tue 27/02/2024

Album: Burna Boy - I Told Them | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Burna Boy - I Told Them...

Album: Burna Boy - I Told Them...

More money, more worries? Perhaps - but Burna Boy is still on remarkable musical form

I Told Them: confrontational swagger belies celebratory grooves

There’s been a lot of flak flying around this album already. It’s mainly been triggered by Burna Boy’s public activities which have included disparaging the wider Afrobeats music scene of West Africa, and some somewhat overcooked expressions of his pan-Africanist philosophy.

And this has then been mapped onto his seventh album itself, with various suggestions that he’s hit creative stagnation reflecting embitterment or backstage political shenanigans. If you listened to it blind, though, it would be hard to square it with this scenario. Yes, the artwork and presentation is more swaggering and bolshy than the deliberately intimate and personal look of predecessor Love, Damini, and the music is less restrained too. And yes, for sure, it’s full of vainglorious “I’m the best” / “the world shouldn’t ignore my wisdom” stuff.  

However, this boasting is certainly no more than the average top flight rap record, and indeed even at their most egotist are injected with elements of introspection too, and musically the record is coherent, full of energy, and even joyful. The music is organic and blends exquisite playing by Nigerian records with its digital rap, R&B and dancehall influences from the off: the clapped count-in leading into a guitar arpeggio and vocal harmony that starts off the album is a statement of intent in this regard. 

Likewise, there are quite a few international guests here, as on Love, Damini, but as ever on Burna Boy’s records, they are fused into the West African sound expertly. Indeed they offer some of the finest moments on the record. The way the traditional sounding chant of “On Form” segues into the retro 90s hip hop groove, Brandy sample and autotuned guest vocal from 21 Savage, for example, is bravura stuff – both as an act of disaporic dot-joining, and purely as a musical experience. Likewise J Cole rapping only over percussion and guitar makes for a sound that’s not only original but suggests great possibility for future exploration. And GZA of Wu-Tang Clan’s pronouncements at a couple of points through the album add theatrical, mystical spice to Burna’s messianic persona. 

There’s more besides. “Giza” with Seyi Vibez, for example, brings things up to date with South African amapiano – and echoes of generations of house and techno which that brings – perfectly woven into the fabric of the album as well. Put lyrics aside and the whole record is full of solid groove, and is expertly structured to boot. So by all means dig into the industry politics and problematic aspects of an artist citing Minister Farrakhan and so forth, by all means, but to suggest that this record is a creative dead end seems like an extreme case of tall poppy syndrome. Burna Boy is still on immense musical form.

@joemuggs

Listen to "Big 7":

International guests offer some of the finest moments on the record

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Average: 4 (1 vote)

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