Make way for Burna Boy
Make way for Burna Boy

At last year’s Grammy Awards, Burna Boy’s fourth album, African Giant, was nominated to some controversy in the Best World Music Album. Critics saw the niche nomination as a snub and an othering of music from outside of the Western sphere. With African Giant's record-breaking 1billion plus streams, (the most streamed African album ever), and mass critical acclaim, Burna Boy could easily have been nominated for Best Album or any of the pop categories. 

The eventual winner on the night, Beninese singer Angélique Kidjo, dedicated her award to Burna Boy, real name Damini Ebunoluwa Ogulu. She declared him among a new generation of artists “changing the way our continent is perceived, and the way that African music has been the bedrock of every music.” Few could question her comments.

Along with his peers in the loosely defined Afrobeats genre, 29-year-old Burna Boy measures among the most influential musicians of his generation –  his fifth album Twice as Tall, released today, hammers the point home. In his home country of Nigeria, he’s a megastar. Multilingual, he shifts between Nigerian Pidgin, Yoruba and English. His music fuses elements of reggae, Azonto, dancehall, hip hop, ndombolo, R&B and highlife. And while Afrobeats is considered distinct from the Afrobeat sound pioneered by Fela Kuti, Burna himself serves as a direct link to the legendary Nigerian bandleader and activist.

His grandfather, Benson Idonije, was Fela’s first manager and there are (disputed) claims that Burna’s manager, mother and Twice As Tall exec-producer, Bose Ogulu, was once a dancer with Fela’s band. Burna Boy has the Lagos legend and political activist’s face tattooed on his arm, and a diamond-encrusted pendant depicting Fela, fists aloft in defiance, is rarely far from his neck.

Burna Boy’s music frequently interpolates Kutian rhythms, and he borrows melodic flourishes and a penchant for chanted vocals too. Fela’s fierce brand of anti-colonial political activism increasingly finds a vessel in Burna Boy as well: in recent interviews he’s expressed his commitment to Pan-Africanism and the armed African-American group of ex-military personnel NFAC (Not F______ Around Coalition), which has drawn comparisons to the Black Panthers. Burna uses his music to call for unity among Black people across the globe – as well as critiquing the poisonous legacies of colonialism and the slave trade.

When Burna’s mum collected the award for Best International Act on her son's behalf at the 2019 BET Awards, she used her moment on stage to crystallise this message, saying “that every Black person should please remember: you were Africans before you became anything else.”

Burna Boy's following beyond his home continent closely maps the spread of the Nigerian diaspora throughout the world. The UK and US are home to the two biggest ethnic Nigerian populations outside of Africa. Burna Boy’s collaborations with artists including Dave, J Hus, Jorja Smith, Ed Sheeran, and, most recently, Sam Smith and Chris Martin have seen him adopted by fans as an honorary UK citizen.

He’s sold out Wembley, assisted Stormzy to a number one single, and took the number four spot in last month’s inaugural Official Afrobeats Chart with new song Wonderful. In the US, he’s played Coachella, welcomed guest spots from chart-busting rappers Future and YG on last year’s African Giant, made it onto Barack Obama’s ‘Favourite Music Of 2019’ list and Michelle’s ‘2020 Workout List’. For this album, he even enlisted Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs as an executive producer. Considering all of this, it’s hard not to see his inclusion in the Grammy’s World category (a problematic and dated bracket itself) as confusing. Burna Boy clearly saw it that way too: Twice As Tall stands to address that.

As opening salvos go, the double tap of Level Up and Alarm Clock is hard to beat. The former opens with a chirpy sample that reflects the outsize challenge faced by African artists breaking into the Western pop establishment: “Oh I’d have to be twice as tall, at least, to feel better than I do,” goes the vintage Pat Boone recording, lifted from Journey To The Centre Of The Earth. Over introspective keys and a driving kick drum Burna admits to feeling “sick as f***” at the Grammy Awards, “asking questions like ‘why it wasn’t us?’/Almost had a n**** feeling envious.”

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He’s not striving for acceptance, but recognition that’s long overdue. He overcomes his doubts with memories of sold out tours, a stirring chorus from acclaimed Senegalese singer Youssou N’Dour and a pep talk from Diddy that runs into the intro of Alarm Clock. Where Level Up is Burna in reflective mode, marking his achievements for himself, Alarm Clock – short and sharp at just a shade over two minutes – is a blunt force wake-up call.

If Twice As Tall is Burna’s bid for global superstardom, then the music is polished to befit his aims. Time Flies, which features the Kenyan pop band Sauti Sol, beds in hooks, harmonies and key changes that wouldn’t have sounded out of place in the mid-90s days of boyband domination. The album’s most infectious moments come when Burna is immersed in drums. On Bebo, Onyeka, and No Fit Vex his throaty baritone glides through the complex arrangements of his Nigerian producers Rexxie, Telz, and longtime collaborator LeriQ (who was behind the boards for Burna’s debut LP in 2013).

三级成人视频The album isn’t without its bum notes. Way Too Big sounds dated, with its chorus of clipped vocals invoking the dingy days of dembow globalism pursued by stadium DJs like Diplo and co. The album’s big set-piece moment – the Chris Martin-featuring Monsters You Made – is also its biggest missed opportunity. Burna Boy is on fierce form: spitting out vitriol against systemic racism, colonial education, the plundering of African resources and more. It’s potent, vivid, and heartfelt. But there are few more effective ways to dilute a powerful moment than to ask Coldplay’s frontman for his input.

三级成人视频Here it has the effect of dropping a potato into soup: soaking up all the salt, vim, and flavour. Why include Chris Martin’s dreary bleating when you’ve gone to the effort of clearing a sample of Ghanian poet Ama Ata Aidoo’s far more lucid proclamations, which close out the track?

三级成人视频There’s some mercy that it’s followed by true highlight ‘Wetin Dey Sup’: a swaggering toast to choosing your own lane in life. Is Twice As Tall successful in staking Burna Boy’s claim to the pop star big leagues? The album will undoubtedly land in all the right places: his message is righteous, and crucially he’s done all of this – bar the odd interjection – without pandering to the palates of industry gatekeepers.

三级成人视频Burna Boy’s sheer presence on these songs is impossible to disregard – with the possible exception of Youssou N’Dour, his collaborators shrink beneath him. By the time the people who doubted Burna Boy realise how powerful he is, they’ll be under his boot.