'Twice as Tall' Review: Burna Boy blends joy, hope and unity with powerful social messages on latest release
Burna Boy got the world talking when he made an appearance during the Lady Gaga-curated 'One World: Together At Home’ concert. His performance of 'African Giant', the title song off his previous album of the same name, earned the singer praise from all corners of the world, and suddenly, everyone had one question on their mind: who is Burna Boy?
Born Damini Ebunoluwa Ogulu Rex, Burna Boy is a 29-year-old singer-songwriter from Nigeria. He gained fame with his 2012 song 'Like to Party', and garnered a following after dropping his debut studio album 'LIFE' in 2013. By 2017, Burna Boy was signed to Bad Habit/Atlantic Records in the United States and Warner Music Group internationally, and made his major-label international debut with the album 'Outside'. He would go on to win the Best International Act award at the 2019 BET Awards, and his 2019 album 'African Giant' won Album of the Year at the 2019 All Africa Music Awards in addition to being nominated for Best World Music Album at the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards. Most recently, Burna Boy collaborated with Sam Smith on the track ‘My Oasis’. Speaking to NME, Burna Boy shared: “I just love Sam Smith! I’ve always f****d with Sam Smith. Whenever anyone asked me in interviews who I wanted to work with I definitely mentioned Sam Smith’s name. I’ve always loved [their] music. [Their] melodies appeal to me. It was a no-brainer."
The rising popularity of African and African-American music, including styles like reggae, dancehall and Afrobeat, makes this the perfect era for an artiste like Burna Boy. His brand of Afrofusion brings the best his Nigerian heritage has to offer and mixes it contemporary Western styles to create something that's as catchy as it is innovative. But what really makes Burna Boy's latest offering, 'Twice as Tall' such a welcome addition to his catalog is that it sounds delivers the sound of pure joy in a musical format. Amid a sea of music that is helping people come to terms with their pain and trauma, Burna Boy gives us a bit of reprieve with an album that is going to have you on your feet and smiling from ear-to-ear.
The album opens, rather oddly, with a happy-go-lucky intro that wouldn't be out of place in a Fred Astaire movie. As the singer delivers a few lines about needing to be "twice as tall at least to feel better than I do", you might wonder if you've hit play on the wrong album. But soon enough, Burna Boy's stunningly emotive voice comes through along with a gentle Afrofusion instrumental. And right off the bat, you're already transported onto a dancefloor, ready to groove right along as Burna Boy sings about 'levelling up', recognizing those who stood by him, and being wary of the ones who may seek to drag him down. "Don't be afraid to step into your greatness," he tells you, as 'Level Up' blends seamlessly into 'Alarm Clock', a rousing track that combines Burna Boy's ability to rally the troops with haunting operatic vocals, thumping beats and a message of loving one's fellow Black folk. Once 'Way Too Big' kicks in, you're already having yourself a party as you internalize the singer's powerful messages of love, hope, self-growth and progress.
Executive-produced by Diddy, Bosede Ogulu and Burna Boy himself, 'Twice as Tall' is a 15-track expression of happiness and a celebration of life itself. With features from Chris Martin ('Monsters You Made'), Stormzy ('Real Life'), Youssou N’Dour ('Level Up/Twice As Tall') and Naughty by Nature among many others, the album also includes contributions from Nigeria’s Spaceship Collective, Mike Dean, Timbaland and others. Despite boasting an international list of collaborators, 'Twice as Tall' was recorded almost entirely in Lagos, Nigeria owing to coronavirus restrictions. But the production on it is seamless, never giving away that it had to be recorded in separate continents and mixed later on.
What you will hear on this album, thus, is a representation of Nigerian culture, including the use of languages like Pidgin English and Yoruba, African music, and the beauty of what we can create when we uplift one another. And 'Wonderful', the album's first single, is probably the best example of everything this album represents. Another standout is 'Onyeka/Baby'. But in addition to delivering tracks full of fun and joy, Burna Boy also makes sure to drop in a few hard-hitting tracks that speak to the experiences of Black people. 'Monsters You Made' is Burna Boy at his lyrical best. The track addresses African and African-American experiences with prejudice, touching on painful subjects like slavery, and Burna Boy's effortless flow and delivery allow this message to come through with total clarity.
Overall, 'Twice as Tall' is a solid album from Burna Boy, one that establishes him as an artiste capable of blending sounds, styles and cultures to create music that encompasses a better world. One that finds joy in solidarity while also being aware of the sociopolitical issues that define our experiences.