The smiles were of contentment and genuine happiness. Dressed in all-black, he was even joined by his grandmother. Word was that a night before, he had just performed a stop on his African Giant Tour.
He was not only winning professionally, his personal life was popping – his girlfriend is British rapper, Stefflon Don. She wasn’t there on the night, but her spirit hovered above the room, whispering his lovely tunes.
Her essence was felt on her man and his heart gushed with joy. A few months later, he held his birthday in Lagos.
In November 2020, he got yet another big news. He was nominated for another Grammy Award. The category; Best Global Music Album for Twice As Tall. He represents the current focal point of afrobeats and the waves are with him.
On March 14, 2021, he won the award. The west needs an African act to truly cross-over. The branding has ensued and what better validation do you need for an ‘alien act’ on American soil than a Grammy?
Nonetheless, we don’t care. All that matters is that he won it. Aside from that, Twice As Tall is a beautiful sonic experience and near-peerless music. Anywhere you walk in the world, the mention of Nigeria might get you asked a random ‘Burna Boy’ question.
But to every story, there is a beginning
2011 & 2012: Part 1
It’s 2011 and the west is deep into an obsession with flash mobs and yet another era of K-Pop obsession. Nigeria had just come off 2010, its golden era of Hip-Hop.
Two years earlier, Wande Coal had released Mushin To Mo’Hits and Nigeria had found its mainstream pop sound. Gongo Aso by 9ice and True Story by Timaya laid the foundation and Superstar by Wizkid completed it the same year.
But in 2011, Burna Boy had returned from the UK and started making a unique brand of Afro-Fusion. In 2011, he got signed to Aristokrat Records and released his debut EP, Burn Notice.
In November of the same year, he released Burn Identity, a second EP. It produced impressive records like ‘Trumpet’ featuring Davido, the sexually charged ‘Firewood’ and the impressive dancehall record, ‘Every Girl.’
In 2012, Burna Boy released ‘Like To Party’ and garnered nationwide acclaim.The record found a bridge between obtainable ‘cool kid’ blend and mainstream lamba
In 2013, Burna Boy released his debut album, L.I.F.E. It had hits like ‘Like To Party,’ Abeg Abeg,’ ‘Run My Race and ‘Tonight.’ He also lost the Next Rated Act to Sean Tizzle at the Headies. His relationship with the award never remained the same.
This was the year that Burna Boy truly went pan-African. He formed a friendship with South African rapper, AKA and they released ‘All Eyez On Me’ together. Burna Boy also made an appearance on ‘Special Someone’ opposite Sarkodie.
And in December of that year, he offered a timely reminder of that talent and his hunger for success when he snatched the microphone from French Montana, and delivered a riveting verse from ‘Won Da Mo,’ his collaboration with D’Banj.
Burna Boy announced the launch of his label, Spaceship on February 18, 2015. This came after his two-year deal with the Piriye ‘Peedi Picasso’ Isokrari owned label, Aristokrat Records, ended in June 2014. A lot thought the label was going to be named Burna Boy Goons, but Burna Boy opted for Spaceship Entertainment.
The same year, Burna Boy released his sophomore album, On A Spaceship. It had bright spots, but it just couldn’t truly make a mark. Burna Boy’s talent was always recognized, but distractions and controversies were affecting his focus. He made the conversation about everything else, but the music.
While Alicia Keys was dancing to and Drake was remixing ‘Ojuelegba,’ Burna Boy’s mom, Bose Ogulu had departed as his manager. Davido was releasing smash hits and was ready to stage a European domination of his own while Burna Boy’s music wasn’t exactly generating excitement.
In fact, Sean Tizzle, to whom he lost the Next Rated award at the Headies gained an early landslide lead with his classic album, The Journey. Many doubted Burna Boy, but his talent remained undeniable.
He did produce ‘Soke’ that year, however.
That year, Burna Boy hit a major problem with Mr. 2Kay. For his conduct, he got blackballed and had to claw his way back. His EP, Redemption was also poorly received. In a lot of ways, it was at this point that Burna Boy’s relationship with Nigerian media started to sour.
He probably felt vilified by all the negative comments and criticism.
Amidst the turmoil, Burna Boy did something important. He marked a song titled, ‘Link Up’ by Phyno. It didn’t truly make a mark till May 2017, but it was a moment that gave everybody a reminder of the range, versatility, dynamism and expansive sonic palette that Burna Boy possesses.
Davido bought himself out of his deal with Sony Records, came back home and had a blinding run. But it was at this moment that Burna Boy’s rise started gathering pace.
In the middle of that year, he jumped on ‘Temper (Remix)’ by Skales and his mom came back and resumed as his manager.
In Q3 2020, a source close to Aristokrat and Burna Boy tells this writer that, “2017 was important for Burna Boy. If I remember correctly, his western and American journey really planted roots that year. While David and Wiz performed major venues as they deserved, Burna did it differently.
“He would perform at venues that those two might have rejected; 500 capacity to 700 capacity venues… But he didn’t give up, he kept going. I might go on a limb and say that Burna’s now famed stage presence was really honed that year.”
In honesty, it worked.
In 2017, he met Kirk Harding and Matthew ‘Baus’ Adesuyan of Atlantic label JV, Bad Habit, over dinner at 805 Restaurant in South London. He was meant to perform at another one of those venues.
The two men who are now part of a three-man team alongside Burna Boy‘s mom, Bose Ogulu had discovered Burna Boy‘s music via Spotify. Of the experience, Lola Ogunnaike writes on GQ that, “They (Harding and Baus) quickly realized that Burna was already a bona fide celebrity..“
Adesuyan says, “He walked in with a small group of people, and all of the servers in the place started crying. It was like a miniature pandemonium.”
Harding adds that, “People were running out of the kitchen to see him. He performed six songs in front of us that night and I called Bose (Burna’s mom) the next day and said, ‘Your son is really special..”
A while later, Burna Boy signed to Atlantic Records/Warner via Bad Habit and his label, On A Spaceship. That’s not to be compared with Spaceship Collective, run by his mom.
Later that year, Burna Boy’s growth was so apparent that he bought himself a Bentley. As he told Elliot Wilson and B.dot Miller on Rap Radar, he was out celebrating the car at Quilox, Victoria Island, Lagos when his friend, club owner and politician, Shina Peller came to call him.
Although inebriated, Burna Boy obliged and followed Peller into a studio where a beat was played for him. In that state, he recorded the song and it became the international hit, ‘Ye,’ produced by Phantom.
Burna Boy stole a march on his generation with news that he was the only feature on Fall Out Boy’s album, M A N I A. And boy, did he deliver. Seven days later, Burna Boy released his sixth studio project, Outside and it became an instant favourite.
Aside from ‘Ye,’ the album produced ‘Heaven’s Gate’ featuring British singer, Lily Allen. The latter record houses Burna Boy’s best performance as an artist. While Burna Boy comes from a long line of Fela affiliation, it was on ‘Outside’ that he really tested his activist-tendencies.
In June of that year, Kanye West released his ninth studio album, Ye. Several reports claim that the clash of titles promoted the success of Burna Boy’s ‘Ye’ even further on Spotify. During that last Black Lives Matter protest in London, ‘Ye’ became a war cry.
That year, Burna Boy went into beast mode and started working for his next album.
He released smash hits ‘Gbona’ and ‘On The Low’ before strategically sealing his mainstream appeal with ‘Killin Dem’ alongside friend Zlatan. The record became Burna Boy’s most popular record till date. During his African Giant tour, ‘Killin Dem’ was always his main act and he usually saved it for last.
Fans across Europe and the Americas would savour his legwork while he performed the song, usually while also wearing a beaming smile.
Burna Boy was on his toilet seat when he saw the announcement that he was set to perform at Coachella alongside fellow Nigerian star, Mr. Eazi. As he told Trevor Noah on the daily show, he realized that his name had been spelled in small caps.
In the heat of passion, Burna Boy launched a tirade at Coachella organizers, calling himself an African Giant. That became the title of his next album which dropped in July 2019. His direct social media usage was then cut short after he subbed Mayorkun on his Instagram stories.
He went on a radio tour across the US, performed across late-night American TV and debuted on NPR Tiny Desk. Over in the UK, he produced hits with Dave’s ‘Location,’ Mahalia, Stormzy’s No. 1 hit ‘Own It’ and Jorja Smith. He commenced his African Giant Tour and also got certified in France.
The same year, he won Best International Act at the BET Awards for the first time. He was then nominated for his first Grammy Award for Best World Music Album.
He opened 2020 with ‘Money Play’ but shortly after, he lost the Grammy Award to Angelique Kidjo’s Celia.
In the days leading up to the ceremony, Burna Boy felt assured of the Grammy and the entire African continent stayed awake through the night hoping to celebrate a Grammy win – well, except the toxic Wizkid FC that apparently hates good things.
Before the event, Burna Boy didn’t post a picture. Signs were that he waited to drop the pictures with an award celebration. Sadly, that never happened and those pictures didn’t drop till about eight days later. Burna Boy was also obscure till he was seen in a bowling alley with Angelique Kidjo and his mom.
Even though Kidjo gave him a shout-out during her acceptance speech, signs were that he was really down by that loss. Twice As Tall is largely inspired by those events.
On March 23, 2020, he took to his Twitter page for a Q&A with his fans. During the chatter, he revealed that he emerged from the debacle being, ‘Twice As Tall.‘ He also revealed that the phrase was going to be the title for his new album to drop in July.
On, ‘Level Up,‘ Burna Boy is assisted by an amazing vocal performance from Youssou N’dour as he gets vulnerable and discusses his long-held spells of crippling doubt. He also admits feeling small despite his successes until he recently outgrew that phase with his achievement.
ALSO READ: Burna Boy will eventually win a Grammy
This is further confirmed by a line on ‘Way Too Big.’ It reads, “Before I made it, I used to live in a movie…” This means he used to daydream. He then admitted to feeling down from that Grammy loss and even throwing up.
On Pulse Nigeria’s review of ‘Twice As Tall,’ this writer noted that, “Will Burna Boy win a Grammy Award with Twice As Tall? Nobody knows. From the look of things, Twice As Tall will most likely get a nomination. Winning will depend on his contenders in that category.
“Twice As Tall is an amazing album, but does it have the exceptional musicality that Grammy winning albums have? This writer isn’t entirely convinced that album is that experiential.
However, if he could vote for one artist in that category, he would vote for Twice As Tall 10 times over. For his effort and willingness to re-calibrate and recreate brilliance, and go again, Burna Boy deserves that accolade.
“Moreover, this writer is Nigerian and African. A win for Twice As Tall isn’t just a Burna Boy win, it’s for Nigeria and Africa. The Diddy angle was a masterstroke of a strategy. Once again, we shall stay awake on Grammy night in 2021 if Burna Boy gets that nod.”
In August 2020, he released Twice As Tall. Then in November 2020, he got a second consecutive Grammy Award nomination in the same category, although renamed, Best Global Music Album.