I Told Them stands as an ode to the artiste’s journey and affirms his undeniable talent on the global stage…
By Hope Ibiale and Yinoluwa Olowofoyeku
When Burna Boy revealed his seventh studio album, I Told Them, speculations ran wild. Based on the album title, many expected it to be a defiant response to sceptics and naysayers. With pre-released singles like “Sitting on Top of the World” and “Big 7,” some anticipated an album that would stray far away from the familiar sounds of Afrobeats and perhaps focus predominantly on Hip-Hop. However, what we find within this 15-track project is a musical ensemble that unexpectedly straddles the lines between Afrobeats, Hip-Hop, and various other genres. As such, it seems Burna Boy is back with his unmistakable swagger, delivered through a versatile album encompassing a medley of genres. The album boasts a star-studded lineup of producers to weave the project together, including P2J, Telz, Steel Banglez, Modra, Skread, and others. Collaborations with international artistes like J.Cole, Wu Tang’s GZA and RZA, 21 Savage, Dave, and Seyi Vibez further enhance the sonic diversity and elevate the stylistic variation on the album.
The release of I Told Them follows closely on the heels of Burna Boy’s controversial interviews with Zane Lowe and Complex, where he stirred the pot around Afrobeats songs having zero substance, which expectedly, sparked debates on social media (as is now on par with Burna Boy). Despite the uproar, Burna Boy boldly pushed forward with his album release, and true to its name, I Told Them serves as a vivid chronicle of his achievements and self-assuredness.
“I told them I’m a genius. I had to show them what the meaning is,” Burna Boy begins on the titular track, “I Told Them.” Over layers of strummed guitars and straightforward percussion-driven drums, Burna Boy unapologetically boasts of his prophecies coming true. He doesn’t miss the opportunity to brag about himself, addressing comments from the public with a self-assured confidence in himself, and nothing left to prove. Wu Tang’s GZA adds a touch of the group’s signature style with a brief spoken-word piece sprinkled with punches, clashing swords, and cuts from old Kung fu films.
The sounds of punches and kicks continue on “Normal,” shifting the mood with a thumping bass and Afroswing vibes. Burna Boy continues his braggadocious streak, this time emphasising his prowess in the bedroom. With gallant vocals, Burna Boy proudly acclaims himself as a woman magnet and as an unrepentant polygamist.
“On Form” follows suit, with Burna riding P2J’s Afrobeats production, expressing his resilience against those who wish for his downfall. The infectious rhythm of “On Form” will draw listeners to the dance floor, reminiscent of hits like “Killin Dem” from Burna’s 2019 African Giant album. There is also a selection of fantastic basslines on this track, such as a noteworthy moment when the bass shifts the urgency of the track, making it one of the album’s understated highlights.
On “Sittin’ on Top of the World” (featuring 21 Savage), Burna Boy, again, shows the beauty of sampling by deploying a sample of Brandy and Mase’s 1998 “Top of the World.” Backed by a fittingly old-school beat with a thumping bassline, Burna Boy and 21 Savage make a show of offering their love interests wealth and comfort. Right after that, “Tested, Approved, and Trusted” sees Burna Boy heaping adoration on an enchanting woman, backed by dancehall drums and simple piano chords.
Then comes “Cheat On Me” which brings British-Nigerian rapper Dave into the mix. Together, they sit atop a lively piano-based Afroswing instrumental to address concerns about immigration prejudices against Nigerians, such as their countrymen being denied visas to travel to the West. Burna Boy expresses his wish for his people to access better opportunities and live better lives. However, the thematic context is somewhat jarring as Burna Boy’s show of patriotism is sometimes overshadowed by his seeming disdain for his fellow compatriots.
A recorded conversation with the fashion icon, Virgil Abloh introduces “Virgil,” shedding light on Burna Boy’s relationship with the late designer, as Abloh doles out advice on music promotion and marketing. This personal moment transitions seamlessly into “Big 7,” accentuated by Burna Boy singing, “First of all, rest in peace Virgil Abloh/don’t spill drinks on my clothes when I’m Louis V dripping.” The song is a victory lap celebrating Burna’s success across various cities. The lively instrumentals and Burna Boy’s vibrant delivery make this track a standout. “I’m in a different place/ If you see me tonight/ You can clearly see that I’ve been wavy since mornin’.” The previously released single boasts bouncy lively instrumentals, propelled by the artiste’s vibrant delivery.
“Dey Play” brings us back to Burna Boy’s strong Afrobeats penchant for filtered keys and simple prominent drums. Backed by gruff group vocals, Burna Boy recounts the efforts and sacrifices it takes to make it to the coveted top.
“City Boys” finds Burna Boy riding an Afroswing beat, using an inventive accelerated sample of Jeremih’s 2009 classic “Birthday Sex.” Bookended by voice notes from J-Hus, Burna Boy tells stories about the quintessential City Boy’s life of luxury and excesses, boasting about his access to funds and women.
“Giza,” features Seyi Vibez, spotlighting Vibez’s signature Amapiano-tinged street pop. This is in keeping with Burna Boy’s willingness to collaborate with rising artistes. Burna Boy adapts incredibly to Seyi Vibez’s unique approach, keeping pace with the energetic delivery, albeit with surprisingly simplistic lyrics.
Wu Tang’s RZA appears to deliver a spoken-word performance on “12 Jewels,” (expectedly so, as the twelfth song on the album) offering a brief but impactful reflection on what he considers the 12 jewels every man should strive towards in life.
The album’s closing moments bring introspection with “If I’m Lying,” featuring heartfelt, guitar-backed melodies. Burna Boy’s emotional delivery provides solace and reflects on personal sorrows. Burna Boy’s delivery is heartfelt and emotional as he encourages listeners to overcome their pain, and laments about his personal sadness.
Listeners are exposed to a sour side of Burna Boy on “Thanks,” where instead of the heartfelt affection shown in “If I’m Lying,” the artiste goes on an angry tirade. Over an improvised-sounding organ passage and persistent percussion, Burna Boy vents his frustrations, singing, “Is this the motherfucking thanks I get?” He questions Nigerians’ lack of gratitude to him and rants about the little acknowledgement he has received, one that he believes he is owed. Burna Boy appears to be reacting to hateful comments from social media users. He references recent claims, including allegations and rumours surrounding his public behaviour as well as his domestic affairs. J. Cole delivers a simple but effective verse rife with similar sentiments about dealing with ingratitude for his immense contributions to the music industry.
The album closes out with “Talibans II,” a braggadocious song about their individual rogue persona. Here, Burna Boy and Byron Messia liken their no-nonsense nature to that of the Taliban. They do this over a smooth Afroswing instrumental, built with sparse drums and soft filtered keys.
I Told Them is Burna Boy’s victory lap. Sonically and thematically, the album is big and blustering, full of confidence and charisma, and built on the back of overcoming conflict and racking up achievements. The album is a chronicle of his journey so far and basks in the status, perks, and attitudes of an accomplished artiste.
Ironically, while the album stages itself as the chest-banging of an unrivalled giant, this façade cracks in places to reveal Burna Boy’s persistent desire to prove himself, even as a well-established artiste. It is as though Burna Boy continuously grapples for validation from his fanbase, while simultaneously claiming to be above the need for such validation.
It is hard to ignore that, considering Burna Boy’s recent rhetoric, the album can at times feel somewhat hollow, as he has never shied away from addressing political or societal topics through his work. Admittedly, I Told Them does not require these themes when the album’s thematic context is observed, but considering Burna Boy himself raised questions about the substance of Afrobeats music, it is hard to overlook the lack of depth across the album. Anecdotes about women and money form the prevalent lyrical content, offering mostly surface-level perspectives on these topics.
Moving beyond this quandary, I Told Them is still a testament to Burna Boy’s deep understanding of musical composition and song-making. Without the controversial statements, one could easily appreciate this body of work for its exceptional stylistic and musical quality. Burna Boy demonstrates his versatility, effortlessly transitioning between gritty, gruff deliveries and softer, more emotive tones, harmonising perfectly with the energy of each track. The production surrounding him is nothing short of stellar, offering a diverse selection of genres and energies. This marriage of sonics underscores the brilliance of the album’s producers, who expertly balance various elements. It is a sonic journey peppered with intriguing samples, varied drum arrangements, and captivating guest appearances. While there are minor engineering imperfections where instrumental elements occasionally clash with vocals or drown out subtler frequencies, they do little to detract from the overall experience.
Ultimately, I Told Them stands as an ode to the artiste’s journey and affirms his undeniable talent on the global stage. It is an enjoyable collection of songs that appeal to the wide spectrum of Burna Boy fans and music lovers in general. The album offers something for most listeners, which one might argue, makes the whole work lose a little on cohesiveness. Burna Boy’s inner conflict peeks out throughout the album, adding an intriguing layer to the album’s meta-narrative. As for where it stands amongst Burna Boy albums, time will be the true determinant of how impactful a statement I Told Them really makes.
Lyricism – 1.4
Tracklisting – 1.3
Sound Engineering – 1.7
Vocalisation – 1.7
Listening Experience – 1.5
Rating – 7.6/10
Yinoluwa “Yinoluu” Olowofoyeku is a multi-disciplinary artist and creative who finds expression in various media. His music can be found across all platforms and he welcomes interaction on his social media @Yinoluu.
Hope Ibiale is a writer and book lover.