brymo sings of his choice for peace as made possible by his focus on his career. AQ reiterates Brymo’s principles as he raps “I never wanna be involved” in whatever battle line that is drawn. This is a human that understands that there is too much to lose in war, hence “risks” not worth taking.

AQ unabashedly plays down on friendship here when he raps that he will “rather lie with a dog than die for my Dawgs”. That’s choosing a dog over a human friend. It may sound ridiculous but haven’t dogs been described by scientists as man’s best friends? (For their natural loyalty).

Ní Tèmi is both artistes saying “as for me, I will rather be busy with my life than entertain a brawl”. This standard set for the self by both artistes continue to be the subject of discussion on the third track titled This is War.

3. Choosing Peace Over War

Although, Ní Tèmi already made known the values of both AQ and Brymo, both artistes lament the damage done by certain friendship they had in the past. The choice of both artistes not to name the personality being discussed leaves the listeners with an option of filling in the gap, and for anyone who knows Brymo and AQ’s antecedents, the guess is MI Abaga. This is just a guess by the way!

Brymo laments the fact that peace does not attract peace — the unnamed counterpart continues to wage war at him in spite of the singer choosing to lay low. AQ soberly reflects on the hate directed at him, offering peace to his assailant in spite of recognizing that “this is war”. Both singers got their trust broken and watched wars brew, but Brymo, who sings as though he was being tried in a court, proves his innocence as he cries “it was not me who brought the battles to be”. No wonder AQ states his preference for a dog over a human friend on the immediate previous track.

4. Feminine Infidelity & The Manly Ego

Timezones would be called a flashback if music was a piece of drama. AQ recalls his experience with a promiscuous lover who stealthily cheated on him, coupled with nasty stories posted on Tik Tok without the rapper’s knowledge.

A scientific fact states that there are more than 24 timezones in the world, although there are 24 hours in a day. So, when the rapper claims he “was in a different timezone”, he talks of his moments away from his woman — being several hours away from home in another country.

While this apartness affords the woman the opportunity to cheat, Brymo assumes the role of an “eye of God” who comments on AQ’s lover’s “rebellion”. AQ genuinely offers love metaphorically represented with the gift of “roses” handed to the “unfaithful” lover.

We may blame the woman all we want for being a cheater — she deserves all the crucifying. However, AQ is not untouchable, he is not unstained. The rapper is egoistic. The male ego is immediately noticeable when the rapper declares himself “the Alpha”.

While this is relevant to the recent Alpha Male movement as opposed to the feminism that has bothered the male society for countless number of years, AQ’s claim of an Alpha, in his words, is egoistic. The rapper sounds as though his unfaithful lover will not find anyone better than him. He raps, “how long is it gonna take you before you recognize that I am the Alpha?”

There are two possible translations for AQ’s ego here. This is either a man stating that he is the ultimate person for a woman or a man, traditionally, stating his position as the head of the family. In between, this is a man stating his manliness — I am the man and you cannot cheat on me. But she did, regardless.

If this is argued further, it is a tributary that leads us back into a wider ocean of conflicts regarding marriage and whether or not a woman should submit to the man. While many always try to interpret and argue this societal norm according to their respective perspectives, logically, others do what works for them best in their marriages.

AQ & Brymo’s Ethos Tracklist
5. Romance & The Highs & Lows of Love

The cohesion with which the tracks on this project are arranged and the fact that each track is a continuation of the next one, are two things greatly worthy of an applause when Ethos is considered. Do You Ever Miss Me is an extension of Timezones — AQ uses it to tell a different aspect of his broken love affair we did not hear on the previous track.

Brymo who was a passerby on Timezones gets fully involved on Do You Ever Miss Me as he irrigates the ground for AQ to plant his rap lines. Brymo is a poet who sees love as an entity that is even far deadlier than hard drugs. He reveals how miniature gossips are such that their strike do not have any effect (distractions) on their colossal love. For Brymo who released Theta, his tenth project, in May, this song, thematically, shares a border with Love Na Drug on Theta.

The talking drum deployed by Big Foot gives the song a traditional music feel and makes the instrumentals more favorably conducive for Brymo. AQ posits that love is addictive, then notes his fantasies called “little misbehaving” like playing naked in the rain with a lover, drug abuse with a lover, pouring potable liquid on her naked body amidst sex, achieving ejaculations symbiotically and going on vacations with her afterwards.

This is a lover who is seriously being dealt with by loneliness and is now remembering all the romantic moments with his unfaithful lover. AQ admits that the love felt like “a competition” because she never listened; this is because both lovers share a common ego. AQ’s fantasy of placing her on the kitchen’s sink and putting “this raw meat in your dishes” is AQ openly saying he misses the sex with the woman.

AQ, however, knows, as well as we know that he still loves the woman, regardless of her ego and her infidelity. He wants her back but will not make it happen. He will rather wait for her to return. But will she? This is another type of ego that lovers display when they are apart as a result of a misunderstanding. The ego of “who will beg who?” This goes on until the relationship completely fails and fades like a powder blown into the air.

6. Manipulations Masquerading As Love

The tale of AQ’s strange lover continues on another episode titled Ìfé Làkójá Òfin. AQ had told us of her infidelity and the moments of romance they shared in the past but we never knew she was manipulative too. Many women exercise so much control on their men and even blackmail them emotionally. Manipulation and emotional blackmail are a weapon majority of women wield naturally. They are able to completely put this weapon to use when a man is deeply in love with them. This is the issue addressed by AQ and Brymo on this song.

Brymo once tweeted how he lost a certain girlfriend he financially worked to satisfy at 22. The betrayal exhibited by this lady seems to be the background story for this track.

Brymo pulls a Lagbaja vocals for AQ to lament his unpleasant experience with love. Even after her departure, AQ attempts to reach out to her, but he always deletes whatever messages he intends to write to her whenever he remembers the hurt she subjected him to. The woman used sex to control and manipulate him. Both men are left “broken” in the end.

7. Nigerians & The Feeling of Disappointment With The Country

AQ seems to move from frying pan to fire — while he suffers heartbreak from a lover, he also suffers dissatisfaction from his country. On Baálè House, AQ lists the major socio-political crises Nigeria is being faced with currently.

There are allusions to the Lekki Massacre, David Hundeyin’s exposé about the conspiracy behind NASCO and the funding of terrorism in Nigeria, ritual killings, fake prophets, cyber crime and the bad reputation Nigerians always have to bypass at the consulates everytime they want to travel into another country.

AQ is so ashamed of the happenings in Nigeria and regrets being born a citizen of the country. The Hip Hop instrumentals incorporates saxophonic notes to make the song Fela-Kuti-worthy. The logic is simple. Fela, a singer, used his sound for activism against the government. AQ sought to do same with this track, although Brymo’s intro is several walks away from the focus of the track.

8. Friendship, Betrayal & Apartness

Family First answers the listeners questions about who is the assailant referred to on the tracks Ní Tèmi and This is War. Family First is the piece that solves the puzzles made on both tracks mentioned.

AQ is bold enough to inform the public about him not being in “talking terms” with MI. After stating this in the opening lines of the song Family First, he goes on to paint MI a villainous character, questioning him about the previous relationship they had that has now turned sour.

On August 12th, 2022, the day Ethos was released, many fans described MI’s endorsement of AQ’s joint album as a show of love. For this, the said fans infer that MI Abaga deserves all the respect in the world.

MI had retweeted AQ’s tweet used to announce the release of the new 10-track Hip Hop project, even when Brymo, the guest on all the hooks deployed on the album, has been away from social media for quite sometime now. MI did not allow AQ calling him out on the album prevent him from supporting his former associate (AQ).

Both AQ and MI ran the affairs of Chocolate City together before the both of them signed their exit from the label in 2020, although AQ admits on the call-out track Family First, that MI has always been “the boss”. AQ spent almost four years at Chocolate City. MI was signed to the label long before AQ came. However, both left the label the same year.

AQ, while pointing several accusing fingers at MI on Family First, names and appreciates certain artistes that were part of his journey with the label before he left. He names Loose Kaynon whose recordings he oversaw alongside MI’s recordings. He mentions Blaqbonez whom he signed under 100 Crown, another label AQ co-established under Chocolate Late. He does restate his love for Blaqbonez and informs the listeners that both of their mothers share the name “Roseline”.

AQ argues that this feud between him and MI is a family issue and states that there is a need to walk away from one’s family if one ever wants to be successful. He recounts how they never thought he would make it but he now makes millions through NFT.

The Unilag alumnus’ claims that this is a family issue is valid and that “seems” to be the exact reason Brymo is contracted to work on the Ethos project that houses this diss at MI. With pun, AQ tells how he contracted Brymo to make more millions with this project. Brymo used to be a singer under Chocolate City even long before AQ joined the label. Brymo left before AQ joined, but not peacefully.

Brymo had series of issues with the label which later led him to departing forcefully from the label. Brymo, taken to court, argued that Chocolate City refused to promote his first album and forcefully took his manager from him to manage another artiste. Chocolate City however claimed Brymo breached his 6 years contract by making 1 instead of 3 albums, quitting in 2013 instead of 2016, promoting hard drugs that made him lose a 20 million contract from a telecommunication company, being stubborn, spending 20 million on him and only being able to accrue 3 million back, amongst many other accusations.

Loose Kaynon, Blaqbonez, MI, the now deceased producer producing for MI and AQ, known as Beatsbyjayy, are all mentioned by AQ to show that this is truly a family feud. Brymo comes into the picture because he shared the same experience with AQ, regarding MI. This may make it look like a gangup against MI, but wait, AQ seems to offer peace, regardless of the black paint he uses to paint MI.

This same AQ who now has a joint album with Brymo, released a joint album titled The Live Report with MI in 2020. AQ, Blaqbonez and MI were on a recent joint project titled Behold The Lamb released in July, a month before the release of Ethos. In the midst of all these, there are fans pleading with MI to forgive Brymo and install him on a new collaboration.

Although AQ speaks with so much hurts, he tries to convince the listeners that he cannot be “touched”. You cannot be touched? Yet you spill out your mind? He however offers peace or hell. MI has an album scheduled to be released on August 19th and fans are expectant of a response from MI.

9. A Letter To Mother

Stay is a letter to AQ’s mother. The singer counts the number of friends and family he has lost to death, including his father. Brymo is an intermediary pleading (with the mother to stay) on the rapper’s behalf.

The rapper admits he tried all his best to please his mother but the result is always calamitious as he always “offends her” instead. The rapper admits his “ego” for the first time on this project. He does not want to lose his mother to this “friction at home”.

The mother seems to be angry at his abandoning her. AQ however explains that he has been busy with “the microphone”, his addictions and other life problems. No wonder he “lost so many people and now seeing ghosts”. While he provides all these explanations, he hopes his mother forgives him for not caring about her.

10. Losses, Dirge & Grief

The life losses to death is properly addressed on All by Yourself as AQ mourns the death of Beatsbyjayy, the producer that produced his previous works, including the award winning God’s Engineering album.

The track accomodates Brymo voicing a dirge on a solemn rap beat; AQ meditating on moments between him and the deceased: the grief that greeted the deceased’s funeral; it is a sense of loss captured in lyrics and rhythm.

Critical Evaluation of the Project

Ethos translates to the fundamental values of a person and the prescription of the album title is well executed by both artistes. With the ten tracks that make up the rap album, both singers communicate to the listeners what they stand for (peace, love, ego and self-worth) as well as their not-too-sweet encounters (hatred, betrayal, heartbreak, losses, grief and poverty) with life and people.

AQ simply exemplifies ease, providing rhythm for Big Foot’s percussion-centred instrumentals. The rapper’s delivery of his lines and the accuracy of his rhyme are both complementary to each other throughout the album.

Even when all the tracks on the project are lengthy moments of seriousness, AQ still accommodates puns to buttress his points. Sexual scenes, shattered hopes, betrayal are well painted with carefully picked words.

Brymo, a master of his not-so-popular art, had a show of mastery once again. The singer switches his tenor between its resting position and its pitch. This is dominant on the first three tracks where the singer experimented on pitching and stretching his voice to its elastic limits. The singer almost lost control of his voice on Ní Tèmi as a result of pitching, however, the auto tune ensured he had a smooth landing.

There is the application of traditional instruments like the talking drum and the tambourine on some tracks, especially the tracks Do You Ever Miss Me and Ìfé Làkójá Òfin. This was purposely done to accompany Brymo’s traditional music signature as noticable in his Yoruba lyrics and its execution. All these are the techniques that make this project very unique.

Ethos is an alien in the midst of all the projects released in Nigeria in 2022 across all genres. It is certainly top 3 best album released by any Nigerian artiste in 2022. This is a classic album. Though, its commercial success may not be much as a result of the music taste of the lot of Nigerian youthful listeners, Ethos will bag enough awards for both artistes.

Sam George Mac is a music journalist known for the reviews of several music albums and songs. He is a singer and songwriter of Afrobeats, Dancehall, Highlife and RnB with the stage name SGM — a graduate of Mass Communication from The West African Union University, Cotonou.

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