Burna Boy has kept the torch of African folklore flaming with the desire to frontier the United States of Africa while simultaneously bringing the world to the motherland to share in our stories.
What’s stunning is Burna’s ability to tell African stories on contemporary instrumentation with a fine blend of African drums, and a full dose of his crude vocals all while addressing the trend of experiences of his native people.
“You know we come from a place where people smile, but it’s fake
How could they smile?
If you look around, they surrounded by pain
I’ve seen the sky turn to grey
It took the light from the day
It’s like the heads of the state
Ain’t comprehending the hate
That the oppressed generate
When they’ve been working like slaves
To get some minimum wage” – Monsters You Made
“My people just dey try to find any way
Grinding, just to stay alive every day
To survive, have to go outside in the rain
I get high just to minimize all the pain
Who am I to be criticizing the way
You live your life, on how you decide to get paid?” – No Fit Vex
With his last 3 projects, Burna Boy has cemented the African music crossover which was initiated by genre pioneers even before Fela.
Burna Boy is primed to make music that is rich and that will transcend his reign and time. A quick listen through the tracklist of Twice As Tall and you’d notice how the few and handpicked guest appearances focus strictly on storytelling, conveying strong and specific messages over carefully curated melodies instead of tugging it out with their host for the crown of supremacy or simply playing individualism or pretending to care about the entirety of the selfless project. You would hear Burna speak against such pretence on “Bebo”;
“I no get time to pretend no
Anything you like, make you tell me oh
Based on I dey buy, all the shayo ooh”
With 9 solid projects released, Burna Boy proves the efficacy of experience. His last 3 albums have seen the height of conscious efforts put into writing, recording, composition, and collaborations.
“Pull up like surprise, surprise it’s the President
Can’t you see that I’m in my element?” – Real Life
But it wasn’t always this glamorous for the African Giant as revealed on “Naughty By Nature”;
“Remember when I used to hope and pray for change, men (Yeah)
As in any little petty cash change men (Ooh)
Just to get a ride back to the main land (Yeah)
Now when they see the double R, I’m like Amen
Come make I give you tori
When nobody know me
When I dey run from police
‘Cause if dem catch my kpoli
Den dem go barb me goris
Give me quit notice
Carry me go, oh”
His projects are not just a tracklist of commercially successful singles lumped into plastic jackets called albums. Even with the African Giant project from which he dropped 7 singles before its eventual release in the summer of 2019, you could still identify the cohesion in the body of work; Every song was a follow up to the previous track, and complementary to the overall theme of the album. Twice As Tall is entirely introspective and reflective on Burna Boy’s journey from seeking a platform to global relevance and acceptance.
“Always looking out my window
Paranoid and confused
I’m not sure anymore
Who is knocking at my door?
And so as the day comes, as I go on
Protect me, Lord, I cannot trust my neighbors
Be my savior
When that day comes
Defend me from my enemies and my neighbors” – Bank On It
You would understand why this rise and current momentum is so important and dear to the Porthacourt-born-son. From the start of his music career, he was hardly noticed or rightly acknowledged. Often he speaks on his resentment for his contemporaries for lifting no finger to help him rise in the industry.
“Many things wey man go see
Wey dey make a man dey wonder
Abi se dem no believe me
Why dem wanna drag me under?” – Alarm Clock
On the low it won’t be entirely wrong to say Burna Boy has a grudge against Nigerian music consumers for doing little or nothing to help him rise but then turning to embrace and lay claims the moment the rest of the world began to recognize and truly appreciate his music contributions, artistic potential and dedication to the art. Burna addressed this plight on “23”.
“It’s a mad one
Roll a loud one
Record my album
Don’t address anyone
But rather I have
And I’ve been working
No, go do like say I don’t deserve am”
Thus his bold declaration on a GQ cover
“Unlike a lot of other people, I’ve had to go through never-ending steps to get here, whereas other people have taken the elevator up.
I’ve always been too heavy for that kind of elevator, so I had to take the stairs. Now I know every floor and everything on every floor.
This impression is also emphasized on “Onyeka” with the words;
“She no say you no care when I dey wait for my turn
And dem dey catch cold, and I dey see harmattan
Also, one of his recently deleted tweets read;
“NOBODY paved shit for me. Everybody dey find them own. I bin out here if you knew the way they made us look weak by begging and paying the western world to like us you will see that no table was set and I’m the one that brought you the Respect you currently enjoy”.
His streak of projects from Outside, African Giant and now Twice As Tall (2018 – 2020) is sublimely being compared to Kanye West’s run of College Dropout, Late registration and Graduation (2004 – 2008).
JOURNEY SO FAR
Addressing topics like missing out on the 2019 Grammy plaque to Angelique Kidjo on “Level Up” was really timely. It really showed us his personal and vulnerable side as a person.
“I remember when I couldn’t level up
‘Cause the Grammys had me feeling sick as fuck
Throwing up and shit
Asking questions like, “Why it wasn’t us?”
Almost had a nigga feeling envious (Serious)”
On “Wonderful” Burna Boy expresses his delight in the subtle & gradual change he’s impact is bringing to the African continent.
”Cause I’m feeling it in my soul
Something is changing
Right in your face”
The African Giant is now truly Twice as Tall as he was in 2019. First because of the magnitude of effect his African Giant project has had not only on his career as a musician but on the perception of the African continent and spotlighting the continent’s array of entertainment potential. This, he also expresses in “Way Too Big”;
“It’s been a landslide for a long time
But them no wan believe me
All of una combined
Shey you wan try
Oya do am, if it easy
Who bad enough? Who do it like me? (Wait)
Make una phone my cellular, wait
Your back and your spinal cord e go break
If you carry my weight”
Burna Boy didn’t ride on the wave of American pop stars to attain his height, he strategically paired with them “on his own terms” as Niel Shah best puts it. Hence his unapologetic demeanor on songs like “Comma”;
“With your fake breast, with the silicon, girl
I dey see comma there
With your booty so big and your leg so slim baby
I dey see comma there
Tell me why your skin so light and your elbow black, baby?
I dey see comma there”
No contemporary African music crossover has been as solid and as personal as Burna’. He crossed over as the main course and not a side dish. Maybe that’s why he couldn’t refrain from telling us his secret crossover ingredient on “Wettin Dey Sup”;
“Truth dey bitter needing no salt
As e no be rice and beans with pomo”
He determined the course of his sail all by himself or rather with his mother & manager Bose Ogulu and the closed-circle Spaceship team. He just didn’t ride on another artist’s wave to gain global recognition.
This independence was proven again with the choice of features on Twice As Tall. The tracklist is not a festival of commercially sensational American artists. Rather, his choices were pivotal to represent the African bias with Kenyan Afro-pop band Sauti Sol, Senegalese legendary singer Youssou N’Dour and to finally knock down the doors of the diaspora; in the UK with Stormzy, and Cold Play’s lead vocalist Chris Martin; And Naughty by Nature to further till the American soil.
According to Burna Boy, although his vision to unite Africa is not feasible in his time, he feels the urgency to do as much as he can before his “Time Flies”;
“Time flies like a thief in the night
We all got a story to write (Oh)
So darlin’ jump in the ride
Before the train is gone”
As a show of honor, Burna Boy’s name-dropped the late Pop smoke. The Hip-Hop-drill youngster was likened to having the charisma of 50cent. Burna also earned a feature on his posthumous deluxe album on the track “Enjoy Yourself” Remix.
Burna Boy honoured basketball icon Michael Jordan on a track he titled after the icon’s popular jersey No. 23 which was retired by Chicago Bulls, Miami Heat and North Carolina Tar Heels. “By acclamation, Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time.” – NBA
Track 7 on the album was titled after Naughty by Nature. The legendary Hip-hop group was also featured on the track – Double honour!
Burna Boy also tagged Destiny’s Child on his run with Stormzy on Real Life. Destiny’s Child was a girl-band which popularly comprised Beyoncé Knowles, Kelly Rowland, and Michelle Williams (1990-2006).
Onyeka Onwenu is another icon Burna Boy shone light on using his project. Again, he named a song after this adored Nigerian singer, social activist and politician.
On “Monsters You Made” where Burna Boy expressed his disgust for corrupt African leaders who make life unbearable for their countrymen, he made room for the Afrobeats pioneer Fela to serve the song’s intro while Ghanian author Ama Ata Aidoo stood her ground inline with Burna Boy’s protest on the outro.
Nigerian lawyer and investment banker Adebayo “Bayo” O. Ogunlesi was duly recognised for his outstanding performance in cooperate business on “Wonderful”.
Iconic Fuju artiste Muri Thunder had his fair share on “Way Too Big” when Burna used his name in an attempt to describe his contributions to the African music sphere.
Other noteworthy mentions include Afro-reggae/dancehall artiste Shank, e-commerce heavyweight eBay, Jamaican singer Popcaan, The Nigerian Brewery, Scottish explorer Mungo Park.
Burna Boy assures he still has eyes on the Grammys and not just in the World Album category but to tug it out with American popstars in the Album Of The Year league.
“Everybody know for sure, I’ma take it there” – Real Life
To think Burna Boy overzealous might come as a rude awakening considering the numbers his joints are pulling in – 1 billion+ streams on his African Giant album and counting..
For Twice As Tall which recorded 5 million streams in its first hour of release, we can only wait to see how many streams the album produced by Diddy, Telz, Rexxie, Timbaland, DJDS, LeriQ, P2J, MIKE DEAN, Skread, Sauti Sol, Andre Harris, Jesse Ray Ernster, Mario Winans, Matthew Baus, Matt Testa, and JAE5 will bag after a year.
Artist: Burna Boy
Album: Twice As Tall
Release Date: 14 – 08 – 2020
Genre: Afro-pop, Hip-hop, Reggae/Dancehall
Guest Appearances: Youssou N’Dour, Naughty by Nature, Sauti Sol, Chris Martin.
Executive Producer(s): Sean John “Diddy” Combs, Bose Ogulu
Producers: Diddy, Telz, Rexxie, Timbaland, DJDS, LeriQ, P2J, MIKE DEAN, Skread, Sauti Sol, Andre Harris, Jesse Ray Ernster, Mario Winans, Matthew Baus, Matt Testa, JAE5.
Additional Vocals: Nosa
Label: Spaceship Entertainment, Atlantic Records, Warner Music.
New Burna Phrases: 23, Comma.