Since two weeks, the news cycle has reported, sensationalized, and also equally been polarized on a Psquare breakup triggered by a legal statement from Peter Okoye. Titled as “Letter of Termination,” the statement was essentially a dissolution of Psquare while making us aware of details sordidly overfraught with malice and the sad, intractable state of the group’s internal dynamics. But this isn’t the first time Psquare has strafed the media with news-worthy “breakup” stories. As is so often the case with music groups, they get disbanded after a duration of time to allow members pursue solo careers or other creative interests. For Psquare, there’s the distinct impression that the end is near, if not here already, and chronicling their long, industrious career as Nigeria’s last successful mega-pop group (and Africa by extension) seems like a fairly small service.
The cachet of over-the-years pop success has rested with Psquare ever since their 2002 megahit Senorita was released, off their debut album Last Nite. The video, a five-minute-plus collage of baggy jeans, Paul’s sun-licked abs, energetic choreography, and old-era Nollywood-style storytelling, was as scandalously thrilling then as it was unrivalled. Born Peter and Paul Okoye as identical twins in 1981, Psquare started singing and dancing in a small Catholic secondary school in Jos. The school’s overarching conservatism never appeared to stifle the twins as they were encouraged to take lessons in playing the piano and guitar. In 1997, they formed a group called Smooth Criminals, with each members possessing the same teenage athelecism and oversize attitude, and performing anywhere and everywhere, so that they became newly-minted microcelebrities in Jos.
But the group didn’t stay together for long because, two years later, Psquare gained admissions in the University of Abuja and other members of the group got admitted elsewhere. Psquare’s collegiate years, it turned out, torqued towards music and never stopped. Their emergence as winners of the Grab Da Mic music contest in 2001, and the subsequent release of their Benson and Hedges-sponsored debut album under Timbuk2 Music, saw their career pivot into a nascent stardom. They did the kind of heartfelt, pelvic thrust R&B that made ladies swoon – they were hyperflexible in their dance routines and exuded lots of sex appeal. Their style, it appeared, came from the centrifuge of American R&B boy bands like B2K and the god-tier influence of Michael Jackson. Granted, long-disbanded groups like The Remedies pioneered Nigerian hip hop in the early 00’s, and Plantashun Boiz charmed their way into our hearts in their heyday, but Psquare will forever be canonized as a pop powerhouse that cosmically ruled the continent.
Around the early 00’s, the Nigerian music industry became a flux point of emerging talents. Abuja-based R&B group Style-Plus had released their massive chart-topping song Olufunmi in 2003, which was hallmarked by smooth R&B synth melodies and intelligent songwriting. All-male music groups were the exceptionalism of that period. It was voguish, with soapy songs about love and heartbreak and overall remained cyclically, politically numb. However, what distinctly made Psquare so appealing was their sheer, stylised effort at doing choreography, to turn their videos into a compact, minivolume dance-off. Though self-taught, the duo had complementary individual strengths. Paul, for example, was marginally a better singer. His vocals shaped the atmosphere for Senorita, and was a pulpy, narrative device in driving the themes in the video.
“Paul is the musical workhorse of the duo, handling the hooks for almost all their biggest hits,” music critic Joey Akan writes for Pulse, “His silkier and high-pitched voice gives him an edge over Peter in the studio, which makes him the group’s official singer. His artistry lies in his decision to chase music as an art for itself, and focus on using his voice as his most desirable instrument.”
Peter was the dancer and coordinated their dance routines and gave off a swaggering bad boy coolness. Still, though, their debut album Last Nite had its issues. “It was a stellar offering but suffered from inadequate marketing and distribution,” writes Chiagoziem Onyekwena for The Guardian, “It was Psquare’s sophomore album, Get Squared, that really turned the dancing duo into legitimate pop stars.”
Released in 2005, Get Squared was a product of the family-owned Square Records label and it catapulted Psquare into an unparalleled pop filament and spawned a legion of fans. The album’s most memorable single, Bizzy Body, dominated local charts and extended its shelf life with a sonically amped-up Weird MC-featured remix. Get Squared, the single, whose video was a gritty, muscled dancefest, held the number one spot on the MTV Base chart for four consecutive weeks. Amid the positive reception, critics weighed in on the album’s lack of originality and gratuitous western sampling.
And perhaps that’s why Game Over sounded more conceptually refreshing. It was also one of Psquare’s most successful albums, selling over eight million copies in the first six days of its release. The production was aqueous and shape-shifting: singles like Ifunanya and Roll It had their respective spells, but Do Me was anthemic to its core and featured Waje’s big, wide-ranging voice. By extension, the single was a springboard for Waje’s career as a vocalist. Arguably, 2007 was Psquare’s peak year. Danger, The Invasion, and Double Trouble were albums with varying degrees of success and diminishing returns, all released in periods where the music industry had an exploding catchet of other pop artistes. But fans of Psquare have remained loyal all through the years. And Psquare, in return, have enjoyed a good spell of fan devotion and goodwill. Even till now, the media is still spinning reports on their separation in nuanced, interesting ways. But it doesn’t matter. Psquare gave us the time of our lives—and that’s the legacy we will always remember.