REVIEW: Ayra Starr – 19 and Dangerous [ALBUM]

Some of those elements include love, fashion, heartbreak, emotional instability, toxic love affairs, haphazard coping…

Some of those elements include love, fashion, heartbreak, emotional instability, toxic love affairs, haphazard coping mechanisms and the blissful decadence, ignorance, beauty and attractive innocence of youth.

19 and Dangerous projects these emotions on different tracks. But sometimes, the album projects two or more themes on one song at the same time. While the emotions might overlap and become sub-themes of other themes, they are not muddled up. Ayra Starr, her songwriters and her A&Rs properly distilled all those emotions and independently expressed them with clarity and purpose.

As the album title – ’19 and Dangerous’ – suggests, the aim was to project a juxtaposition, which presents Starr as an enigma simplified by the album. It feels like ‘19’ starts the album with dreamy, fashion-forward, youthful, reluctantly innocent and wannabe baddie tendencies while ‘Dangerous’ closes it as a proper exuberant baddie, formed by pain.

If she was begging a boy on ‘Lonely,’ she took control and was ready to burn it down on ‘Bridgertn.’

18 is the generally accepted hallmark of adulthood. Some researchers have shown that most people only truly mature at 21, but 18 is when they are truly aware of their decisions while being relatively capable of dealing with consequences. 19 and 20 are then truly pivotal times towards growth and the early adulthood of 21.

It’s a testing period for most people as they consider decisions, profession, livelihood and relationships harder than ever before. They also deal with pressure and upheavals in their personal and professional, emotional, and financial lives. Wants and needs also collide as people learn to prioritize.

‘19 and Dangerous’ is meant to play like a Gen Z memoir. If millennials fought over love letters in the 2000s, Gen Z fights over unintentional drug use in ‘Toxic’ relationships, as Starr documents on track four.

In a way, it feels like the Nigerianized version of Adele’s diaristic, transitional albums – 19, 21 and 25 – but with a little spice by way of sex, explicit language, sensual themes, hedonism and subtle hints of experimental debauchery.

In another way, ‘19 and Dangerous’ is also like the love-child of Adele’s ‘19’ and Rihanna’s Good Girl Gone Bad, underpinned by the fiery, alluringly vain, carefree, consequences-be-damned Gen Z tendencies of ‘Cast,’ the album opener – or manifesto. Interestingly, Rihanna was also 19 when that album was released and Ayra Starr is a card-carrying member of Rihanna’s navy.

Some of that is underlined by ‘Fashion Killa,’ a would-be ode to Rihanna.

With the dense and carefully sculpted brand that MAVIN Records smartly introduced with the Ayra Starr EP, this album format is the only way forward. As revealed on Pulse Nigeria’s review of the EP, MAVIN presented her as a stunning young woman with layers in a way that widens her audience as much as possible.

She projected the ideal picture of the atypical Gen Z woman; slightly ignorant but confident enough to get away with it. Playful but scary smart with sharp wits. Reserves her values for necessary scenarios. Confident enough in her own body to show skin. Personable but not scared to get messy when ‘necessary.’

Part of that probably foretold an ill-advised quoted tweet on a funny evening earlier in August. But kudos to MAVIN, ‘19 and Dangerous’ aligns with the overall brand of Ayra Starr going forward. There also seems to be an intentional departure from anything that could further those Tems comparisons on this album.

The only similarities between her and Tems is the voice type and how they use that on the end of vowels and bars, especially on slower songs.

Her album art also shows growth. While the art for ‘Ayra Starr EP’ projected a young women with layers through skin and a red cup while presumably having a good time, ‘19 and Dangerous’ has a slightly more gothic cover art with “Bad motherf*cker” sitting at top right. The pictures, colors and butterflies also present adult substance and represent diverse interests, and mixed emotions.

If ‘19 and Dangerous’ was a movie, it would be themed a ‘coming-of-age’ drama, presumably with non-linear storytelling and a female narrator. Starr openly sings about drug use on ‘Toxic.’

Ayra Starr is a pristine talent and this album is only an introduction. It feels like this album was unplanned, but only became a no-brainer because she just had an excessive amount of cohesive, quality records and ‘Ayra Starr EP’ was a good foundation.

Across this album, her flow scheme, technique, deft use of her vocal range and ability to find pockets is exceptional and scary sometimes. The way she opened ‘Fashion Killer’ and delivered the hook on the brilliant ‘Bridgertn’ highlighted this.

She obviously excels at her absolute best on R&B records with methodical production. The period between ‘Snitch,’ ‘Toxic’ and ‘In Between’ is the best moment on an album filled with good moments. However, ‘Fashion Killer,’ ‘Bloody Samaritan’ and ‘Amin’ prove that she could go on to truly excel on the same level on future pop records.

Right now, it feels like better lamba from songwriters and simpler beats will unleash her pop side.

Already, she’s multilingual – it underscores range and increases appeal. ‘19 and Dangerous’ is a good introduction, from which she can go on to do anything she wants. Although imperfect, enough artistry has been showcased. Yes! This album also has loads of hilarious quotables! If your bling na torch, e fit still be panda sha.

At 11 short tracks and 33 minutes, this album is concise. Its album sequence is also brilliant and seems to tell a story of assumption to power and self-discovery.

It goes from a manifesto, to a vain identity stamp [Fashion Killer], a love song, three spectacular R&B records which descend into a post-breakup spiral and bad coping mechanisms, before culminating in the self discovery of power on ‘Bloody Samaritan’ and ‘Bridgertn’ and a wish for good tidings and happiness on ‘Amin.

At times on ‘Amin,’ Ayra Starr sounds like a big sister to younger teens and a friendly voice to struggling young adults. Her features also did a job to a ‘t.’ That said, the thematic tendency of this album to present Ayra Starr as a ‘baddie’ gets a little too ‘on-the-nose’ sometimes to sell a personality and it sometimes feels inauthentic.

As an album title, ‘19 and Dangerous’ does its job, but it’s a little clunky and lacking in creative imagination, purely from a perception point of view.

That said, ‘Fashion Killa’ should be pitched for brand deals.

And oh, Ayra Starr and Simi should do a record. ‘Lonely (Remix)’ could do the job.

But wait o, did the “100 yards husband material” on ‘Beggie Beggie’ give her drugs on ‘Toxic’?

Themes and Delivery: 1.5/2

Enjoyability and Satisfaction: 1.5/2