Burna Boy is at the top of his game, and he knows it. Nothing about his fourth album, African Giant, is understated, but it doesn't need to be. The Nigerian singer puts forward a bravado that might not be believed from a lot of other artists, but on this 19-song statement, the persona isn't just believable, it sweeps the listener up with it.
Burna Boy's music is rooted in what he considers afro-fusion, which blends pop, hip-hop and R&B, dancehall and UK rap with Nigerian music, which positions Africa at the root of the ever-expanding sound of his music, paying homage to the traditional sounds whilst also expanding on them. The melding of the past and present positions Burna Boy in an interesting, yet totally natural position for him; he's representing the old guard, whilst being at the forefront of the evolution of Nigerian music.
It's an album that is as personal as it is political, with the messages that Burna Boy is addressing oft-served amongst sharp grooves that don't catch you off guard, but rather, seductively lure you in. Burna Boy's confidence emanates from every aspect of this album, and its crowning glory is it is more cohesive than any of his previous work. He has harnessed the sounds of the world, for lack of a better descriptor, and distilled them into something that is uniquely his own.
It's an album that's full of surprises, for both old and new fans, such as on the Jeremih-assisted Secret, which melds dreamy guitars with Burna Boy's refined falsetto. It's not necessarily something that you'd expect from him, but that's part of the magic; African Giant is both an extension and evolution of his past work, as well as a testament to what's come before him, and will come. It showcases his range musically, which means no sound overstays its welcome.
It's not just musically that he presents his range with, but subject matter as well, with lessons of Nigeria, and its roots, that Burna Boy serves up through his music. Another Story from the album opens with a radio message explaining Nigeria's colonial history, which, in an interview with The Atlantic, Burna Boy explained his intentions behind fusing music and politics, saying, "I’m 28 years old. In my country, that’s considered very young. It’s almost like the youth don’t matter to the up-and-ups. Everybody that’s in power has been there since we gained independence in 1960.”
“Why would you blame the youth for not knowing certain history? You can’t blame them or call them dumb [when the elders keep the history to themselves] … As they say, knowledge is power. So I just felt the need to kinda let people of my age group and younger in on some little history that I am [pretty] sure that almost 90 percent of us have no clue about.”
It would be remiss to not mention the features. The likes of Future, YG and Jorja Smith appear on the album, but rather than overpower Burna Boy, they simply accentuate the obvious; he can mix it with some of the biggest musicians going around, and come out on top. Speaking to The Atlantic, Burna Boy referred to bringing Future and YG into Afro-fusion as “bringing my brothers home”.
The album also features production from Skrillex on Show & Tell, featuring the aforementioned Future but rather than overpower Burna Boy with star power, Skrillex's production brings the artist's skills to the forefront. This song proves to be one of the album's highlights, when in a lesser artist's hands, could be perceived as a cheap name-drop.
— Burna Boy (@burnaboy) July 25, 2019
Burna Boy is a student of music, but that doesn't make this album boring, quite the opposite. African Giant is a testament to his love of a wide range of genres, as well as his ability to bring them together, all the while leaving his stamp on every track. Speaking to Apple Music, Burna Boy said "when it's time for music to be made, it's almost like my ancestors just come into me and then it's them." It shows, too, that his ancestors influence his music just as much as any contemporary sound. Burna Boy is truly an African Giant on this album, and his collaborators, production, lyrics and more all point to the same thing - he's just going to keep on getting bigger.