Album Review: ‘African Giant’ is the creative alignment of Burna Boy's journey
African Giant is effortless creative excellence from an artist in his element.
These factors determine the differences in personality as they determine excellence/stages of artistry.
Some artists peak early. Others come up and down throughout their careers. A few are late bloomers and a select ones - like Burna Boy - have undeniable talent, but they struggle to truly realize it until they cut the clutter. Initially, Burna struggled to justify why many rated him so highly, but he never stopped putting in the work.
Now, Burna Boy is like a cat with nine lives on the third of those nine lives. However, he never really died on each of his two previous lives. On the first of those two lives, he released his debut album, L.I.F.E before descending into an ocean of drama that hampered his progress. He didn’t die, he just remained ‘there.’
On the second of those lives, he released a few projects and set off on a path to self destruction. Again, he fought and survived. Now on his third life, he had to fight for it by keeping his emotion in check and putting that same emotion into the music - keeping the conversation about the music.
'Emotion' is an important trait to Burna Boy that has seen him become a 'combatant' and a 'survivor' throughout his career.
Emotion is why he lashed out at and combated fans at every turn. Emotion is why he reacted rashly to his fellow artists who criticized him. Emotion is also how he recognized how counter-productive that path was. Again, he combated that self-destructive tendency and again, he survived.
He released Outside. It was critically acclaimed as it was commercially successful. Still on his third cycle, Burna Boy has released his 7th project, African Giant.
The three traits of emotion, combative tendencies and survival carry greater meaning on African Giant and coexist on the album for topics addressed and the manner in which they are addressed. Together, they produce excellence and positivity.
Even on the infamy that inspired his album title, emotion made him combat Coachella. Again, he survived, but he also thrived. African Giant is now the title of his best creative curve. A successful tour is named the African Giant Tour and an excellent album is named African Giant. A different career level is heralded.
For the first time, Burna Boy brings these three major traits that have defined his career into one career-defining album. The difference this time is that Burna brings his fans into his world to learn about his inner workings could also help liberate them. Ergo, he unintentionally projects these three key traits as material to his audience.
On African Giant, emotions inspire topics of love and gratitude, while combative tendencies pique on activism and pan-Africanism. On his motions, Burna Boy also read out his manifesto on his hopes for his people - Africans.
He assumes the role of their activist and fights for more than self or career. He finds his higher calling which only showed traces on Outside. Equally, he delivers bangers.
Here is a review of African Giant;
Burna, the activist and social commentator
No other song exemplifies Burna Boy as a combatant than ‘Another Story’ which features Ghanaian rapper, M.anifest. The track opens up to the dark deal of 1900, which saw Nigeria sold to the British Government for 865,000 Pounds Sterling by the Royal Niger Company - now known as Unilever.
Echoing the pain-filled rhetoric of Stereoman, Burna sings his pain like an angry combatant, “E dey pain me gah gah ooo…” Also singing about the lack of change since our independence in 1960, Burna talks about how colonialists warp history and tell idealist lies in place of a crooked history.
The combatant in Burna Boy rises up from the lo-fi production on title track, ‘African Giant.’ He begins by singing, “Tell them Africa we don tire, so here comes the African giant. Plenty people don try am, you can’t test the African giant…”
It is both a call to arms and a cry for help that places Burna himself as the poster boy of the fight against oppression of all kinds. Some will call it megalomania, but in a continent lacking heroes and even willing protesters, it’s good to see someone rising up.
‘Wetin Man Go Do’ tows that line. But this time, it discusses a familiar tale to Burna - survival. Cut from the early 2000’s dancehall majesty, the beat houses Burna’s take of Nigerian inner-city struggles. He talks about parenting and dreams with a core pain felt through his voice.
‘Dangote’ documents the average Nigerian dreams of wealth and it is more social commentary than activism. With Kel P at the production helm, Burna Boy sings in first person through the eyes of the average Nigerian dreamer.
The electronic guitar riffs seem like Burna Boy’s equivalent of Fela’s saxophone. On a beat that could be mistaken for a regular club track, Burna talks about depth of corruption as a precursor to Nigerian suffering and oppression on 'Collateral Damage.' He sings “We are our own problem,” discusses police brutality and even name checks Alamieyeseigha.
On possibly the best song the best song on the album, Burna Boy underlines all negative shades to the word, ‘Different’ on reggae fusion. With the the help of legends, Damian Marley and Angelique Kidjo, Oluwaburna paints the the other side of ‘ideal’ that Nigeria is subjected to on a daily.
When Burna Boy won the BET Award for Best International Act, his mom accepted the award on his behalf and read a resounding pan-African manifesto to black-folk all over the world. It resonated and garnered a choral endorsement in claps and shouts - the cry of an oppressed demographic. She reminded black-folk of its power and home.
The power of that message is reinforced. It’s not doom, gloom and fights for Burna Boy. ‘Spiritual’ saw him also celebrate the power of blackness. He sings, “All my people spiritual…” Although we get an unexpected saunter to sex-ed talk.
‘Destiny’ is a tale of gratitude, but social commentary, nonetheless. Burna does not hold back, he attains a shade of the Nigerian dream and shows gratitude.
Burna, the lover boy
It is no news that Burna Boy found love in the form of beautiful, British rapper, Stefflon Don. African Giant witnesses Burna in his unfettered lover boy clothing. ‘Omo’ is an ode to Steph, the woman who has called Burna Boy her husband. She’s also the woman Burna refuses to speak about and acts like a flustered teenager about.
One of the best songs on the album, ‘Gum Body’ documents what might have been his first encounter with Stefflon Don. The R&B fusion/synth pop song features a wicked drum roll as well as a rude melodies. Let the record show that Jorja Smith took this song into another realm with what would ordinarily seem out-of-place. Well, it was not.
‘Secret’ is maybe a confirmation of Stefflon Don’s consistent statement that Burna is her husband as is first verse on ‘Pull Up.’ It will never be more apparent than on the last line of Serani’s hook. Make no mistake, the smash hit, ‘On The Low’ is a song about sex. What’s love without sex, right?
Burna Boy is good. His pen is a cloak that makes sex look like love.
Burna, the party starter
Who can blend politically charged chatters with emotion and party bangers? Not a lot of them. But one of them is Burna. ‘Anybody’ is a vitriolic call of a no-nonsense giant enjoying his peak as he calls people to ‘Gbese!’ Even more importantly, Burna promises to break bottles if needs be.
If Jay Z raps that, “F*** all this Shawn Carter s**t, N***a, Hov…” to remind the cool cats of his more unsavoury traits on 'Bam,' the final part of ‘Anybody’ is Burna's version of just that and so is ‘This Side’ which majorly aims to use violence as a protective cloak.
The biggest Nigerian song of 2019 is the Zlatan-assisted ‘Killin Dem.’ No, it is not a polemic on Nigerian politics. It is Nigerian song rich on street lingo and adlibs. This is the gbedu to cure your craze. ‘Gbona’ is self-appreciation that many will deem vain. But if you can’t be your own hypeman, who will?
First off, afrobeats doesn’t see this level of imagination and songwriting from its acts. Burna transcends that stereotype and breaks out of it with ease.
Ladies and gentlemen, Burna Boy has a sound. Before African Giant dropped, it was supported by six singles that seemed disjointed. Well, they’re not. When you listen to the album, you will realize one common denominator; a sonic cohesion to all the singles.
Yes, they’re different subgenres, but there’s a uniform sonic approach to all the beats and that’s where Burna currently finds himself. A purveyor of sonic cohesion above the mainstays of his generation. The sound is what I call ‘Afrovibe fusion,’ a mixture of Fela’s afrobeat melodies, afrobeats, vibes, reggae and dancehall.
Even when Burna changes genres and beat pitches, the sound remains identifiable. As such, the production on African Giant is simply exceptional.
People will fault the project’s length, but Burna Boy carried it. The only track that sticks out is the questionable Future collab on ‘Show and Tell.’ I wager that the album is this long because Burna Boy tried to cater to three markets; Africa, the UK and the US with the album broken down into three parts.
Some of the final few tracks seem tailored to America, and everything before track 17 are split between the UK and Africa. While the track list is bloated, it aided segues and transition. But topically, the positioning of ‘Destiny,’ a song about gratitude sticks out - especially as it comes before ‘Spiritual,' a song about power.
Here is the truth, Burna Boy’s African Giant is the best Nigerian album 2019 will see. It is difficult to see any Nigerian artist topping this album. The A&R is unparalleled.
This is the album people thought Outside was. However, it is also the perfection of the journey that Outside pioneered. The emotive undertone to this album stands outs. It is a balanced work of art from an artist at his creative zenith.
At the root of the album is a common emotion; love. That’s why Burna fights, that’s why he appreciates and that’s why he’s grateful.
• 0-1.9: Flop
• 2.0-3.9: Near fall
• 4.0-5.9: Average
• 6.0-7.9: Victory
• 8.0-10: Champion
Pulse Rating: /10
Content and Themes: 1.9/2
Enjoyability and Satisfaction: 1.9/2
9.4 - Champion
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