On “Calm Down”, the penultimate song of his recently released album “Outside”, Burna Boy hints: ‘Got me moving in slow motion/ I’m tryna walk on top of the ocean‘. Though a reference to an overdose on drugs, this declaration, is a summary of his career. Over these years as an artist, the Afro-fusionist hasn’t received much credit for his immense talent. When the conversation around some of the best talents from Nigeria is made, his name falls down the pecking order.
Yet, Burna Boy, born Damini Ebunoluwa Ogalu, knew his time was inching closer and that, the validation he deserves would come in some few years.
“Outside” is the perfect project to accentuate his credibility as one of the incredible talents from Nigeria and Africa.
“Outside” has Burna Boy touching on the themes of life on tracks like ‘More Life’, which incidentally was one of the five songs he submitted for Drake’s album of the same name. Unfortunately, Drake chopped it as an outro, but Burna Boy chose to make it the Intro to his album.
The energetic Ph City Vibration (an ode to his home city of Port Harcourt, River State) offers a glimpse into his upbringing: ‘I was born inna the Teaching Hospital/ I no dey stay far from the Liberation Stadium/ Na I dey chop poly, and fish and yam’. The 27 year old Burna Boy paints a picture to prove to all that, his come up wasn’t as rosy as many might think.
Music has always been in the blood of Burna Boy. His family has had a long association with music. His grandfather was once a manager of legendary afrobeats king, Fela Ransome Anikulapo Kuti. His father was a big dancehall enthusiast. It’s therefore no surprise how Burna Boy turned out, career-wise.
Afrobeat is omnipresent on “Outside” as exhibited on the rhythmic ‘Koni Baje’, a Yoruba phrase that translate as ‘It Won’t Be Destroyed’. Replete with sage wisdom about how success breeds many friends, the highlife toned song is dominated by soft drums, electric guitar riffs and horns sections that leaves you pressing on the rewind button after a first listen. ‘Ye’ continues in that same afrobeat realm, with it’s theme of staying successful: “I no fit die for nothing”, he notes. ‘Plenty suffer wey we face/ just to make sure money dey’ attest to the mantra that many don’t see your pain, only your success. ‘Ye’ and ‘Giddem’ both have interpolation of Fela Kuti’s ‘Sorrow, Tears and Blood’ from his 1977 album of same name.
Burna Boy features UK acts JHus and Lily Allen, on the slow afro dancehall number ‘Sekkle Down‘ and “Heaven’s Gate” respectively. Whereas “Sekkle Down” focuses on romantic flings, “Heaven’s Gate“, with it’s ebullient spark, has Burna boldly telling haters ‘you can’t come around my estate’. Lily Allen’s shrill delivery adds a layer of texture to the song. (“Sekkle Down’’ carries a JHus imprint than Burna Boy’s, although he in the end, owned it).
If there’s any song with the potential of thrusting Burna Boy into global limelight, it’s definitely has to be “Heaven’s Gate”. Not only because of Lily’s name attached to the song, but the stellar delivery of Burna Boy.
On both “Calm Down” and “California Devil”, Burna Boy faces his demons- use or abuse of ecstasy drugs. He references his popping of molly in the club on ’Calm Down’ (So, why I just put all my pain and problems/ In this styrofoam cups/ And drink it all away). He revisits drug use on “California Devil” (I’m so high/ Can’t open my eyes/Can’t look in your eyes). The lyrics, however betrays how these drugs serve as a source of escape- from the pressures of life for artists like himself.
The EDM laced title track, “Outside” features UK pop singer Mabel, whose crooning adds an emotive feel to the introspective musings of Burna Boy. This, perhaps is the most personal song on the album, considering the legal issues he faced in the last part of the year. On ‘Outside’, Burna reiterate the ‘survival of the fittest’ theme akin to the jungle; alluding to how nobody cared when he needed help. Before the beat finally drops on the song, he asks a very poignant question: “so if my mama cry and I rest as well/ Does her son end up like Vybz Kartel?”.
“Outside” is proof of Burna Boy’s incredible versatility and artistry. The genre blending sounds aside, he shows no hint of struggle in his deliveries- he knows how to bend his voice to sit within songs. If “Outside” is Burna Boy’s gallery, then on each wall hangs a portrait of his gifts.