When it comes to Burna Boy, it is hard to find a middle ground. You either love him or hate him. You are either refreshed or repulsed by his candour. You either or accommodating enough to dismiss his many antics or constantly irritated by them.
Burna Boy likes to give off the impression that he does not quite care what you think of him, and for most of the time, he is prone to waving a middle finger in the air at the music industry establishment. But the intro of his sophomore album, On A Spaceship, is a recording of the web sensation Facts Only hosted by Pulse TV’s Osagie Alonge where his merits and demerits as an artiste are considered and concluded.
Somewhere not so deep down, Burna Boy must hunger for love and appreciation, same as any of his peers – from Wizkid to Davido – and this is why he is as likely to lash out at bloggers using his numerous controversies as click bait, as he is going to complain about being left off the nomination’s list for glitzy but un-influential prizes like the MTV Africa Music Awards.
These conflicts raging within have been responsible for a debut album that was deeply flawed but had a magnetic appeal that transcended audiences. Powered by a sizzling relationship with Aristokrat Records’ in-house producer, Leriq, Burna Boy’s debut, L.I.F.E delivered a competent mix of dancehall, highlife, and Afrobeats sounds that the follow up, On A Spaceship instantly fails to live up to.
The primary reason of course is the absence of Leriq whom Burna Boy recorded some of his best stuff with. With his exit from Aristoktat Records and severing of ties with his former management, Burna Boy turned to contemporary hit makers like Spellz, Sarz and J Fem to give him a distinct edge without exactly losing his core.
These guys (Spellz more than others,) try but none comes close to touching the chemistry Burna Boy shared with Leriq that birthed gems like Run My Race and Like To Party. It is unclear what he is doing with J Fem in particular, as their collaborations are untidy at best and disastrous at worst. Mi O Ni Gba plays like a B-side of Victoria Kimani’s Tekno-produced Show, On A Very Good Day (with Wande Coal) is a studio session gone horribly wrong and the less said about Before, the Flavour-assisted road kill, the better. Surely, the inclusion of the horrid Wizkid duet, Single, must be some type of joke. Nothing else explains its presence on this spaceship. Even the usually dependable Sarz throws in a boring Trance.
The record, coming in at 17 tracks, is desperately overlong and under-stuffed and mostly succeeds at diluting plenty of the punch hinted at by early career Burna Boy. It plays like a mixtape from an independent artiste unsure of his next steps. Burna Boy indulges plenty of his fantasies to mixed effects with songs like Rizzla and the over the top rap experiment, Birthday; and in his role as overseer of the project, is unable to carry out proper quality control on his record.
Burna Boy allows whatever sounds good to him without recourse to the effect such songs are sure to have on his career. There is no direction or discipline to the record and it is immediately obvious that his explosive instincts are badly in need of strong and proper management. This flying solo business does him little favours at all.
There are moments when he gets it right though, like on the album opener, Oluwa Burna, as well as highlights like Soke, Gone, and the solemn, If People Must Die. These genuine moments make the listening experience worthwhile and save the record from being dismissed casually even when it really pushes it.
When On A Spaceship is good; it is almost excellent but no legacy minded artiste anywhere burnished their legend with trial and error efforts like this. The glimpses of genius are noted and his talent is suitably recognised, but ambitious title aside, Burna Boy’s On A Spaceship never comes close to soaring sky high.
Hell, it never even leaves the ground!