‘I Told Them…’ is Not Everything Burna Boy Meant it to Be
Despite its overarching theme of self-assuredness, I Told Them… feels less like a bold move and more like an inability to manage the chaos he’s created.
●25th August 2023
Damini Ogulu, known globally as Burna Boy, has dropped his seventh studio album, I Told Them…
Simultaneously, the African Giant introduced a limited-edition “magazine” inspired by the album’s artwork, featuring a conversation with Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA, familial letters, exclusive photos, and more.
We made a magazine to go with the album. The I Told Them Magazine Issue #001 is available now. Link to purchase in bio. Excited to keep sharing pieces of the process on this account ❤️ pic.twitter.com/nC2WXTYsAg
An “Afro Fusion” album that spans 15 tracks and boasts collaborations with music stars like Dave, 21 Savage, Seyi Vibez, GZA & RZA, J. Cole, and Byron Messia, this release arrives brimming with potential. The album features vocal samples from Brandy on “Sittin’ on Top of the World” and Kwabs on “Cheat on Me.”
Love, Damini, Burna Boy’s sixth album which he shared last year, was Burna’s attempt to humanise himself amidst different controversies, including one that was brewing around the release date. It teased a glimpse of a more vulnerable version of Burna Boy, one that subsisted beyond the trappings of his gigantic personas — Burna, Africa’s activist; Burna, the African Giant; Burna, the Odogwu.
On the album, an aura of humility clung tentatively to the fringes of the project and a side as basic as Burna Boy, the Man — replete with flaws, fears, faults, and failings — was exposed.
However, on this album, I Told Them…, Burna Boy drops the act. He unabashedly dons the artistic arrogance and confidence he is infamous for. On the GZA- assisted opening track, “I Told Them…,” the African Giant exalts himself with a series of “I told you so’s — “I told them I’m a genius / I told them I’m the highest / I told them I’m a giant, African Giant / I told them I’m the master…” — set against a cadence of minimalist rhythms involving drums, claps, and guitar lines.
Per usual, Burna Boy’s latest offering lands in a cloud of controversy following his declaration in an interview with Zane Lowe of Apple Music that Afrobeats lacks substance. A brash self-promotion underlined this claim. It demonstrated Burna Boy’s perception of himself as an artist and his contribution to the African music industry.
But, if Burna Boy wasn’t clear enough on how his music, transported via the vehicle of “Afro Fusion”, may be the only substantial export or how the singular truth of his global success translates to the global recognition and promotion of ‘African music’, he does this on, “Thanks”, the penultimate track on I Told Them… where he laments, “Is this the thanks I get for making my people proud every chance I get… / This Naija no love / Showed you how to do this thing / Oluwaburna na the blueprint, of course / And I gave you Afro Fusion.”
Joined by the reverent cooing of J. Cole, he raises the flag of his own greatness, demanding the acknowledgment he perceives as his due from a supposedly ungrateful homeland. However, since “Naija‘” refuses to ‘show him love’ (the African Giant is convinced), American rapper, J. Cole does this at the end of the track, presumably on behalf of America: “Burna, I see you. You got the whole world on smash.”
Interestingly, what could have been the album’s crowning glory reveals itself as its Achilles’ heel. The conceptual bifurcation between “Afrobeats” and his vaunted “Afro fusion” unintentionally casts a shadow over the album. It fractures the album’s sonic coherence, leaving it marooned between clashing territories.
Despite its overarching theme of self-assuredness, I Told Them… feels less like a bold move and more like an inability to manage the chaos he’s created. The narrative thrust of the album, while ostensibly poignant, becomes a thin thread stretched tautly over the expanse of tracks.
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