Outside also marked Burna Boy’s major-label debut; in 2017, he signed to Bad Habit/Atlantic in the United States and Warner Music International abroad, excluding Africa, where he releases music on his own Spaceship Entertainment label. After winning best international artist at the BET Awards (his mom and manager, Bose Ogulu, accepted the honor on his behalf) and being named an Apple Music Up Next artist for July, he will release his fourth album, African Giant, within two weeks of announcing it, on July 26. Who needs a lengthy rollout when, as Burna Boy says himself, “there are more eyes on me”?
Last fall, Burna Boy curated a playlist for Spotify’s new Afro Hub, part of its Global Cultures initiative. And Lyor Cohen, global head of music at YouTube, mentioned Burna Boy in a 2018 Billboard interview about the African music market. “We know the crossover potential is immense,” he said.
In the past year, Nigerian Afropop artist Wizkid has become a go-to collaborator for Metro Boomin, for whom he worked alongside Swae Lee, Offset and J Balvin. In April, mainstream star Davido landed two songs on the R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart. Also this year, Warner Music Group partnered with influential Nigerian label Chocolate City, offering its artists support stateside through WMG’s independent label services division, Alternative Distribution Alliance.
African Giant is Afro-Fusion at its most late-night and atmospheric -- Burna Boy also says it’s his most personal album yet. But even so, being from Nigeria, “things that have been going on there since the 1960s” -- from political corruption to violence -- “are still happening now, so I have to be cautious; I have to be careful how I say things.” He’s least careful on “Killin Dem,” which sounds like a polemic about Nigerian politics. But Burna Boy refuses to say for certain.
“It’s funny,” he says. “Most Americans don’t even understand what I’m saying in my records, but they pick up on the vibe, the vibration.” One reason he believes Afrobeats, the contemporary version of Afrobeat, is having a moment is because “everything started from Africa, and so music started from Africa. It’s all going to come back to its roots eventually. When you hear our music, it resonates in the soul.”
Burna Boy grew up in southern Nigeria’s Port Harcourt, where his father ran a welding business and his mother was a lecturer and translator. It was his maternal grandfather who was the creative in the family, managing Nigerian legend Fela Kuti, who died in 1997, and whom Burna Boy idolizies to this day. In Nigeria, Burna Boy occupies a position not entirely dissimilar: Openly revered by his nation as a superstar, he’s frequently mobbed whenever he returns home.