Burna Boy took the stage at Billboard’s MusicCon event Friday (May 13) for a wide-ranging conversation that saw him expand on a number of topics, from his history-making shows headlining the Hollywood Bowl and Madison Square Garden, creating his own genre of Afro-Fusion and the success of his two most recent albums, the breakthrough African Giant and the Grammy-winning Twice As Tall.
The Nigerian artist — who is on the cover of the latest issue of Billboard magazine and headlined Friday’s “The Explosion of Afro-Fusion” panel — is also gearing up for his next album, Love Damini, due out in June, with a new single out called “Last Last,” which samples Toni Braxton’s “He Wasn’t Man Enough.”
“That song is a big part of my childhood and coming up,” he told Billboard writer Heran Mamo, who interviewed Burna onstage and in London for the cover story. “So it kind of fit the situation and it was just perfect.”
Here are five takeaways from his onstage interview, including his dream venue — one which would certainly make waves if it ever happened.
On Creating Afro-Fusion
“I just mixed up a bunch of different sounds and different genres and different cultures and turned it into one genre called Afro-Fusion,” Burna said about his music, using Afrobeat as the basis of the music. “You have to be very versatile.”
Burna says he grew up listening to American rappers like DMX and Eminem and Nigerian artists like D’Banj and 2face, now known as 2Baba, as well as Nigerian icon Fela Kuti; Burna’s grandfather served as Fela’s manager for a period. “My granddad is a very straightforward guy — he doesn’t beat around the bush ever,” Burna said. “The best advice he ever gave me was two words: F— everybody.”
On Falling in Love With Performing
When Burna sold out MSG in April, he became the first Nigerian artist to headline, much less sell out, the world’s most famous arena. (His favorite part? The bras thrown onstage.) He told a story of being very young and singing Naughty By Nature on tables, embarrassing his mother (and current manager), but said he fell in love with the idea of performing when he watched the Grammys when he was young, with *NSYNC performing with Nelly followed by Luciano Pavarotti.
“I looked at that and said, ‘Yeah, that’s me,’” he said. “I saw that and knew it was going to be my life.”
Now that music and artists from Africa have grown in popularity in the United States in recent years, he’s seen his crowds change too. “It’s a whole lot of diversity — it’s like I see the whole world under one roof,” he said. “One of my biggest blessings is I get to experience so many different cultures and people … from onstage. I get to learn a lot.”
On Creating His African Giant Album
Prior to releasing African Giant in 2019, Burna was scheduled to perform at Coachella — but he couldn’t find his name on the flyer due to its small print. (“I had a problem with that,” he said.) At the time, he said, he had an entire other album ready to release, but he scrapped it in order to focus on the idea of African Giant in response to the perceived slight.
He also releases his music in Africa on his Spaceship Connection label, and through Atlantic in other territories. “I’ve always been infatuated with spaceships and aliens,” he said about the name of his label. “I’ve always had questions and was always asking sh– … I felt so far ahead of my time. That’s how that came about.”
On Making Twice as Tall
Burna won the Grammy for best global music album for his 2020 release Twice as Tall — “It means I’m great,” he said about the honor — an album that was executive produced by Diddy, who he said he connected with “on Zoom. It really wasn’t what you’re thinking it was. It was an experience and the connection got to be made. More importantly than anything, a friendship was established. That’s the best part of the experience.”
That album also included the cut “Naughty by Nature,” which featured the classic hip-hop group that he had loved as a child. “That’s the whole point of why I wanted them on the song. It just had to be done,” he said. “I got their verses on my birthday, and it came with a video of them saying happy birthday and showing love.”
On His Dream Venue
In his Billboard cover story, Burna talked about wanting to perform in nontraditional spaces, like a train station. But onstage he talked about his lofty dream venue: “The White House,” he said. “Not like a presidential banquet — a Burna Boy show. Everything’s open, everyone is everywhere.”
Of course, that would seem like a stretch. But then, Burna Boy isn’t an artist who has seen an obstacle as unattainable. And he echoed that in his final words on the panel. “My legacy will be the BB and the AB,” he said, referencing what he told Mamo in the cover story. “‘Before Burna’ and ‘After Burna.’”