Burna Boy is an artist whose art can only be qualified in the superlatives. With talent so distinctively superior and ability beyond forgery or imitation, Burna Boy has always been inspired by the need to prove beyond every shadow of doubt the supremacy of his talent.
Burna Boy – Love, Damini
Whether it was in writing, delivery, stagemanship, accolades, or commercial success Burna Boy wanted to win. And he did win, at least as far as his lofty targets go.
Since he released his career-changing album ‘Outside’ in January 2018, things have never been the same for the man and the African music scene. Fueled by the desire to prove that he merited his newfound success, Burna Boy released his Grammy-nominated album ‘African Giant’ in July 2019. A nomination for an Afrobeats album and a mainstream act would have been sufficient recognition for most artists, but surely not Burna Boy. For him, it was one short of his goal – to win.
Displaying the confidence of a gunslinging hero in a Clint Eastwood Western, Burna Boy announced his next album ‘Twice As Tall’ which he released in August 2020. On March 15th, 2021 at the 63rd Grammys Awards, Burna Boy’s ‘Twice As Tall’ won the Prize for the World Album Category.
With three albums in three years, two BET awards, a Grammy win, sold-out shows in the choicest Arenas around Europe, an unprecedented level of commercial success, and a talent that will echo for eternity, Burna Boy achieved what he set out to prove and he fulfilled his desire to win.
‘Love, Damini’ is Burna Boy’s fourth album in five years, and his sixth studio album. This album comes at a point in Burna Boy’s career where he has seen it all, done it all, and won it all.
With nothing left to assert, It’s my opinion that Burna Boy set out to do something for himself with ‘Love, Damini’. To create an album in which he asserts his desires, vulnerability, and ultimately his style.
The 19-track ‘Love, Damini’ was released on July 8th, 2022, two years after his Grammy-winning album ‘Twice As Tall’. This album largely explores a different soundscape as it is almost entirely Afrobeats.
An Album of Two Parts: The Nigerian Half
His last album ‘Twice As Tall’ opened with ‘Level Up’ which tapped Afrocentric artist Youssuf N’Dour whose chorus complimented Burna Boy’s self-affirmations after his Grammy loss. Similarly, ‘Love, Damini’ opened with ‘Glory’ which taps South African male choir group and five-time Grammy winners ‘Ladysmith Black Mambazo’ in a song where Burna Boy engages in some introspection about his journey. The inclusion of the birthday song is an indication of the brooding that comes with the celebration of life and success.
The first half of the album (Track 1-10) appears to have been curated mainly for Nigerian consumers considering the beats, cadences, lyrics, and topics.
‘Dirty Secrets’ and ‘Cloak & Dagger’ retain palpable elements of Fuji notably with the chorus. The single embodies the complex nature of Burna Boy’s talent as he blends Fuji, Reggae, and Hip Hop to deliver a stunning fusion of sounds. J-Hus also tapped into his African roots in some of his lines such as “Are you mad? You know why dem man call me Baba?” and “When I come with the Yinki Yanka”. The song’s content is pretty much captured by the title. The writing and hard delivery also helped convey the song’s street savvy message.
‘Jagele’ and ‘Science’ are Afrobeat although with slightly different drum arrangements and horn exploration. In ‘Jagele’, the sax was used to give it a more traditional Afrobeat candace. Similarly, ‘Jagele’s’ melodic arrangement is heavily soaked in Afrobeats. Jagele’, and ‘Dirty Secrets’ are however not memorable as they amount to fillers. Quite frankly, their omission wouldn’t have hurt the album and their inclusion might have created an avoidable need for track skipping very early into the album.
‘Whiskey’ shows Burna Boy’s continuous desire to use his single as a vehicle to express social injustice and capture the plight of the masses. ‘Whiskey’ retains elements of highlife as the chords and delivery borrow from the south eastern highlife grove.
In ‘Whiskey’ Burna Boy brings the climate situation in his hometown of Port Harcourt and the flood situation in several cities. He also took a shot at Clerics and the masses for their roles in mental degradation that has contributed to Nigeria’s woes.
Some listeners might feel that Burna Boy lacks the moral license to make such conscious music especially as his behaviors are paradoxical to the freedom fighter he’s eager to cosplay through his music. For some, ‘Whiskey’ is just another Fela-Esque quota to get the Grammy nod. It, however, appears that this loophole in his personality might not be lost on Burna Boy who in the opening line said “I fall too easy and I pour the whiskey. No, be disability o.”
‘Last Last’, ‘Different Size’, and ‘It’s Plenty’ are songs that are meant to connect with younger mainstream audiences across the streets and digital platforms.
Employing the term “Breakfast” a Nigerian urban slang for heartbreak at the peak of its popularity was a ploy to get mainstream appeal and ‘Last Last’ achieved this objective.
In ‘Different Sizes’, Burna Boy uses the viral Tik Tok beat by producer King Vinci which samples the jingle from the popular Korean TV series Squid Game. Burna Boy even featured Gen Z artist and Afrobeats Chief Bm Bm advocate Victony in a catchy Amapiano tune about women’s backside. Some critics will consider the choice of beat as a desperate move to score a Tik Tok beat and their criticism isn’t without merit. I believe that while Burna Boy’s desire for a Tik Tok hit is a bit overt, it doesn’t take away from the song’s quality.
‘It’s Plenty’ and “Trabaye” are trendy slang amongst Nigerian youths on social media and on the streets, and its choice of a song title is largely a marketing drive. It however is a hopelessly enjoyable song with an infectious song and I expect this song to achieve its objective.
The International Half
Track 11 – 18 seems to have been curated for the international consumers although Burna Boy imprints an Afrobeats marker on every song.
‘Solid’ and ‘For My Hand’ are satisfying love songs where Burna Boy richly blends English and Pidgin to deliver high-quality Afrobeats songs with international pop appeal. The beats retained significant Afrobeats cadences even as the featured artists Blxst, Kehlani, and Ed Sheeran adjusted effortlessly and delivered impressively.
‘Toni-Ann Singh’ featuring Popcaan and ‘Rollercoaster’ featuring J Balvin are two of my favorite songs on the album with the former slightly tipping the latter in my order of preference. Both singles are aimed at Caribbean and Latino consumers respectively while carrying an Afrobeats stamp.
‘Toni-Ann Singh’ is a tribute to all the pretty women who are represented by Jamaican beauty Queen and ex-Miss World Toni-Ann Singh. ‘Rollercoaster’ is a look into the fast money, fast cars, fast friends, and globe-throttling life of a megastar. Burna Boy even added the sound of a plane to press home the message.
‘Vanilla’ and ‘Common Person’ are both delightful songs that can transcend both local and international consumers. Delivered in pidgin, ‘Vanilla’ is a Burna Boy being playful yet still unbelievably talented.
‘Common Person’ is a song that inspires listeners to cherish life’s little happiness. This single taps into highlife to deliver a cheerful tune that appeals across demography and which has the potential of finding a home amongst older consumers.
Burna Boy chooses to close the album on a sober note with the last three tracks. While the inspiring ‘Wild Dreams’ featuring Khalid might be able to evoke the required emotions from listeners, ‘How Bad Could It Be’ maybe not so much.
‘Love, Damini’ also gave the album a sketchy curtain dropper which may have confirmed my thoughts that their appearance on the album was more of aesthetics rather than artistic.
With ‘Love, Damini’, It’s my opinion that Burna Boy set out to do something for himself with ‘Love, Damini’. To create an album in which he asserts his desires, vulnerability, and ultimately his style.
While ‘Twice As Tall’ is a 15-track album that could have been longer but for the role of Puff-Diddy and the singular intention with which the track was created, ‘Love, Damini’ has 19 songs that under different circumstances could have easily been cut down to 15 songs, However, the inclusion of outliers such as ‘Science’, ‘Jagele’, and ‘Dirty Secrets’ is a bold expression of artistic freedom by Burna Boy.
In terms of track arrangement, the first half of the album is appealing to local consumers with the other half appealing to international consumers.
In terms of content, ‘Love, Damini’ explores emotions, didacticism, life on the street, success, frivolity, hope, and fear without necessarily striking a balance. While it might not be topically coherent, it offers some degree of sonic coherence.
The album’s enjoyability however depends on listener preference as only ‘Last Last’ and ‘Cloak and Daggers’ emerge as common favorites. They are, however, enough songs for listeners to find their favorites and enjoy a good time but this doesn’t offer the satisfying listening experience of ‘Twice As Tall’.
In terms of production, sound engineering, and execution, ‘Love, Damini’ displays the delicate details that Burna Boy and his producers put into making his songs.
Finally, in terms of its Grammy chances, ‘Love. Damini’ has about enough to get a nomination but it might be three to four songs too many from getting the prize.