Love, Damini

Throughout his decade-long career, Burna Boy has spun doubts, controversy, and slights to his ego into an undeniable body of work. Each successive album has propelled him farther along on his journey from Afro-fusion innovator to global pop star. Charting his path from the boisterous pride of 2018’s Outside, his major-label debut, to the regal posturing that frames 2019’s African Giant and then the brash overconfidence of 2020’s Twice as Tall, it was only a matter of time before Burna realized that he no longer had anything to prove.

So it’s refreshing to see him put his guard down on Love, Damini. His most personal project to date, the album invites listeners into his chaotic and imperfect inner world. Across a marathon 19 tracks, heartbreak, grief, anxiety, politics, sex, and love all take their places on the stage, to varying effect. The singer’s emotional motivations feel genuine, and his shortcomings movingly human, but they can’t disguise the album’s painful flaws.

Never one to shy away from genre leaps, Burna has insisted on labeling his sound Afro-fusion, but he shows his most intriguing vocal and emotional range on productions that more traditionally hew to the modern Afrobeats sound. On “Jagele,” he adopts a strained falsetto to communicate his deep yearning for a love interest who remains just out of reach. On “Whiskey,” he skillfully drops back down an octave, his tone sober and measured, to convey the devastating impact of environmental pollution in his hometown. Elsewhere, on “Science,” over uncharacteristically dark production from Wizkid go-to P2J, Burna Boy leans into the song’s menacing tones with his voice, mimicking an oncoming siren at the end of a twisted tale of seduction.

An exceptional host, Burna plays to the strengths of his features, at times letting them steal the show. Victony, of “Holy Father” fame, sounds immaculate on “Different Size,” a doozy of a track that uses an amapiano remix of a Squid Game sound bite (from TikTok, of course) to wax foolishly about surgically enhanced asses. But the clear standout is “Cloak & Dagger,” which brings J Hus out of hibernation to remind us of his endlessly innovative rhyme schemes.

After an energizing first half that includes the standout singles “Last Last” and “Kilometre,” the squarely Afrobeats songs start to lose steam dramatically. “Common Person” sounds like a B-rate version of “Dangote,” without the inherent class tension that gave the latter heft. Burna loses all distinguishing features on “Vanilla,” which in its flat repetitiveness feels like Afrobeats on autopilot. When the music video, presented by Ray-Ban and Meta, appeared, I couldn’t help but wonder if the song or the brand deal came first.