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Ever since the stroke of luck or carefully planned commercial move that was the release of “Ye” in January of 2018, Burna Boy has not stopped rising. The song that led to his meteoric rise was a part of his album, Outside which marked his major label debut. With the success of the album shooting him into universal acclaim, he wasted no time in declaring himself the African Giant with a new album released in 2019. He kept with the pace by releasing his fifth studio album which he named, in true smug Burna fashion, Twice as Tall. Five years and a few weeks after that first alignment of stars, Burna is still steady on his grind and as confident as ever with his new body of work, I Told Them…, his fifth album in six years. The title is no doubt drawn from the same self-assured state of mind that the previous ones were. 

Burna’s greatness shines through from the very beginning of the album as his unique artistry is put fully on display here. He begins with a palm wine music–inspired, slow tempo song with traditional percussion. “I told them”, he says and he repeats it, and his delivery is very much “I told you so”. It is a clear payback to all those who didn’t believe in him. He sings his own praises, calling himself amongst other things; a genius, a giant, the master. GZA, of the legendary Wu Tang Clan, comes in at the end with a spoken word rendition. Burna’s self proclaimed genius is evident not only in this song but in the entirety of the album which is a unique blend of different elements and influences, featuring snippets, excerpts and samples from other musical works, banter with friends and phone conversations all carefully curated to create an inimitable work of art. 

“On form” for instance, is both Afrobeat and Afrobeats and he mixes English with pidgin and Yoruba. “E no go tire me, nothing we never see”, Burna sings, assuring us that he does not plan on quitting anytime soon. Burna travels through time in the earlier released “Sittin’ on top of the world” which features a sample of Brandy’s 1998 single, “Top of the world”. It is a funky delight and a perfect throwback to the vibes of the late ‘90s and early 2000s.

Is it really a Burna Boy album if it doesn’t feature a bit of political activism in some form?. On “Cheat on me”, Burna takes a break from the focus on girls and money which occupied most of the earlier tracks, to pass a message about the prejudiced treatment of Africans by foreign governments; “Make embassy no deny my people visa/ No be Taliban, no be Al-Qaeda”. Dave makes an appearance here but the potential of his verse is hindered by what could bluntly be described as lazy writing. He borrows multiple rhymes from Burna; “Believer”, “Kilometer” and “Visa”, using the last to end three different lines. Dave, also Nigerian, missed an opportunity to deliver a resonant, patriotic verse that could perhaps rival that of Skepta in “Dimension”. On this song as well, Burna reworks a sample, this time from English singer Kwabs’ “Cheating On Me”, though this snippet bears only sonic but not thematic connection to Burna’s new album. “Big 7” bears a similarity in rhythm to “Sittin’ On Top Of The World”, calling to mind early hip hop culture while Burna Boy grittily brags that he’s been “Wavy since London, wavy since Berlin”, referencing European cities from his tours on his journey to world domination. 

But despite all of this, Burna is not forgetting his home and people. He takes a quick trip back home with “Giza”, an Amapiano track with Seyi Vibes that is simply perfection, beginning with the ethereal sound of the Ney, the Arabian flute, and followed by rapidly mounting, light percussion. Seyi begins the track with characteristic spoken-word rap, and Burna’s deep bass glides so smoothly into the second verse that it might take you a second to notice when the baton was passed. On “If I’m lying” Burna returns to foreign soil, this time somber and sincere. His delivery is assisted only by a few guitar strings and toned down Middle Eastern vocalization that gives a naked poignant beauty to the RnB song. Burna puts on no airs here, baring himself to the world. “Everyday I just dey give thanks for life/ Know how to move ’cause I know sacrifice”, he begins. Not long after he promises; “If you need a shoulder to cry, then I’ll give you mine”.

On the next song however, Burna draws from a completely opposite emotion—anger. “Is this the motherfucking thanks I get/ For making my people proud every chance I get”, he begins furiously. Like the Dave assisted “Cheat on me”, this song too is about his people, but where he had pled on their behalf for respect from the outside world on the previous song, on this one, he berates them for what he believes to be a gross ingratitude for his many gifts, including his founding of Afro Fusion and being the blueprint for other African acts seeking global fame. He confronts them with their accusations and claps back at their threats, sacrificing melody for message, so that the song is not as appealing as most others. “Thanks” features hip hop heavyweight, J. Cole, whose verse would have served better on one of the grander rap-leaning tracks rather than an Afrobeats track that fixes on a domestic squabble between a man and his people.

I Told Them… had been much anticipated since its announcement, but even more so in light of Burna’s recent interview with Apple music where he made some controversial statements about Nigerian music’s lack of substance. Ironically, many of the songs on his album centre on hedonistic pursuits – Afropop staples. There was talk of “Azul and champagne” in “City Boys”, “Rocking your body” in “On Form” and in “Normal”, he makes us know that none of this is excessive in his book. But this is Burna Boy, and flippant and dismissive comments are not a new thing coming from him. And perhaps he could be exonerated on the grounds that he is one of the few artists in the business who regularly ventures out of that banal box to create timeless pieces of art.

With I Told Them… Burna Boy manages to pull off what many African artists have failed and are still failing at; creating a sound that will tie two worlds together. He not only does this effortlessly but even manages to bring in slices of different subcultures – African-American hip hop, Afrobeat, Afrobeats, Reggae fusion, Amapiano and RnB. The album is a patchwork of cultures, it is Burna’s journey through space and time collecting bits and pieces here and there for an enduring album. I Told Them… is Burna taking another giant step across continental waters to claim new territory whilst still managing to carry along his already conquered turfs, putting his versatility and ingenuity on full display for the world to see. The African Giant need not try to tell us of his greatness anymore as he has proven it to us time and time again. But knowing Burna, there is no doubt that he will continue to.

This article was written by Afrobeats City Contributor Prisca

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