Nigerian singer/songwriter Burna Boy has always been one of African pop's biggest names, but it's on his 5th and latest album Twice As Tall that he welcomes some of the biggest names in music into the fold. Collaborating with the likes of Coldplay's Chris Martin, Naughty By Nature and Stormzy on the album, it's a follow-up to 2019's African Giant, and continues his rise to the highest peaks of musical fame.
In the press release for the album, which was mostly recorded in Lagos during lockdown, the album is spoken about as "a beautiful mélange of sounds... a pure, unapologetic African body of work [that] boasts of a global contemporary sound that is for everyone". Burna Boy has the world listening, and what he's got to say matters.
Burna Boy wants to bring Nigerian - and African - sounds to the world, through his own brand of Afrofusion. 11 of the songs on the 15-track album were produced by Nigerian producers, and his commitment to promoting the sounds of Africa has never been more fervent than right now. Twice As Tall is a glorious display of African pop, but it's important to look under the surface, to truly understand Burna Boy's meaning.
In an interview with The Guardian, Burna Boy says the problems in Nigeria are the result of one group of people. “The only people who I focus on, and who have blame for whatever is happening now, is us – the youth,” he says. “Because we take what we get sitting down. Freedom is not something that is given.” He wants the youth of Nigeria to recognise what's going on around them, not just passively absorb it.
He talks about these issues on Wetin Dey Sup, one of the highlights of the album. Punctuated by gunshots and sirens, it's an example of Burna Boy talking about the inequality that exists in Nigeria, and bringing those issues to a global stage. Burna Boy is one of the biggest names in African music right now, and he understands the platform he's got. Wasting it isn't in his plans.
Burna Boy has described Twice As Tall as a continuation of African Giant, and he turned to the likes of Timbaland, Sean 'Diddy' Combs and Anderson .Paak to continue to help him achieve his vision, without diluting his message. It's important to understand the politics that lie behind Twice As Tall, and get to know Burna through his interviews. There's a lot to be said about the state of Africa today, Burna feels, and that isn't able to be captured just through his music.
While some might want to consider the fight for inequality over, especially in Africa which always isn't in the global limelight, Burna says this is far from the truth. “We’re still in the same position. We’re still on the losing side to this day. We’re still giving, and to this day we have nothing in return. It’s a truth that needs to be told. Everyone wants to come and sugarcoat it and try to be politically correct. Me, I’m not doing that no more. For me, I know what the truth is – and the truth can never be politically correct.”
This is no more evident than on Monsters You Made, a track laden with fury against the systems of oppression that exist within cultures worldwide. It's therefore interesting hearing Coldplay's Chris Martin singing the hook, an artist synonomous with Western culture. Speaking to NME, Burna says he never wanted anyone else to sing on the track, because the critique of Western culture needed one of its biggest stars to feature. “He’s the only one that could have pulled that off," Burna says.
One of the album's defining moments is Real Life, a collaboration between Burna and Stormzy. The pair have worked together before, on Stormzy's Own It, and Real Life sees Stormzy returning the favour. The track sees both Stormzy and Burna showing their softer sides, with Burna leading the way for Stormzy to croon. Burna's called in some of the biggest names in music for Twice As Tall, and rather than appear overawed, he's happy to take charge.
There's two sides to Twice As Tall, and both are equally as important. On Way Too Big, Burna just wants to flex his muscles, and show off his lifestyle as a global star. He understands that you can't have darkness without light, and if you're going to demonstrate the issues with the systems that have plagued Africa for generations, you also need to show the successes. Burna Boy wants to inspire, not admonish the youth - he just wants a better world for all.
Burna Boy's Twice As Tall is a triumph in every sense of the word. Burna Boy should have the world's ear, and he's not going to let that opportunity go to waste. He wants the world to know exactly what makes African music so special, and why everyone needs to pay attention.
He's also going to speak about the inequalities that face the youth of Africa today, and what needs to be done about it. And of course, he's going to flex, but why wouldn't he? Burna Boy might just be the face of African music, and it's in good hands. Burna Boy is a born leader, and he knows it. It's time for the world to truly listen to what he has to say.