Let’s not hit the dog whilst hiding the knobkerrie here: the response to Enzo Ishall’s latest video, Highest Score, has been underwhelming. Staggeringly so. How underwhelming? At the time of writing, the video has 3600 ‘likes’ on YouTube, and 7100 ‘dislikes’. That’s more than twice as many dislikes. For context, Jah Prayzah’s 2018 much-maligned Ronika has 3400 likes and only 1400 dislikes (less than half!) Beyond a doubt, this has been an exceptional lowlight in his short time at the summit of the entertainment industry
By Shingi Mavima, Michigan, USA
Despite this apparent artistic faux-pas, there is reason to believe that, when the year is done and dusted, 2019 would still have been a triumph for the Stallion. I can think of five.
1. Solid Sophomore Season
There is a phenomenon in the music industry known as the Sophomore Slump. Put simply, this is when an artist experiences an astronomical rise to the top- seemingly out of nowhere- after their first project(s) and thus find themselves under incredible pressure going into the second album or project. Many failed to overcome this obstacle, and are forever relegated into musical obscurity.
There may be rises to the top more astronomical than Enzo Ishall in recent years; I can’t think of too many. Given that the Mangoma culture is not necessarily album-centric, we can regard the entire 2018 year as Enzo’s breakout moment. And boy, was it one heck of a breakout! Not only is Kanjiva a decade-defining record, his hilariously detailed ghetto narratives (as seen in Handirare kuDen Kwenyu and Next Time) endeared him to the masses, while Matsimba went a long way in showcasing the socially responsible quarters of the genre.
The pressure was on for 2019- and he went to work. Vanodherera carried on his role as the ghetto narrator, Muchiround showcases his musical chops, the Buffalo Souljah-assisted Fear no Man has been one of the year’s most slept-on tunes, Magate gave the streets another dance anthem and, just a few weeks ago, the jiti-inspired Mhamha highlighted Enzo’s musical and lyrical dexterity.
One would be hard-pressed to find a ZimDancehall artist who has buzzed around the top throughout 2019 more than Enzo. There may be a few, but Enzo is definitely in the mix: proof that he has evaded the sophomore slump
2. His Response
A large part of Enzo’s success has been his affability. He is extremely easy to like as a person. Obviously confident in his artistry, his humility is readily apparent in the way he talks to and about his mentors (Levels, Fantan etc) and his fans. He will do salacious songs then turn around and do a Matsimba. He appears to be a nice guy without being too happy-go-lucky. In short, he comes across as real, and easy to root for.
These qualities have been on full show in the ways he has responded to the recent
barrage of criticism. He has been contrite and receptive of the various opinions, all while
refusing to totally apologize for his work. The artist in him seems not to regret making
the video, yet the entertainer in him recognizes the disconnect with fans. Through all
this, he has refused to shrink into the shadows, engaging fans on social media, rocking shows and maintaining a sense of humor.
Way to roll with the punches, Enzo!
3. The Song May Not Be THAT Bad!
Perhaps it’s because we like our Enzo in his customary Shona narration. Perhaps it’s because we had already been side-eying the project since Prophet Passion would not stop talking about how the video cost in excess of one million rands to make. Or maybe it’s because Zimbabweans are averse, nay, petrified of any images evoking the devil and evil spirits (even when the theme of the video is him overcoming his demons.) Whatever it may be, the condemnation was not only brutal; it was immediate. Less than 24 hours after its release and the verdict was in: it was a no-good, very bad, terrible video.
But hear me out.
I was at the gym a couple of days after it dropped. Because of my taste in workout music, It was added to my YouTube playlist. Since, like the rest of the nation, I had only not immediately recognize it, so I let it play as I ran my lap.
It was…okay. Sure, it’s not the Enzo we have grown to love. It is, however, not totally devoid of substance or musicality.
It may still work. I can almost guarantee that, should it fall on non-Zimbabwean ears, it may have slightly more resonance than it has had at home.
Give it another shot. Perhaps just as the song, and not the video 😉
4. Our Criminally Short Collective Memory
Let’s face it; Zimbabweans are notorious forgive-and-forgetters. Don’t get me wrong, when you upset them, you will feel their absolute wrath. But make one good move in the aftermath, it’s all love again. Don’t believe me? Jah Prayzah, Killa T, Stunna, Tocky Vibes: just a brief list with potential career-derailing controversies in the past few years that appear to have been cleansed white as snow! JP dropped the army gear and it’s like #MuteJahPrayzah was never a thing.
The trick is- you just have to get back to making that fire music that the people fell in love with you for, and that brings me to…
5) Mucheka Unocheka
In what was either blessed coincidence or a masterstroke in pursuit of redemption, Enzo’s live ‘Ndipe Mic’ performance dropped no more than 48 hours after Highest Score. He performs a brand new song, Mucheka Unocheka, and it is a flawless exhibition of everything we have come to love about him: his ghetto yut braggadocio, impeccable Shona lyricism tinged with just enough slang to make those of us fluent in the language but outside his community wonder what he is talking about at times, and flow.
He kills it. We love it. Since we have used YouTube likes as our metric so far; here are the numbers after just a day or two. 2000 likes, and less than 90 dislikes. The boy is good.
In saying all this, I intend not to portray Ishall as above reproach; far from it. As somebody who dabbles in the arts myself, I am a vehement proponent of following whatever artistic direction your heart desires and doing it to the utmost, and let the people decide for themselves how they feel. But just like you can’t let the people govern how you create entirely, you also can’t let ‘powers-that-be’ determine your artistic direction, if you know what I mean.
“You can’t become a decent horseman until you fall off and get up again, a good number of times.”
Stay up Stallion- keep the tunes coming!