This was an album that had everything you could ask for, from a hip-hop album and more. It was released in 2010, and Jesse Jagz was the prime music producer for Chocolate City at the time. His work on Talk About It, MI’s revolutionary hip-hop album, was instrumental to its success. But coming off the heels of that, Jesse Jagz wanted to create something different. A project that was a little bit commercial, a little purist, but definitely with his personality in the mix. He had to be experimental, and he went to the nines with experimentation.
Back then, being a music producer was not just about mastering sound and knowing where to put things. One had to have an extensive education in sound from all over the world. Jesse Jagz’s debut album must have emptied the artiste of all his tricks.
The soundscape in Jag of All Tradez drew inspiration from several subgenres of Nigerian music, African music, and World music. There was a little bit of everything in this album. Each song was wildly different from the next. Jesse’s quick wit and cleverness also added to the experience of this album. His ability to flow into and in between whatever harmonies conjured for the song was unmatched. It is quite amazing there were no recognizable samples across the 19 songs we enjoyed on this album. At the end of the day, only Jesse could have made this album and no one else.
So let’s dive into what makes Jesse Jagz, the Jag of all Tradez.
Any time you heard Artist Extraordinaire, Producer of The Year, in the 2000s, you had to prepare your ear for the fire that was about to follow. Take Over, of course, introduced Jesse as the prime producer and creative mind behind the album. Shoutouts to his town, Jos, over a psychedelia-inspired baseline. A verse from Fellow Chocboy Ice Prince set us up for the nature of this album. Yes, this was hip-hop, but it was going to be different.
Pump It Up carries a heavy influence from electric music. From synths, a pitched arpeggio, and swooning riffs, the song continues to swell, and the mix only gets bolder to mirror the rising energy of the dance floor Jesse Jagz had pulled this inspiration from. It was unlike anything in Nigerian music yet.
At the time, if you wanted to make a soulful track, traditionally Nigerian and radio-friendly as of 2010, you needed two people, Wizkid and Soul E. Both features on Intoxicated had commanding vocals that were friendly to the vast majority of listeners. Jagz had to switch up the singing and rapping in Yoruba here as his foray into the Nigerian commercial scene. It is also from this song that the album gets interesting. And then that bridge by Wizkid is going to go down as his best work. It would not be a Jesse Jagz song if we did not talk about the sound. Intoxicated has a smooth violin playing throughout. Jagz textured this with thrum of a pitched-down arpeggio and some of the elite drum work.
Jargo was perhaps everyone’s favourite song on this album. It captured the zeitgeist of the era. “Okay, let the king through, Where’s your Blackberry Bbold? Let me ping you”. To deliver this song, Jagz must have Indian music and reshaped it into hip hop, no doubt drawing the ear of many a northern Nigerian. The chorus is a Hindi ballad, and the bridge is sung in Hausa. In a music space that Yoruba crooners and then Igbo dominated, Jargo’s commercial success, in spite of its Hausa roots, was a big deal.
Jagz performance on the song Number One was just a foretelling of the path his career would diverge to. Here, we walk into the world of reggae just as naturally as we would walk into our bedroom. Number One is an intimate song and arguably the best musical number on the album. Jagz makes creative use of reggae elements, such as the interspersed reggae guitar and the bass. He also shows just how much of a singer he was on this song, employing lingua from several reggae musicians to profess how he feels about a girl; who continually responds on the refrain.
The Greatest sees Jagz announce himself and spell out his resume. The same message is carried in Jesse Swag, which is a more playful interpretation where he tones down the seriousness we experience in the former track. Self-promotion is the idea in these two songs.
Sugar Cane Baby takes inspiration from traditional Western Nigerian music. There is the sound of a talking drum and then the thrum of a local horn you would only find deep in a village in Ibadan. The vocals take a step back, allowing us to enjoy the beautiful blend of the instruments.
Diz Jagged Life digs into his past and the journey he has come, as was the custom for every album from the period. Something had to ground the listener to you.
Jagz’s Skit, positioned in the middle of the album, advertised Chocolate City Music and its services to event planners around the country. Spoken in English and Hausa, the ad also asked people to buy the album, which was 150 naira at the time. It heavily contrasted with the aggressive energy witnessed in the tracks before, adding a soft, playful side to the project.
Chocolate was an incredibly iconic track. It was a breath of fresh air, wheeling rap enthusiasts away from the heavy instrumentalist rap songs that we were used to. Jagz made good use of synths and drums to create a song that was as seductive as it was playful.
Jagz talks about the separation of brothers and tells stories of reconciliation in the next track. Aptly titled My Brother, it features one of the most memorable choruses one would ever hear in 2010. The track then calls on all of the black people in the world to see beyond the brown skin and unite.
If you wanted to know what Brymo sounded like before Oleku, L-O-V-E-U is the treasure you are looking for. Jagz steps back and lets the singer strut his stuff. It is pertinent to know at this point that Jag of All Trades also served to show his contemporaries in Chocolate City.
Wetin Dey commandeered the radio in primetime. Jagz formed this track for the Nigerian party scene, burrowing deeper into the zeitgeist of the time. Throughout the track, he is cheeky, bounces on rhythm, and keeps the general mood of the track upbeat.
Inhale Out is probably the least memorable track on this album. It appeals to only a select group of new school rappers as it benefitted from the fast rapping, upbeat rhythm, and carried messaging about light matters. Skales was the perfect feature for this track, though, as that was his brand at the time.
Shorty was a homage to Hausa rap. A lot more drums, and inspiration from the sounds of Hausa rap that was prevalent. Jesse had to represent the region he was coming from.
Pussy Cat carried the giddiness and excitement with a beat that emphasized the mood of the song. Pussy Cat presented a perfect use of synths to create a light song that would get you moving no matter the mood you were in. The lyrics were light and easy to vibe with. Silver Saddih was one of the brightest gems on this track.
Bend Down Low builds from the back, swelling with an accordion and a grand piano, into what became a track that would fill the clubs of Lagos, Abuja, and Jos.
Nobody Test Me is, perhaps, any rap fan’s biggest takeaway from this album. In this track, all of the Chocolate City rappers on roll spit some of the hardest bars that anyone heard all year. It would be one of the few features.
Jesse Jagz has always favored melodies in his sound. One is sure to find exciting drums overlaying pitched instruments that one would never find in Nigerian music. Jesse was very experimental in this album, going into soundscapes that we would never find in Nigerian hip-hop again. Throughout the album, we find Jagz carving melodies from almost nothing and leaving what we felt as large swathes between notes empty of sound to tease us. The album is truly a chocolate wonder.
True to its title, Jesse Jagz proved that he was the jack of all trades, weaving through genres, singing, rapping, mixing, mastering, and carving sounds as if from nothing. It is no wonder people revere him as one of the best producers in Nigeria, aside from his career as a rapper. All of this came from the mind of one man. Jesse Jagz brought a level of experimentation that would never surface in the Nigerian musical space. To this day, Jag of All Tradez stands as an album, way ahead of its time.
It is our hope that one of the most complete artists steps back into the studio to inspire bold moves in the way of sound, especially with the Afrobeats explosion.
Stream Jag of All Trades Here