For the love of the real stars, the producers, we created #Beatsmith — a series that focuses on the connections and inspirations that led to the creation of that hit song or album.
Burna Boy’s career-best LP, African Giant remains the strongest Nigerian project that has been released this year. While it’s stacked with a ton of great songs and features, a clear highlight is “Different”, which features Angelique Kidjo and Damian Marley.
Produced by Chopstix, GMK and TMXO, “Different” is one of the most thoughtful songs on the project, and with the album primed to nab a Grammy nomination in a week, we decided to sit down with TMXO and discuss how the standout song happened.
On meeting Burna Boy:
I met Burna Boy through Chopstix, who also produced “Different” with GMK and I. They were working together a lot at the time. I called him about an idea for a Burna Boy song, as Burna had just tweeted that he wanted to work with Youssou N’Dour.
I had just left GMK’s studio that day, where I’d worked on something that fit perfectly with what that song with Youssou could possibly sound like. Chopstix took me to Burna’s studio that same day, and we cut his verses on the record. This was about two years ago.
On first-ever discussion about “Different”:
After I saw the Burna tweet about wanting to collaborate with Youssou, I made the phone call to Femi Leye, who had collaborated with Youssou on his album, History. “Bro, I need your help. I have a record for Burna that he’s trying to get Youssou on,” I told him.
On the track featuring Damian and Angelique:
I had absolutely no idea. We actually just added the song to “hard drive records” — an inside joke for songs that’ll never make it out. At some point, Chopstix wanted to add it to his own album. Some days after he told me that plan, he called that Burna’s management wanted to meet.
That’s when I learnt that the song was going to be on African Giant and that it now featured Damian Marley and Angelique Kidjo. I laughed hard in disbelief, and then I heard Damian Marley’s verse and laughed even harder in disbelief.
On working with Chopstix and GMK:
It was seamless. It went from one person to the other at the right time, and everyone played a very significant role. The most important decisions we made were not even in making the beat, it was in placing the record and trusting the next producer.
All of us were fresh off working on an album together, so we still had synergy and mutual respect for our individual abilities. GMK had the beat draft and trusted me to take it to the next level. I trusted Chopstix too, and he’d already been working with Burna, so it all worked out.
A wide range of things inspired my work on the song. Traditional Malian music and dancehall definitely played a big part, and now that I think about it, the music from Nas and Damian Marley’s collaborative album, Distant Relatives, also inspired me.
On the most exciting studio moment:
Just seeing Burna Boy work. He takes his craft very seriously, and even though it might sound cliche, it’s a very spiritual process. He is a real genius. He goes over his lines again and again before he even gets on the mic, and if it doesn’t feel natural, he doesn’t bother putting it down.
That was very special to watch. Right there, I kind of figured that before Burna even releases a song, you’re sure people who like him and can relate to him will love it. His music is authentically him and seeing it happen first hand helped me understand why he is so beloved.