Our first impressions of the new NATIVE Sound System single, “Runaway” with Lojay & Ayra Starr

As well as expectations for the upcoming NSS album

At the beginning of every calendar year, ardent music listeners and many publications try to predict the artists that will take a leap from being fairly known to breakout popularity. When Lojay was ripping through beats at the NATIVE Sound System London camp in 2020, not too many people would’ve predicted the singer’s vault to stardom the next year, mostly because his moniker had barely made a dent on Afropop’s mainstream consciousness. Same with Ayra Starr, the fiercely self-assured singer Mavin introduced to us in early 2021.

Entering this year, Lojay and Ayra Starr have secured their spots as leading lights in the current vanguard of Afropop, with mammoth smash singles—“Monalisa” and “Bloody Samaritan”—and critically acclaimed projects. With their accomplishments, and the blinding projections for their future, it’s more than fitting that their first collaborative effort sets the tone for the long-teased NATIVE Sound System album.

As an integral part of the consistent, rapid evolution of Afropop, NATIVE has placed a premium on championing those expanding the possibilities of urban African music. Lojay and Ayra are perfect encapsulations of that mission. To kick things off ahead of its album’s rumoured May release date, NATIVE Sound System have paired these magnetic singers for lead single, “Runaway.” As one prong in the NATIVE’s trident fork—alongside NSS and NATIVELAND—The NATIVE editorial team shares its thoughts on the new song, as well as what we expect as the full-length compilation draws close.


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Best Verse

Dennis: I have a rule of thumb: Everything Ayra Starr does is perfect. I’m supposed to be a music critic, but I’m keeping this bias for now. I’ll admit, from a writing standpoint, this is a Lojay showcase, and it makes sense because he sets the song up really well. At that, there’s the oomph Ayra possess that I just fuck with, and it’s here on this song. Like I said earlier, it’s perfect – to me.

Emmanuel: It’s always a treat when two artists who place a premium on their lyrics collaborate. I think we’ve always known how precise Ayra can be when she’s in her zone, and that energy is surely replicated here. It’s hard to say who has the best verse because both sides of the narrative are equally important in why “Runaway” works as a duet. I enjoyed Lojay’s verse a little bit more though: his first line was wonderful from a technical point–how he places ‘Alabama’ in there, then honing in on the details of the relationship. “I’ve been sending kisses to my FaceTime, cos I’m a little lonely” is as well a brilliant line, and early on sets the marker of the song’s theme: longing.

Chibuzo: This was a really tough pick for me to make but I’m throwing my entire weight behind my homeboy Lojay. I think Ayra’s verse was fire, though. As a guy, I understand every lyric Lojay sang on a profound level. Like how he sings, “Oh anxiety is coursing through your veins, Tell me if you’re looking for some closure, girl I’ll understand you.” As a guy who’s been in this emotional situation, those words resonate with me on a deep level. Technically speaking, I think Lojay’s verse shines because of the rawness it exudes. Obviously, a lot of work was put into crafting the verse but when I listen to it, it doesn’t sound contrived, it hits raw, like an impassioned tirade from an emotional lover, and this is precisely why it’s so amazing.

Best Lyric

Wonu: Not sure I can single out a line i’ll say is my best lyric but listening to the song, what stood out to me was Arya’s entrance, “I don’t know the other way you want me to go/If I decide to go another way, would you still want to follow” I believe that was a solid way to step into the track and this isn’t even just based on my Ayra bias. I think they both delivered solid verses and as a duo, they did incredibly well but in terms of best lyric, I think Ayra’s intro is the closest thing to a best lyric for me. 

Chibuzo: I think the best line in the song is Arya’s opener: “I don’t know, don’t know the way you want me to go.” A smattering of seemingly banal words that hit so hard when combined. Listening to her belt those words in a vivacious tone forces you to pause for a second to digest the enormity of what had just been said. The raw confusion and hurt encapsulated in those two lines is both profound and deeply relatable to anyone who’s been in a sinking relationship.

Moore: The line that stood out to me in this song is Ayra’s first line. “I don’t know, don’t know the way you want me to go.” After hearing the opening perspective of a lonely person wanting to rekindle a former relationship, we suddenly get a feeling of what this must be like for the subject of the yearning. The confusion from mixed messages, the pain of being reminded of what was once lovely. It signifies a type of hurt and frustration that is all too familiar to many.


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Thoughts on Production 

Chibuzo: Personally I have a bias for songs mildly tinged with pensive melodies, so I’m going to be overwhelmingly positive with my review. The production is stellar, not just because of how amazing it sounds but also because of how it’s synced in lockstep with the lyrics of the song. The amber-hued, cloistered atmosphere of the production beautifully functions to fully immerse the listener in the song. Another interesting part of the production is the billowing reverb that bookends the track. At the start of the song, it stokes suspense and softly reels the listener in, at the end it forms a harmonic exclamation point so grand and brilliant that it could fit within an orchestral opus. It’s these little details sprinkled generously across the track that make the production mercurial.

Tela: The track is a great triumph and introduction to the coming NATIVE Sound System album. The production is a reflection of the relationship between the producers and artists as it intertwines love, warmth and romance. It’s impossible to untangle those affecting vocals, by Lojay and Ayra Starr, from the wall of sound around the song. Backed with soaring harmonies and reverb-laden drums helmed by Sholz, Adey and New World Ray, this track truly shines.

Projections for the album

Dennis: I have written about my expectations for the NATIVE Sound System album here, and they haven’t changed a bit. I only want to hear classic stuff; Lojay and Ayra Starr did good here, so the bar is still high for me.

Emmanuel: There’s no doubt the NATIVE networks have been at the forefront of African youth culture over the past half decade, amassing the experience and network needed to contribute to both the present and future. The premise behind the NSS album is brilliant, considering how weather plays an often understated role in how we listen to music. “Runaway” is definitely a brilliant choice for lead single, sweetly capturing the feels of the current rainy season here in Nigeria. With all the phenomenal creatives on board, I have no doubt the NATIVE Sound System will redefine what a community project sounds like. As we say in Naija Pidgin parlance, e sure for dem.

Tela: For over 3 years, the NATIVE has been a powerhouse supporting a medley of African artists. The premier of “Runaway” gives its fans a chance to see the magazine from a different perspective in supporting African talent. “Runaway” is an exuberant number that sets a high bar that should enable NATIVE Sound System to soar. 

Listen to “Runaway” here.