Thursday , December 1 2022
‘Love Damini’ is a product and a victim of Burna Boy’s ‘golden run’

‘Love Damini’ is a product and a victim of Burna Boy’s ‘golden run’

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The album became the commencement of a trifecta: an immaculate three-album run, which marked the zenith of Burna Boy’s career. African Giant is the undisputed magnus opus, but Twice As Tall was another magnificent showcase of artistry, panache and swashbuckling musicality, from the staple of the most talented and most versatile artist of his generation – and one of Nigeria’s most versatile artists to have ever lived.

That was his ‘golden run,’ a peerless period in the life of every creative, which is a product of 10,000 hours of application and mastery of their craft. The result is the ‘midas touch,’ which encapsulates the concepts of self-awareness, confidence and limitless belief in self, having earned that belief. It is then applied to create groundbreaking art.

But for every creative, that ‘golden run’ comes to an end – temporarily or permanently. For those who get it back, they undergo another 10,000 hours of application and mastery, before they come back into another ‘golden run.’

The end of a ‘golden run’ doesn’t mean that creatives suddenly become mediocre – some of them can still be excellent. But audiences or even the creatives themselves just know that something is missing.

A ‘golden run’ usually ends because creativity is exhausting and exhaustive, and audiences evolve faster than they realize. Which is why templates only work for so long, when you are a superstar. Thus artists have to keep evolving as well.

Sometimes, a ‘golden run’ can also end naturally, because success can dilute hunger.

In the case of Burna Boy, his ‘golden run’ has finally hit a snag. For the first time in four music years, he seems fallible on an album. While he’s no longer walking in air, he’s still not walking on the ground like everybody else. Call that Afro-suspension.

Love, Damini: Biography or Victory Lap?

On ‘Glory,’ the opener to Love, Damini, Ladysmith Black Mambazo sings, “Indaba yami le, this is my story…”

Some might mistake that for a manifesto into a biographical album, but this is anything but biographical. While ‘Glory’ itself, which tells the story of Burna Boy’s upbringing and rude introduction into a world of violence ‘Wild Dreams,’ a nostalgic ego massage of Burna’s journey and ‘Whiskey‘, an ode to his hometown, Port Harcourt, have biographical leanings, this album is a victory lap.

It is a direct result of Burna Boy’s ‘golden run,’ during which he laid blocks for guaranteed years success, wealth and fans, with great music and incredible stage performances.

In the opening seconds of ‘Glory,’ a woman sings Burna Boy a birthday song. Which could be interpreted as an album inspired by the circumstances surrounding Burna Boy’s recent life as a 30-something superstar. The year Burna Boy turned 30, he won a Grammy Award and started doing consistent arena shows with legendary stagecraft.

The year he turned 31, he packed Madison Square Garden. While ‘Glory’ is downtempo, its instrumentation is grand, bougie and euphoric, like a braggadocious Rick Ross song produced by JUSTICE League or Lee Major. And it yearns for a very vain Rick Ross or Drake verse.

This is encapsulated by the position which an improved ‘Kilometer’ sits on the album, as a euphoric and braggadocious testament to Burna Boy’s rough ride to the top.

Love, Damini: A personal album

‘Love, Damini’ is also very personal. In fact, it’s Burna Boy’s most personal album, as he offers us more insights into Damini Ogulu: the Port Harcourt boy who loves baddies; sex and big nyash (‘Different Size,’ ‘Vanilla.’ ‘Science,’ and more); who is aware of his imperfections, who subconsciously yearns to be understood, loved for who he is and not consistently judged (‘It’s Plenty’ and ‘Glory’); and who wears his heart on his sleeve, and openly declares his belief in love (‘Jagele,’ ‘Last Last,’ ‘For My Hand’ and more).

Nonetheless, he indulges his own bratty tendencies on ‘Cloak and Dagger,’ when his critics only ever highlight bad instances of his own making. It also casts shadows over the positive emotions of self-awareness on a track like ‘It’s Plenty.’ Perhaps, that is an example of the personal battles of values within Burna Boy himself.

While Burna Boy had personal instances like ‘Level Up,’ ‘Onyeka,’ and more, his standout tracks were usually from an observer’s perspective, or created from third-person empirical perspectives. But on this album, he significantly looks inwards, and reins in his socio-political branding of recent years, barring ‘Whiskey’ and ‘Common Person.’

Despite this shift, the execution of ‘Love, Damini’ is still good enough to land Burna Boy on the path to another guaranteed Grammy nomination and more importantly, hits. It also projects Burna Boy as an aware creative.

Love, Damini: Sweeper moves, reintegration into the homefront and Grammys

To create ‘Twice As Tall’ and win a Grammy, Burna Boy sacrificed the homefront and even hits.

While his career benefited from that, he inadvertently became an ‘album artist,’ which served his brand well and presented him as the ‘ideal artist’ to Europeans, western audiences and American music capitalism. It also set him on the path to being a Grammy baby.

While he was doing that, he inadvertently alienated the home front and sacrificed singles or hits. On this album, Burna Boy returns for a balance of his appetite to win another Grammy, continuance of forays into American, Latin, Caribbean and European charts with successful hits on – and reintegration into – the homefront.

This is exemplified by the structure of the album: a fine balance between lamba and street lingo on ‘Vanilla,’ ‘Common Person’ and ‘It’s Plenty,’ a use of the influential Amapiano sound on ‘Different Size,’ appeal to urban American and European audiences with ‘Cloak and Dagger’ and ‘Solid,’ an appeal to white American and European chart influence with ‘For My Hand’ featuring Ed Sheeran, an appeal to Caribbean markets with ‘Toni Ann-Singh’ and an appeal to Latin markets with ‘Rollercoaster,’ featuring J Balvin, a streaming monster.

But all the while, he doesn’t go into the world of Ed Sheeran, J Balvin, Popcaan, Blxst, Kehlani or J Balvin. He either makes them sing in Nigerian pidgin, makes the music retain heavy Afrobeats sauce or dominate the beat with his Afrobeats sauce, even when someone like J Balvin sing-raps in Spanish.

It’s probably not a coincidence that Burna Boy has released videos for two songs on the album: ‘For My Hand,’ which is an obvious play for chart domination, and ‘Vanilla,’ a lamba that could resonate on the homefront.

But this time, his sacrifice to the Grammy Academy is in the detail of this album beyond the socio-politically charged ‘Whiskey.’ Even though ‘Wild Dreams’ will be an obvious Academy favorite, he delivers it in Pop format, with eclectic instrumentation.

There is also the strategic feature of legendary serial Grammy winning South African band, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Grammy-winning Ed Sheeran and Grammy-winning Khalid.

Then, there are allusions to Martin Luther King on ‘Wild Dreams,’ the eclectic closing 41 seconds on ‘Cloak and Dagger,’ the masterful musicality on the beats that formed ‘Last Last,’ ‘Wild Dreams’ and so forth. Then there is ‘Common Person,’ a potential Grammy Academy favorite, which is a totally Nigerian track about the common Nigerian soul.

The detail is masterfully presented casually, because Burna Boy and his team are smart people, who created an album with far-reaching appeal to different listening demographics with high streaming and touring potential. Which reinforces the point that ‘Love, Damini,’ is a direct result of Burna Boy’s ‘golden run.’

That said, the album is also Burna Boy’s most flawed album since before ‘Outside’ dropped. It contains Burna Boy’s weakest songwriting during this period. Even as certain records have their appeal, good music minds will not be able to unlearn the tendency to feel great records like ‘It’s Plenty,’ ‘Science,’ ‘Different Size,’ and more, are missing something production-wise or delivery-wise.

Structurally, ‘Wild Dreams,’ ‘Cloak and Dagger,’ ‘For My Hand’ and ‘Common Person,’ are the least flawed tracks on the album. However, even three of those tour tracks were missing something production-wise or delivery-wise.

Then, there is a frustrating inclusion of records like ‘Jagele’ and ‘Dirty Secrets,’ which are glorified filler tracks. Regardless of whatever they go on to achieve, both tracks stick out of the album like a sore thumb, possibly because they don’t fit or because they are just weak tracks or both.

There is also the repetition of templates from ‘Twice As TaII’ on the album: there are striking parallels in the structure, purpose and feature utilization on ‘Level Up’ and ‘Glory.’ You can literally trade Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Yossou N’dour for each other on those tracks.

There are also similarities between the seamless transition from ‘Glory’ to ‘Science’ an upbeat track, and ‘Level Up’ to ‘Alarm Clock,’ another upbeat track. Then there is the way both ‘Cloak and Dagger’ and ‘Way Too Big’ ended with eclectic riffs.

Is it a coincidence that both songs are track three on respective albums? This writer thinks not. There are also structural similarities in how the final four tracks on both albums unfold, if you are attentive enough. Equally, there are parallels between ‘Common Person,’ ‘Wetin Man Go Do’ and ‘No Fit Vex.’

Some will say that Burna Boy is running out of ideas. They will also validate it with the move to use a viral TikTok sensation on ‘Different Size,’ even though word on the street says that the track might have been Victony’s first. Perhaps that is the case. But that’s also fine. It’s fine for superstars to run out of ideas. It’s not easy to sustain success.

Burna Boy particularly elevated his craft with African Giant and Twice As Tall, which will go down as two of the greatest albums in the history of African music, nigh global music history.

Thus we hold him to those lofty standards, when it comes to albums. Sometimes, those standards are unfair, but they are not unfounded. It’s then unlikely that we will judge him by lower standards, that we usually accord to artists who have not created albums on a similar level. It’s just human nature.

And by Burna Boy’s standards, ‘Love, Damini’ is not an excellent album. It feels like the byproduct and victim of exhausting the sauce that powered his ‘golden run,’ which happens to everybody – especially superstar artists.

On ‘Love, Damini,’ we see a different Burna Boy, and his ideas are not as cohesive as they were on his last two albums. And for the non-stan listener, ‘Love Damini’ is not as elevating or as rewarding as his two previous works. Even the album title, ‘Love, Damini’ seems like an afterthought: a paper concept, to tie the album together, not a concept that came before the songs came.

The album might have been better with 30 as its title. ‘Love, Damini’ seems a little more dramatic than the euphoric tracks it carries.

However, this slight reduction in usually high standards is totally acceptable.

‘Love, Damini’ might not be a 9/10 album, but it is still a 7/10 album, and that is okay. It’s okay if geniuses fall short sometimes, they are human beings. In the case of Burna Boy, his ridiculous excellence was going to hit a snag at some point. And it’s good that he can still produce a good album when he’s not at his best, even if it’s not excellent.

Moreover, cynics who judge ‘Love, Damini’ harshly, would rave if another artist had made the album. This is simply because Burna Boy and ‘Love, Damini,’ are victims of his ‘golden run.’ Some people will unfairly interpret ‘not as excellent,’ as ‘very bad.’ And that would be wrong.

A lot of that could have been helped, if the album had a slightly better tracklisting or album sequence.

Songwriting, Themes and Delivery: 1.3/2

Enjoyability and Satisfaction: 1.5/2

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