Saturday, November 7, 2015

Book Review: A Very Good Bad Guy Is A Very Bad 2face Narrative

If like me, you are an age long 2face fan, you must have received news of the forthcoming “biography” with great expectations. When the “editor’ now happens to be the astute Adekunle Ayeni, the excitement must have been palpable. 2face Idibia has long ceased to be merely a popular artiste; his brand has become the definition of a generation. His story has been told over and over again, but an official biography of his life both as an individual and an artiste remained an uncharted course for neither writers nor the man himself.
Again, I have followed the career of a certain Ayeni The Great for nearly two decades now. As a young person in the second tier city of Ibadan, I would faithfully buy copies of HipHop World Magazine, Encomium, Bubbles (which I would later have the privilege of editing) and all newspapers that profiled Nigerian entertainment and entertainers. Ayeni’s life story has inspired me to no end. He was an outsider kid from the back waters of Okokomaiko who had huge dreams and with lots of hard work, made himself into a journalist, publicist, public relations consultant and later himself, a newspaper publisher. Apart from a couple of other individuals whose name I would mention later on, no other writer qualified as much as Ayeni to write a book on the iconic 2face. I- and millions of fans waited with baited breaths for the most anticipated book since Chimamanda Adichie.
The first time it crossed my mind that this might be a disappointing book was when the book cover was realeased by Adekunle Ayeni’s publishing house The NET. I tweeted on September 14 thus: Looking forward to the 2face book. Only wish that another photo was used on the cover. Wasn’t that the cover art for The Unstoppable album?
Indeed it was the same photo used in 2010 for 2face’s third album. When I whispered this concern to some friends the explanation was that since the title of the book, A Very Good Bad Guy was an oxymoron that juxtaposes 2face’s good and bad sides, the cover art works well for that purpose.
So I ordered the book after the book launch was over and done with. It arrived in the post yesterday November 4. As I ripped open the polythene wrapper, a sinking feeling of disappointment struck me like a punch. From a production stand point; this book was already a mess. The very first page when you flip the cover open has this badly reproduced photograph of 2face, ostensibly taken with a camera phone in one corner of The NET office. Not only is it out of place on the inner sheet of a book, together with the tackiness of the lamination and the substandard print quality that persists from start to finish, the book feels like an Alaba CD jacket: cheap and unworthy of the artiste on it. Alas, my disappointment was just starting.
For starters, this is not a story of 2face as sold by the publisher; rather it is a collection of articles about 2face since Ayeni’s own days as a reporter. How dare he now call this a biography! The prologue proved to be the most interesting part of the whole book. In it, Ayeni recounts a night in 2007 when he and 2face shared a bed after an awards show in London. The cheeky double entendre promised much of the book but soon fell flat as soon as the prologue ended. Even Annie Idibia’s piece which is neither a dedication nor provides any perspective of her husband leave much to be desired. It reads like a birthday tribute that was sent to the editor of this book by BlackBerry Messenger or Whatsapp. How do I know this? Wrongly placed full stops, unnecessary ellipses and exclamation marks, as well as a “LOL” tell that much. A 2face book requires an Annie Idibia voice. This flimsy bit does not provide that.
Permit me to digress for a minute: Adekunle Ayeni has transitioned his journalistic experience into a thriving public relations practice. Safe to say, he has mastered the dark arts required of a PR guru and he deploys his craft well in the making of this book. Nowhere in the book does he directly refer to it as a “biography”. However, press releases from his organization and reportage of the launch in the media all describe A Very Good Bad Guy as the biography of Innocent 2face Idibia. Smart move, Mr Ayeni…
Now I’ve read a few music biographies in my time. Carlos Moore wrote a Fela biography, Fela: This Bitch of a Life and it was based on conversations with Abami Eda. I Would Die 4 U was written by Toure, an American journalist and pop culture expert. The book features several interviews about and with pop legend Prince, and provides readers an assessment of the enigma’s life.Becoming Beyonce by J. Randy Taraborelli was recently released as an unofficial biography of the artiste. It delivers as it tells several unheard stories about Beyonce. A Very Good Bad Guy does no such thing.
A biography should delve into previously unknown areas and tell an unforgettable story. It should take readers away from blog posts, rumours and innuendos and research the backstories that make the subject tick. It should document the subject’s views, influences, fears, ambition and every facet of his life. A Very Good Bad Guy comes across as a rushed vanity project rather than the life story of an individual who the publisher rightly describes as “Nigeria’s greatest pop artiste of all time”.

The travails of Fela Anikulapo Kuti happened nearly a decade before I was born. Yet Carlos Moore’s book made me rage at the injustice meted out to the man and his mother. A Very Good Bad Guy does not even come close. Heartbreakingly, it is not for lack of talent or wherewithal to do a 2face story properly.
Ayeni’s double advantage as an entertainment journalist and one time publicist for 2face puts him at a vantage position to pen a biography worth his salt. Over the years, the writer has proven himself to be a master storyteller. Does anyone remember his exclusive interview with Dbanj immediately after the Mohits breakup? That was a classic piece of writing.
Neither can the shoddiness of A Very Good Bad Guy be blamed on a lack of curiosity: in page xxvi of the prologue Ayeni himself wonders, “What kind of guy is this Idibia? What sublime irony to find a man, who does all the bad things, yet does all the good things...? As an observer I was fascinated and impressed…” So why did Ayeni neglect to ask these questions and answer them for the fans?
Perhaps it is the hubris that sometimes plagues heroes and geniuses that convinced the editor/publisher that he could pass off these 396 pages of nothingness as a biography.

A writer has a responsibility to document times and happenings correctly. He owes it to the reader to either answer all his questions or allow the reader to deduce answers from his writing. In 2024, children who were born in the year 2face released his debut album would be university undergraduates and some of them would study the defining era of Nigerian music. They would need to understand why it was such a big deal for 2face to have won the Best African Act at the 2006 MTV EMA’s. They would need to understand how big a deal it is for a Nigerian to have made the soundtrack for a Hollywood movie. They would need to find out how a single artiste swung the door open for a generation of African artistes to reach the world. They would need an authoritative voice to teach them about the great 2face. A Very Good Bad Guy through Ayeni Adekunle does not offer that; rather it is a catalogue of past articles, a gloried scrapbook of The NET Newspaper. Maybe that was why even 2face look less than enthused at the book launch.
The man 2face could commission a writer to tag along with him for a couple of months to gather enough material for a proper biography, if Mr. Ayeni is too busy to. Bayo Omisore and Efe Omorogbe are the other two individuals who have unique perspectives of the artiste. (Fortunately both men are also excellent writers with commendable journalism credentials).
A Very Good Bad Guy feels like a scam. Personally I feel defrauded. The hollowness of Adekunle Ayeni’s book on 2face does a great disservice to the artistry and accomplishment of the subject. It does greater disservice to the skill and talent of the two dozen writers whose contributions to The NET Newspaper form this book. It does the greatest disservice to Mr. Adekunle Ayeni’s two decades of journalistic excellence and his highly esteemed position as a custodian of urban Nigerian music. Innocent 2face Idibia requires an official biography. This book is not it.

Jide Taiwo is a media practitioner based in Lagos. He’s in the process of finishing his own book, Reflections of a Millennial. He tweets via @thejidetaiwo.


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