Damini Ogulu is a reformer- you’ve got to admit that. It takes someone ballsy and confident to drop a song like ‘Like To Party’ when ‘tungba’ music was in full swing. The Leriq produced song with its cool and breezy 90’s aura was a sharp contrast to the high paced, cheesy rhyme structure pop songs that was strangling radio. ‘Like To Party’ knocked off the belief that pop songs had to be constructed in a certain way before it could be accepted.
Burna Boy with his chiseled frame and tattooed trunk continued his new school wave sound thanks to his follow up hits ‘Tonight’ and ‘Run My Race’. The album titled L.I.F.E (Leaving an Impact For Eternity) sees Burna Boy trying to create a lasting legacy in Nigerian music. His debut LP spans 16 tracks (the deluxe consists of 19) and it serves as an expository course on the new sound jostling with the badly named Afrobeats genre for airspace.
The music isn’t entirely new as most of Burna Boy’s songs tap from the musical genetic code of the 90s. The mix of ragga/dancehall and Fuji (genres of music that were successful in Nigeria in the mid 90’s mainstream scene) is prevalent on the album. He mixes both genres on the album’s second track ‘No, No, No’. His Yoruba is so persuasive on the song that he reminds listeners that he is from Ahoada in Rivers state. On ‘Roses (Na So E Suppose Be)’ Burna drops another party track, that is an ode to the coolness of mid 90’s music. The groovy song is surely a single worthy track. ‘Yawa Dey’ is a throwback to the ‘galala’ sound championed by Ajegunle ragga artistes circa 94 to the late 90’s. As Burna Boy sings ‘I tell dem no be by force/ tell dem no be by force/as I dey try waka pass I dey do my thing, I tell dem no be by force’ you can’t but stick your butt out and do the shuffle like Daddy Showkey back in the days.
When not taking a note from way back, he channels the swag of Fela on records. ‘Run My Race’ is the most identifiable song of this kind. The thumping electro Afrobeat created by Leriq allows Burna Boy to give off his best Fela impression. While the Fela influence is evident, it is D’Banj’s style of singing that Burna apes most on the song. However since D’Banj is also a knock-off of the Abami Eda, the Fela influence comes full circle on the song. On ‘Boom, Boom, Boom’ he uses Fela’s ‘e no finish’ line on ‘Army Arrangement.’ But the song for most parts is unimpressive and one of the glaring missteps on the album.
The most impressive songs on the set are ‘Smooth Sailing’ and ‘Jah’s Love’ featuring Wizkid. On the former, Burna Boy brilliantly incorporates a Yoruba fairy tale song in the hook of the track. He stretches his voice to almost paper thin level as he sings ‘I bleed sometimes watching my people cry’ on the charming ‘Smooth Sailing’. On the latter, Wizkid sings “they call me one hit, one that- one album wonder but I still dey today”as he and Burna prove that they are not flash in the pans backed up by Leriq’s spacey synths.
The theme of the album is summed up concisely on the outro. At the end of L.I.F.E he sings ‘about to leave my mark as a young boy.’ The burden of creating an everlasting legacy is heavy on him. Burna sings a lot about coming from nothing and making something from himself also on the LP. Leriq- the one man producer behind the album has to be given kudos for constructing an album that is not boring and repetitive. Every track has its own feel and vibe. Even if some of them don’t work you can’t but help applaud the effort of not trying to copy sounds for easy commercial access.
‘Ma Loada, Ma Motto’ and ‘Abeg Abeg (remix)’ featuring Timaya and 2face are skippable songs on the album. Idibia has an average cameo for his high standards and despite Timaya’s attempt at dropping a lyrical verse he backslides into his patent drivel in the latter half.
The biggest flaw of the album is not what is in it but what is not. While new producer Leriq does a commendable job of producing the whole album and not making it sound repetitive or boring, L.I.F.E lacks a knock out hit to seal the stateliness of the LP. A song like that exists. ‘Celebrate’ produced by the talented but underrated Gospel on D Beatz is a surefire jam that would have further elevated the quality of the project but the track is missing from both the standard and deluxe editions.
With that aside, L.I.F.E is an ambitious, bold, creative album from Burna Boy. It is what you would expect from a young man trying to master his own art. Damini Ogulu is keen on creating music that would last a lifetime. L.I.F.E might not have the everlasting quality that Burna Boy is looking for now but they are solid stepping stones for him to create something more permanent.
A good start leads to a great journey in life and Burna has started off well.