On ‘Twice As Tall,’ Burna Boy reawakens and gets personal on a quest for the Grammys [Album Review]
What we are witnessing is a creative peak in an alignment of stars, chance and opportunity. Basically, Burna Boy is the Xavi Hernandez of contemporary music; Burna Boy in 2018 with 'Outside' is the music version of Xavi Hernandez at Euro 2008.
Around him was an air of calmness, confidence, peace and a swagger that betrayed his more infamous side that is prone to outbursts. He was polite enough to attempt to collect the plate of food that another comrade was carrying for him, but that comrade rejected. It was a fleeting moment as he walked off, but that moment was telling.
He is firmly in the halls of greatness and he knows it. He moved like it and he proceeded to sing about it on his ninth project, Twice As Tall. More than anything, he has also grown. The pendulum of importance now firmly rests with him.
As he sang on the personal, 'No Fit Vex,' he is now a man who is less interested in his petulant side. Of the gems he dropped, the most important one is, "If you nor know me, you go think say I dey kolo..." He might have discussed his unwillingness to pretend on, ‘Bebo’ and celebrated his petulant side on, ‘Wetin Dey Sup,’ but he’s not as convincing as on his ode to maturity on, ‘Nor Fit Vex.’
Even when he calls himself, 'Naughty By Nature' and featured the legendary, Naughty By Nature - a group that heavily influenced his earlier years as a rapper, he reaffirmed his unwillingness to change, but he has actually changed and matured.
ALSO READ: Burna Boy - African Giant [Album Review]
That introspective backdrop runs throughout this album. If African Giant saw Burna Boy employ an empirical gaze to document the everyday reality of a Nigerian man from Africa, Twice As Tall is an open invitation to the life of Burna Boy.
In other words, even though L.I.F.E and Aristokrat Records might contend with great proposals, Twice As Tall is Burna Boy's most personal project yet. And no, this isn’t just about love songs.
Inspired by culture
As a Port Harcourt boy of Yoruba descent, Burna Boy revisits his roots with a street slang and a street nugget on, 'Comma' and 'Wettin Dey Sup' respectively. 'Comma' is a Port Harcourt slang. Its meaning is defined by context, but here Burna Boy uses it as a metaphor for blemish on a melody-rich Afro-pop number that underlines Rexxie's willingness to evolve.
'Wettin Dey Sup' starts with a controversial line, "I nor be one of those men who dey fear toto fuck nyash, check am na pa koro pa..." In English, it means, "I'm not one of those men who fear the vagina and instead f**ks the anus..."
The statement is subtly homophobic. However, context... On the streets of Port Harcourt, It's a saying on the streets which alludes to a lack of hypocrisy or a factual statement. The only problem is just that it's tone-deaf, considering Burna Boy's reps with the LGBTQ community. Burna Boy could also be accused of body shaming with his rhetorics on, ‘Comma.’ But again, context…
He repeats that subtle allusion to homophobia on, 'Real Life' as he sings, "If dem wan fuck you for nyash, no lie down..." This project must have gone through intense damage control checks. It’s amazing that these lines were allowed to pass.
In equal measure, on '23' Burna Boy repeatedly chants, "Woro Si Woro." The first time he chanted it was on, 'Jerusalema (Remix).'
‘Woro Si Woro’ is commonly used in historical fiction across Yoruba Nollywood by native doctors to intimate war or chaos. It is also loosely used by regular people as a metaphor for ruckus, retribution, equal measure, cohabitation or dynamism. But on his part, Burna Boy uses it as adlibs.
Political vs. Personal
That said, Twice As Tall is still branded with socio-political rhetorics as Burna Boy delivers on, 'Time Flies' with its interpolation of the Marc Anthony classic, 'I Need You' as well as the amazing Alternative-Bashment song, 'Monsters You Made.' He also admits his dislike for politics on, ‘Naughty By Nature.’
He then speaks against gun violence and police brutality on 'Wetin Dey Sup,' but this project is largely personal. Even in the political discourse, Burna Boy's gaze is personal as a black man in the throes of a polity.
Aside from that, 'Nor Fit Vex' seems too personal to be random. Some have whispered that it could be about his recent beef with Davido, but those rumors remain unconfirmed nigh unfounded.
On Twice As Tall, Burna Boy sees and proclaims his own greatness, he fights for himself, he reaffirms his shyness, he gets vulnerable, he reawakens and he reassures.
Humbled by life, growth and a snub
At 29, Burna Boy is bound to have grown and expanded his viewpoint on life. The journey to this album began on January 26, 2020 at the 2020 Grammy Awards, where African Giant lost the Best World Music category to Angelique Kidjo's amazing album, Celia.
In the days leading up to the ceremony, Burna Boy felt assured of the Grammy and the entire African continent stayed awake through the night hoping to celebrate a Grammy win - well, except the toxic Wizkid FC that apparently hates good things.
Before the event, Burna Boy didn't post a picture. Signs were that he waited to drop the pictures with an award celebration. Sadly, that never happened and those pictures didn't drop till about eight days later. Burna Boy was also obscure till he was seen in a bowling alley with Angelique Kidjo and his mom.
Even though Kidjo gave him a shout-out during her acceptance speech, signs were that he was really down by that loss. Twice As Tall is largely inspired by those events.
On March 23, 2020, he took to his Twitter page for a Q&A with his fans. During the chatter, he revealed that he emerged from the debacle being, 'Twice As Tall.' He also revealed that the phrase was going to be the title for his new album to drop in July.
On, 'Level Up,' Burna Boy is assisted by an amazing vocal performance from Youssou N'dour as he gets vulnerable and discusses his long-held spells of crippling doubt. He also admits feeling small despite his successes until he recently outgrew that phase with his achievement.
This is further confirmed by a line on 'Way Too Big.’ It reads, "Before I made it, I used to live in a movie..." This means he used to daydream. He then admitted to feeling down from that Grammy loss and even throwing up.
It felt like Burna Boy needed that Grammy win to banish his doubts and detraction forever, but it never happened. Like any human, he was put down by it and he wears his heart on his sleeve to discuss it.
He also sends a message to the Grammys, "Tell them they can't bury us... Come back feeling Twice as tall..."
Through it all, Burna Boy is also aided by his belief in a supreme being. On, 'Bank On It' he deferred to faith in the face of - potential - detraction. Diddy also alluded to the same faith in the opening seconds of, 'Alarm Clock.' He says, "God made us, God made us magical beings..."
"It's important how you view yourself... If you've seen trial... Wake Up!" Diddy says as the hype precedes, 'Alarm Clock.' The man who felt legendary at Wembley Arena is reawakened and re-energized, and he wants the whole world to know. ‘Alarm Clock’ feels like the recreation of a 3 am alarm at a boot camp.
If Burna wore his long-held doubt on, 'Level Up' as an emblem of humanity, 'Alarm Clock' is the zenith of what he started on the second verse of, 'Level Up.' It goes, "And to anybody wey dey doubt me, I swear to make sure you never forget about me. If you think it's over, then you must be drowsy. I'm a motherf****ng legend and I say it proudly."
The beat for 'Alarm Clock' might be a contemporary Afro-pop sound in outlook, but it's heavily influenced by Fela's Afrobeat era in delivery. Under the beat is a sudden rush of melody by way of a Saxophone to compliment the suspense-themed intro that features Diddy's legendary hype.
Under it are mumbled Fela-inspired adlibs. And that, "Ooooh!" that he screams before starting the song is reminiscent of a call to action under the dim lights of Lagos '70s pubs on Afrobeat nights as sexy, embroidered dancers prepare to serenade a crowd.
Reassurance of greatness
Now that he is reawakened, Burna Boy vaunts his own greatness via, 'Way Too Big.' He sings, "Your back and your spinal cord e go break if you carry my weight..." This allusion and understanding of his greatness underscores Diddy's line on, 'Alarm Clock.' It reads, "Don't be afraid to step into your greatness, people..."
The track was teased during the IG LIve Battle of Hits between its producer, Leriq and Chopstix on April 4, 2020.
That guitar solo by Mike Dean on 2:40 felt like a worthy soundtrack for his self-coronation. On the track, he also appears to brag about beating the case against him from the infamous moment with Mr. 2kay and softly does a Jay Z-esque shout-out to a product related to him.
He sings, "I'm the shine shine bobo of the Nigerian breweries..." to celebrate his endorsement by Star Lager Beer.
On '23,' he then likens himself to the legendary Michael Jordan. As piano chords collide with low-end guitars in a doxing bid for the Afro-pop drums, he says, "No act like say I no deserve am.”
The Grammy Dream
From what inspired its title to its timing, direction, roll-out, PR, personnel and the forced Pan-Africanist narrative, everything suggests this album is a concerted tilt at the Grammy Awards. First off, credit to Burna Boy for not giving up on his dreams.
He got it right with subtle hints at a global sound by sampling Marc Anthony's classic, 'I Need You' which was huge in Latin environments and even had a Spanish remix. The sampling of T-Pain's 2000s smash, 'I’m Sprung’ for the Stormzy-featured Afroswing number, 'Real Life’ is equally commendable as the accuracy of his multiethnic features.
The choral back up to, 'Bank On It' is an impressive touch that is reminiscent of popularly celebrated outros like, Jon Bellion's 'Hand Of God' off The Human Condition and Chance The Rapper's 'Blessings' off the Grammy-winning, Coloring Book.
However, songs like 'Wonderful' and 'Time Flies' were created with forced Pan-African aesthetics. They make sense from a strategy perspective as they suit the medieval perception of Africanism to the predominantly white members of the recording academy, but all that choral back ups sound like plantation music and they were not necessary.
Make no mistake, 'Time Flies' is a much better song than the nonsensical, 'Wonderful' but it still scores minus marks for that forced Africanism.
We know Burna Boy has this African Giant persona, but his topical conversations and branding should expand beyond that narrative lest it becomes a pigeonhole. That Pan-Africanist message might have suited African Giant, but it seems forced on Twice As Tall despite the sprinkles of politics here and there.
The magical madness of, 'Monsters You Made' aboard that beautiful Reggae-Fusion voyage feels more organic to carry a socio-political message. It's by far the best song on this project and this writer has high hopes for it.
Will Burna Boy win a Grammy Award with Twice As Tall? Nobody knows. From the look of things, Twice As Tall will most likely get a nomination. Winning will depend on his contenders in that category. Twice As Tall is an amazing album, but does it have the exceptional musicality that Grammy winning albums have? This writer isn't entirely convinced that album is that experiential.
However, if he could vote for one artist in that category, he would vote for Twice As Tall 10 times over. For his effort and willingness to re-calibrate and recreate brilliance, and go again, Burna Boy deserves that accolade. Moreover, this writer is Nigerian and African. A win for Twice As Tall isn't just a Burna Boy win, it's for Nigeria and Africa. The Diddy angle was a masterstroke of a strategy.
Once again, we shall stay awake on Grammy night in 2021 if Burna Boy gets that nod. Some people will argue that African Giant is a better album and they might have a point. African Giant is more cohesive and relatable while Twice As Tall is more experimental with a global gaze.
Thus, saying African Giant is better wouldn't entirely be about musical quality, but sentiment and it would be fair. The truth though is that, Twice As Tall is a commendable/exceptional third straight album from Burna Boy. Everything that made African Giant great is on Twice As Tall.
Burna Boy’s artistry
Nobody in Burna Boy's generation can play on this level of diversity and excel on this level. He works smart in testing the limits of your artistry. He has a ridiculous work ethic, he is a music lover who evidently continues to be inspired by multifaceted sounds and mainstream culture/sub-culture of different people.
It’s refreshing to see an artist who continually gets inspired by different things. Guys, he hailed Muri Thunder on, ‘Way Too Good.’
Those sounds have fused with his natural talent and love for music, and have in turn crystallized into healthy doses of an expansive sonic palette and artistry. More importantly, it feels like he has numerous people on his team who are invested in seeing him succeed, so everything goes through the embers of critique and vigorous tests of assurance.
What we are witnessing is a creative peak in an alignment of stars, chance and opportunity. Basically, Burna Boy is the Xavi Hernandez of contemporary music; he was always talented but didn't play on a certain air in his younger days.
Can somebody say, 'Bebo'?
• 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, Penmanship and Delivery: 1.7/2
Enjoyability and Satisfaction: 1.8/2
8.7 - Champion
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