ALBUM: Runtown – “$igns”

Runtown’s strength as an artist has always been rooted in his solid understanding of prevalent mainstream pop sensibilities. It does not change as he returns to the music scene with Signs following 2021’s Soundgod Fest Reloaded. The 13-track project assumes a gentle, pensive and introspective mood. He trades the high-energy moments that outlined earlier projects like his debut Ghetto University for midtempo production and lax delivery, which sit faultlessly within Afropop’s current soundscape. “For many people, it might feel like their first time hearing me on songs like these,” Runtown tells Apple Music. “It might even seem like they’re listening to a new artist. But it’s mostly me going back to the basics with a fresh spin.”

Signs spares no feelings as it floats between themes of love, faith and growth while delving into genres like sultry ’80s pop, Afropop and reggae and showcasing a wiser, more grown-up version of Runtown. Intentionality, depth and refinement are the leading markers of this. On Sinnerman, he recognises the imperfections in his actions and calls for understanding stating that “at the end of the day, I am only a man”. The project’s lead single, Things I Know, is characterised by its smooth synths reminiscent of his 2016 megahit, Mad Over You. Dangerous Hearts samples Sade’s The Sweetest Taboo while the singer calls on his love interest with melodies spruced up by Mr Hudson. Read on as he walks us through key tracks from the album.

“I was like, ‘OK, the album is called Signs. I need to go God MC on this song. It needs to top any song.’ My mind was on Welcome to Jamrock. I listened to the album a lot, and each time, I’d go back and change my verse like, ‘No way, Damian Marley is still killing me.’ ‘Signs’ is me showing my skillset as a composer and producer because I produced most of it, but Mystro created the beat.”

“There are these French producers I linked up with while I was in Paris recording. They were playing this guitar riff. I later took it to the studio and worked over it with Mystro, who produced the final cut. I have always been a fan of Nina Simone’s ‘Sinnerman’ because I could relate, and for a long time, I was like, ‘I’m going to make a song called ‘Sinnerman’. We live in a society where people judge one another a lot. This track is me telling everyone to be proud of who they are and what they do. I’m not saying being bad is good. But I mean just be yourself. People will judge regardless.”

Things I Know
“This was the first song I created when I went into the studio in Paris to start building ideas for the album. I worked with a producer from Senegal called Akatché. He’s a very talented producer. I didn’t ever want to do a very commercial pop song because sometimes when you go pop, it becomes very generic. This made me dislike the song when I was done with it, but everyone else went crazy for it. One day, I woke up, played the song, and was like, ‘What? This has to go first. This is the first song that needs to be released.’”

High Spirit
“This is my overall favourite song on the album. It’s inspired by the idea of people thinking that you are not OK when you aren’t so visible on social media when the reverse is the case. I always try to enjoy myself even when you don’t see me. Trust me, I’m out here living my life. ‘Even on the low, we dey for high spirit.’ Never sad, never down, never empty.”

Ofe Pami
“It means ‘don’t kill me’. This song is just for the club, you know. It’s for the dinners and outdoor scenes. It’s for when you’re talking to a cute girl and you’re catching a vibe. It’s just a fun break in the album because it was getting too preachy. It features Jamopyper.”

All About You
“For love songs, I usually don’t need a lot of inspiration. It mostly starts with me in the studio making a catchy beat that the ladies will love. This song is about a guy who’s in love and confused. He says to the girl, ‘I don’t know what to do. Tell me what do I do.’ That’s how the lyrics go. So it’s just someone that is hopelessly in love.”

“At the time of creating the album, I was just done with a lot of things. I was in a new label situation and everything was new. ‘Fences’ was the first step in what I call a new journey in my life. To get to this point, it was important for me to build fences instead of walls and watch who is walking in. You let some in and you don’t let in others. But when you build walls, you don’t see over it, so you won’t be able to tell good from the bad anymore.”

Dangerous Hearts
“I spent the whole lockdown in London and during that time, I connected with Mr Hudson. This is the second [song I] recorded. It has like 2 million versions. I used to see Beyoncé say things like she recorded a song 50 times, and I’d be like, ‘How is that possible?’ But with this song, I was like, ‘OK, I believe it.’ Quite a lot of versions, crazy versions. Mystro had at least 10 versions. When we got the final one, we wanted to make it Afropop with a retro ’80s vibe to it. I believe the best music was made in that era.”

Under Pressure
“This is my favourite love song on the album. It’s a different cut from the songs I usually make. This is the first time I’m using Western pop progressions to make an Afropop song. I always wanted to do that in my career, and we scored it. It has the same effect ‘Mad Over You’ had on me. It’s the only song I can put on repeat for two days straight. It just flows. It’s one of the songs that make you feel in love. Mystro produced it as well.”

“‘Propaganda’ was supposed to be the first song I was going to release because of the story behind it. I wrote it in 2019, but it sounded very Afropop and that wasn’t the direction I had in mind for 2019. I eventually decided to keep it for Signs. It’s a comeback song where I’m pretty much saying that I keep it real with no gimmicks.”

Hella Sacrifice
“This is a summary of the whole journey. The lyrics go, ‘I paid the price too many times. I was crucified, it was one hella sacrifice.’ It’s just reflecting on the past and everything that happened. The intro starts with a sample that says ‘raggamuffin’. When you hear Jamaicans say ‘raggamuffin’, they are referring to the diamond in the dirt. I was just in my diamond-in-the-dirt element.”

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