It’s little wonder that pop music has inspired so many tributes to sex. Like sex, some of the best pop music are mindless infusions of raw pleasure—minus the exertions. But there’s the other kind of pop, the type that aspires to pleasure of a different, introspective sort.
You will find both on Redemption, the EP by Burna Boy.
Last time out, Burna delivered a disappointment. His sophomore On A Spaceship, excepting less than a handful of tracks, was dismal compared with the greatness of his 2013 debut album, L.I.F.E (Leaving an Impact for Eternity). You could say that after the poor On A Spaceship, the ‘Like to Party’ singer was seeking redemption.
He has found it on the new EP.
A superb brooding track ‘Pree Me’ opens Redemption. A patois infested fare, ‘Pree Me’ (which means, "watch me" in a manner suggestive of surveillance) isn’t quite clear in terms of lyrics; one is just able to make out bits of what is going on. Because of the production, however, it doesn’t take much to infer that the song is contemplative. It continues Burna Boy’s preoccupation with his detractors. He seems to believe he has lots of them, and perhaps he does. I’ll explain.
Weeks ago, Jidenna brought Burna onstage at his Hard Rock, Lagos concert, declaring him “one of my favourite artists” in what felt like a solidarity act for an outsider. During an interview around that time, Jidenna also said Burna Boy is underrated.
Before both Jidenna episodes, at the birthday celebration of Burna’s granddad, the music journalist Benson Idonije, Burna declared Phyno his only friend in the music industry—quite a declaration from someone who has featured a fair number of colleagues on his plenty songs. Whatever the case, Burna Boy seems to have quite the persecution complex.
Good for him. It brought some of the better songs on On A Spaceship. On Redemption, it gives us these lines from ‘Pree Me’:
Not quite worthy of the Nobel perhaps, but Burna has made his personal paranoia feel universal. Listening to the man grumble his way through those lines on the back of Leriq’s drum-based production forces empathy.
It’s difficult, of course, to feel sorry for a rich, young and famous artist—but maybe you can begin to look at your own friends with suspicion. As it stands, Burna Boy may be the only Nigerian artist to make “The money gat me all I want/Every other day I want” sound like something you’re not supposed to crave as he says on ‘Fa so LaTi Do.’
‘Pree Me’ and ‘Fa so LaTi Do’ are at the start of the EP, which closes with ‘We On,’ a short song with a chorus to inspire uninspired dancing from the most insecure of bad dancers. With its trippy trap music elements, the beat on ‘We On’ is one more evidence of a successful genre-raiding for an artist like Burna whose sound is a confluence of influences. The song’s chorus is the primary source of Redemption’s raw pleasure. Most of rest of the album aspires to that introspective pleasure mentioned earlier.
In between the first and last song on this 7-track EP, Burna Boy’s brood-mood doesn’t exactly lift, and we get a look at the personal life of the man’s pop music persona. What comes across is a lyrical inventory of a young person’s intimacies—carnal and emotional. The songs ‘Body to Body’ and ‘Mary Jane’ convey those lucidly.
‘Mary Jane,’ in particular, samples Minnie Riperton’s 1975 Billboard number 1 hit ‘Loving You’—the use of a love song extolling the beauty of the beloved in that famous “loving you is easy because you’re beautiful” line is itself indicative of the power of lust, something Burna Boy and his Naija pop colleagues talk about endlessly. And yet, with Burna there’s a hint of something not quite as mindless as is the case with the lusty preoccupations of his colleagues. There is an edge to his considerations, as though the songs cover an emotional tinderbox.
Riperton’s song is not the only sample on Redemption; there are hints of Nas’s ‘You Owe Me’ and Ginuwine’s ‘Same Ol’ G’. These songs by American artists are repurposed by Leriq, who remains in the business of not pandering to Nigerian radio. Fortunately, he has more than enough imagination to pull it off. Little wonder the absence of his production on On A Spaceship was noticeable.
The Redemption EP leaves the listener with a minor fact of the Nigerian pop scene: Bad Burna Boy is merely bad; Good Burna Boy is almost always great. This time we get good Burna Boy, and boy does it feel great.
Buy Redemption on iTunes. Preview the EP below: