By the time we get to Burna Boy’s house in Lagos on the night of Halloween, it’s around 11:30 pm and the noise from a nearby generator is buzzing against the soft sound of falling rain. Two armed soldiers follow Burna Boy wherever he goes and, tonight, he’s just getting in from a show in Ikeja, a neighborhood on the other side of the sprawling city. Many of Nigeria’s major pop stars were enlisted to perform at an event sponsored by a telecoms company, but instead of sticking around to mingle with elder statesmen like P-Square, Burna leaves right away.
The 24-year-old, born Damini Ogulu, has built a reputation for himself as somewhat of an outsider in Nigeria’s growing pop economy. Though he has generational music industry ties, Burna Boy likes to do things his own way. He grew up attending high-profile schools in the oil-rich Port Hartcourt and eventually wound up in London for university, but soon bailed on academia and moved back to Nigeria to work on music. Over the past few years, Burna has accumulated a growing fanbase enamored with his style of smoothly blending dancehall, R&B, and Afrobeats, on an arsenal of hits like “Yawa Dey,” “Soke,” and “Follow Me.” He has also frequently collaborated with South African artists like the rapper AKA, choosing to focus on intra-continental alliances rather than looking to Europe and North America for co-signs, as so many of his peers have done in recent years.
Over the course of an hour-long conversation, fueled by a couple of joints and some Hennessy, Burna Boy opened up about his influences, the politics of Nigeria's music industry, and why American artists need Africa.