This week, we take a look at Burna Boy & DJDS's 2019 four-tracker, a compelling mosaic of distinct genres.
Many consider 2019 to be the beginning of Burna Boy’s true Nigerian/African ascent. The release of his fourth studio album, African Giant, heralded his most commercially successful work, Twice as Tall. The Grammy-winning album brought the best of Burna Boy’s talents to the fore, his skill as an A&R also shone through as he managed to match both traditionally African sonics with Western production. The first time many Nigerians heard Outside, the same sentiments were instantly shared, his work with Lily Allen, J-Hus, P2J, FRED and Steel Banglez highlighted his ability to collaborate with every class of artist from any shore.
Coincidentally, another project that allowed his collaborative spirit shine through was released under many radars. Titled Steel and Copper, the four-song EP features production from the American electronic duo, DJDS. Billed a Hip-Hop and Rap project (on streaming at least), the 13-minute run-time is a mosaic of genres best suited to Burna Boy’s understated abilities. The project can best be described as a blank canvas that the 30-year-old knew he would not get for a while. The result is a body of art that allowed him to express himself in form factors he has steered away from.
Flexing his signature melodic patois flow, he raps over the opening track, "34" (a tribute to Giannis Antetokounmpo) “I got people depending on me, you’re just not going to be fucking with me”. His long documented struggles within the Nigerian music industry also receive some attention “I had to kick in the door, I was knocking they didn't let me in though, shout out Van Damme that my dawg”. Ending the verse with “Antetokounmpo, bitch I ball like a pro”, he reminds the audience he is in no way a rookie at his sport.
He is his most braggadocious and nihilistic on "Innocent Man", “I like weed I like head, I like breakfast in bed, I like getting the cheque, you know I like to flex, I like making them mad, I like smoking the best, like to roll with the stick with all my chains on my neck”. The added vocal sample gives the record an authentic rap feel and his lyrics provide the gritty backdrop necessary for its success. The flow switch is a nice touch that not only shows off his dexterity but his versatility.
By far the bounciest record off the project, "Darko" places Burna Boy in a persona he rarely alludes to anymore. The appearance of Don Gorgon provides a familiar sonic segway for fans that might not have been paying attention since Outside. He glides over the Caribbean influenced reggae production with expected ease. Albeit being the shortest track on the project, it might be the most menacing of all four. “It’s like oh Vietnam, all my youngins quick to do you harm, playing with grenade and bomb, access to steel and copper, real and proper, don’t make the ting start buss off, back off and seize”
“And what you know about Don Gorgon? Me make your baby turn orphan” he sings over the hook as he proceeds to drop a chilly verse in the next few breaths.
Thugging is an appropriate outro to the heavy-hitting lyrics and productions of the preceding three tracks. While the subject matter remains largely the same, Burna is at his most remorseful and reflective, as he accepts his flaws such as endless paper chasing, self-indulgent behaviour and engaging in pointless altercations in defence of his friends, he grants a rare peek into the pain developed as a result of being shunned by his native industry, hustling to sustain his lifestyle and a mention of Gambo, his friend that died in 2015.
While it is easy to say the tape primarily catered to a Western audience, the efforts of the artists cannot be misconstrued as some flimsy label setup. For certain reasons, this might be true. Burna Boy alludes to gun and gang violence, two things that do not feature heavily in the Nigerian music landscape. However, his experiences transcend said landscape and for this reason, the lyrics are delivered authentically. Ironically, much of the subject matter on the one project his Nigerian audience would be most likely to overlook pertains to his lack of acceptance by them. The tape transcends all notions of fabrication as it is a deeply personal body of work that highlights some rare vulnerabilities the superstar carries. His sense of loss finds a home on cuts like Thuggin and Darko, revealing the relatability that has served him well in his ascent.