Burna Boy’s third studio album collects sounds and ideas that have been years in maturation and delivers them with effortless grace. It is sometimes playful, sometimes serious, other times sentimental but it maintains the same quality of enjoyment and uncompromisable chill present on Burna Boy’s past records, and perhaps even exceeds them.
On the first and somewhat familiar first track ‘More Life’ — which Burna Boy included in a playlist aimed at getting him cosigned with Drake — the listener gets a groovy, saxophone-accompanied rendition by Burna Boy. It is a short song, but it hints at the organic and passionate ingredients missing on Drake’s interpretation of the song. It is also, a fitting introduction to Burna’s record because it highlights in smooth Patwah the titular essence of this album: where there is air, where there is room to breathe, there is more life.
Burna Boy’s sound is almost always an amalgam of ecclectic influences. That probably has to do with the fact that he grew up listening to a range of genres, from his dad’s dancehall records to Fela Kuti (his grandfather was in fact at one time Fela Kuti’s manager) to DMX. He would then go on to make sense of these influences by making experimental beats using FruityLoops and it would take many years to establish a sound of his own. In the end his sound would reflect his roots, the rich and colorful melodies.
It is on ‘Sekkle Down’ that Outside reaches a climax. It features British fellow DanceHall artist J Hus who offers his own measure of musicality. Burna Boy dominates this track playfully without wanting to. It is a track potent with a caustic quality fit for any dance floor.
If form follows function, then it doesn’t on Burna Boy’s records and it really doesn’t matter. He’s able to marry Afrobeat, DanceHall, and Hip-hop to tell a uniquely African story. That of artistic and life struggles on “Where I’m From”, of the vibrant atmosphere in the sometimes chaotic African cities on “City Vibration”, and together with the rhythmically acrobatic Lily Allen, of the story of disappointment and overcoming on “Heaven’s Gate”.
Burna Boy’s music is delivered like performance arts, it is marked by a heart-felt expressionism and always masked by a non-chalant melancholy. On ‘Outside’, the last track and the album’s titular track, the artist’s sound comes alive with a triumphant chorus by Mabel. It paints a dark image of the inner realities that often go unnoticed. It is a call for help, an overpowering outpouring of emotion. It ends anticlimactically, like the lights suddenly going off at a showman’s performance. There is no applause, no curtains closed, but the listener is moved.