In 2020, Jess ETA reached a critical junction in his career with Balance, a six-track EP that launched him out of the underground of Abuja’s free-wheeling music scene. Primarily inspired by unrequited love, the project found the singer dealing with the aftermath of heartbreak while trying to put his life in order with music as a therapeutic escape. On his latest project, Playing With Fire, the narratives are grander, the scenery is richer, and Jess ETA is more loved-up than ever, diving headfirst into all types of romances while remaining keenly aware of the looming specter of heartbreak. “In its totality, Playing With Fire is a story of my decision to dive into the unknown,” he tells Apple Music. “All while hoping to come out as an empowered and reconstructed version of myself.”
That new version of Jess can be gleaned on tracks like “Skata” and “Body on Fire,” where he confronts emotions like lust and desire openly in his music for the first time over dance-ready, percussion-heavy instrumentals, while “Below” loops in a gorgeous interpolation of Lagbaja’s “Konko Below.” For all its segues into such bright moments, Playing With Fire is still defined by Jess ETA’s feather-light vocals, moody soundscape, and fastidious songwriting on songs like “Neon” and “Lay It Down” as he straddles the divide between euphoric joy and numbing pain.