The soundscape of modern African Music is quite diverse. In one section, you have traditional/folk music from the much mature artist catering to the much mature fan base. In another section lies what we now call Afrobeats, melding African instrumentation and percussion with Western-like popular sounds which has now developed into much more than a trend.
In another section you have Afro-House, incredibly up-tempo and very percussion driven and made purely to move the body. In another section you have the African take on traditional genres of R&B, Hip-Hop, Reggae and so on.
Somehow, Burna Boy as an artist attempts to straddle these multiple worlds, and the proof of this is definitely in the pudding. After a busy 2017 which saw him appearing on notable features, and dropping well-received singles, we are now being treated to some eclectic new music on his latest project and first major label release Outside.
As a whole, you can place the songs on this Outside record into three categories: Dancehall, Afrobeats, ‘Experimental’. He really tries to demonstrate his versatility, on what is his most vibrant album to date.
Let’s go with the opener “More Life” for example. While unfortunately short, it is delightfully sweet. The introduction to the whole project draws you in with its sweet sax sounds, which add to the subtle groove and is definitely Afro-inspired as Burna paints a picture of relaxing and enjoy life. Supposedly written for Drake’s project of the same name, I could definitely see the both of them flow over this one.
Overall very chill, it sets you up for the fanfare of “PH City Vibration”. Over an upbeat melody that is filled to burst with African drum patterns, he reminisces of the hardships of his upbringing; how he grew up, his hood, how he became frequent at the police station in Port Harcourt. But rather than lamenting, he is grateful as it has contributed to how he is now.
Keeping with the African vibe is the succeeding track “Koni Baje”. Burna drops some traditional Fuji vibes on us and sings in his native Yoruba tongue as is fitting for a song with this much flavour. “Koni Baje”, which roughly translates as “It will be good”, sounds like an authentic salute to the greats encapsulated by the African style percussion and saxophone sounds.
With “Ye”, it feels the most like early Burna Boy. It is easy on the groove and he keeps it real, trying to block out the negative vibes to just live his life and enjoy. Burna interpolates lyrics from Fela Kuti’s “Sorrow, Tears and Blood” to say how he cannot kill himself, a statement as Nigerian as it gets.
Now, being the Afro-fusion artist that he is, the album sonically explores the soundscape of Reggae and more prominently, Dancehall. “Sekkle Down” sees J Hus and Burna Boy reconnect after the party vibes on “Good Time” off Common Sense.
This second collaboration leans towards a more Dancehall orientated sound direction. They keep their cool as the ‘Don Gorgon’ and the ‘Bouff Daddy’, while both aiming to woo their lady of interest. This is definitely a stand out, one that should be in any DJs playlist.
“Giddem” goes down along the reggaeton route, laced with subtle guitar sounds and reggae-inspired beat, that sees Burna Boy where he is most at home, singing for a sensual love interest. I totally get Jamaican Sound system feels whenever I listen to this one.
Considering it was already making major waves on African radio, there was no way that “Rock Your Body” was going to be excluded from the final track listing. Produced by the one and only Juls, it is a cross between dancehall and highlife, a lane where Burna really gets to flex as being one of the pioneers of this ‘Afro-fusion’ subgenre.
He is melodically thoughtful as he uses interestingly creative metaphors to seduce his physically attractive female interest, mentioning “If you give me the shitto, I go ginger the jollof”.
And then we get more experimental.
One of the most surprising tracks on the album would have to be “Heaven’s Gate” and that’s not just because it features British Songstress Lily Allen. It’s actually hard to put a finger exactly where it lies on the genre spectrum.
Lily Allen provides what is deemed to be Bhangra-like vocal stylings to Burna’s preferred Patois and when you match that to Rock-like guitar riffs, you’d think it would sound like a hot mess but if there’s anyone to try and make it work, it would be Burna Boy.
“Streets Of Africa” was another of the album’s singles which dropped back in November. The nostalgia oozes through as Burna hops on an instrumental that sound familiar to nursery rhymes but gets a revamp with a thumping baseline that will grab you through the speakers. On this one, he is reminiscent of the joy and carefree attitude associated with being an African child and himself, to a large extent.
He explores sensuality more on “Devil In California”. It’s a smooth alternative R&B joint where he talks of being conflicted, with the presence of an intriguing love interest, intertwined in the party life and engulfed in the momentum of making questionable decisions.
“Calm Down” is the penultimate track and is one of the most soulful and the most real. It draws you in with the bass voices modulating in the background like an a-cappella group, before exploding with marching horn-like synths. Burna speaks honestly to the troubles he faces and how he gets his own form of escapism by drinking his troubles away, with whatever is in his Styrofoam cup, amongst other things.
Everything concludes with the project’s title track “Outside”. Burna takes on a dance/pop instrumental to talk about his struggles, about his victories, about his friends that helped define him. But he concludes he does, powerfully at defining himself.
With such a diverse mix of sounds being served and such iconic British acts as features, it is a statement of intent from the man who has his eyes set on the rest of the world. Outside is Burna Boy at his most potent and personal. Just listening, you can tell he is the type of artist that just enjoys writing and making music, no matter what the sound, and he is inspired by his life experiences to fuel exciting sounding art.
Burna Boy’s Outside is out now via Atlantic Records, purchase it on iTunes here, and stream it below.
Words by Jay Tijani
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