Andy’s Top Ten Albums of 2019

Posted by: Andy Djaba Comments: 0 0 Post Date: 08/05/2020

The dawn of a new decade has me in reflective mood. Comparing the hip-hop albums released each year in the last decade, there has been a clear decline in quality from the heights of 2016 (with honourable mention to 2013, 2015 and 2017). For the second consecutive year, I’ve been left underwhelmed by the hip-hop released; so much so that there aren’t even ten hip-hop albums I enjoyed enough to make my customary end of year list. Although I felt Freddie Gibbs had the best rap album of the year – in terms of lyricism and pure rapping ability (and included Pusha T delivering potentially the best feature verse of the year) – I also felt the album dragged just a tad and was somewhat carried by Madlib’s production. I can respect Tyler, The Creator’s genre-bending IGOR for its ambition but it was another album I felt owed a lot to the production (albeit produced by Tyler himself, which is a laudable feat in itself). Young Thug’s So Much Fun and Rapsody’s Eve were also solid albums but, despite these honourable hip-hop mentions, I felt there were better projects from the other genres I listen to – namely R&B, afrobeats and U.K. music – which were more deserving of making this list.

Summer Walker’s debut album, Over It, a unique blend of messy toxicity and honest vulnerability, broke records and stole the R&B limelight when it arrived in October, but there were plenty of other impressive R&B albums which were also deserving of accolades. Tory Lanez took listeners on a trip down memory lane through 90’s & 2000’s R&B nostalgia with the fifth instalment of his popular Chixtape series. Snoh Aalegra’s – Ugh, those feels again and SiR’s Chasing Summer also deserve mentions and, whilst Daniel “Cancelled” Caesar may have put fans’ noises out of joint with his naïve comments about race, CASE STUDY 01, his follow up to to 2017’s stellar Freudian, remains a very good album.

Coupling the momentum carried through 2018 (afrobeats and Burna Boy’s ‘Ye’ were my favourite genre and song of 2018, respectively) with the success of 2018’s Black Panther film, which effectively gave American audiences a brief big screen introduction to Afrofuturism, and African music and culture has continued its trajectory to mainstream popularity amongst Western audiences. Afrobeats’ influence on hip-hop and, through extension, popular Western culture is evidenced by albums like Goldlink’s Diaspora and Beyoncé’s soundtrack to 2019’s live-action Lion King film, The Gift.

Netflix’s 2019 reboot of Top Boy, and its accompanying soundtrack, had a similar effect on Black British music and culture to that films like Black Panther and The Lion King have had on African music and culture, in that it attracted a global spotlight. With Black British culture flourishing on an international stage, the UK music scene saw a flurry of stellar projects and rightly dominates my end of year list. In particular, Kano’s Hoodies All Summer, an experimental album which still seems to get better with each listen, deserves an honourable mention. Relative newcomers Kojey Radical (Cashmere Tears) and Octavian (Endorphins) both dropped noteworthy albums heavily inspired by hip-hop, and UK legends Krept & Konan delivered with November’s Revenge is Sweet album.

Anyway, 2020 has been bottom barrel so far so, without further ado, let’s get into my 2019 top projects!

10. The Lost Boy | YBN Cordae

The Lost Boy // Wikimedia

With a name like YBN Cordae, you’d be forgiven for expecting this album to be a 45-minute mumble rap extravaganza; but Cordae is more than just another SoundCloud rapper. I approached this project with little to no expectations and was pleasantly surprised by what turned out to be a near-perfect blend of new school youthful exuberance with old school lyrical quality. There is an endearing confidence to The Lost Boy and the strength of the features on the album – including Meek Mill on ‘We Gon Make It’, Chance The Rapper on ‘Bad Idea’ (delivering a better verse than any on his entire album, The Big Day), and the palpable chemistry with Anderson .Paak on the J. Cole-produced standout track ‘RNP’ – is indicative of the respect which Cordae has earned amongst his peers. On The Lost Boy, the 2019 XXL Freshman displays a reflective introspection which belies his 22 years and the album is deserving of its nomination for Best Rap Album at the 2020 Grammy Awards.

9. FATHER OF 4 | Offset

FATHER OF 4 // Wikimedia

Following the release of Culture II in January 2018, the three Migos temporarily parted ways to embark on their solo careers, with varying levels of success. Quavo, who many have lauded as the star of the trio due to his expert delivery of the group’s hooks and his presence as one of hip-hop’s go-to feature guests, was the first to drop, with his debut solo effort, Quavo Huncho, coming in October 2018. This album was hot garbage – objectively bad and a painful reminder that Quavo is arguably the worst Migo, despite being the most recognisable. If Quavo is to Migos what Beyoncé was to Destiny’s Child (from a star power perspective at least), then Takeoff has unfortunately been labelled the Michelle of the group. Despite being arguably the most skilled lyricist in the group, Takeoff’s The Last Rocket left a lot to be desired and did little to prove that he’s not the most expendable member of the group, a suspicion that’s been growing ever since he was forced to ask, “do it look like I’m left off ‘Bad and Boujee’?”

Offset’s album was originally slated for a December 2018 release but was delayed until February 2019, presumably due to ongoing marital issues with his superstar wife, Cardi B. Given the underwhelming efforts of his group mates, expectations for this album were low and, by the time it was due to drop, hype for this project was almost non-existent. What followed was a pleasantly surprising effort on which Offset does an expert job at incorporating meaningful content with the familiar trap sound popularised by the Migos and other Atlanta rappers over the past decade. According to Offset, “swag rap” is dying and, in a Breakfast Club interview, he stated, “I felt like this album gotta be different because I’m grown… I feel like content music is coming back around. All the swag and all that, that’s finna go out the door.” This could explain the more mature direction he took with this album, delving into serious topics in his life, including addressing his chronic infidelity on ‘Don’t Lose Me’, his near-fatal car accident on ‘Red Room’ and his relationship with his children on the intro track, ‘Father of 4’. A surprising inclusion in the end of year list but, with hits like ‘After Dark’ and stellar features from the likes of J. Cole, CeeLo Green and Cardi B, this album is actually very impressive and cements Offset’s place as the best Migo, something we’ve known since he stole the show on ‘Bad and Boujee’.

8. Revenge Of The Dreamers III | Dreamville

Revenge Of The Dreamers III // Wikimedia

J. Cole and his Dreamville camp kicked off 2019 by announcing the third instalment of their collaborative Revenge Of The Dreamers tapes. The roll out for this was immaculate and the inspired move of posting invitations to the recording sessions on social media put the whole rap game on alert and had artists and producers practically begging for inclusion on the ambitious compilation. With over 300 individuals invited, ambitious is the only word to describe this project. Revenge Of The Dreamers III differs from the previous two instalments in that it included numerous guest appearances from outside the label – 34 different artists and 27 producers made the final cut – but the final outcome is a cohesive body of work, executed expertly by Cole and his Dreamville team, which is more than deserving of its Best Rap Album nomination at the 2020 Grammys.

7. Mirrorland | EARTHGANG

Mirrorland // Wikimedia

Following the release of Rags, Robots and Royalty, a trilogy of impressive Eps dropped from September 2017 to February 2018, EARTHGANG, the eccentric Atlanta rap duo, released Mirrorland, their debut album under J. Cole’s Dreamville Records label. Their outlandish style has drawn Outkast comparisons and, whilst these comparisons are frustratingly lazy and rooted in the fact that both Outkast and EARTHGANG are Atlanta duos making ‘quirky’ hip-hop, with this project, EARTHGANG delivered an exciting listen which has been criminally slept on and more than lived up to the hype.

6. Music x Road | Headie One

Music x Road // Crack Magazine

On ‘Both’, the ingenious second track on his Music x Road project, which samples Ultra Naté’s classic club anthem, ‘Free’, Headie One proudly proclaims, “now they say that I’m the king of drill, trap, rap I’m doing it all”. After listening to this project, it’s difficult to disagree with him. Since seeing success with tracks like ‘Golden Boot’ and ‘Know Better’ and previous projects The One and The One Two, Headie has upped the levels – Music x Road is his best project to date! The album is infectious and packed with bangers like ‘Ball in Peace’, ‘Rubbery Bandz’ and ‘All Day’ (which even had a fan doing a backflip in the moshpit when Headie performed it in France), which display an unexpected versatility not seen before from Headie. On tracks like ‘Home’, he does well to not glorify drill and honestly reflects on the harsh reality of existing with one foot in and one foot out, simultaneously doing music and road. The only criticism that can be levelled at this project is that, following the sensational six-track run from ‘Both’ through to ‘All Day’ in the first half of the album, the second half tracks are slightly lacking in comparison. However, with features from the likes of NAV, Skepta and a standout feature from Dave on the album’s first single ‘18HUNNA’, Music x Road cements Headie’s place as the king of the UK drill scene.

5. Ignorance is Bliss | Skepta

Ignorance is Bliss // Wikimedia

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, the mark of great art is that it divides opinion. If that is indeed the case, Skepta’s Ignorance is Bliss is a masterful work of art. Skepta, a key figure throughout the rise of grime and an OG to whom the scene and its history owe a lot, was instrumental in the 2014 grime renaissance. During the genre’s resurgence, the video for ‘That’s Not Me’ (the grime smash featuring his brother JME) won Best Video at the 2014 MOBO Awards, Skepta appeared on stage with Kanye West at the 2015 Brit Awards, and ‘Shutdown’ (the track he released shortly after the Brit Awards, largely in response to backlash he received following the performance) literally shut down Holywell Lane car park in Shoreditch later that year. By the time Skepta’s album Konnichiwa was winning the 2016 Mercury Prize, grime was firmly back in the mainstream consciousness. With the scene flourishing, Skepta would be forgiven for sitting back and admiring the fruits of his hard labour, much like Thanos at the end of Avengers: Infinity War. However, there was no “my work here is done” moment. Skepta went on to appear on tracks left, right and centre, from the likes of established artists A$AP Rocky, Drake and Wizkid, to relative newcomers, like Octavian, Ambush Buzzworl and Double S. An artist that has always embraced collaboration, frequently featuring on tunes from younger artists in the scene, Skepta appears to have taken this collaborative approach to this album. Ignorance is Bliss features 12 guest appearances, including Lancey Foux, Skepta’s grime collective Boy Better Know, and a standout feature from J Hus, a man that can do no wrong. Despite the album achieving a very experimental sound through this extensive collaboration, those that would like to see Skepta push the boundaries of his artistry so deep into his career will be left disappointed. Ignorance is Bliss is a cohesive (more so than Konnichiwa), if somewhat repetitive album. The beats are all very obviously Skepta beats (the album was largely produced by him) but this could be interpreted as Skepta operating within his comfort zone, delivering the sound listeners have already become accustomed to. Skepta switches up his flow at times but the question still remains as to whether only diversifying the flow “at times” is enough to keep listeners entertained and engaged throughout a 13-track album. Skepta’s flow has always been elementary to some extent and there’s nothing complex or subliminal to his bars. However, grime is all about energy and, with his expert delivery, Skepta uses simplicity to his advantage. Skepta’s live shows are testament to his ability to gas an audience without saying much and I was fortunate enough to attend his most recent live performance, the excellent Ignorance is Bliss tour finale/ homecoming show at Kensington Olympia, and witness him reach “SK level” live in the flesh.

Music doesn’t exist in a vacuum; that is to say, in this streaming era where it seems like there’s an unlimited flood of new music, much of the reason we choose to listen to a particular artist is due to the credibility they’ve built through their previous work. As such, it’s natural to compare this Skepta album to his most recent project, Konnichiwa. On Ignorance is Bliss, Skepta seems focused. This could be a result of a major event in his life – after almost acting as a father figure in the scene for years, Skepta welcomed the birth of his daughter, River, in 2018. As well as reflecting on his concerns regarding fatherhood, Skepta touches on themes of love and heartbreak on Ignorance is Bliss – on the hook for album opener ‘Bullet from a Gun’, the video for which sees Skepta sitting beside a pram at Camden Town station as the hustle and bustle of London life occurs around him, Skepta says, “Like a bullet from a gun, it burns / When you realise she was never your girl, it was just your turn”. It is unclear whether these bars allude to his highly publicised brief relationship with Naomi Campbell however, what is clear is that, Skepta gives listeners a far more personal outlook on this album compared to Konnichiwa or any of his previous bodies of work.

4. Utopia | M Huncho

Utopia // Genius

Whether it’s his controversial comments about use of the n word, people wondering what race he is, or questions about the quality of his music, masked rapper M Huncho is certainly a man that divides opinion. M Huncho wore a balaclava throughout his come up in 2017, at a time which coincided with the emergence of the UK drill scene, and he may have benefitted from association of his aesthetic with the popular sub-genre. However, M Huncho is definitely not a drill artist; his music would be better described as melodic trap rap on heavy drill/trap beats. While drill rappers often abandon their balaclavas once they see commercial success, as Rv and K-Trap have done, Huncho has since upgraded to a branded grey mask, which he revealed in 2019 during this project’s April rollout. With his mask serving to keep him shrouded in an air of mystery, M Huncho uses his music to give listeners a peek into the man behind the mask and Utopia is far more personal than any of his previous bodies of work. The project starts slowly with the forgettable opening track, ‘Check In’ but, by the third track, ‘Rock Bottom’ (which touches on M Huncho’s struggles with his mental health), it breaks into its stride and doesn’t look back. Yxng Bane steals the show on ‘Rock Bottom’, delivering the first of Utopia’s four expertly chosen features – Park Hill on ‘Sorry, Not Sorry’, Sharna Bass on ‘Broken Bottles’, the most personal track on the album, which delves into the harsh realities of life in the trap, and Nafe Smallz, the artist with whom M Huncho has built the most chemistry, on ‘TNT’, my personal favourite track on the album – bringing life to an otherwise repetitive project. Ultimately, it remains to be seen whether M Huncho has done enough with this project to convince any doubters and grab new listeners but, for those of us that are fans of his music, Utopia is surprisingly impressive and exactly what we could have hoped for.

3. Shea Butter Baby | Ari Lennox

Shea Butter Baby // Wikimedia

After being snubbed at the 2019 BET Soul Train Awards in November, most shockingly losing out to Lizzo in the Album/ Mixtape of the Year category in particular, Ari Lennox reacted despondently and even considered retirement. This emotional response came from an artist who frequently bears her soul for all to see and should come as no surprise to any fans who have followed her activity on Instagram Live, where her endearing and infectious personality is always on display. Her outrage is understandable, especially after receiving no recognition for releasing what I consider to be the best R&B/ soul album since SZA’s CTRL in 2017. Shea Butter Baby, Ari Lennox’s debut album, which came in May, is simply sensational and Ari’s refreshingly frank honesty seeps into every track. Tracks like ‘Up Late’, with its strong bass line that closely pairs with the melody and similar drum pattern, are heavily neo-soul influenced and are interspersed with skits derived from audio recordings of her entertaining Instagram Live rants. In the famous words of neo-soul queen Erykah Badu, “Keep in mind that I’m an artist and I’m sensitive about my shit!” I can’t think of a more fitting quote to describe Ari, who sometimes seems to be too pure of an artist for the music industry. Having threatened to quit the industry before (back in 2018), I sincerely hope Ari finds a way to navigate her misgivings about the corporate side of being an artist in this day and age because this album is a masterpiece and her art is too necessary for it to become another casualty of the music industry’s infatuation with capitalist greed.


PSYCHODRAMA // Wikimedia

Dave burst onto the scene in an explosive manner in 2016 with ‘Thiago Silva’, the grime collaboration with AJ Tracey (who, at the time, was a fellow newcomer), and a Drake cosign coming in the form the OVO superstar remixing ‘Wanna Know’, the track from Dave’s debut EP Six Paths. Dave kept the momentum going by following up with another EP, a series of singles and standout feature verses, particularly his verse on Giggs’ 2017 banger ‘Peligro’. By 2018, I was already heralding Dave as the best in the UK and we were just waiting on an album to prove it.

The anticipated debut album came in March, preceded by the release of lead single ‘Black’, a thorough, nuanced and emotive delve into Black British identity. His mature reflections on race and identity set the tone for an album that proved to be an introspective masterpiece. PSYCHODRAMA is a cohesive and ambitious conceptual album which loosely follows the theme of a therapy session, inspired by the therapy which Dave’s brother, who is currently serving time in prison for his involvement in a 2010 murder, is receiving. The album begins with ‘Psycho’ – a truly building track on which we are first introduced to the therapist character whose conversational prompts appear throughout the album – and ends with ‘Drama’, which is addressed directly to Dave’s brother. PSYCHODRAMA is littered with quotables and bars that will have you screaming “RELOAD IT!” throughout, such as “Girl from India, sweetest naani / Head so good, now I speak Gujarati” on ‘Location’, the summer anthem featuring man of the moment, Burna Boy, and “I don’t wanna do you and I (U-N-I), like I’m in Leicester skipping my lectures” and “And the chest and back both bouncy / Trust me erryting shake (sheikh), no Saudi” on ‘Streatham’, arguably up there amongst the best homages to one’s hometown of all time.

The album is not flawless; some criticisms include the repetitive piano-based production, Dave’s lacklustre vocals which leave a lot to be desired on ‘Voices’ (surprising given his impressive singing on his 2017 track ‘No Words’), and the excessively long-winded storytelling on ‘Lesley’, a track which struggles to remain engaging through its 11 minute runtime following a character caught in an abusive relationship. However, despite these slight criticisms, with this stellar debut album which is fully deserving of its 2019 Mercury Prize and Album of the Year Brit awards, Dave has cemented his place alongside the likes of Stormzy, J Hus, Headie One and more as those artists leading the new crop of Black British musical talent and UK rap. Dave’s brave performance of ‘Black’ at the Brit Awards, in which he branded Prime Minister Boris Johnson a racist and called out the government for its poor handling of the Windrush scandal, Grenfell Tower and more, also showed that he is cut from a different cloth – an important and necessary artist for this new generation of Black Britishness, who is not afraid to use his artistry to make a political statement addressing widespread injustice.

1. African Giant | Burna Boy

African Giant // Wikimedia

As the music industry in Africa has grown and further established itself as a global force over the past decade, 2019 saw afrobeats and African (particularly West African) pop music come to the forefront of the US market in an unprecedented manner. In the UK, where diasporic communities are largely able to trace lineage back to their country of origin, music from the continent has been better able to translate over into the mainstream, with tracks like Wizkid’s ‘Don’t Dull’ and D’Banj’s ‘Oliver Twist’ seeing commercial success in the UK at the start of the decade. Artists like Fuse ODG, Sneakbo and Timbo facilitated the growth of a UK afrobeats scene, from which even spawned a derivative “afroswing” genre, pioneered by the likes of J Hus and Kojo Funds. Afroswing would go on to dominate the UK singles market in the summer of 2017. However, in America, with its far more tenuous link to Africa as a result of, amongst other things, the erasure of heritage in the African American community due to slavery, there has always been some resistance to afrobeats and African artists have struggled to cross over into the US market in a meaningful way. That was until the summers of 2016 and 2017, during which the success of hits like Drake’s ‘One Dance’ and French Montana’s ‘Unforgettable’ proved there was an appetite in the US for the rhythmic dance music that is a staple of the African sound. With the US mainstream market primed for afrobeats and, following a strong run for the genre sparked by Davido’s 2017 trifecta of hit singles, ‘If’, ‘Fall’ and ‘Fia’, and continued in 2018 with the popularity of tracks like Afro B’s ‘Drogba (Joanna)’, there was a clamour in 2019 for authentic afrobeats from African artists (as opposed to the watered down version that permeated hip-hop just a few years prior). As such, in this period during which the Western reception of African music has warmed significantly, one body of work towers over all – Burna Boy’s African Giant.

Burna Boy’s 2019 began with an infamous social media outburst over the small font used for his name on the Coachella poster, where he posted, “I am an AFRICAN GIANT and will not be reduced to whatever that tiny writing means”. What started with timeline drama and could be perceived as an overreaction rooted in his pride turned out to be genius marketing from which the title of the album derived. Burna went on to post: “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 Afrocentric posture of superiority foreshadowed the eventual direction he would take with the album, a wholly enjoyable listen from start to finish on which he bigs up Black nationalism and African empowerment throughout.

Despite always being heavily inspired by him, there is a real sense of the invocation of the spirit of Fela Kuti on Burna’s latest album. There are traces of the afrobeat pioneer’s influence throughout the music, whether it is in Burna Boy’s brand of African music (or afrofusion, as he calls it), which blends African rhythms with Fela-style jazz-infused swings and melodies, or in his energetic live performances, which draw heavily from Fela’s signature electric stage presence. Burna Boy has effectively positioned himself as the second coming of Fela Kuti and further draws influence from Fela in his attempts to include his politics and social commentary on the themes of Nigeria and the violence in the region. Once you’re done shaku shaku-ing and zanku-ing to the danceable hits like ‘Killin Dem’, ‘Anybody’ and ‘Gbona’, the keener listeners amongst us will come to realise that African Giant is a hugely political album. ‘Wetin Man Go Do’ and ‘Another Story’ are amongst the many tracks on the album which include political messaging, with the former denouncing the struggle of everyday life in the inner-city for the average Nigerian, and the latter educating about the evils of imperialism, specifically British colonialism and its colonisation of Nigeria. Some have taken issue with Burna’s leaning so heavily on the influence of Fela Kuti, an inherently political artist, without the accompanying on-the-ground political activism. There is some basis to the criticisms, especially when you consider two of the more politically charged tracks from African Giant – ‘Dangote’, a song named after Aliko Dangote, the richest man in Africa, on which Burna angrily decries poverty in Nigeria, and ‘Collateral Damage’, the most overtly political song on the album, which is about corruption in Africa and is an angry indictment of Nigeria’s political climate. The lyrics of ‘Dangote’ celebrate Aliko Dangote as an aspirational figure and stress the importance for ordinary people to hustle, since Dangote “still goes to work every morning”. ‘Collateral Damage’ includes the line, “My people sef dey fear too much / We fear the thing we no see”, sampled from the 1977 Fela Kuti song, ‘Sorrow, Tears and Blood’. In doing so, he criticises the perceived passivity of regular Nigerians in the face of oppression and political violence; and herein lies the issue – Burna Boy is seen as being more than happy to talk the Fela talk and receive the accolades and plaudits that come with those comparisons, but not willing to walk the Fela walk.

On the one hand, it could be considered insincere and disingenuous of Burna to knowingly benefit from the association with Fela while not similarly engaging in political activism and simultaneously reducing the complexity of Nigeria’s dysfunction to make it more palatable to a Western audience. On ‘Dangote’, Burna Boy’s speaking on behalf of the average Nigerian but his failing to appreciate that the individuals whose hustle presents them with a route out of Nigeria’s poverty are definitely the exception to the rule rather than the rule itself, certainly suggests a naïvety and lack of depth and empathy to Burna’s politics. Given that, as Burna Boy increasingly sees commercial success in his musical career, he moves further out of touch with the plight of the average Nigerian, whether he has even earned the right to criticise their “fear”, as he does on ‘Collateral Damage’, especially after acknowledging the embezzlement of politicians and the violence of the police on the same track, is also questionable. On the other hand, it could be argued that Burna Boy is simply using his platform to raise awareness and shine a light on some of Africa’s problems, while simultaneously advocating for a better Africa. On African Giant, Burna Boy still condemns the Nigerian government (the video for ‘Dangote’ starts with the statement: “Employment and job creation should be priority for any government”). However, where Fela Kuti laid the blame for Nigeria’s poverty firmly at the door of the political class, Burna Boy instead details his blueprint for young Africans to access their own power and uplift the continent – an ideology which may be borne out of a frustration with the inaction of the Nigerian government. While it is true that, in terms of being a radical political figure, Burna doesn’t measure up to Fela Kuti, it is also important to note that we live in a different day and age. Nigeria, while still ruled by fear to an extent, is not as militarised a state as it was back when Fela was active. The police, while still violent, are not regularly opening fire on protest rallies or imprisoning and executing political dissidents. Hence there is arguably less scope for modern artists to be revolutionary. It could be argued that there is no harm in Burna paying tribute to a musical great like Fela, despite their political ideologies not exactly marrying together, as long as he doesn’t claim to be an activist or a “voice for the people”. Whether Burna Boy successfully towed the line between appreciation and appropriation of Fela Kuti’s legacy on this album – whether his choice not to stay true to Fela’s politics and legacy by exercising his politics through political commentary as opposed to activism warrants criticism – is something that listeners, particularly Nigerian fans to whom the issues are most pertinent, must reconcile for themselves.

Political debates aside, African Giant remains a stellar project. Despite not being without flaw – the track ‘Destiny’ is lacklustre and it felt like the American features at the end of the album were shoehorned in (we really could have done without YG’s “bumbaclaws” on ‘This Side’) – African Giant fully deserved to be nominated for, and some might even argue was robbed of, the 2020 Best World Music Album Grammy (albeit a problematic category in itself). Outside, Burna Boy’s 2018 offering, was solid but this album propels Burna into a global superstar, infiltrating the US mainstream without compromising or diluting his sound. With Burna Boy taking the crown as the most streamed African artist in 2019, there is the sense that there is a new African giant in town, building on the groundwork and foundations laid by artists like Wizkid and Davido over the past decade. Burna Boy closes the album with a quote from his mother (and manager) Bose Ogulu’s acceptance speech at the 2019 BET awards: “And the message from Burna, I believe, would be that every black person should please remember that you were Africans before you became anything else”. With this call for unity, Burna’s talking directly to the African diaspora, offering encouragement and espousing modern pan-Africanism through his art. The quote is an apt closing statement in that it perfectly summarises Burna’s vision for this album and his “vision of the future of Africa”.


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