The hype fest around the release of Burna Boy’s Twice As Tall is quite dizzying but quite understandable.
African Giant, his fourth album, did not have as much outpouring in the first instance but, a tour-de-force, it climbed, on its own merit, to the most revered accolade that has been paid to an Afrobeats album: a Grammy nomination.
Wrong category notwithstanding, African Giant would have needed more than a Beninoise amulet to stand against Angelique Kidjo’s Celia.
But there is nothing wrong with ambition, optimism and a back story—three elements fused into the aesthetic trail of his new album, Twice as Tall.
These are ways Twice as Tall is similar to African Giant. It spins out of a crucial event in Burna Boy’s life. If African Giant was titled for his infamous outburst on social media about his small print name on the Coachella festival promotional material, Twice as Tall rides on the pathos of “losing” the Grammy; the twist is doing it all over again, in a non-Sisyphean but enterprising way.
Burna Boy’s sound has neither changed nor wavered; it is more deliberate, charged and sharpened for pop currency. Who the better man to A&R these songs for an American audience than the legendary, Diddy? We can’t judge too quickly the results of Diddy’s curation but his in-album adlibs and commentary sound somewhat contrived.
But on Twice as Tall, Burna’s Afrofusion transforms from a leisurely thing to a product that must be blanched, tinkered with and diluted to become popular music.
The vantage point is that Burna’s fusion has always relied on a Hip-Hop aesthetic, which updates old tradition with contemporaneous snippets.
On Twice as Tall, Burna pushes Kalonji and Fela, his guiding influences to the side, and sings straight for the American ear.
Sampling Pat Boone’s Twice as Tall as introit on a song with Youssour N’Dour is probably as deliberate as it gets. Even if there is hardly any chemistry on that track.
‘Alarm Clock’ kicks in with vintage Burna and the next column of songs thrives on his edgy lyrics and husky voice. There is a subtle emphasis on dance but what is most staggering is how Burna Boy deploys influences. On ‘Wonderful’, Alhaji Agba’s Barry Wonder melds with a thumping house beat with elaborate Yoruba harmonies.
‘Onyeka’ (Baby) is a highlife love song with thinned-out brass section punctuating the surround while Burna sings his heart out perhaps in the hopes of orgasmic reward.
On ‘Naughty By Nature’, he recruits the actual rap group to sing his credo using their mild 00s hit, Jamboree as a guide.
‘No Fit Vex’ is a modern ode to friendship and what is outstanding is how it is unhinged from the overall pop campaign of the album. A standalone vintage Burna song where he assumes the role of a griot which is often understated.
‘Time Flies’ is an overdrive of influences that may have ended up tasteless. Filching sounds from Sade’s ‘Sweetest Taboo’ and Marc Anthony’s hit ‘I need you’ with a Kenyan supergroup Sauti Sol feature could have been too many chefs that did not kill the broth.
‘Monsters You Made’ employs Coldplay’s Chris Martin and snippets from a dated Ama Ata-Aidoo interview for an anti-imperialist anthem. It is a solemn song whose power is entrenched in its restraint.
All restraints are let go out for ‘Wettin Dey Sup’. The syrupy laid-back grime feel is what makes the Stormzy-assisted ‘Real Life’ delectable.
There is a lot of goodwill and pride that comes with listening to Twice as Tall. And the recurring tropes from his previous work and his adventitious exploration of influences makes this the best album he can release at this time.
It is all in there. The early promise of the supremely talented Burna Boy, brimming with brio and swagger. The edgy Burna Boy scorching lyrically with a hint of activism. The mature thief who samples deliberately across genres and era and mood but even when Burna Boy is holding all those together, his eyes hardly ever waver from the promise of the money-bag coloured in stars and stripes.