Merchants, Dealers & Slaves: The Story Behind Brymo’s Controversial Album
In 2013, Nigerian singer Brymo released his third studio album Merchants, Dealers & Slaves (M, D & S), a bold and daring project that challenged the status quo of the music industry and the society at large. However, the album was also mired in controversy, as it was released amid a legal battle between Brymo and his former record label Chocolate City. In this article, we will explore the story behind Merchants, Dealers & Slaves, from its conception to its reception, and how it shaped Brymo’s career and reputation.
What is Merchants, Dealers & Slaves?
Merchants, Dealers & Slaves is the third studio album by Nigerian singer Brymo. It was made available for purchase as a digital download on October 20, 2013, and was released six days after Chocolate City filed an interim injunction against Brymo.[^1] The album was produced entirely by Mikky Me Joses and features guitar work from David.[^2] It consists of 11 tracks that span various genres, such as traditional pop, bluegrass, latin rock, reggae, and afrobeat. The album’s title is inspired by a book by Olaudah Equiano, a former slave who wrote about his experiences in the 18th century.[^3]
Why was it controversial?
The album was controversial for several reasons. First, it was released in defiance of a court order that restrained Brymo from releasing and distributing any musical work outside his contract with Chocolate City. Second, it tackled sensitive issues such as corruption, oppression, injustice, and identity in Nigeria. Third, it deviated from the mainstream sound and style of Nigerian pop music at the time. Fourth, it received mixed reviews from critics and fans alike, some praising its originality and depth, while others criticizing its production and coherence.
Background and contractual issues
Brymo’s departure from Chocolate City
Brymo joined Chocolate City in 2010 after impressing M.I Abaga, the label’s vice president at the time. He released his debut album Son of a Carpenter in 2011 and his second album The Son of a Kapenta in 2012 under the label. He also collaborated with other label mates such as Ice Prince, Jesse Jagz, and Pryse. However, things turned sour between Brymo and Chocolate City in 2013, when he announced on Twitter he parted ways with the label. He claimed he was not paid royalties for his work and accused the label of mismanagement and breach of contract.
Chocolate City’s lawsuit against Brymo
Chocolate City denied Brymo’s allegations and said he still had a valid contract with them until 2016. They also said they invested millions of naira in his career and expected him to fulfill his obligations to them. On October 14, 2013, they filed an interim injunction against Brymo at the Federal High Court of Lagos, restraining him from partaking in any musical ventures beyond the confines of his contract. They also demanded he return all the property they gave him, including his car and his house.
Brymo’s release of the album despite the injunction
Brymo did not heed the injunction and proceeded to release Merchants, Dealers & Slaves on October 20, 2013. He said he had no choice but to release the album because he had no other source of income and he had already recorded the album before the dispute. He also said he was willing to face the consequences of his actions and he believed he had a strong case against the label. He expressed his frustration and disappointment with the label and the industry in general, saying he felt like a slave and a victim of exploitation.
Composition and reception
The themes and styles of the songs
The songs on Merchants, Dealers & Slaves are mostly introspective and socially conscious, reflecting Brymo’s personal struggles and observations. He sings about his quest for freedom, happiness, and fulfillment in a corrupt and oppressive system. He also addresses issues such as poverty, violence, religion, and love. Some of the songs are influenced by his Yoruba heritage, such as Eko, which praises the city of Lagos, and Omoge Campus, which pays tribute to his mother. The album also showcases Brymo’s versatility as a singer and songwriter, as he experiments with different genres and languages.
The production and instrumentation of the album
The album was produced entirely by Mikky Me Joses, who also worked on Brymo’s previous albums. The production is minimalist and organic, relying mostly on live instruments such as guitars, drums, keyboards, and horns. The album has a raw and rustic feel, creating a contrast between Brymo’s smooth vocals and the gritty sounds. The album also features some samples from old Nigerian songs, such as Fela Kuti’s Trouble Sleep Yanga Wake Am on Down and Orlando Julius’ Ololufe on Fe Mi.
The critical and commercial response to the album
The album received mixed reviews from critics and fans alike. Some praised its originality and depth, calling it a masterpiece and a classic. They commended Brymo for his courage and creativity, and for delivering a meaningful and mature work of art. They also appreciated the production and instrumentation of the album, saying it was refreshing and captivating. However, some criticized its production and coherence, saying it was poorly mixed and mastered, and lacked direction and focus. They also complained about the length and quality of some of the songs, saying they were boring and repetitive. The album sold moderately well, despite the legal issues and the lack of promotion. It debuted at number 12 on iTunes Nigeria chart and was nominated for Best R&B/Pop Album at The Headies 2014.
The impact and legacy of Merchants, Dealers & Slaves
Merchants, Dealers & Slaves is arguably one of the most controversial and influential albums in Nigerian music history. It marked a turning point in Brymo’s career and reputation, as he established himself as a rebel and a visionary in the industry. It also inspired other artists to follow their own path and express their own voice, regardless of the challenges and risks involved. The album has been regarded as one of the best albums of 2013 by various publications , and one of the best albums of the decade by Pulse Nigeria. It has also been included in several lists of the best Nigerian albums of all time .
The lessons learned from Brymo’s experience
Brymo’s experience with Merchants, Dealers & Slaves teaches us some valuable lessons about the music industry and the society at large. Some of these lessons are: – The importance of having a clear and fair contract with your record label, and understanding your rights and obligations as an artist. – The challenges and risks of going against the norm and standing up for your artistic vision and integrity. – The potential and power of using music as a tool for social commentary and change. – The need for more support and recognition for alternative and independent artists in the Nigerian music scene.
Here are some frequently asked questions about Merchants, Dealers & Slaves:
Q: Is Merchants, Dealers & Slaves still available for download?
A: Yes, you can download the album from various platforms, such as iTunes, Spotify, Deezer, and Boomplay. You can also stream it on YouTube.
Q: What is the meaning of the cover art of Merchants, Dealers & Slaves?
A: The cover art of Merchants, Dealers & Slaves shows a black-and-white image of Brymo’s face with a barcode on his forehead. The barcode represents his identity as a product of the music industry and the society, and how he is being sold and bought by different forces. The black-and-white theme signifies his struggle to find his true colors and his freedom.
Q: What is the status of Brymo’s legal case with Chocolate City?
A: The legal case between Brymo and Chocolate City was eventually settled out of court in 2016. The terms of the settlement were not disclosed to the public, but both parties expressed their satisfaction and wished each other well.
Q: What is Brymo’s latest album?
A: Brymo’s latest album is Yellow, which was released on April 1, 2020. It is his seventh studio album and his first solo project since Merchants, Dealers & Slaves. It consists of 15 tracks that explore themes such as love, life, death, and humanity.
Q: How can I contact Brymo or book him for a show?
A: You can contact Brymo or book him for a show through his official website www.brymolawale.com or his social media handles @brymolawale on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.