The first time Burna Boy mentioned “African Giant” was in a chain of tweets that expressed his disgust or the lack of respect organizers of Coachella had accorded him. Billed to perform at the global music celebration in April- along with Mr. Eazi as the only two African artists on the stage, Burna Boy felt insulted by how his name was written on the festival’s poster. “I am an AFRICAN GIANT and will not be reduced to whatever that tiny writing means. Fix tings quick please”, he tweeted in reaction to the very small font his name was written. This reaction by Burna Boy elicited a chain of humorous tweets online, with some redesigning the poster and increasing the font size that bore his name.
His status as the “African Giant” was confirmed on his 7th album, released almost a week ago. The 19- track album is an expression of Burna’s talent as a musician cultivated across six previous albums and numerous singles. Since releasing his crossover hit “Like To Party”, he has experienced ebb and flow in his career. But, his fan base who loved his brand of music – which combines highlife, juju and dancehall elements into one big musical fusion- believed and stuck with him. In the Nigerian market, where the likes of Wizkid, D’banj, Davido and Olamide were establishing their brand of afropop bops, Burna Boy, his talent notwithstanding, was still knocking on the door of a mega breakout.
2017 was the year Burna broke down the door that separated him and his own success. “Outside”, his sixth studio album, had the necessary push from Atlantic Records. With guest features from Lily Allen, the album’s successful records like “Ye” elevated Burna’s profile within Africa and across Europe – and America. (It felt like the universe had aligned itself in his favour when many in America and Europe, in their quest to stream Kanye West’s album “Ye” chanced on Burna’s single).
With the momentum and acceptance of “Ye” and “Outside” on his side, the Port Harcourt born afro-fusionist kept the light of global fame on; entrenching his position with a string of successful singles. In “On The Low”, “Gbona”,” Dangote” and “Anybody”, Burna Boy grew his stature from another African artist to an “African Giant”.
“African Giant” as an album was preceded by very important international features, including one with Major Lazer (on Afrobeats Mix) and Beyonce’s “Lion King: The Gift”, where he had one full song ”Jara Ara E” on the album. These collaborations helped in introducing him to another strata of fans.
“African Giant” stretched the pillars of love, politics and tales about survival (the latter was heard on “Spiritual”, “Destiny”); and from mid-tempo to slow records that consumes your being. He also announced himself as the real deal on the album opener “African Giant”. “Tell ’em Africa we don’ die/ So, here comes the African Giant”, he pays homage to the resilience of the African. “Many, many people don try am/But, you can’t test the African giant”, he declares in a relaxed baritone croon. The album opener was in part, self-introduction and a political statement. It set the dice rolling on one aspect of the album (message-wise) which carries socio-political commentary about Nigeria, his homeland and Africa as a continent. Songs like “Collateral Damage”, “Dangote”, and “Different” takes a snapshot of the prevailing economic realities Nigerian citizens face on a daily basis thanks to poor economic management.
On “Collateral Damage”, he points out the timidity of his country folk: “Fight for your right o, you go dey fear/Police go slap you, you go dey fear”. ‘’Dangote’’ is about chasing wealth since (Aliko) Dangote, the richest African alive, with an estimated wealth of 10 billion dollars “dey still search money o”. The big collaboration many looked forward to hearing was “Different” featuring Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley and the legendary Angelique Kidjo (whom he actually called to request a feature, according to his interview with Theatlantic.com).
Expectations of many fans were met as Burna and the Godzilla (Jr. Gong) rendered an exposition about the disparity in the world: “And through social media become the new encyclopedia/Exposing reality inna real time”, declares Damian Marley. Burna Boy throw in his own observation about what the youth are being taught: ‘’Me know say knowledge is the key and I dug dema hideout/Fok up the youth dema mind”. Angelique sprinkled enough dosage of vocal enchantments in her native tongue of “Fon” over the song.
The political discourse on “African Giant” is completed by the godMc M.anifest assisted, educational masterclass song ‘Another Story’; an eye opening recount of Nigeria’s history and creation (how the British came to colonize the country) and everything that is wrong with the country.
“Nigeria started off as a business deal for them (the British) between a company (UAC now Unilever) and a government (traditional chiefs). The Jide Olanrewaju Naij documentary is sampled as a precursor to the record on which Burna Boy and M.anifest took turns to highlight the deceptive nature of politics in both Nigeria and Ghana: ‘’Since 1960 dem dey play us wayo (mind games)/Shey we go dey cry forever’’.
The language of love is apparent on tracks like “Gum Body”, “Pull Up” and “Omo” which sounds like an ode to his UK singer- girlfriend Stefflon Don. On “Gum Body”, Burna Boy sings about a girl who is playing hard to get (“Very soon I go appear for your door mat”). “Secret” features Jamaican act, Serani and American RnB crooner, Jeremih, who sounds flawless on the afropop beat.
“African Giant” scores a lot of high points, notably Burna Boy’s resoluteness in not altering his sound to suit his western audiences- a mistake that Wizkid and Davido did as they attempted to break into the American market after inking their respective deals with Sony Music. (Davido scored his biggest hit after buying himself out of the Sony deal). Burna on this album stuck to his afropop roots, singing mostly in pidgin and Yoruba with a touch of English. By so doing, he kept the elements- his Nigerian roots, the Fela/Lagbaja inspirations- that had served him well from two or three years ago. Although the album is certainly expected to make an impression on the American market – judging from the Future, Jeremih and YG features- it did not cape in to that. It kept it afropop shape.
One has to appreciate the excellence in the sonic production of this album as exuded by “Anybody”, “Gbona”, “On The Low“, “Killin’ Dem” and “Another Story”. The production sounds like a blend between live recorded instrumentation and programmed rhythms. Again, the song sequencing is amazing. The songs flow into each other elegantly.
The number seven means perfection. “African Giant” is the perfect album in Burna Boy’s repertoire. There are a lot of records that could drive the album. The backing from Atlantic Records has also afforded Burna Boy the chance to announce himself to a new audience through his media tour of America. Burna Boy’s talent has never been in doubt since his first album L.I.F.E in 2013. And like he opines on Destiny: “No one can touch my destiny”. There is no other reason to explain the trajectory Burna Boy is on now. He called himself an African Giant and backed it with an excellently curated and relevant album.