Burna Boy has never been afraid to step out of his comfort zone, as long as it’s on his terms. He’s rapped at lightning speed alongside Lily Allen on Heaven’s Gate, jumped on the amapiano craze with the Yaba Buluku remix and led a choir on Twice as Tall standout, Bank On It.
So it didn’t come as a surprise when, during his history-making performance at Madison Square Garden earlier this year, he premiered Last Last, a song that showed a different side of Burna, inspired by heartbreak and Toni Braxton.
Taking a break from vibrant club bangers, politically conscious anthems and ego-fueled hits, Burna Boy leaned into his vulnerability with Last Last, shedding off the initial gra gra that has rightfully earned him the African Giant title. And just like that, he set the tone for the rollercoaster that is Love, Damini, his most personal album yet.
Ten years after breaking out with Like to Party, Burna Boy is no longer an outsider. Within this period, he overcame record label drama, crossed the line from underrated to recognised, sold-out shows worldwide, won a Grammy and became one of Nigeria’s biggest musical exports.
For an artist whose last three albums served as a response to haters: Outside was to prove he deserved to be part of the conversation; African Giant was an obvious response to the Coachella incident; and Twice as Tall was a comeback from being left out of the Grammy conversation, I was intrigued to find out just who Burna would be responding to this time around.
On Love, Damini, we find Burna Boy talking to himself. With this album, he’s asking tough questions and attempting to answer them as honestly as he can. The boisterous singer finally holds himself accountable (but not enough. We haven’t forgotten the recent shooting) as he swings between invincibility and vulnerability.
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Burna kicks things off with Glory, telling us he’s doing the best he can while leaning into the faux-Grammy-bait Pan Africanism he’s previously been accused of. On the mid-tempo, Jagele and Vanilla, Burna reminds us of the sweet melody and easy rhymes that made On the Low an inescapable hit in 2019. These songs, alongside the Popcaan feature, Toni-Ann Singh will cause some serious waist whining competitions at the clubs.
Not one to hold back on the features, Burna Boy teams up with J.Hus for the chill, yet paranoid, Cloak and Dagger. It’s not bad, but it’s not a standout. The same could almost be said for For My Hand, which has Ed Sheeran wearing his Afrobeats plaid shirt one more time.
Other international collabs just work. J.Balvin flows surprisingly well on Rollercoaster, Blxst and Kehlani eat up the infectious Solid, while Khalid sings his ass off on Wild Dreams.
Burna Boy shows he’s just as obsessed with Squid Game, TikTok and Victony (all at once) like the rest of us, with the party-starting Different Size, a major standout on this album, partly because it feels oddly familiar.
Social justice Burna also comes out on Whiskey, where he hammers on the soot situation in Port Harcourt and its effect on the ordinary people who live there. And still on his “I’m a man of the people” shit, Burna also weaves a compelling story about our connection through struggles on the rousing, Common Person.
But in the midst of all these, Love, Damini truly shines when Burna gets raw and with himself. Despite the dance beat, he wonders if anything he does will ever be enough on It’s Plenty. He also shifts focus to coming out of a bad place with How Bad Could It Be, a song that marks a major vocal and lyrical departure from the Burna Boy we’ve gotten used to.
On the album’s titular track, which serves as its outro, Burna Boy is full of regrets: not listening to his sister, not reaching out to the people in his life and his infamous anger issues. You’ll be forgiven for being tempted to think the song should have been longer and — possibly the album opener.
Love, Damini feels very much like a Burna Boy album, but at the same time, there’s something… different. It shows major growth in Burna’s artistry, as we can finally see who he is as an artist and individual who’s no longer necessarily trying to prove himself.
Love, Damini may not be as much of a compilation of bangers like African Giant or as historic as Outside, but it may just be Burna Boy at his most honest — on a journey to (finally) be at peace with himself.
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