The opening gambit of Burna Boy’s seventh album – “I told them I’m a genius, I had to show them what the meaning is” – indicate two things: both the Nigerian artist’s rightful confidence, and acknowledging that Afrofusion king’s ascendance to worldwide fame has been decade-long and not overnight. Continuing the self-celebratory tone on opener ‘I Told Them’, “put me on your song, it’s a hit record” may read as egotistical, but there’s simply no denying the truth of Damini Ogulu’s claim.
Barely a year on from his last album, the eclectic and emotional ‘Love Damini’, the tireless NME Award-winner made history this summer by becoming the first African artist to headline the 80,000-capacity London Stadium and kicked off this year’s Champions League final in Istanbul. And, not content with his singalong anthems ‘Last Last’ and ‘For My Hand’ (featuring Ed Sheeran) already dominating one summer, Burna’s replicated that success multiple times here with some of ‘I Told Them…’s material: the Brandy-sampling ‘Sittin’ On Top Of The World’, statement-making ‘Big 7’ and a feature on rising Kittitian star Byron Messia’s viral track ‘Taliban II’ are further proof of the African Giant’s undeniable impact on the global music scene.
With such world-renowned star power comes the ability to continually attract megastar collaborators. Following on from their huge 2019 hit ‘Location’, Burna links up with Streatham rapper Dave again on the endlessly-replayable ‘Cheat On Me’; built around a flipped sample of London singer Kwabs’ 2015 track of the same name, and boasting beats from producers of the moment LiTek and whYJay, it sounds like a surefire hit. Equally addictive is Amapiano groover ‘Giza’ featuring Nigerian street-hop sensation Seyi Vibez. Then there’s J Cole’s technically impressive yet slightly disjointed pep talk on the uncharacteristically angry ‘Thanks’, which sees Burna shout “is this the mother fucking thanks I get, for making my people proud every chance I get?”
More poignant and impactful is ‘Virgil’, a voice note from late fashion innovator Virgil Abloh whose words of wisdom ignited Burna’s creativity and the album’s artwork idea: a cut-and-paste magazine-style cover with Burna standing tall that promises “big vibes”. Honouring his legacy, he pays tribute to Abloh moments later on the sobering ‘Big 7’: “first of all, rest in peace Virgil Abloh/ don’t spill no drink on my clothes when I’m Louis V drippin’”.
Burna’s similarly humble elsewhere: the thankful ‘If I’m Lying’ showcases his vulnerable side over soft acoustic guitar and, by the reflective track’s close, his echoed vocal resembles a choir. There’s plenty of radio-ready gold to enjoy in the album’s many singalong choruses and interesting production choices, particularly ‘Normal’ and ‘On Form’s hooks, and ‘Tested, Approved & Trusted’’s smooth saxophones which add a level of sophisticated sensuality.
Overall, ‘I Told Them’ is not only more memorable and focused than its expansive predecessor, but it’s his strongest album yet. Whichever mood he’s in, Burna Boy creates pure magic here. A genius, indeed.
- Release date: August 25, 2023
- Record label: Spaceship/Bad Habit/Atlantic Records