The first time I ever heard a Paybac song was in 2018. I had stumbled on ‘The Mami Wata Song’ early that year while exploring my newly found SoundCloud world littered with hidden gems. Just that one song with its refreshing originality and Paybac had me completely. I might have have been late to the Nigerian SoundCloud party but I was right on time for Paybac’s debut album, “The Biggest Tree”.
With “The Biggest Tree”, Paybac walked me through the dark corridors of his genius mind, offering a firsthand experience of what it feels to have grown up as Caleb Hanson Iboro. A personal favourite on the tape was the Bella-assisted closer, ‘Best Day of my Life’, a soul-baring victory lap where Paybac Iboro openly celebrates his wins, no matter how small. It came as a fitting end to a very personal album that featured some deep-seated storytelling of the gritty life he’s had to endure and his inflamed scuffle with depression.
Quite a lot has happened since “The Biggest Tree”. Between his 12-track debut and his sophomore, “Cult!” released earlier this year, Paybac held our gaze with two collaborative projects. In November 2018, he joined forces with frequent collaborator Charlie X to release “Autopilot”. Barely six months after, Paybac reunited with longtime friend and associate, Boogey, to release their critically acclaimed “Alternate Ending”.
From these releases, you can simply just tell that Paybac is building an impressive catalogue. With eight projects under his belt, Paybac has been putting in the work, and it’s paying dividends already.
In October 2019, he got tapped by East-Coast American rapper Juelz Santana for an appearance on his tape. Also last year, he secured his first Headies nomination in the lyricist on the roll category alongside Boogey, AQ, Ycee and SDC. Paybac didn’t go home with the award that night but got the reassurance that his work isn’t going unnoticed. People are out there listening. The industry is watching and keeping tabs on his progress.
And on his latest album “Cult”, Paybac is patriotic more than ever. He had grown up like many of us, trying to shy away from his Nigerian identity. It seemed cool at the time to distance oneself from the Nigerian culture. People even used this resentment to gain cool points. It was such a common thing to hear people say “I don’t watch Nigerian movies” or “I don’t do Nigerian music.”
But things have turned around. It’s so cool to be Nigerian now. The past few years have given us so much to be proud of, particularly in the entertainment sector. Afrobeats is doing so well across the world now. Nollywood is also doing its bits, shedding itself off its old skin. And with “Cult”, Paybac stands as that maverick leading that U-turn back to national pride.
This album showcases Paybac as more than just a rapper. All through its 15 tracks, he comes across as an artist who doesn’t pander to expectations.
Everyone has this idea of what ‘rap’ should sound like. But “Cult” is different. “Cult” is free. “Cult” is ambitious. Sonically, it doesn’t walk in the exact footsteps of his previous releases. Thematically, Iboro presents “Cult” as a national pride hymnal for this generation of Nigerians. In the opening seconds of ‘Boy Band’ one of the album’s standout cuts, he references a popular Chinua Achebe quote, “being a Nigerian is abysmally frustrating and unbelievably exciting.” And it is this paradox that the album wraps itself around.
Paybac sweeps nothing under the carpet. He brings it all to bear on the album. He wraps up the myriad of emotions you feel as a Nigerian, balls it up and goes off on the tape. “Cult” almost plays as a soundtrack to your experiences as a Nigerian. You can connect to his pride on ‘Activ8’, relate to his loath on ‘Nigeria Suk My Dik’. And when he yells, “Fuck a politician” you flip your middle finger in the air in disgust and scream right along because that’s exactly what you feel.
You can relieve the whimsical pride as well as the profound anger, confusion and helplessness that comes with being a citizen of the continent’s biggest economy, which also happens to be the poverty capital of the world.
Another interesting thing about this album is that even though he raps mainly in English, he sounds very Nigerian in every way. Many rappers in these parts try so hard to sound like they aren’t from here. But not Paybac. With him, there are no phoney accents. Neither will you find those imported rap mannerisms present on the album.
“Cult!” inspires an unprecedented level of reverence in Paybac’s career. Some already call it his best. Others swear it’s one of the best 2020 projects in these parts. But one thing we can all agree on is that with “Cult”, Paybac solidifies his foothold as one of Nigeria’s most gifted rappers. It sets him right apart from his peers and also flaunts the depth of his artistic creativity.
With each release, the ever-evolving Paybac proves himself as an artist to grow with. We almost have no idea what the next Paybac album would sound like right now, we’d just have to wait and find out. And if you ask me, that’s already pretty exciting.