BNXN IS REACHING FOR THE STARS

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Can anyone tell at what exact point Bnxn became a household name in Nigerian music? Formerly known as Buju To Your Ears, or Buju, the silk-tongued serenader has made such a natural progression in the industry in the last four years that we haven’t had time to track his progression. It seems now so long ago since he was the young twitter artist repeatedly begging for a verse from rapper Zlatan for an upcoming song. When that feature eventually came through, on 2019’s “Spiritual”, it became the catapult that pushed a niche artist into local popularity.

But it wasn’t until he partnered with Burna Boy, the self-styled African Giant, that he could be described as a mainstream Nigerian artiste. The two teamed up on the remix of BNXN’s 2019 single, “L’enu”, where Bnxn was assured and daring, swimming in the confidence of his own ability, even though he was still in the lower rungs of Nigerian music ladder—”Tell me what I cannot do” he boasts on the chorus over Steph’s spunky beat. The African Giant’s verse came later, and by the end, the song’s message was passed across, its theme unmissable: these men are gutsy in their own abilities and they intend to approach the next stages of their careers with an unwavering confidence. It was therefore no surprise that Burna Boy immediately signed Bnxn to his own label, spaceship records.

After a single song released under the label, “So Lovely” in late 2020, Buju parted with spaceship records after a year, choosing not to renew his contract. But his upward trajectory remained unhalted. In mid 2021 he was called up by Ladipoe for “Feeling”, where Buju was charged with providing a sunny, falsetto-infused backdrop to the rapper’s faster-paced hip-hop verses. It is a tried and true formula, and Bnxn’s execution is near-flawless. His chorus, a depiction of a guy unbothered by stress and basking in a worry-free reality, rang from the lips of Nigerian youth as the unofficial song of the summer of 2021.

On “Outside”, released in mid-2021, the crooner chose this time to delve into his work ethic and commitment to his craft as he sang about how he prioritises the work of creating new music over fun-seeking outings. He also took a moment to dwell briefly on his journey here, on the first verse, “Omo in the first stage, I made mistakes I swear”. The slower pace and gentler tone of the song were evidently well appreciated, as “Outside” was a fixture on the top 10 of the different Nigerian streaming charts for weeks to come.

In late 2021, it was time for a debut EP, which Bnxn named Sorry I’m Late, with its title acknowledging his delay in releasing a debut project, which was indeed strange for a time when rising acts capitalise on their growing popularity by releasing an EP. What came as no shock, however, was the high level of confidence and talent on display. By naming the opener after himself, BNXN made a statement of self-assuredness and revealed an intent to make his mark on the music world. Lines like “You know my sound is on fire/ You know my melody on fire” may read as unnecessary braggadocio to a new listener, but day 1 fans are well acquainted with the dexterity of his songwriting and quality of his delivery—his melody really is on fire. The EP was altogether a resounding success and represented another milestone passed in the young singer’s career.

While Sorry I’m Late cemented his place in Nigeria’s mainstream, it was two features that arrived on both sides of it that brought the most momentum to his international career. First was “Mood”, on Wizkid’s Grammy-nominated Made In Lagos, where the two produced a flawless collaboration, taking turns to glide on P2J’s mellow percussion. Its mellow groove and slinky vocal duet drew parallels with “Essence”, the Tems-featuring smash from the standard version of Made In Lagos, and while it didn’t quit achieve those chart-topping heights, it became Bnxn’s biggest international effort. That was until “Finesse”, where Bnxn starred beside music producer turned music star, Pheelz, for the track that proved transcendental to their individual careers, establishing Pheelz’s new status as an artist and providing thrust to Bnxn’s international flight.

The song initially made waves as a viral tiktok snippet was eventually released in mid-March following a massive clamour from fans, and it wasted no time climbing up the charts, peaking at no 1 on the UK’s official Afrobeats charts, with appearances on UK official charts proper and the novel Billboard Afrobeats chart. It was released barely two weeks after Buju officially became Bnxn, so it was an exquisite way of stamping his new identity. Another collaboration later in the year, this time with UK based producer JAE5 and rapper Dave for “Propeller”, helped strengthen inroads to the UK scene.

As these songs pushed Bnxn’s international profile, his position at home was similarly growing. In May 2022, the Headies, Nigeria’s premier music award, announced its nominees for the year’s honours and Bnxn got a nomination for the Next Rated category, awarded to the emerging artist who shows the biggest potential to place amongst Nigeria’s biggest acts in the near future. Bnxn received a nod after the amazing year he had, but he was placed alongside Ayra Starr, Ruger, Lojay and Zinoleesky, all of whom had made excellent use of the year under review. With the Headies announcing that the winner would emerge with a brand new Bentley Bentayga, it added fuel to what was already a heated competition.

Bnxn would eventually emerge the winner of this tight contest, and a week before the ceremony, he provided even more proof of why no one was more deserving. This came in his second studio EP, Bad Since ‘97. Here Bnxn built on the themes of his debut—his unwavering belief in himself and his music talent—with his writing and exquisite vocal delivery once more providing both the vehicle and for this substantiation of his self-confidence.

On his latest album, Sincerely, Benson, released earlier this month, Bnxn reiterated all of this self-belief, fulfilling the promise he has displayed all of his career. On the 15-track LP, Bnxn chronicles love and heartbreak, but approaches this subject from a mature, not often seen perspective: as the man making a sincere apology to the woman he loved and hurt. Songs like “Pidgin And English”, “Regret”, “Sweet Tea” and “Realize” tie into this narrative, yet Bnxn finds room for his characteristic cockiness: his very first words on the album are “Leave am for me/ Emi lokan”, warding off the competition and propping himself up as a maestro in the music space.

As Bnxn continues to soar, old promises of potential become fulfilled even as he forebodes more to come. His next goal would be to establish his name indelibly in international markets, but If his four years in the industry thus far have shown us anything, it is that the next step always comes just as surely as the last for Bnxn.

This article was written by Afrobeats City Contributor Ezema Patrick – @ezemapatrick (Twitter)

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