Genesis Gabriella Tina Manney was too protracted a name to walk on stage with so Gigi LaMayne became the anagram of sorts that we were to introduced to this little stick of dynamite as. LaMayne being the phonetic equivalent of Le Magne, meaning ‘The Great’ in French, it seemed fitting.
Gigi is no stranger to the music industry. Over the course of her four mixtapes (El Principio-16, Circus Café, Colour of Reign, and Ground Zero) she’s come out of the gate as a powerhouse and we’ve come to expect a certain standard of lyrical excellence and prowess from her. Her guest verses, especially on features such as AKA’s Baddest Remix and Tumi Molekane’s Hello Kitty Remix, cemented her as a stand-out artist.
“The studio was like a psychiatrist’s couch for me” Jay Z said of recording his debut, and it’s a sentiment we’ve come to expect from artists releasing their first album. Part of what makes a debut so intriguing is that it’s usually an artist’s first real introduction to their listening audience; it’s their life and emotion on record. Part of what makes the audience connect with it is how well this story is told and the ways in which we relate to these life experiences that are laid out on wax. To say that her album was one of the most anticipated this year wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination.
We expected the no-holds-barred, ferocious MC with particularly gifted wordplay and skillful rhymes. For the majority of the album, that’s what we didn’t get. It was particularly disappointing seeing Gigi fall into the trap of attempting a crossover approach and it translating as mediocre rather than carving her own path and delivering excellence. i-Genesis is more pop than hip hop, with Love Like This, Daddy’s Home, Silly Little Girl, and When the Wind Blows sounding more like playlist staples for the 94.7 and 5fms of the industry rather than Yfm or Metro. Frustratingly so as it almost grasps at amazing but settles for tame.
There also isn’t an overall thematic flow, but rather a bunch of singles put together that if played on shuffle would be no less insightful than if they were played in the correct order. The ‘schizophrenia’ – as she’s dubbed the overall sound of the album – continues with the gospel feel on Hallelujah, the gqom inspired Kwazulu (feat. Zinhle Ngidi), and the deep house beat on Apapa Lele (feat. DJ Vera).
The “I’m a proud monkey, and no-one can stop me” lyrics of Jumanji are particularly cringeworthy as she attempts to repudiate the connotations surrounding the racially-charged word after Penny Sparrow’s infamous comments but just invokes more unease. It’s not all bad, and the stand out records are Jungle Fever, Shisa, and Ice Cream; tracks that showcase her prowess and technical excellence and remind you why you were a Gigi Lamayne fan to begin with.
There are a number of problems with this album. If the outlook was to present a body of work that asserts that hip hop isn’t a homogeneous genre and that different sounds and influences can make for great artistry, it would have done well with a seasoned executive producer. An industry giant to guide the process without compromising on quality and charisma. With good direction, the album would sound varied and impressive; without that, it takes it to realms of passable radio-pop.
Another problem is that the hooks are annoyingly repetitive without much substance, and coupled with a singing voice that needs a bit more vocal training to deliver a more polished result, it makes for oversights that in isolation don’t seem very damaging but in the grand scheme of the album is another nail in the coffin.
Although somewhat unfair to expect a perfectly polished presentation on debut, there seems to be a gulf between what we know Gigi to be capable of and what she’s presented here. There isn’t a showcase of identity, and that’s my biggest lamentation. I don’t know what makes her tick, what rules her world. I don’t know her biggest fears and wildest dreams. I don’t know who is based on listening to this album, I can only peek into her character via a few anecdotes on tracks. The upside of being 22 is that she has plenty of opportunity to wow us in projects to come.
4.5 plugs out of 10.