While both records, “Last Last” and “Stand Strong”, are admirable in their own specific ways, the state of Nigerian music requires there to be a fight to the death, especially when these are the parties involved.
Two of Africa’s biggest acts with some of the most storied commercial runs in recent history are going at it once again, this time firmly behind the security of artistic prowess. One of both acts is often accosted for his lack of versatility, range and a fear of losing a well-established fanbase. The other does not approach his craft with any of those fears as his global dominance and acceptance have assuaged most inadequacies, his next phase is in question, however.
A viral clip from some time in 2021 reveals certain tensions that many have deemed palpable for quite some time. Davido discusses the hoops that he feels many artists have to jump through in order to secure foreign validation that could translate into award season goodwill. He vaguely addresses the sonic changes such artists are likely to undergo in order to achieve this goodwill and some of the examples expressed – however humorously – alluded to acts that tread the same water as Burna Boy. However, both acts have a long documented rivalry that a few deem healthy competition and the majority believe is grounded in more sinister origins.
While both records, “Last Last” and “Stand Strong”, are admirable in their own specific ways – Davido’s for his final incorporation of something beyond a Speroach beat and Peruzzi’s diluted pen and Burna Boy for his return to simpler times – the state of Nigerian music requires there to be a fight to the death, especially when these are the parties involved.
“Stand Strong” features Kanye West’s famed Sunday Service Choir as an artist and finds Davido at his most reflective in recent history, touching on familial loss, the corollary emptiness of superstardom and how his perseverance through it all makes his rewards worth it. “Last Last” is almost a polar opposite in terms of theme and subject matter. Sampling Toni Braxton’s “He Wasn’t Man Enough For You” – the only thing these songs might have in common is the fact that both acts centre themselves enough to make everyone pale in comparison.
Burna Boy’s decision to cap one of the strongest runs of his career so far i.e. his European tour that morphed into a Madison Square Garden headline show, multiple TV and award appearances since his global ascent began with the release of not a victory lap record but an earworm stemming from self indulgent tendencies could be the most Burna Boy thing to have happened in this phase of his career.
Frequently accused of maintaining his artistic status quo to a fault, Davido’s attempts at something other than feel good, lyrically incoherent club tunes have forced him down what he must feel is the natural road of progression for his career – finding spirituality.
However, roughly three weeks on, airplay and general reception can be more evenly gauged. “Last Last” has emerged the clear victor of the music release cycle, regardless of the efforts of diehard 30BG stans and top-notch influencer marketing. Placements and performances of the record on the 2022 Billboard Music Awards stage and the aforementioned MSG concert elevated what could otherwise be considered a good lead up single to his impending Love, Damini album into a potentially global smash. Davido’s “Stand Strong” could be said to be a victim of timing, releases often get crowded out depending on who else is putting music out at the same time, even if you are an artist in Davido’s calibre. The interesting part is the long winding “feud” that allegedly fuels this sense of competition between both acts and the score-keeping audiences have taken up religiously as a result.
Barring any sinister undertones, such competition is expected in a craft that requires both/all acts to consistently try and top each other artistically, commercially and critically. Albeit whatever motivations either Burna Boy or Davido have shared in the past, they clearly both want one thing over all their accomplishments and that is undeniable African giant status. Taking their latest releases (and recent accomplishments) into consideration, the leader is clearly Burna Boy. His once undermined version of Afro-fusion is easily the most successful from Nigeria, drawing praise from the global entertainment community on a critical level that is rare for Africans. Davido’s trajectory is similar but the commercial success is where his career has leaned towards so far, prioritising popularity over shelf-life, his music may not have what it takes to stand next to acts that aim for longevity. His recent artistic switch points to his realisation of the importance of maintaining both balances, a hump both of his closest competitors have crossed.
Maintaining that balance is hard enough for most acts, forcing your core fanbase that is more interested in obscene displays of wealth over your musicality might be a harder task however and Davido will struggle to make them see his switch as anything other than an attempt to win over a new audience – the same accusation he levelled at some of his peers. The excellently produced “Stand Strong” is one of Davido’s better-made songs but it might become one of the singles in his catalogue that is inexplicable a few years on. If he decided to double down on his new stylistic or artistic direction then this might not be the case. Nevertheless, if he reverts to his usual pattern out of either fear of rejection or less than promising numbers, this attempt at growth would have set him back further than the competition.