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6 years since the release of Burna Boy's 'Outside': Is it his most important album?

6 years ago on January 26, 2018, Burna Boy released his third album 'Outside'.

Burna-Boy - 'Outside' album cover

This week's Pulse Afrobeats Throwback celebrates Burna Boy's career-defining album 'Outside'.

'Outside' came off the back of a sophomore album that didn't position him for the success he craved. Circa 2018, Burna Boy was an artist whose talent was indubitable but career and status roamed an Afrobeats purgatory space. He was a star but not a superstar in the ranks of Wizkid, Davido, and Olamide which was where he wanted to be.

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For Burna Boy, it wasn't a question of talent or ability as he had consistently shown he possessed those in abundance. It was more a question of his ability to reach the upper level amidst a love/hate relationship he shared with the industry.

At that point in his career what he needed went beyond just good music. Clearly, the acceptance of fans was not enough to get the giant chip off his shoulders. What he needed was one song that would drive his fame far and wide, and raise his profile to the level he craved. Burna Boy needed luck and 'Outside' came bearing gifts.

The album delivered 13 songs which 5 years later remain some of the best records he has ever made. When he released 'Outside', Burna Boy was still largely a Dancehall artist whose music gleans from Caribbean Dancehall, Ajegunle's Ragga style, and Fela Kuti's Afrobeat.

Topically, the album was personal as it didn't explore the regular subject matters of women, money, fame, and pleasure. For the most part, Burna Boy talked about himself.

He examined his reality which presented him as a misfit in Nigerian mainstream music. He shared memories of his experiences as a kid who grew up in the streets of Port Harcourt while also retaining the conscious part of his artistry.

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The album achieved sonic coherence in a way only a few Nigerian artists could muster at that point. On the sublime record 'Heaven's Gate' featuring Lily Allen, he delivered what is still one of the greatest Dancehall performances in Afrobeats.

On the tracks 'Where I'm From' and 'Devil In California', he showcased penmanship that was a rarity in the Nigerian mainstream, and on 'YE' he displayed an impressive range that underscores his artistry.

He made an effort to give the Nigerian audience something to dance to with 'Rock Your Body' while attracting international listeners with 'Heaven's Gate'. Yet it was the Afrobeat record 'YE' which is largely a freestyle that resonated most with listeners.

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The album received critical acclaim but from all indications, it wasn't destined for commercial success until lady luck played a major role. American megastar Kanye West released an EP in the same month he called 'YE', and the rest, as they say, is history.

6 years after its release, 'Outside' ranks high in Burna Boy's catalogue, and a case can be made for it as a classic.

For its tremendous career-altering effect, this writer is obliged to say yes. Without 'Outside' and 'YE', there might not have been the existing version of Burna Boy - the world-renowned, Grammy-winning Afrobeats megastar.

'Outside' is the genesis of Burna Boy's unprecedented international run that continues to endure.

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