In a compelling glimpse into the future of Afrobeats, Burna Boy takes centre stage with the release of his highly anticipated seventh studio album, ‘I Told Them’.
Renowned for his unwavering celebration of African culture, both in his electrifying stage presence and his captivating musical compositions, Damini Ogulu ventures into new creative terrain, drawing inspiration from the hip-hop genre for his latest musical endeavour. As the boundary between genres continues to blur, Burna Boy’s innovative approach paves the way for a dynamic evolution in the Afrobeats landscape, captivating audiences worldwide.
The 15-track album features some of the hip-hop big names such as 21 Savage on ‘Sittin’ on Top of The World’ which borrows the 90s New York bounce of Brandy’s ‘Top of the World’, J.Cole on ‘Thanks’, Dave from the UK on ‘Cheat on Me’, GZA and RZA from the Wu-Tang Clan, a 90s rap group Burna Boy Idolised as a child. The album also taps from the reggae genre as he features Byron Messia on ‘Talibans’.
Burna Boy’s international music pull sees him merge Afrobeats with hip-hop, R&B, and reggae, a style of the genre he coined ‘Afrofusion’. Some reports have attempted to explain this phenomenon as the artist’s way to promote the message of Pan-Africanism and unify Black people around the world through his music.
Burna Boy performing on stage
Chris Emdin, founder of Hip Hop Education at Columbia University, delved into the profound connection between African culture and hip-hop during a podcast discussion. He highlighted that the origins of hip-hop trace back to DJ Kool Herc in the 1970s, but its roots can be linked further to Africa. DJ Kool Herc’s heritage in Jamaica goes back to the experiences of individuals on slave ships that eventually landed in Jamaica.
Going back even earlier, the lineage reaches West Africa, where people engaged in circles, utilising talking drums, storytelling, and rhythm as a response to pain and oppression.
Emdin said the evolution of hip-hop in the Bronx during the 1970s represented a revival of these Afrocentric ways of expression, triggered by trauma, as the Bronx was experiencing turmoil and young individuals sought an outlet in music, dance, and rhythm, thus reviving a response deeply ingrained in their genetic code.
The migration of Afrobeats into the US music scene has initially manifested in tracks such as Drake’s “One Dance,” as well as albums like GoldLink’s “Diaspora” and Beyoncé’s “The Gift,” both launched in the summer of 2019. These instances showcased the beginning of Afrobeats on American music, with its influence being particularly prominent in the creative fabric of these releases.
This perspective holds great relevance to Burna Boy’s hip-hop affiliation on his new album. As Emdin explained, the evolution of hip-hop itself has its roots in Afrocentric expressions from Africa, which resurfaced as a response to oppression. Burna Boy’s incorporation of hip-hop elements in his album ‘I Told Them’ continues this historical narrative of using music as a means to address and transcend adversity.
Speaking with the LA Times on Pan-Africanism, Burna Boy said, “They’ve successfully broken us apart, to where many of us don’t even want to identify with each other.” He said he is trying to use his music to achieve the primary objective which is for Black people to unite and to build a bridge between Africa and the rest of the world which can never close or break.”
Burna Boy’s journey into the realm of hip-hop traces back to his early years when he found himself captivated by the beats and rhymes of legendary artists like DMX and the Wu-Tang Clan. As a young boy, he immersed himself in their music, unknowingly sowing the seeds for a future marked by genre-blurring innovation.
Burna Boy on stage with P. Diddy
Fast forward to the present day, and Burna Boy’s fusion of Afrobeats with hip-hop elements has reached new heights. His groundbreaking album ‘Twice as Tall’, a masterpiece that would go on to win a Grammy Award, saw him collaborating with none other than hip-hop mogul P. Diddy as a producer. This collaboration solidified Burna Boy’s prowess as an artist who defies conventional boundaries, merging cultures and genres seamlessly.
Beyond the musical realm, Burna Boy’s influence has extended into his fashion choices, where hints of rap aesthetics intertwine with his African heritage. A poignant example lies in his lyrical tributes to the late fashion icon Virgil Abloh, a testament to the interconnectedness of artistry in both music and style.
Burna Boy eating pizza with Busta Rhymes
Notably, Burna Boy’s rap affinities have also fostered meaningful connections within the hip-hop community. His recent historic concert at the Citi Field Stadium transformed into a remarkable birthday celebration and drew the support of rap legend Busta Rhymes, who not only attended the event but also solidified their affiliation by appearing alongside Burna Boy in his ‘Big 7’ music video.
Some other tracks include ‘Normal’, ‘Tested’, ‘Approved and Trusted’, ‘Dey Play’ and ‘If I’m Lying’. Seyi Vibe, a Nigerian singer and songwriter features on the track ‘Giza’ to give the album the much-needed street vibe, that local audiences yearn for. Fans are expecting the track to mirror the same collaboration Burna Boy had with Zlatan Ibile on the song ‘Killin Dem’ from the ‘African Giant’ album.
With its magnetic blend of Afrobeats and hip-hop, ‘I Told Them’ might prove to be Burna Boy’s biggest access to the highly-coveted US music market. According to Luminate’s 2023 mid-year music reports, this is a strategic move. The data illustrates a striking growth in album consumption in the US, soaring by an impressive 13.4 per cent year-on-year, rocketing from 475.4 million in mid-year 2022 to a staggering 538.9 million in mid-year 2023. This upward trajectory indicates an insatiable appetite for new music among American listeners.
The report also shows that on-demand song streams experienced a remarkable 15 percent year-on-year increase during the same period. The numbers jumped from 620.2 billion to an astounding 713.5 billion. As these figures underscore, music is thriving in the US, with listeners voraciously consuming songs at an unprecedented rate. Within this audio feast, it is the R&B/Hip Hop genre that commands the lead, accounting for a substantial 27.3 percent of total on-demand streams. It’s a clear testament to the genre’s dominance in the American music landscape.
Yet, the journey into the US music market isn’t solely about numbers; it’s about cultivating a devoted fan base. Reports also show that artists from outside the US should strategically build a strong following. This is not only prudent for long-term success but also aligns with the trend of super fans, who constitute 15 percent of the general US population.
These fervent devotees contribute a whopping 80 percent more money to monthly music consumption compared to the average music listener. Their unwavering dedication creates a steady revenue stream that fuels artists’ careers and sustains their global aspirations.
The message of pan-Africanism has resonated with a vast majority of Blacks abroad as Afrobeats stars keep selling out arenas and stadiums. Over the weekend Asake sold out the famous O2 Arena, an impressive feat for an artist with just over two years of musical acumen.
RZA who has become a collaborator and mentor of sorts to Burna Boy and leans into his love for Shaolin on one of the tracks ‘Jewels’, said in an interview on LA Times, that there’s a new connection between the motherland (Africa) and Black people in America and to see Burna sell out the New York stadium is a perfect example of that.
RZA, in a RollingStone interview reflecting on the influence of Afrobeats on hip-hop, commends Burna Boy for his leadership in the movement and acknowledges the inspiring impact of Afrobeats from the African continent. He highlights that Burna Boy is currently at the forefront of this trend, but emphasises the broader significance of Afrobeats’ influence on American music.
RZA notes that due to significant immigration in past decades, many second-generation individuals in the United States, hailing from countries like Nigeria, Liberia, Libya, and Ghana, are deeply connected to their native cultures through the Afrobeats movement. This movement’s cultural resonance is evident in high-profile collaborations such as Drake, Rihanna, and Beyoncé incorporating Afrobeats elements, which RZA believes could eventually rival the influence of the South’s dominance in hip-hop over the next five to ten years.
Additionally, the single ‘City Boy’ track from his new album, unlike the conventional Afrobeats style he’s known for, offers a distinctive twist with a beat reminiscent of the rhythmic tempo found in classic 90s hip-hop songs.
By ingeniously marrying Afrobeats and hip-hop, Burna Boy has constructed a musical bridge that traverses both artistic and geographical boundaries. As the R&B/Hip Hop genre reigns supreme in the US, Burna Boy’s strategic approach to tapping into this trend could be the key to propelling Afrobeats to unprecedented heights on the global stage.
By infusing Afrobeats with hip-hop, Burna Boy bridges the gap between genres while also tapping into a long-standing tradition of using rhythmic and lyrical expression to cope with challenges. In a way, Burna Boy’s album carries forward the Afrocentric ways of knowing and being, demonstrating the inherent connectivity between African culture and the evolution of hip-hop.
As the album reverberates through speakers across continents, it also bridges the gap between musical styles and proves that innovative collaborations can defy expectations and unite diverse fan bases.