The Nigerian singer’s latest effort is tried and true to his Afro-fusion style and the success it has brought him.
Burna Boy is a force to be reckoned with. Whether it be for a few hundred people at Montreal’s 212 nightclub or 60,000 fans at London Stadium, his hits “Last Last” and “Location” can gather every voice in the room, ringing out in unison like a celebratory chant. His latest album I Told Them… supports this reality: it is both an Afrobeats record full of charming melodies and a testament to the success he has achieved.
Lyrically, I Told Them… is exultant, backed by a sentiment of pride and fulfillment. In the opener and title track, Burna Boy reflects on the ambitions and aspirations he spoke about in the past, hopes which he has since fulfilled: “For some reason they didn’t believe it, so here we are,” he sings in the chorus of “I told them.”
“Big 7,” another song on the album, is a description of the singer’s now lavish lifestyle. On the closing track “Thanks,” he prides himself on bringing forward Afro-fusion music and making his people proud. However, the track also reads as a backhanded compliment. Despite priding himself on his fans, he implies that they do not do good by him by criticizing him (especially in regards to controversy), asking: “Is this the [expletive] thanks I get?”
Burna Boy continues to prove himself as a master of hooks on this album. They are repetitive and memorable, thanks to his simple yet catchy flows. His vocal performances are smooth and syrupy, but he also excels at layering his own vocals and harmonizing, which gives his choruses a larger, anthemic feel.
Afro-fusion is evident on this album, with Burna Boy borrowing production elements from vintage hip-hop, 2000’s R&B, pop, traditional Afrobeats, and acoustic music. The opening and closing tracks both utilize congas and other percussion to create minimalist, soothing, rhythmic backdrops.
“Normal” feels like a traditional Afrobeats instrumental revamped with hip-hop drums, and “Sittin’ On Top Of The World” is a vintage hip-hop beat backed by a sick groove and a Brandy sample. “City Boys” is another R&B sample flip which borrows its melody from Jeremih’s hit single “Birthday Sex.” “If I’m Lying” stands out due to its foundational guitar melody, one so soft and entrancing it brings The Weeknd’s 2011 track “Rolling Stone” to mind.
With the exception of fellow Nigerian singer Seyi Vibez, Burna Boy exclusively enlists rappers for the guest slots on the album. He reconnects with the UK rapper Dave on “Cheat on Me,” for the first time since “Location” in 2019. In this collaboration, however, Dave’s verse lacks the tight flow and lyrical substance of his own Afrobeats tracks (check out “System” featuring WizKid).
Elsewhere, 21 Savage is a simple yet effective addition to “Sittin’ On Top Of The World,” and J. Cole’s speedy verse on “Thanks” includes clever one-liners and multisyllabic rhymes. Wu-Tang Clan members GZA and RZA also appear in some lyrical segments.
Overall, I Told Them… is further proof of Burna Boy’s merit. Between his fusion of genres, he can create hits from existing ones (as seen in “City Boys”) and seamlessly bridge Afrobeats and hip-hop together via production and guest appearances. The inclusion of “Talibans II” as a bonus track makes perfect sense: by adding his signature melodiousness to an already hypnotic track “Talibans” by Byron Messia, he gave the latter his first Hot 100 hit— which further proves Burna Boy as an Afrobeats heavyweight.
Trial Track: Normal