It’s not ever easy to predict where Burna Boy will turn his attentions to next.
“I move with the spirit, and when it takes me,”
he tells Apple Music.
“It’s not too calculated for me when I take my steps, but when I move I’ll know if it’s right.”
On 2019’s African Giant, Burna Boy called for a fearless revolution across the continent and the worldwide diaspora. The album earned the Nigerian artist his first Grammy nomination and centered his ambitions: to empower African youth to access their power, on their own terms. Twice As Tall—his fifth studio album—sees Burna Boy reassess the world around him from a new atmosphere just 13 months on. Sean “Diddy” Combs joined as executive producer, and the album carries a unifying sense of pan-African idealism.
“We had about 80% of the album ready before Puff [Combs] jumped on the project,”
he reveals. “But once he jumped on board he was working around the clock—nonstop trying to add to this project and deliver for me, and make it really special.” The attention of Combs—and a crew of producers from the UK (Jae5 and P2J), the US (Timbaland, Mike Dean), and Nigeria (LeriQ, Telz, and Rexxie)—has pushed, challenged, and evolved his bespoke Afrofusion sound. That soul-stirring blend of dancehall, pop, R&B, and Afrobeat has never sounded more confident, and Burna himself has rarely sounded so impassioned.
Opener “Level Up” welcomes Youssou N’Dour and serves another rebuff to Western appraisals of Black art. Riffing in Yoruba across twinkling percussion, “Wonderful” is a prayer of passion and an open celebration of West African expression, while “No Fit Vex” sends an embrace of solidarity in the shape of a pidgin-laced anthem. The album’s star guests have been thoughtfully recruited, too: Stormzy sounds fresh and inspired on “Real Life” and Chris Martin is an affecting presence across “Monsters You Made”—a fiery rebuke to the vestiges of colonialism. This is an album comfortable with its uncompromising message, by an artist motivated to represent. As Combs implores his artist on “Alarm Clock”: “Don’t be afraid to step into your greatness.” Read on for Burna’s track-by-track guide.
Level Up (Twice As Tall) [feat. Youssou N’Dour]
“To have Youssou N’Dour on this album means a lot to me. He’s an African legend, for anyone that doesn’t know him. A real legend, and you need to know the way he represents his people, too. Because the Senegalese are a really special and spiritual kind of people and there’s a real beauty to their culture, so for him, and everything he means to them, that’s how I want it to be when I’m done.”
“As I’ve said before, ‘We were all Africans before we were anything else,’ and this is the same message here for everyone to wake up and realize that and really know what it means to be aware of it.”
Way Too Big
“A part of the album I’m proud of is having top producers from the UK or Nigeria here alongside guys like Mike Dean to co-produce to add that extra to it. It’s giving you that best of both worlds and trying to bridge the gap between them. That’s all part of this process too.”
“‘Bebo’ is a slang word and you can basically use it to describe the kinda guy you’ll invite out and he’s ordering the bar. All the bottles he’s reaching for, but when it’s time to pay up he’s gone, you see it? That’s the word for those kinda weird guys.”
“‘Wonderful’ was the first single and that was to really set the tone for the album. I wrote it when I came back from my last world tour, and it’s about being at home. For me, I feel like I can write and record wherever I am, and I loved traveling and seeing different cultures, but Africa is my home. And I always return home.”
“This is a love song, but the title is a reference to [Nigerian singer and activist] Onyeka Onwenu. She was huge back in the day—she was fine! Well, that’s what everyone used to say. I wouldn’t be able to say who’s the ‘Onyeka’ right now. There are way too many women that I think could take that spot!”
Naughty by Nature (feat. Naughty by Nature)
“I think a Naughty by Nature track was the first song I remember hearing. Growing up they were definitely one of my favorite groups and I literally grew up listening to these man, so it might sound crazy or impossible to have them on my album all this time later, but I swear to you: Nothing is really impossible. Even right now with all of this COVID stuff going, there’s a way. If you really wanna make something happen, then there\’s always a way to it. Trust me, it\’s not impossible.”
“I’m sure you probably know what a comma is—so again here, this is street slang. A ‘comma’ the way we would use it to say something but then explain stuff that comes after it as the comma. Like the baggage, or everything else that comes with it that’s not quite right—that’s the comma. So I might say, ‘I’ve got a plan and the money’s gonna come…but there’s comma.’ That’s the catch, and in this case, it’s like: ‘But we might go to jail!’ Also, you might say a ‘comma’ babe is like a girl that’s fine, but she bleaches her skin. Or her ass is fake and it’s obvious ’cause she has those stick-thin legs! That’s comma!”
No Fit Vex
“‘No Fit Vex’ is just a way of saying no hard feelings to anyone, you know? And this is a personal track for me also because it’s a way of speaking on any situation I might have had in the past along this journey. Even if we don’t fuck with each other like that anymore, it happened and that’s life. It’s just business. It can still be ‘you go your way, and I can go mine.’ That’s the energy I have for that.”
“This is shout to Michael Jordan, and the number he wore. And I think this came from when I was watching The Last Dance. I was watching that scene with Jordan describing the way he works and just how hard he goes to push those around him for greatness. I related to that so much. Even about how lonely that road is, because you may have started with a bunch of people, even some guys that were probably better than you! And that\’s really how it goes. There’s so much sacrifice to this that people won’t see.”
Time Flies (feat. Sauti Sol)
“This was a really cool vibe. I went down to Kenya to see the Sauti Sol guys, and they’re a really talented group that I really like and I’ve worked with in the past. We went to [group member] Savara’s house for dinner and just chilled. I liked how organic this came together because we made this track that evening. I enjoyed my time in Kenya. I always do when I’m out there. It has this vibe that’s just unique to East Africa. It’s just a beautiful place that always been one of my top places to travel to in all of Africa.”
Monsters You Made (feat. Chris Martin)
“I think I started to write this over the lockdown when a lot was, and still is, happening. I think maybe I’d just watched some fucked-up shit and that was what switched up my mood. People need to understand what’s actually happened in Rivers, which is my home state in Nigeria. It’s like someone digging up under your house, taking what they want that may be valuable to them. But they’ve destroyed your home, and now it’s unsafe and now it’s no longer home to you again. The environmental situation has been going on for years and years and no one is helping, but then people will only hear about the pipe bombings or the kidnappings. They should understand that it’s never just that one side to the story and that everything has a root cause.”
Wettin Dey Sup
“This is just slang to say, ‘How are you doing?’ I recorded this in Lagos but we sent it to Timbaland for those additional production parts. When I said, ‘They only respect the money and the violence,’ that’s because I think that’s just the truth. Look around you. Tell me if that’s not the case, because it’s been that way for centuries. Throughout all of those crazy empires. This world doesn’t move for nothing but money and violence, and don’t forget it—because they like to push all these other things as though there’s power in it to distract, but that’s not what make this world move.”
Real Life (feat. Stormzy)
“I just wanted to really bridge that gap, and have Stormzy here to really represent himself and what he brings. And I’m really happy with how it ended up—because to keep it real with you, I think this was probably the longest track to get over the line and have finished.”
Bank on It
“This just felt like the right way to close the album for me. I was thinking about Pop Smoke at times over the past year, and what’s crazy about it for me is that where he was killed, I was staying just down the road from there in LA. It’s just a reminder to me how life can completely change for you. You have to be aware of what’s around you and how you move on staying safe in this world.”