As he releases his third studio album, "Outside", opinions are divided on who Damini Ogulu, popularly known as Burna Boy, the artiste and the controversial figure truly is, or whether they are one and the same person.
The 27-year old, who many attribute with the creation of the Afro-fusion sub-genre, is a challenging personality, to say the least.
In the years since the release of the genre-establishing “Like to Party”, he has been mired in one scandal or the other.
Despite the avoidable distractions, it is nearly impossible to ignore Burna’s boundless talent. At his best, he is a genre-defying phenom, a reggae-influenced singer who churns out RnB laced sensual songs like a factory line.
His catalogue is the work of an artiste who is not afraid to try his hands in new spaces, mostly because he pulls each attempt off to great effect.
For an artiste with such great talent, many have said Burna’s biggest problem is himself, the hyper-masculine PH boy who struggles with the musician within and the remnants of a past life.
On “Outside”, Burna sets out in a position to address those concerns and make a case for why he may be the most gifted, if not the most critically acclaimed Nigerian artiste of his generation.
There’s no better time than now. Released under his Spaceship imprint, the last few months have seen Burna spread his reach beyond Nigeria and the UK where he already enjoyed a considerable following.
Spirited performances in Europe and the United States have come on both sides of writing sessions and collaborating with everyone from Fall Out Boy to J Hus.
The album kicks off with a reference to one of those collaborations and a photo that had fans of Nigerian music stoked, to the say the least.
This week, Pulse Music Editor, Joey Akan reported that Burna had written and recorded 5 songs for Drake’s most recent project. One of them was titled “More Life”.
None of the songs made the cut for Drake’s globetrotting project, so Burna snapped it for his project.
Produced by 40, Drake’s in-house producer, the track keeps the same house-influenced sound on Drake’s album, allowing Burna a tropical canvas to paint a picture of relaxing and enjoy life.
From a generic vibe, Burna goes home on “PHCity Vibration”, a drum-based expose of Port Harcourt, the capital of Rivers State.
"Tell them say I no fear, I know say my coast clear”.
“You know say me na Port Harcourt boy original, and I was born in a teaching hospital, the 2nd of July 1991, I no dey stay too far from Liberation Stadium”.
The imagery in the music is vivid and stark. It is a love song by a more mature PH boy to the city he was born in and owes so much of himself to.
The first three tracks are deeply personal and they set a deeply introspective tone for the album. On “Konibaje”, he touches on his sense of purpose and how he is not here to play games.
The irony of the title “Outside” is that Burna goes inside more than out, touching on the experiences that carved the personalities he is most known for.
It is inevitable that the more aggressive part of him makes cameos. On "Konibaje", he throws a few mild threats around, nothing extreme but surely in keeping with the PH boy he so proudly projects.
On “Sekkle Down”, Burna takes a trip to the UK to meet up with J Hus, the chosen one of the UK’s fast-growing afrobeat scene. J Hus returns the favour on a cool riddim made especially for the lady of their interests.
The album seems to take an international spin from here on, but on “Where I’m From”, Burna again tears himself apart to address his origin.
At times, the bad boy side of Burna seems like one carved out of a need to survive in the harshest of circumstances. On the song, with deep synths reminiscent of Leriq’s work on his debut album, he sings of a place “tougher than steel and copper”.
It is Burna at his most evocative; he is from a place where “nobody believes in us so we believe in ourselves” so he lays his experiences at your feet and asks you to see his influences for what they are and what they have made him.
The album’s lead single, “Heaven’s Gate” features Lily Allen. It highlights Burna’s versatility. It is chest-thumping and muscle-flexing.
Burna talks to his haters, the friends who “turned out to be snakes” and everyone who doubts his ability. It is not enough that he is not comfortable with them, he will let his success and his roadman connects take them to Heaven’s Gate.
“Ye” is all about the groove and ignoring negative energy to have fun. Burna interpolates lyrics from Fela’s “Sorrow, Tears and Blood” to say how he cannot kill himself, a statement as Nigerian as you can get.
Chopstix provides a reggaeton-laced instrumental that sees Burna at his most typical, alternating between singing for a freaky love interest and showing his skills on “Giddem”.
“Streets of Africa”, another of the album’s five singles, sees Burna hopping on an instrumental that samples a baseline adjacent to your most familiar nursery rhymes.
Burna explores this childhood nostalgia to make a case for the reckless abandon and defiant joy associated with the African child and himself, to a large extent.
At this point, it becomes clear that the project is the Nigerian’s case for international recognition. By going outside, Burna looks within with one eye of the rest of the world.
Over the album, he alternates between afro-pop melodies, reggae, UK afrobeat and East London's alternative, garage-influenced sound; it is an interesting collage, that could so easily come off either way.
Songs like Heaven’s Gate are guaranteed hits that seem perfect for the UK market they are made for, but where he makes this international foray, it is not without leaving a souvenir of himself, a bit of Liberation Road on the streets of London Town.
Fan favourite, “Rock Your Body” is a Juls-produced dancehall/highlife track that takes you to that room upstairs at a house party with the ocean breeze whistling through the windows.
Burna sings of his admiration of a lover’s body and asks her to meet him halfway so he can “ginger the jollof”.
He continues to explore his sensuality on “Devil in California”, an alternative R&B cut where he talks of an intriguing love interest inciting him to make bad decisions.
As the album winds down, this introspection takes a more resigned tone.
“CalmDown” is a soulful cut with bass voices modulating in the background. Burna testifies to the troubles he faces and explains why he pours his troubles into his styrofoam cup and washes them down.
He could be accused of endorsing drug use in a sense, but the song also explains a side of him, the one with a half-finished blunt as a companion, the part with one too many scars on his mental and access to drugs that help him stay mellow.
“Outside” is Burna’s most personal project yet; a deeply expository look at himself and the fears and influences that have made him such a divisive figure.
The title track, “Outside” is where his core comes to bear. Burna takes to an euro-pop instrumental to talk about his travails in the jungle, about friends that helped define him but do not seem to identify him anymore.
It is a call for acceptance and empathy from an artiste who is so misunderstood.
It is somewhat ironic that Burna had to exorcise his demons to make his abilities clear, but in going “Outside”, he shows us what has created the man within.
It is a statement of intent from an artiste who has his eyes set on the rest of the world and is finally coming to terms with both sides of his person.
“Outside” shows why, when it’s all said and done, the hyper-masculine figure and the genius, Damini Ogulu and Burna Boy, are one and the same.