Nigeria: Is Buju ready for the biggest stage as Afrobeats takes off?

By Shingai Darangwa
Posted on Friday, 3 December 2021 16:00

Buju Tye, July 2021 (photo: twitter)

Partly as a consequence of its rapid pace and dizzying mix of hustle and bustle, Lagos has long been a hub for rich African music. A cultural melting pot, the city has consistently birthed diverse, hybrid artists over the years. With all that life in Lagos comes with, its artists are bursting with stories to tell and experiences to share.

Since the early aughts when Nigerian artists really started to find their sound, artists like 2Baba – whose 2004 debut solo album Face 2 Face catapulted him into a continental star – and the ‘Chop My Money’ twins P-Square helped make Afrobeats the continent’s most identifiable sound. Then came the likes of Tiwa Savage, Davido and Wizkid, who catapulted it into the sound that’s attracted heavy interest from the globe’s biggest stars, not least Beyonce, Drake, Justin Bieber and Kendrick Lamar.

Today, a new legion of versatile and fearless acts are bursting through the seams and setting their sights on a proper global takeover. One of those artists is 26-year-old Buju, who was born and bred in Lagos.

Burna’s de facto protégé

After a few years of toiling and finding his feet Buju, whose name is an acronym for Beauty Underneath Just Understood, burst onto the scene in early 2019 with the release of the Zlatan-assisted single, ‘Spiritual’. Not long after its release, the single caught Grammy award-winning Afrobeats giant Burna Boy’s attention when he heard it in the club. He’d later tell Buju that the song made him feel like he was floating.

Upon meeting Buju, Burna Boy signed him to his label, Spaceship Records in early 2020. To launch his career as Burna’s de facto protégé, the label put out ‘Lenu Remix’ shortly after. The song was a major success, achieving top billing rotation on Nigerian radio and the biggest African streaming playlists.

That was mind blowing, because at the time I’m coming from having no music out for nine months, to going number one with my guys.

Then, as if cruelly timed to slow his momentum, the coronavirus pandemic hit and many of their plans fell flat. During the first year of the pandemic, despite recording a lot of music, Buju went radio silent. When his short-term contract with Spaceship Records expired early this year, he decided not to renew, instead opting to go at it independently.

It wasn’t until early this year that Buju started to feel comfortable enough to put out new music.

A bonafide superstar

First, he jumped on fellow bubbling Nigerian newcomer Blaqbonez’ single ‘Bling’, which flew to number one on several charts within weeks of its release. “That was mind blowing, because at the time, [I was] coming from having no music out for nine months, to going number one with my guys,” he recently told Apple Music.

Then came a feature on Mavin Records star Ladipoe’s single ‘Feeling’, which achieved even greater success and is arguably one of the biggest songs to come out of the continent this year. However, after a strong feature run, he needed his own solo single to dispel any suspicions that he needed features for his music to land. He then released ‘Outside’ in late May, and that too took off, firmly erasing any doubts over his abilities and re-establishing Buju among Nigeria’s very best new wave artists alongside the likes of Rema, Omah Lay, Tems, Ayra Starr and Fireboy DML.

In August, while Wizkid’s ‘Essence’ hype was in full swing stateside, Buju landed a feature on Made In Lagos: Deluxe Edition, appearing on the infectious ‘Mood’. Driven by Buju’s catchy hook, ‘Mood’ has been the fans’ favourite and the highest charting song among Wizkid’s new releases, which speaks volumes. The album has since been nominated for a Grammy.

As if to latch onto the opportunity and capitalise on the hype around him, Buju last month released his eagerly anticipated debut EP, Sorry I’m Late. Released through his own label, To Your Ears, in partnership with distribution powerhouse EMPIRE, the seven-track EP has helped solidify Buju as a bonafide superstar. True to form, it debuted at #1 on several charts on Apple Music, Boomplay and Spotify.

Sorry I’m Late is a combination of all my emotions and a lot of the things that are considered my reality and my story and I really wanted to blend it into a project that was gonna reflect how far I’ve come…

Although Sorry I’m Late pulses with a vibrant brand of Afro-Fusion that, as Buju himself described, sounds like a mix of Burna Boy and 2Baba, RnB rhythms are never far away. One moment he’s singing, and the next he’s rapping with that sweet melody of his.

On the project’s lead single ‘Never Stopped’, he raps emphatically and authoritatively.”I drop 16 bars on your favourite rapper, I’m a singing n***** wey still sabi flow proper”.

Hallmarks of a future world-beater

It’s not particularly easy to blend rap and singing on Afrobeats, but Buju makes it seem effortless. His silky, leathery voice bears some resemblance to American pop star, Khalid.

Sorry I’m Late is mostly about Buju claiming his spot as a newly minted superstar and his newfound confidence as a mainstream artist. It’s also about love and his deep passion for his craft.

In a recent Instagram reel, Buju said: “Sorry I’m Late is a combination of all my emotions and a lot of the things that are considered my reality and my story and I really wanted to blend it into a project that was gonna reflect how far I’ve come, what I’ve seen, how I’ve overcome and, practically, me.”

As Wizkid’s Made in Lagos lords over the genre, its understudy is here: a smooth, vibrant, experimental project, built around a fast-rising artist with all the hallmarks of a future world-beater. Now, what he must find next is the duality that WizKid and Burna Boy, his globetrotting predecessors, have found in order to take their music to the world.

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