Editor's note: Naij.com contributor Udochukwu Ikwuagwu reviews Nigerian dancehall star Burna Boy's sophomore album, On a Spaceship. Although Burna Boy has so far been releasing well-received singles, he seems not be getting the acclaim he craves.
In his interview with New York-based magazine, The Fader, Nigerian dancehall exponent, Burna Boy articulated his thoughts on the music industry: “It’s political, man—To be honest I don’t really feel like I’m a part of the industry […] I don’t get awards because the powers that be don’t really like me—I’m not like everyone else.”
He then went on, thumping his chest, reeling out achievements in the space of three years: “My music is a gift […] How many people have dropped a song like Soke, stating the problems that’s actually going on in the country, and actually stepping up?”
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He reiterated this commitment to being a loner in an industry that has birthed superstars in the last decade including himself (which is somewhat puzzling) on Duro Ni Be—“I no get time to go award show/How me go go siddon start convo/With these hating industry niggas, I don’t know.”
Even as he offers reason- to focus on revenue over friendship- where his head is at is far from coherent and comes off hypocritical given it is the same industry that brought him from an obscure mixtape-slinger to limelight.
The ruckus he created over the 2015 MAMA nominations and Headies some months back is fresh in the memories of music fans. Surprisingly, the same award show- MAMA- handed him Best Collaboration along with SA’s badboy and BFF, AKA—even the AFRIMA.
When an artiste decides to alienate himself from an industry he feeds from, trouble lurks in the corner. Most acts who separate their art from the profit-oriented/exploitative industry hold on to their Marxist/nonconformist ideals usually are erroneously categorized as "alternative" artistes. Being an outsider trying to protect the art- in its purest form- unconventional, self-conscious won’t raise eyebrows, but when the said artiste’s lifestyle and antics go against such philosophy, it’s merely pretentious.
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One of Flavour’s go-to producers, J Stunt lays the hard-hitting hip-hop beat for the rapping Burna Boy- channeling 2Pac- whose lines leave Phyno chasing the meter.
Burna Boy’s On a Spaceship has social commentary, alright, but his driving force and philosophy get muddled up as he tries his hands on various ideas. On the Spellz-produced Ring Road, Burna Boy resurrects the spirits of Fela and Ras Kimono but this record doesn’t have the needed adhesive to convince listeners that he has the understanding of happenings in society, including the pains of the hoi polloi. It’s one thing to have a granddad who was Fela’s manager and grow up on reggae and afrobeat, it’s another thing to have the soul of those genres.
So, when he asks how many artistes have done conscious songs that rocked the dancefloor, it sounds like one living in his head and ignorant about the community he derides. Sound Sultan has being doing that for years. 2Face’s discography might be helpful. Not a new concept to Oritsefemi. Eedris’s Jaga Jaga got people dancing and a president’s reaction. So, what is Benson Idonije’s grandson talking about? For one whose granddad is a renowned music critic, history shouldn’t be out-of-reach.
“Na so e dey be for the streets, as e no dey sweet like biscuit and sweet/politicians dey sugarcoat bitterleaf/But as for me I go talk am as e be,” he sings convincingly and believably on As E Be, standing as a voice in this corrupt era.
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Titling his sophomore album On a Spaceship seems like an ode to the spliff, and a dedication to his recreational activity and for those who love the toke—homage to igbo and SK lovers. Burna Boy has never hidden his Fela Anikulapo-Kuti-influence on his music, even to the point of performing in his pant at Felabration!
Was it not the late great that said:“The god of Africa created this herb to enlighten his people?" Sadly, Rizzla, Trance and Single bear no enlightenment for the common man/music lover. Smoke Some Weed in honour of the herb done pre-L.I.F.E was a better rendition, even the chilled-out Soke bore inspiration in the greenroom.
Burna Boy addresses the controversy surrounding "who stole whose flow"- claims that Flavour did steal Gba Gbe E for Phyno’s Authe- on Another One. It’s ironic he addressed plagiarism on a rehash of Timaya’s Sanko. Interestingly, Another One precedes a track that features Flavour.
Since his debut album, L.I.F.E, Burna Boy has gotten a telecom endorsement, stolen spotlight on features, gone on tours within and outside the country, collaborated with top African acts, parted ways with Aristocrat Records (following the expiration of his contract), released hit to good songs- Won Da Mo, Don Gorgon, Check and Balance- been embroiled in controversies upon controversies, signed an international record/distribution deal. The absence of direction on On a Spaceship is obvious, troubling—No Piriye ‘Peedi Picasso’ Isokari to handle A&R and executive production, no LeriQ- who understands Burna- behind the boards.
Of course, he dropped hits following his departure from Aristocrat and has done quite well for an indy act but dropping an album is another issue entirely. For example, a good A&R team won’t have let the Burna-J Fem efforts fly. J Fem produced five tracks, and the chemistry was absent between the two. Say Terry G hooks Bez with a mean beat, or Orezi gets in the studio with Atta LeNell? Right. As talented as Burna Boy is, he couldn’t handle the EP on this.
He starts the album badly, badly with snippet of an edition of Facts Only— renowned music critic Osagie Alonge dissecting the post-Aristocrat Burna Boy’s career. If an artiste wants to prove a critic wrong, he should at least have the ammo to go to war and win. But, Burna Boy does the opposite, shooting himself in the foot. You can’t hex or ether yourself off the jump!
Though Oluwa Burna, the second track, sees him firing on all cylinders to disprove Osagie and other critics, this moment fails to be replicated throughout the 20-track album.
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“To the people wey want make I lose ‘cos Oluwa Burna too dey talk truth/And e don reach stage wey some people want to persecute,” he begins before telling off naysayers.
On The Realest, Oluwa Burna in his elements marks his territory for a certified banger—“anywhere the money dey, na there I wan’ dey demo.” Third time’s no charm on On a Very Good Day with Wande Coal following successes of Amorawa and Wanted (Remix). If People Must Die asks an existential question: "Lord, if people must die then why do we cry?" Death heavy on his mind like Erigga contemplates on Death Bed. Trap-inspired Birthday with frequent collaborators AKA and Da L.E.S, and SA rapper Kid X has Burna Boy’s gruff voice setting the perfect ambience for the song, something like a certain Future—one of the finest Trap experimentation by a Nigerian artiste in recent history; strip club connoisseurs and party animals can get the groove!
On On a Spaceship, Burna Boy is either too high on his high horse with an air or too spaced out to take flight- for his music to get to the top and elevate his career.