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A review of Burna Boy’s 7th album ‘I Told Them’

“There’s nothing I’m doing now that I didn’t tell them,” Burna Boy told Ebro before his historic London Stadium concert. He repeated this sentiment to Zane Lowe just days before the release of his seventh album ‘I Told Them’.

However, what Burna Boy failed to state in his gloating is the fact that at no point was there a national schadenfreude to which he was the subject. Nigerians never doubted the capacity of his talent to bring him the success he now enjoys. What they questioned was his capacity to get out of his way and keep his demons in check.

After enjoying a rocketed rise to international success, Burna Boy has earned a level of success that speaks for itself. However, he doesn’t take it kindly that despite his accomplishments, his wins are not celebrated at the level that massages his ego.

‘I Told Them’ captures Burna Boy’s existence in multiple worlds (Nigeria, UK/US, Caribbean) and his unrelenting desire to showcase these influences. Although he has been critical of the defining elements of the culture of Afrobeats and Hip Hop, he nevertheless infuses them.

He recently misguidedly claimed Afrobeats lacks substance, yet he proceeded to make “Lamba” & “Vibes” driven records like ‘Giza’. He called African Americans people who don’t know their cultural roots yet he richly explores Hip Hop in his album. These vacillating tendencies may have contributed to placing ‘I Told Them’ in a creatively limbic state.

Burna Boy appears creatively stunted in the type of music he wishes to make and for whom he wishes to make them. Unlike in ‘African Giant’ where he crafts an album that captures his newfound international success or in ‘Twice As Tall’ where he sacrifices commerciality for critical acclaim, ‘I Told Them’ hangs between Hip Hop and Afrobeats without offering the best part of either world.

The album doesn’t offer excitement in terms of sonic exploration and the celebratory theme that could have driven the music is lost in the creator’s “I Told You So” intentions. And although he adds depth to his Hip Hop exploration by partnering with his childhood music idols RZA and GZA of the Wu-Tang Clan, the output satisfies more of critical sentiments.

For most parts, the album feels like a recreation of old songs. Tracks like ‘Big 7’, ‘Dey Play’, and ‘City Boys’ offer Hip Hop and Afro hybrids yet they sound strikingly familiar in delivery, melody, and technique.

Burna Boy delivers the best songs on the album when he abandons his gloating and makes simple Pop-driven (topically and sonically) records. Tracks like ‘Tested, Approved & Trusted’, ‘Giza’ featuring Seyi Vibez, and ‘Talibans II’ with Byron Messia are enjoyable for their sonic appeal and the easy listening they offer.

There are parts of the album that feel personal such as his tribute to the late Creative Design icon Virgil Abloh and late rapper Sidhu. He also appears to pour out his heart in ‘If I’m Lying’ where he employs vulnerability but the result pales in comparison to his brilliant rendition on ‘Alone’.

‘Thanks’ appears to be the most personal song on the album as Burna Boy speaks on what he believes to be the underappreciation of his feats by Nigerians. He needlessly gives life to the misguided statements of internet trolls who claimed his mother was a backup dancer for Fela Kuti when such topics are better ignored. He failed to address his part in the Cubana club shooting or why he cursed at fans at his Lagos concert after he kept them waiting till 3 AM. He drags a misplaced J Cole into his egoistic rant as he displays the lack of self-awareness that causes him and his fans to continue misinterpreting scrutiny and attempts to be held to high standards as hatred.

This finger-pointing moment leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of those who have been at the receiving end of his immature and poor behavior. Although he fancies himself a Prophet who’s not respected at home, Burna Boy must understand that Prophets are selfless people who champion the cause of their people and intercede for them instead of using every opportunity to condescend and insult them.

Songwriting, Themes, and Delivery: 1.5/2

Enjoyability and Satisfaction: 1.4/2

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