“Remember when I said they no believe in me no more?
I was sleeping on the ground, on the cold floor
Whole time I was grindin’, I’ve been tryin’ to achieve
Working night and day, you know my people no dey sleep
I got every Louis V collection from Virgil
Now my life a fashion show, no rehearsal
Dior from Kim Jones, Bottega from Daniel
Hundred K my ring, so I’m not shaking no hands, no”
- Burna Boy
Song: Want It All
Featuring: Polo G
As his lyrics above would say, there was a time when no one believed in his dream and his potential for greatness but now the story has changed. He has levelled up and nothing can stop his shine anymore.
Burna Boy born Damini Ebunoluwa Ogulu, has indeed come a long way in the Nigerian music industry. His impact, reach and fanbase have transcended to undeniable heights, that you can only imagine, from sonically charged albums, prestigious awards, charting wonders to groundbreaking concerts and culture-defining award show performances.
Who would have believed that a boy from Port Harcourt would one day win the coveted Grammy award and would be hosted by his state as a top dignitary and recognised with the biggest honour of Rivers State. The story of Burna Boy begins in Port Harcourt, on July 2 1991. His father Samuel Ogulu did everything to ensure that his family had the best life had to offer and he supported his family with the welding company he managed, his mother Bose Ogulu an astute academic worked as a translator to help with the family’s finances too. His grandfather Benson Idonije once managed Fela Kuti, the pioneer of Afrobeat. His mother Bose Ogulu also known as Mama Burna would later become his manager. Burna Boy grew up in southern Nigeria and began making his beats using FruityLoops at a very young age.
He attended Corona Secondary School in Agbara (Ogun State) and relocated to London to further his studies. He later studied media technology at the University of Sussex from 2008 to 2009, then studied media communications and culture at Oxford Brookes University from 2009 to 2010. He then returned to Port Harcourt and took up a year-long internship at Rhythm 93.7 FM. He launched his music career after returning to Lagos.
He would reunite with an old acquaintance of his Leriq, a multi-talented producer who would help him create his unique sound and lead to his establishment as a top act in the Southern Nigerian music industry. This enabled him to get signed with the help of his mother to Aristokrat Records and they would help with the release of great mixtapes which were Burn Notice (2011) and Burn Identity (2012) which critics described as incredible bodies of work.
His major rise to prominence came in 2012 with the release of the record ‘Like To Party’ on the 30th of May 2012, it served as the lead single from his debut studio album L.I.F.E released in 2013. The album sold 40,000 copies on the first day of its release. Aristokrat Records later sold its marketing rights to Uba Pacific for ₦10 million. The album’s release was preceded by four more singles: “Tonight”, “Always Love You”, “Run My Race” and “Yawa Dey”.
L.I.F.E was produced entirely by Leriq and featured guest artists such as 2face Idibia, M.I, Timaya, Olamide, Reminisce and Wizkid. Nigeria Entertainment Today ranked the album 10th on its list of the 12th Best Albums of 2013. The album’s music drew heavily from the music of Fela Kuti, King Sunny Ade and Bob Marley. It received generally positive reviews from music critics, who applauded its production. It was nominated for Best Album of the Year at the 2014 Nigeria Entertainment Awards. In August 2013, L.I.F.E peaked at number 7 on the Billboard Reggae Albums chart.
All seemed well for the rising star he had a great future ahead of him in the industry with several award nominations, endorsement deals and collaborations to back his name and fame. However things took a different turn in 2014, Burna Boy split from Aristokrat records. In February 2015, he founded the record label Spaceship Entertainment eight months after parting ways with Aristocrat Records. Burna Boy released his second album On a Spaceship on 25 November 2015.
This year to me was the beginning of his controversies, issues with the industry and other notable individuals such as Uju Stella Johnson and Mr 2Kay which resulted in a run-in with the Nigerian Police. Due to all the troubles, he had to leave the country for things to settle down a bit. He then embarked on a touring streak. This worked for him to a great extent, as he had a reasonable level of success, especially in South Africa.
Uju Stella Johnson
Though he was not doing really great on the home front like his contemporaries who were already pushing their careers to the global stage. Some critics pointed out that talent was never a problem for Burna Boy, he was not just there yet which they largely attributed to his controversies and perceived bad decisions. But all that changed in 2018 when he released his third studio album ‘Outside’ under the imprint of his label Spaceship, Bad Habit/Atlantic Records in the United States and Warner Music Group internationally. He had earlier in 2017 signed with Bad Habit/Atlantic Records and Warner Music Group.
This album marked his major-label debut and come back to the music industry. The album received positive critical acclaim and was ranked by Pulse Nigeria and Nigerian Entertainment Today as the best Nigerian album of 2018. It won Album of the Year at the 2018 Nigeria Entertainment Awards. In February 2018, Outside debuted at number 3 on the Billboard Reggae Albums chart the first to achieve such a feat since L.I.F.E. The album’s biggest single “Ye” ended up atop most Nigerian publications’ year-end list as the biggest song of 2018.
Another noteworthy incident that sparked interest in Burna Boy was his now-infamous rant in 2019 at the organizers of the Coachella music festival for writing his name “so small” on its event flyer. According to Burna Boy, he was an “AFRICAN GIANT” and deserved to be treated as such. In his words “@coachella I really appreciate you. But I don’t appreciate the way my name is written so small in your bill. I am an AFRICAN GIANT and will not be reduced to whatever that tiny writing means. Fix things quick please,” Burna Boy wrote on his Instagram story.
He added “I represent a whole Generation of SOLID AFRICAN creatives going Global. Not the soft, low self-esteem Africans with the slave mentality. I will grant an interview soon to make myself understood. Nothing I say comes from any place of “pride” or any sense of “entitlement”, it comes from my Vision of the future of Africa not just AFRICAN Music”.
This generated a lot of buzz on social media with many individuals, fans and music aficionados alike standing for him, against him, indifferent or just asking him to calm down. The incident would go down as a significant one in the Nigerian music scene. He would go on to release his fourth studio album African Giant and feature on Beyoncé’s The Lion King: The Gift and was the only guest artist with their own track “Ja Ara E” (Yoruba: “wise up” or “use your head”) on the soundtrack album, all in 2019.
Since 2018, Burna Boy has been on a serious roll, the release of ‘Outside’ helped changed the narrative for him, he was back again in the musical conversation and it even helped with the curation of his loyal fanbase name tag “Outsiders” who in my opinion, are STANS and they have tendencies of going gaga for their fave at any time and to any extent.
The transition of Nigeria from a singles market to an album one, no thanks to COVID 19, which less subtly propelled Burna Boy’s rise in the music industry globally. The streaming world paved a way for him and many top acts who were already signed to major labels to thrive as these labels required albums than singles to make their profits, this helped the movement for albums and their great demand in this era of streaming which made things run smoothly for Burna.
Some critics assert that Burna Boy has inadvertently become an album artist, as he struck the ‘Trifecta’ with three back to back critically acclaimed and commercially successful albums, ‘Outside’ 2018, ‘African Giant’ 2019 and ‘Twice As Tall’ 2020 which earned him a Grammy for Best Global Music Album in 2021.
Though singles are still a major deal in the industry especially hit singles because as a Popstar your biggest currency for your stardom is a hit song, this fetches the endorsement deals, shows, concerts and other profitable ventures. But the definition of a hit song is fast-changing and getting hits these days is now proving to be a tough nut to crack. This is particularly harder for upcoming and rising acts but not established Superstars who already enjoy a faithful fanbase.
The music industry is now basically dependent on streaming and a ton of music revenue comes from it, in my previous articles I made references to great stats that many stakeholders enjoy from this new rave. Now Burna Boy is no longer bothered by singles as his target has shifted to albums and touring. Though there is a call for him to always release music for the homefront notwithstanding that his records are sonically grounded and largely consumed by those outside the shores of Nigeria.
Burna Boy has been able to use the peak of his power as an artist effectively and achieve his goals. His current form could be likened to P-square’s peak level when they sold-out shows, make huge profits, created great templates for video albums and did mind-blowing things in the music industry and beyond.
In his interview with Billboard, he declared that no one’s more confident in his abilities than he is. “It’s like I’m better at [performing] than making music. And that says a lot because I’m really good at making music,” he says with a loud laugh, the gems on his teeth sparkling. “You see how with Christ, there’s B.C. and A.D.? I feel like that’s how it is for me with performing. There’s going to be a ‘Before Burna Came’ and ‘After Burna’s Death’ time period in the performing arts world. That’s my legacy.”
Burna is set to release his sixth studio album ‘Love, Damini’ on the 2 of July 2022, his birthday. So last last na everybody go chop breakfast but he might be way too big to be… you know the rest. So just bank on it.