For reasons best known to him, Burna Boy calls his sixth project, Outside a mixtape. It isn’t wise to get hung up on names and titles but labeling Outside a mixtape feels like some kind of disservice. Structurally and thematically, Outside plays like a studio album. It feels like one too. To boot, Outside is the best thing Burna Boy has done in a long while, maybe his entire career.
A couple of singles predate Outside but the crown jewel of them is undoubtedly, Heaven’s Gate, a stunning duet with British Grammy nominated singer, Lily Allen that sounds like nothing else on radio. Heaven’s Gate which appears midway into Outside is a burst of rapid machine gun fire that starts out with Burna Boy in menacing vocal form where he unleashes words and rhymes from some scary but exciting place within. He lets up briefly mid stride but picks up shortly after and powers the patios drenched record to a stunning conclusion.
After the controversy that trailed Burna Boy’s collaboration with Canadian hitmaker Drake, he reclaims More Life, one of the five tracks reportedly submitted to Drake and opens the record with the mid-paced ode to taking a back seat and letting life just roll by. It is a curious choice for an album opener but thankfully Outside has far richer pleasures to offer. The Juls produced Rock your body also predates Outside and borrows (not so) subtly from previous Burna Boy anthems like Run my race and Like to party, moving at a leisurely pace but packing a mean punch.
Growing up in Port Harcourt city has armed Burna Boy with stories for days and he opens his memory bank in the aptly titled PH City vibrations to unspool interesting anecdotes of catching vibes, filling up on boli and fish and yam and frequenting police stations. Atmospheric yet compulsively danceable, PH City vibrations makes for a worthy addition to the Port Harcourt city discography which incidentally, isn’t growing as fast as it could be.
The sound on Outside is a rich and viable mix of genres that have inspired Burna Boy as well as those he has picked up along his musical journey. While the record sounds familiar at times with elements of afrobeats, dancehall and reggae, it occasionally deviates from these lived in realism and strays into grime and hip-hop territory, by way of R&B.
Each song tells its own story and serves a purpose, leaving no room for waste or excess. Tightly controlled at a responsible twelve tracks, Outside is a fiery example of the depths that Burna Boy is capable of but doesn’t always deliver. Hopefully, a publishing deal with Universal Music group helps harness the wild talent.
Outside also houses the blessing and curse of single, Ye which while instinctively calling to mind Kanye West, has also been responsible for diverting eyes and ears Burna’s way. Ye, a grandchild of Fela’s Sorrow, Tears and Blood maintains a haunting slow burn throughout its run, decrying complacency amongst the masses of poorly governed citizens who really should have had enough by now.
Streets of Africa which seems manufactured for a growing foreign audience, complete with lyrics, I’m Fela Kuti with the hoes, rides a nursery rhyme like rhythm to project a near-balanced graph of his roots, as well as a snapshot of his huge ego. Gems like Devil in California and Giddem display not only solid vocal chops but stellar songwriting and a curiosity towards sounds from other sides.
The eclectic mix that Burna Boy cobbles together on Outside could easily have gone south but his investment in and control of the material makes it a pleasurable ride and one of the finest records put out this year. It is hard to point to a phase where Burna Boy has been better than he is on Outside.