Burna Boy at the Court of Appeal of Artistic Expectations

Sophomore albums are scary especially if they weigh in against a successful debut. The contending artist grapples with many issues, chief among them, is whether to resort to self-plagiarism.

Recording labels, motivated by profits, will make valid demands that albums situate themselves with contemporary conventions, ape signature style and rake in money. It is quite a tedious situation and I am at the risk of sounding like Burna Boy’s attorney at the court of appeal of artistic expectations.

But again, sophomore albums, especially in the history of Nigerian contemporary popular music albums have been letdowns save for the occasional outstanding brilliance of some outliers (think Reminisce, Black Magic and Tuface.)

Now let us tread this wet floor to examine Ben Idonije’s grandson’s second album, On a Spaceship. Let us begin from the jacket cover with a somber-looking shirtless Damini Ogulu carrying an astronaut’s headgear, slumped shoulders and a graffiti of tattoos. Compared to the artist’s image on L.I.F.E, his first album, Burna Boy has grown.

In popular culture, precisely movies, space exploration has been rightfully characterized as a lonely journey where not only time but also alliances become distorted. With this caveat, being on a spaceship doesn’t seem enjoyable especially if one is intent on leaving an impact for eternity.

The 16 track album begins in an unusual manner, with a skit, an interview of Osagie Alonge expressing his critical opinion about Burna Boy’s conduct which he believes will ruin his reputation and accomplishments. It is quite brave to begin a second album on this note, but it would have been a bit crass to leave it hanging untidy like untied Converse shoelaces. But this is not the first flaw of this album because the fast tempo Oluwa Burna introduces the album sonically and reintroduces Burna Boy with both middle fingers pointing at the judges (read pundits.)

On The Realest, the album seems to really begin with a more persuasive tempo. Here Burna Boy reminds us what his charm really is—his ability to blend contemporary tunes with a good measure of old school. That is his niche and territory and his comfort zone but what is an artist without voyages?

Mine Tonight mines his reggae influences albeit dance hall with one half of the popular duo girl group, Brick N Lace, Nyanda. Not a bad party starter if you ask me; however the journey to the spaceship seems to take a commercial route.

Single, a very experimental dancehall tune attempting to also serenade, recruits Wizkid but manages to sound discordant and asynchronous at the same time. It might just be the most unsuccessful sonic specimen known to man. Skip Sampudi if you can and hit Rizzla straight; it is a memorable tune that ironically themes on kush smoking and street hustling.

Featuring Phyno and Flavour respectively on Duro ni Be and Before respectively puts the collaborative head count of the album quite ahead of his debut and it asks a rhetorical question to what end? Burna Boy is, to all intent and purpose, an Alternative musician who broke into the commercial acclaim on the strength of pulling away from domineering ethos. On this album, he seems keen on becoming more mainstream.

Sadly, what this portends for the album is that it becomes a symphonious mismatch of sounds, a clash if you will, between Burna Boy’s hugely distinctive sound and the meddlesome tunes of his featured artists. However On a very Good Day (featuring Wande Coal) and Birthday (featuring AKA, Kid X and Da L.E.S) were exceptions.

One must say that Birthday is perhaps the most accomplished gem on this album even if it panders to American Crunk, a territory previously uncharted by Burna Boy. If L.I.F.E was an album about mining musical influences, On a Spaceship is about mining social influences within the industry.

On the tunes that Burna manages to sound like himself—see If People Must Die—that Sizzla Kalonji trait comes alive, his massive musical library opens up and his talents shines through but those moments are few and far between.

The entire album feels as though Burna Boy is in competition with his artistic self, the self he wishes to project and the self that results. This is baffling since the perceived image of self is almost always reconciled before a first album. But there is a whole drama of leaving AristoKrat Records and not working with the ace producer LeriQ.

So this is what being On a Spaceship is about: offering fractal segments of the self for appraisal. What obtains is a potpourri of popular themes, a few moments of brilliance and a tendency to sound like the herd.

Subscribe to our Newsletter
Stay up-to-date