Does Burna Boy’s new album stand up to the rest of his illustrious catalogue? We review I Told Them… one track at a time.
At the forefront of the global Afrobeats explosion is Burna Boy. The 32-year-old Nigerian artist has become a ubiquitous name on the charts, with his crooning vocals and knack for a catchy hook. Riding off the wave of last year’s critically acclaimed Love, Damini, Burna recently dropped his seventh studio album I Told Them…, which represented his first No. 1 album on the UK charts.
Being the significant figure in music and culture that he is, we thought it would be right to review his latest project, even if it only has one footy reference on it (and from a featured artist, at that).
Going track by track, we present an unfiltered review of one of the waviest albums of 2023, certain to feature in Instagram posts from all your favorite ballers.
“I Told Them (Feat. GZA)”
The first track of the album immediately sets the tone. Burna Boy has become known for his ability to give songs a feeling of ease, comfort, and natural energy, and “I Told Them” is no different. As the song comes to a close, Wu-Tang Clan legend GZA takes us through a spoken word poem to set us up for the next song. These additions to the album are prevalent and are crucial to the storyline that Burna is trying to create.
This can be described as a transitional song on the album. There is only one verse, with the majority of the song being a sustained chorus. With that being said, it’s a super easy track to vibe with, and it wouldn’t surprise me if we saw it as the background music for holiday videos in exotic locales that have become so popular amongst footballers.
“On Form” starts with another conversation clip, which breaks up the energy brought by “Normal” and introduces a slightly darker, more intimate vibe that Burna Boy has shown in the past. He does this by using brass instruments that give a jazzy filter to his music.
“Sittin’ On Top of the World” (Feat. 21 Savage)
After three songs that probably won’t get much radio air time, “Sittin’ On Top of the World” brings arguably the most radio sound on the album. It’s no coincidence that it was the project’s first single.
The bass line makes me feel like I am cruising down a seaside road in a convertible without a care in the world. While I can’t confirm with Burna Boy if that was his intention for the song, the name of the song hints that it is supposed to make you feel a sense of euphoria and a generally happy predisposition to the world.
21 Savage’s verse ties it all together, ensuring that it has mainstream viability. And the early ’90s synth to close out the song leaves me feeling nostalgic for times before my years.
“Tested, Approved & Trusted”
This track can only be described as Burna’s attempt at a love ballad. The slow tempo makes it the perfect song to dance slowly with your partner as the late summer light floods through your windows. I challenge you not to want to body roll while listening to this sweet serenade.
“Cheat On Me” (Feat. Dave)
Here we are, track six and we finally have our one and only football-related bar in the album, this time coming from one of my personal favorite artists, Dave.
“Hennessy, Casamigos, it’s all in the car/I’m Asamoah Gyan the way I hit the bar”
For those not familiar, please watch this clip of one of the most historic moments in African footballing history:
Arguably, the most crucial part of the album’s storytelling is this beautiful conversation with the late Virgil Abloh that we get to listen in on. Abloh shares his thoughts, feelings and ideas with Burna on how the album should be presented and how it will be listened to. As we all know, Abloh, creatively, is one of the most important people in the modern world, and seeing him and Burna connect and share a deep respect for each other is beautifully immortalized through this clip.
Cap it off with a playful bit at the end when Abloh’s message cuts off and Burna says “No way his phone just died,” leading us into the next song.
“Big 7” sounds like a motel chain, yet the song is a deep confession of Burna’s experience with fame and how he now has to interact with the outside world. While many celebrities are open with their disdain for fame and their wishes for just a hint of normality, Burna takes a different approach by sharing that he has his outside appearance to the world, as well as the person he is in the comfort of his home. He is the Ferrari-driving superstar at times, but also the volunteer youth speaker who supports and loves the people around him. Very few artists can make such a catchy song about the duality of celebrity. But Burna nails it, and certainly, this song will be on repeat for so many people.
The second half of Burna’s album takes a slightly darker aesthetic musically. Not so much in terms of the content but more so the tone of the instrumentals. “Dey Play” is the start of this and is just another twist that shows Burna Boy’s ability to shapeshift from song to song.
Cue up the “CITY BOYSSSSS” GIF because Burna is on the trend. In more seriousness, this song is an interesting examination of the mind of someone who has worked to reach the pinnacle. At the beginning of the song, there is a sample that talks about feeling ugly but growing out of it and now feeling like a “handsome yute.” Sure, that is about looks and not success, but it is hard not to correlate success and self-confidence.
Back to the fun stuff, this would be a great song to play in the background of your first IG post after a breakup, if you want to show the world how you are feeling.
“Giza” (Feat. Seyi Vibez)
There is a lot of press about how Burna Boy is the first artist from Nigeria to hit the world charts, and it is well justified, as he is bringing traditional African music styles and techniques to the world. “Giza” uses a lot of these styles and creates a song that once again feels like a transitional point in the album. It isn’t necessarily made for radio, it doesn’t have a big, catchy hook, but it is a sound that isn’t often heard in mainstream North American and European music.
“12 Jewels” (Feat. RZA)
Linking up with another Wu-Tang icon, this track is exclusively RZA dropping some knowledge gems for us lucky listeners. While many people will skip this track to move on in the album, it is a piece of the overall project and once again highlights Burna’s learnings and vision for how to grow as a human being.
“If I’m Lying”
This is my favorite song on the album, hands down. The samples used send shivers down my spine, while Burna’s vulnerability feels deeply genuine. I have had this song on repeat since day one of the album release, and I can’t see myself falling out of love with it any time soon. Burna shows how reliable he is, that he would never lie to you, and if he did, let Mother Nature destroy the world around him.
“Thanks” (Feat. J. Cole)
This song has all of the classic Burna Boy with a featured artist hallmarks. A chorus that uses his voice as an instrument, building energy leading into the featuring artist’s verse, and the use of traditional African drums that play methodically in the background. There is no other mainstream artist in the world who makes music as diverse and interesting as Burna Boy.
J. Cole does his thing (for better or worse), and it fits into the album, so no complaints about his feature.
Burna Boy had extremely high expectations set on his shoulders after such a meteoric rise. For an artist who has received so much notoriety, it can be hard to branch out and take the risk of adjusting your sound. I Told Them… feels like a nice progression that will have a few classic songs on it, but it doesn’t quite live up to Love, Damini, which could go down as the greatest album of his career.