Drake-approved star Burna Boy wants to take Nigerian music worldwide
Burna Boy’s music is a reminder of the life he was able to leave. His career allowed him to escape Port Harcourt City in southern Nigeria, a town which, he says, few people ever escape from. “I was born inna the teaching hospital, the 2nd of July of 1991,” he sings on the autobiographical “PH City Vibration,” a standout from his late-January mixtape Outside. He hasn’t curbed his Nigerian pride, however. Now, when he returns to his hometown, he can’t walk down the street without being mobbed by fans.
The 26-year-old calls his music “Afro-fusion.” It’s his twist on the popular Afrobeats sound, which blends rhythms from traditional Nigerian Afrobeat music with influences from Jamaican dancehall. “Afro-fusion is basically like a pizza. With Afrobeat as the base—the dough—and everything else, the pepperoni and all that, that’s the reggae, the dancehall, the R&B and hip-hop,” he explains over the phone from London. Burna Boy is a student of the world, consuming his influences and spitting them out in all directions. His omnivorous talent has led to collaborations with artists like Lily Allen and even Fall Out Boy, who tapped him for a feature on their recent song “Sunshine Riptide.”
Burna Boy certainly doesn’t lack confidence, and he was buoyed last year by his inclusion on Drake’s More Life mixtape. Though he’s not credited, a ghostly sample of his voice appears at the end of the Black Coffee collaboration “Get It Together.” For all his newfound fans from around the world, Outside serves as a panoramic introduction to his story. “Where I’m From” offers an ode to his Nigerian hood, blending glossy synths and his beautiful vocal melodies. Like his hero, the Nigerian superstar Fela Kuti, he aims to inspire his people by leaving his hometown and thriving on the world stage. He wants kids to follow him on the streets and to become musicians because of him. By all accounts, this process has already begun. Burna Boy is showing his fans back home and abroad that music is the weapon of the past, present, and future.
SCHUBE: How are you doing, man?
BURNA BOY: Bless, bless, bless. We out here, smoking these trees.
SCHUBE: You’ve just released a mixtape last month. What are you most excited about with this release?
BURNA BOY: Greatness, man. Proper greatness. This is the first one. The first actual one. It’s mad what’s coming. It’s gonna kick in doors.
SCHUBE: How is it different from your previous work?
BURNA BOY: I wasn’t really focused on trying to doing everything differently because I like to do what I like to do. But, this time I wanted it to appeal to a much wider audience. That was my focus on this one: to gain a wider audience without losing myself in the process. Still do what I do, but appeal to more audiences—the audience I didn’t have before.
SCHUBE: Is that an American or U.K. audience?
BURNA BOY: It could be Chinese! It could be Iranian, you know? Just different sides of the world that I didn’t think my music would go to.
SCHUBE: What do you think it is about your style of music that’s so appealing to people across the world?
BURNA BOY: I feel like it’s the spirits, man. It’s the real organic feel; especially coming from where I’m from. You get me? I’m Nigerian. I’m African. I have a lot to say. Apart from what I say, though, is the feeling. People can relate to that feeling. It’s a reciprocal relationship. They feed off me and I feed off them.
SCHUBE: A lot of Outside pays tribute to your hometown in Nigeria. Why did you want to focus on that?
BURNA BOY: Yeah, yeah. I’m from the south side of Nigeria, a place called Port Harcourt City … No one ever makes it out of there. I wanted to put it on the map.
SCHUBE: Who are some of the musicians that helped influence your Afro-fusion style?
BURNA BOY: Oh boy. Different, different, different, people. First of all, Fela Kuti. The rock side is crazy for me, too. We got The Clash, all of that stuff. There’s also the hip-hop side, the DMXs, the Tupacs, the Big Puns. There’s obviously the U.K. grime side, too. The old school ones. That’s the foundation. Wiley, Skepta, all of that. You get me?
SCHUBE: The first track on Outside is called “More Life.” Are you upset with Drake over not giving you credit for sampling your voice on “Get it Together?”
BURNA BOY: Nah man, I love Drake! At the time I was just basically happy to be on the album. [laughs]
SCHUBE: What’s it like having a fan like Drake in your corner?
BURNA BOY: Yeah, that was wavy! I seen him and he was talking about how he fucks with me. That was a bit wavy for me. That was what, like last year or 2016? That was wavy for me because I don’t usually pay attention to who’s watching me. But Drake? That’s my guy.
SCHUBE: You just came out of the studio, listening to some of your new stuff. Are you always writing and recording?
BURNA BOY: Always, always. That’s what I live for. That’s how I don’t end up sick and die [laughs]. Did you hear the Fall Out Boy record?! I’m on their album. You should listen to that. It’s the number one album right now. You need to listen to it right now. Like, right now right now. That’s like, that one right there is the dream come true. Fall Out Boy used to be my favorite rock band. Boy, they reached out to me. It was mad, even more than the Drake stuff.
SCHUBE: If you could choose one musician to collaborate with, who would it be?
BURNA BOY: Fela Kuti. That’s who gave us hope, you know? Especially during a time when there was no ounce of hope. It let us know that we could fight, that we could stand up; that you could use music to do that. If you can do that with music … Bro, you’re set.
SCHUBE: Your music isn’t political in the same way, but do you see yourself carrying on his legacy in inspiring the youth?
BURNA BOY: You need to come to Nigeria and see before you ask me this question. [laughs] Trust me. I don’t want to be big-upping myself. You just need to come, see me walk down the streets.
SCHUBE: People like you there, huh?
BURNA BOY: Like me? That’s what I’m saying. You need to come and see it. You use the word ‘like…’ That means you don’t know [laughs].
SCHUBE: What do you want your new fans to understand about you after listening to Outside?
BURNA BOY: Burna Boy has no restrictions or limits to this thing. There’s no place I won’t take it to with this, you know?
BURNA BOY’S NEW MIXTAPE OUTSIDE IS AVAILABLE NOW.