Burna Boy loves his basketball references. Last year on ‘Steel & Copper’, his joint EP with producers DJDS, he dedicated the opening track “34” to NBA MVP, Giannis Antetokoumpo saying on the hook that he will always ball like a pro. One prolific year, two albums, a grammy-nomination and several other wins later, it’s clear he’s been doing just that. After so many years of being questioned and doubted within the Nigerian music industry, we’re now witnessing Burna Boy at his peak, on a run of global domination with the release of his third studio album in three years, ‘Twice As Tall’, where he crowns himself the musical Michael Jordan on the album’s standout, “23”.
If there was anything to take away from The Last Dance, it was that many people can motivate themselves to win a championship, however, playing the long game involves a lot more focus and dexterity than you can imagine. While for many of us the 10-part series was a means to keep ourselves entertained and inspired to do more with our lives during the early days of lockdown, Burna’s take away from The Last Dance was that music makes him feel like he’s Jordan. Michael Jordan is undoubtedly the best basketball player ever, and arguably the greatest sportsman who has set the blueprint for what greatness entails. A 6-time MVP winner, The NBA describes MJ as “a phenomenal athlete with a unique combination of fundamental soundness, grace, speed, power, artistry, improvisational ability and an unquenchable competitive desire“. Much like Burna is currently doing with the Nigerian superstardom, Michael Jordan certainly redefined what it meant to be an NBA superstar.
While sportsmen have trophies at the end of the season, to award their hard work and affirm their status, winning a Grammy for their musical creation is a musician’s equivalent to a trophy at the end of their game. On the album’s opening track, “Level Up”, Burna pours his heart out, explaining that losing out on the Grammys left him “feeling sick as fuck“, and “wondering why it wasn’t us“. Further down the album on “23”, his energy changes; he now gives himself a pat on the back for how far he’s come, singing that the music makes him feel like he’s Jordan.
Speaking to Apple Music, Burna said:
“This is a shout to Michael Jordan, and the number he wore. And I think this came from when I was watching ‘The Last Dance’. I was watching that scene with him describing the way he works and just how hard he goest to push those around him for greatness. I related to that so much. Even about how lonely that road is, because you may have started with a bunch of people, even some guys that were probably better than you and that’s really how it goes. There’s so much sacrifice to this that people won’t see”
Burna Boy floats on the mellow, slow-tempo Skread-produced beat, which allows his intricate songwriting to take centre stage and convey very intimate feelings. Throughout the song, he’s affirming himself of his status as the GOAT after being counted out, and letting us know how much it takes for him to get to where he is. He’s self-assured, as usual, and knows that his future is bright when he starts the first verse with a 9ice reference singing: “gongo a so, aiye a gbo”. Burna Boy is telling us that the music speaks for itself and the whole world will hear when it’s time, which isn’t a far cry from his current reality: He’s performed on American Late Night television, not to mention ‘Twice As Tall‘ is angling to be his first UK top 10 album on the Official Charts.
For the past two years since his game-changing mixtape, ‘Outside‘, Burna Boy’s career has seen a steady incline, and with each new drop, has changed the scope of what to expect from Nigerian music. His unique sound – which has now inspired a new generation of hitmakers such as Buju, WhoIsAkin and more – doesn’t bend to any unwritten rules, and this is what endears people to him, regardless of the many controversies and reservations they tend to have of him as a person. As long as you have something worthwhile to say, people will listen, and Burna knows this, since he has not only won over the affection of the whole nation after being counted out for so long, but also the attention of the world.
After “balling like a pro” on “34”, he’s now going to “roll a loud one, record my album, don’t address anyone’”on “23” because he can. It’s clear –from the music – that Burna is striving to be the best, and whether he receives the recognition for it or not, he’s telling us what it takes for him to get to the level he’s aiming for, and he won’t stop.
Listen to “23” here:
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