LeriQ, Telz, Skread & Rexxie talk ‘Twice As Tall’
The album's producers share their experiences of working with the African Giant
The album's producers share their experiences of working with the African Giant
The production on ‘Twice As Tall’ is the very first commendation listeners have to give Billboard 200’s spot 54, as Pat Boone’s rendition of the Journey To The Centre Of The Earth soundtrack number, “Twice As Tall” is honoured to introduce what will instantaneously become Burna Boy’s most successful body of work. Convoking a slew of talented producers, from hip-hop legends Timbaland and Mike Dean to local hero Rexxie, Burna Boy pays close attention to the beatsmiths who are to provide the instrumental grooves that will accompany his versatile performance through the project. The opening of the album makes that clear, before anything else.
Just as Boone is reaching into his chest to pull out the spritely pre-hook of “Twice As Tall”, the 1959 classic moodily bleeds into the futurist production that underscores Burna Boy’s retrospective meditations on the times were he “couldn’t level up”. Produced by a village, “Level Up (Twice As Tall)” is a sonically sprawling track, with its theatre-school introduction complemented by electronic musings that morph into drawn out chords and soft keys as Youssou N’Dour delivers his uplifting hook, before returning to Boone’s rhyme, reverberated underneath a deep bass heartbeat.
This is the point at which Burna Boy discusses his infamous Grammy L. Though only two minutes of the album have played, by this point, Burna Boy is already reminding us of that disheartening robbery which unified the country and our growing allies all over the world. At his second verse of the whole album, we’re already magnetised, already roused, already swayed enough to once again bubble up with disappointment and rage levied at the Recording Academy, because, from the little we’ve heard so far, this is a Grammy award-winning artist. And as ‘Twice As Tall‘ progresses, Burna Boy continues to prove his worth over and over again, with the help, of course, of the producers he’s meticulously sought out to realise his monumental vision for this giant middle finger.
“Burna told me ‘we have to make something monumental’ and we built on that,” says LeriQ – long-time collaborator of Burna Boy’s whose production presence on ‘Twice As Tall’ was one of the most anticipated features in the immediate run-up to the album. LeriQ and Burna Boy have been behind many a hit, populating dance floors and soundtracking memories for almost a decade now. First appearing together in 2011, on ‘Burn Identity’ and ‘Burn Notice’ – Burna Boy’s introductory mixtapes before his celestial debut, ‘L.I.F.E’ (exclusively produced by LeriQ) – Burna Boy and LeriQ became one of those infamous producer-artist duos, whose collaborations immediately pique public interest. As Burna has risen through the ranks, scoring beats from renowned British beatsmith, Jae5 (“Sekkle Down”), or compiling a project with Los Angeles Electronic duo, DJDS, fans from his early days had pretty much given up on the idea of a full-bodied reunion from the early Aristokrats. With three credits ‘Twice As Tall’ and a reassuring message for fans to “definitely expect more from us”, it looks like Burna and LeriQ heard our cries, faint as they may have been growing.
“We’ve been missed. The listeners wanted their minds blown, so I did [that].” LeriQ tells NATIVE, appreciating our thirst for the unforgettably good duo that brought #OutsideLife highlights such as “Run My Race”, “Tonight”, and “Like To Party”. Building on their wealth of experience together, LeriQ was short of nothing when it came to what sounds he would bring to Burna’s latest.
And bring us home he did. Credited on “Way Too Big”, “No Fit Vex”, and “Monsters You Made”, on the latter track in particular, LeriQ and Burna Boy carry the torch home. On “Monsters You Made”, which is gearing up for a single promotion, Burna Boy returns to his socio-political impulses that he’s often praised for, despite the fact that he mostly shies away from the depths of political topics (probably for the best). Narrating how governments all over the world have either failed their own people or brought turbulence to the shores of other nations, Burna Boy touches upon the dismal state of affairs in he and LeriQ’s home of Rivers State. Plagued with environmental degradation brought about predominantly by the oil industry, who thanks the region’s natural resources with unregulated gas flaring and occasional oil spills, the great State of Rivers has long been the concern of activists, as they fear, not only for the environment, but for the humans within it, whose struggles in an already trying country are compounded with these avoidable environmental wrongdoings that affect their fishing and farming livelihoods as well as human health. When Burna Boy sings, “I’ve seen the sky turn to grey/It took the light from the day”, interpolating Michael Jackson’s narrative flow on “Dirty Diana”’s pre-chorus, he is joining the ranks of outraged Nigerians speaking up against the unruly gas flaring, that pollutes the air with an omnipresent choking soot.
Following Burna Boy’s tirade with the familiar anarchist progressions of “Dirty Diana”’s bass guitar, LeriQ weaves a contemporary pop transition into Chris Martins’ chorus, stripping back the song’s moody ambience and replacing it with a more airy atmosphere, subtly coloured with a spritely reggae-like bounce. Quietening down the production for Ghanaian author, Ama Ata Aidoo’s sampled outro, LeriQ finishes the piece in style, drawing out his ascending notes to set a contemplative mood that encourages listeners to meditate on the academic’s words.
The vibe doesn’t stay solemn for long, however. Burna and LeriQ’s final reunion on the album is followed up in contrasting flair by the cocksure, “Wetin Dey Sup” – its upbeat production courtesy of “Wonderful” producer, Telz. Narrating the making of the (potential) hit, Telz shares with The NATIVE, “When we made “Wetin Dey Sup”, he was just vibing. I was in the other room, he called me and said to hear this. He was vibing, and I told him “bro chill let me record it,” I gave him my phone and he was recording it. He was like, “what do you think?”. I said, “oh mad o” let me do something on it, and that was how we did “Wetin Dey Sup” I still have the voice note.”
When you hear the blaring horns echoing Burna Boy’s interrogation, “wetin dey sup?” on the chorus, the production process of vocals first, beat later, becomes entirely obvious. Burna Boy is a hands-on artists – according to Telz and audible through his self-defined afro-fusion sound that tends to ring distinctly Burna Boy regardless of which producer has a hand in it. Shuttling back and forth with Telz, pitching ideas to the producer, petitioning changes in certain aspects of his production, it’s Burna Boy’s attentive approach combined with his welcoming attitude to criticism, that Telz found most inspiring about working with the African Giant.
Skread too, who produces our top pick of the album, “23” mirrors Telz’s sentiments, telling us, “it’s always inspiring also to meet big artists like Burna who stays down to earth, easy to talk to and curious about people sitting in the room.” When asked the same question, LeriQ cited his co-production with Mike Dean – credited alongside Timbaland, Diddy and LeriQ of course on “Way Too Big” – as the most inspiring point of his whole experience contributing to ‘Twice As Tall’. Though Telz’s “Naught by Nature” production also rubbed shoulders with the greats (Diddy, Mario Winans and ‘90s rap icons Naughty by Nature themselves) he throughout his responses reiterates that working with Burna Boy was his highlight of the journey, sharing that “he’s the best person I’ve ever worked with without a doubt”. Thanking Burna Boy for bestowing upon him a confidence that he can work with anybody, from here on out, and enlightening his sound, Telz maintains that he too has levelled up, “what I’m making now is not what I was making two to three months ago because I know that this is a different ball game.”
Even when Telz played the wrong beat for Burna Boy, the adaptable fusion artist reassured him that it was the exact sound he was after, Telz recalls “he was looking for carnival sounds or something you could play in carnivals that will get people happy, something joyful” – which we find just that on “Naughty By Nature”. Burna Boy’s “Jamboree” interpolation is clear through his playful chorus, ending in the cheeky nod, “I be naughty by nature, I be gang-gang”, but Telz does something magical with his production of this homage track. With Burna Boy having already sampled the iconic late ‘90s bop (“Collateral Damage”), pressure was on Telz to deliver a unique, yet equally as bewitching record for this project; he didn’t disappoint. Borrowing from Naughty By Nature’s original bounce, Telz smoothly infuses the “Jamboree” with a hyperactive percussion that sounds like a coalition between bongo and djembe drums, habitual of the mainstream sounds of the region from which Burn Boy first rose.
To follow Telz’s percussive African-themed outro, is Rexxie’s streets-inclined production on his second and final track on the project, “Comma”. Distinctive beyond just his infamous tag, “yo Rexxie pon this one” Rexxie’s signature sounds, that scored Naira Marley’s historic ascent to fame last year, is described by the producer as “Afrostreets”, a blend of mainstream Afropop production and more gritty sensibilities that credits its origin or influence to the streets. “BurnaBoy called me and made me understand he’s a big fan of my sound but wanted the signature Rexxie sound on a whole different vibe,“ Rexxie types of his involvement in this project.
Their previous work, namely Zlatan Ibile’s “Gbeku”, wasn’t a Burna Boy original, but for his own album, Rexxie excitedly explains that Burna Boy brought more attention and more passion to “Bebo”, “Comma” and the other songs that “are way better”, currently on lock and key in the vaults. Much like Telz, seeing Burna Boy create at his peak, with his full weight behind the records inspired Rexxie and helped him too level up – ultimately for Rexxie:
So says the mastermind behind the clear standout, “23”, Skread. A collaboration originally intended for Skread’s own project, when Burna Boy heard “23”, with its deep piano chords reminiscent of Burna Boy’s magnum opus, “Ye” – a song Skread admits to being a fan of – he resonated so deeply with the contemplative production and penned a track so deep that Skread couldn’t but offer it up for ‘Twice As Tall’. In fact “it’s an honour” for the French producer to be included on the ‘African Giant’ follow-up that has clenched the global gaze, refocussing the spotlight on everyone involved on the career-defining body of work. Recorded during one of their few recording sessions in Paris, “23” is a melodic four minutes, with a simple, barely there beat, brought to life by Burna Boy’s flexible vocalising and polyphonic harmonising. On his changeable production, Skread does an excellent job of replicating a typical afropop drum pattern, and without prior tracklist knowledge you’d likely think he was from our ends. Speaking of his experience with “your favourite artist’s favourite artist”, Skread praises Burna’s versatility and musical adeptness, noting in particular his ability “to catch crazy vibes instantly on so many genres of beats”. This is the highlight of the entire album itself. Switching flows to match Skread’s slight twists and turns on the production, Burna Boy’s malleable vocals, flexible to the demands of whichever beat he’s decided to work with, complement his multiple subject interests, that chastise the system (“Monsters You Made”), paint him in a vulnerable light (“23”) or profess his utter brilliance (“Way Too Big”) – Christmas wrapped in the lyrical dexterity he flaunts throughout the tape.
Showing us truly what he is made of, the production on what Rexxie deems to be another Grammy-worthy body of work gives Burna Boy all the room he needs to be ‘Twice As Tall’, and for that, our hats go off to Skread, Rexxie, Telz, LeriQ and the many other beatsmiths that put a hand to this greatness. On your next spin, pay attention. We promise you won’t regret it.
Featured Image Credits: Burna Boy/YouTube