Empty. The entire venue was empty. An hour before people would stream in, I stood on the stage of Were House, and all I saw were a few good souls. In all my days of attending shows, this was the first time that I was standing at the stage of where an artist would stand and address the congregation of people who would flock to hear the sermon of the day; music.
Today’s teacher was Burna Boy, the man, the myth, the ball of fire, and he was reading from his forthcoming album, “Outside,” – the start of his life with Atlantic Records, the major label who put money and machinery behind him. I wasn’t worried about him, people would turn up. It’s Burna Boy after all.
The past few months had been interesting for Burna Boy. The singer had displayed the two parts of himself, - villain and genius – in equal measure. While he had been signed to US major label, Atlantic, and created an album that has the potential to propel him to new heights, he still found himself involved in the robbery and assault of Nigerian singer Mr 2kay. This was the Burna Boy that we have all learned to love and chastise. The man who can explode your heart with great music, and at the same time, implode your head with a controversy that has no business interfering with the music.
Burna Boy had been declared wanted by the police, had a court date, while at the same time dropping an immensely enjoyable record with , and featuring on Fall Out Boy’s “Mania” album. How do you love the man who causes so much ache? How do you ignore his demons and embrace his artistic light? How can we separate the creator from his art, and choose from the confusing buffet that he so willingly serves?
Tonight was different. Up here, the only focus was on the man and his new material; his new offering to the world, which contains purely his genius. It was a Sunday night in Lagos. Earlier in the day, people had flocked to various churches to give God his due. This night, they trooped out of their homes and corners to worship at the altar of Burna Ranking, and exclusively get a taste of what he has been working on.
Outside, the trunk of a remodelled Peugeot 504 served as kitchen, where Burna Boy’s favourite meal, Port-Harcourt-styled Boli, was prepared and served. Alcohol flowed from a bar, and small chops were handed out with smiles. Burna Boy was smiling too. This was a mini-victory lap for him, and he made sure he arrived with Phyno, a trusted colleague and supporter of his craft and movement.
“Hello everyone, make some noise for Burna Boy,” OAP Douglas Jekan demanded. He was the host of the night, who was tasked with extracting order and flow from Burna Boy.
Burna Boy was happy. Perhaps too happy to contain himself. Heck, I would be too, if I had just recorded a dope album, got approval from a major label, released a lead single, and have my friends and family in a room to celebrate with me. While he introduced his album and got into the music, he was nursing and enjoying a blunt. Puff some, talk some, exhale some, puff some, talk some, exhale some. This was the life, man.
For Burna Boy, nothing is ever done for face value. Every song on the “Outside” album was inspired by something, either an occurrence, or a feeling, or something. ‘Where I’m from’, his most personal record was created by his two-sided energy.
“I like to highlight the bad side, but sometimes the good side,” he explains. During a trip to Port Harcourt for the first time in 6 years, he tapped into that energy to make a song titled ‘PH City Vibration’. ‘Konibaje’ is a victory lap, where he celebrates his ability to surmount every difficulty, whether self-induced or not.
On another record, he recorded it without being conscious. Burna Boy had gone to the popular nightclub, Quilox, where he was having a regular night out. The club owner, Shina Peller, moved close, whispered into his ears that a producer was upstairs with a beat. He followed.
“Once I heard the beat, I blanked out. The next day, I was surprised to know that I had recorded a track,” he shared, laughing and puffing through it all.
HOW DRAKE CUT OUT BURNA BOY FROM ‘MORE LIFE’
He also shared his story with Drake. Burna Boy said he had recorded five songs for Drake’s “More Life” playlist. Only one song was picked, and it was titled ‘More Life.’ Although his voice was sampled, the full record didn’t make it to the final cut of the project. Burna decided to add that record to the album.
Elsewhere, there was still space to give shout-outs to DJ Spinall, who he said: “was the first person to play my record in Lagos.”Davido also got recognition. He was called “Family”, along with the entire ‘30 Billion Gang’.
It finally came to the title track and the last song on the album “Outside.” As he performed, he hugged his friends and danced, happy that he had done this.
When you look at it, Burna Boy is simply a young man in his mid-twenties, living the life that he had dreamed of, and winning at every turn. When he grabs a mic, he projects his art and love into the world, and so far, it has echoed all around, returning back with success and approval from different parts of the world.
And when he screws up, somehow, he moves past it, with or without a lesson. Whether he grows from his mistakes or not, is another conversation for those who would care about him as a person, not just as the maker of great art. Those people - his mother, his sister and his granddad, Benson Idonije – were a part of the audience, and during the event, they all wore a smile. Those smiles were worth more than all the music that he can create.
Burna Boy's "Outside" will be released on Friday, January 26, 2017 across all digital platforms.
: Burna Boy has postponed his album lsitening by a week. "Outside" album will be released on Friday, February 2, 2018.