Photo: Recording Academy
Burna Boy Talks 'African Giant,' Damian Marley & Angelique Kidjo Collab, Responsibility As A Global Artist
The Recording Academy sat down with the Nigerian superstar Afro-fusion artist to learn more about his new album, his biggest goal as a global artist and more
Nigerian Afro-fusion singer/songwriter Burna Boy is steadily ascending as a globally-loved superstar, with his smooth, rich vocals and infectious beats that blend traditional Afrobeat (his grandfather was Fela Kuti's—the forefather of Afrobeat—first manager), dancehall, hip-hop, trap and more. He was among a handful of big-name international artists to play Coachella 2019, made his "Jimmy Kimmel Live" debut last month and, on July 25, released his highly anticipated album, African Giant.
Across its 19 tracks, African Giant brings plenty of powerful, positive vibes and some epic collabs, including U.K. R&B singer and 2019 Best New Artist Nominee Jorja Smith, GRAMMY-nominated R&B crooner Jeremih, Nigerian rapper Zlatan, Jamaican dancehall artist Serani, Ghanaian singer/songwriter/rapper M.anifest, GRAMMY-winning trap hero Future and West Coast rap champ YG. On "Different," Burna brings on Jamaican reggae legend Damian Marley and Beninese-American singer/songwriter Angélique Kidjo, both multi-GRAMMY winners, for a moving track he—and his fans—is understandably very proud of.
Burna recently stopped by the Recording Academy headquarters just before the album dropped for an in-depth conversation and our latest episode of Up Close & Personal, which you can watch above and check out on our YouTube page for a longer version of the video, as well as the other recent episodes. Read on to learn more about the masterpiece album, working with his hero Kidjo, his goal as global artist and more.
So your album, African Giant drops soon and a lot of people are excited about it. What are you most excited about for sharing the album?
I'm excited about a lot of things. I'm excited that it's finally coming out. I'm excited that it's turned out the way I wanted it to. I'm excited that the purpose of the album is already basically achieved before it drops, you know? So it's very exciting to me. And then obviously for my people as well, for everyone coming from where I'm coming from. It's a big motivation and a statement or whatever you want to call it. It's just, yeah, man. This is basically my way of showing you who I am and in the process helping you to listen and know who you are.
I like that. You worked with a bunch of amazing collaborators from around the globe on this project. How did you choose who to work with?
It just all basically happened very organically. I just knew the vision I had and you know? It just all fell into place.
Can you speak a little bit more to that vision and how it guided all the different elements of the album?
My vision is just to, I don't know how to explain this in a way that makes sense to you, but to shine a light on a place and on people and a situation and everything that there hasn't been a light on for a long time.
The most recent music video you released from one of the singles on the album is for "Anybody." It just feels really joyful and is such a beautiful video. Can you talk a little bit specifically about that video and track?
Video was shot by [Nigerian director] Clarence Peters. "Anybody" is almost wake up music, you know? That's really what it is.
When you shared the track list, everyone was already buzzing about "Different," featuring Damian Marley and Angélique Kidjo. Could you talk about that song and working with them?
That's a song that's very sentimental to me because Angélique Kidjo is someone that I've looked up to since forever. Now this is almost like a vision come true, a longtime vision. This is just one song that I really hold dear to my heart. And then there's Damian Marley who is, you know what? There's nothing that I need to say about that, that you don't already know. You know? That's a song that's very dear to me.
Who are your biggest musical influences? What did you grow up listening to and who kind of like stays in your heart as you make music now?
Man, everyone. Every African legend I was introduced to as a youngin and all the—just everything, my experiences, it's just a lot, [it] all kind of makes this.
Who would you say are like, maybe your top three favorite artists or heroes?
Fela [Kuti]. Obviously, Fela, Angélique Kidjo. I don't know, third one. There's a lot, man.
Earlier this year you performed at Coachella and now you'll be embarking on your headline tour soon. What is your favorite part about performing live and bringing your music to people in those spaces?
Well that's my playground. That's my happy place. That's basically the reason I do this. Because if it wasn't for that then it wouldn't be as interesting to me.
What does it mean to you to be part of the growing, global Afro-fusion sound?
I mean, it feels great. It's an honor. I know it's a responsibility. There's just some [music] that's going to be respected and has to be carried along, you know, forever if possible.
On a related note, what do you feel like is your biggest duty and goal now, as a global artist?
Now [the goal] is to keep on making music and making the fans happy, and everyone around me happy, until I leave the earth. And then hopefully when I leave, I leave such a great impact that something changes.
Photo: Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic via Getty Images
New Music Friday: Listen To New Releases From Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez, Blackpink & More
The summer of 2023 may be winding down, but its musical offerings remain white-hot. Check out some new songs and albums that arrived on Aug. 25, from Maluma to Burna Boy.
The faintest hint of fall is in the air, but the summer of 2023's musical deluge continues unabated. Across genres, scenes and styles, the landscape continues to flourish.
We have Miley Cyrus's first song since Endless Summer Vacation — a vulnerable, proudly "unfinished" offering. On the opposite end of the vibe spectrum, Selena Gomez has thrown caution to the wind with the carefree "Single Soon."
Miley Cyrus — "Used To Be Young"
On her first song since Endless Summer Vacation arrived in March, two-time GRAMMY nominee Cyrus avoids tidiness, and pursues honest reflection.
"The time has arrived to release a song that I could perfect forever. Although my work is done, this song will continue to write itself everyday," she said in a statement. "The fact it remains unfinished is a part of its beauty. That is my life at this moment ….. unfinished yet complete."
"Used to Be Young" belongs to the pantheon of "turning 30" jams; therein, Cyrus looks back on her misspent youth, and the attendant heat of the spotlight. "You say I used to be wild/ I say I used to be young," she sings.
In the stark video, she gazes unflinchingly into the lens, without varnish or artifice.
Selena Gomez — "Single Soon"
Where Cyrus' new song bittersweetly gazes backward, Gomez's carbonated new jam "Single Soon" is focused on the promised reverie of tomorrow — sans boyfriend.
"Should I do it on the phone?/ Should I leave a little note/ In the pocket of his coat?" the two-time GRAMMY nominee wonders, sounding positively giddy about her unshackling from Mr. Wrong.
As the song unspools, Gomez gets ready for a wild night out; the song ends with the portentous question, "Well, who's next?" If you're ready to slough off your summer fling, "Single Soon" is for you.
Ariana Grande — Yours Truly: Tenth Anniversary
The two-time GRAMMY winner and 15-time nominee's acclaimed debut album, Yours Truly, arrived on Aug. 30, 2013; thus, it's time to ring in its tin anniversary.
Granted, these aren't "new songs," per se: rather, in a weeklong celebration, Grande is reintroducing audiences to Yours Truly.
Dive in, and you'll find "Live From London" versions of multiple songs. Plus — perhaps most enticingly — the sprawling re-release contains two new versions of "The Way," her hit collaboration with late ex Mac Miller.
Maluma — Don Juan
Papi Juancho is dead; long live Don Juan. "Fue un placer," Maluma wrote on Instagram last New Year's Eve. (It translates to "It was a pleasure.")
And with that, the Colombian rap-singing heavyweight ushered in a new character. He's now Don Juan — in a reference both to the fictional libertine and his birth name of Juan Luis Londoño Arias.
Now, Don Juan's out with his titular album — which he dubs a "mature" blending of the musics that got him going, like reggaeton, house, salsa, and hip-hop.
Burna Boy & Dave — "Cheat On Me"
Just over a year after his latest album, Love, Damini, Burna Boy is back with I Told Them… The Nigerian star offers another forward-thinking missive with his seventh album.
Featuring the likes of 21 Savage, J. Cole, and Wu-Tang Clan's GZA and RZA, I Told Them… is one highlight after the next — and "Cheat On Me" is one of them. For the advance single, the GRAMMY-winning Afro-fusion dynamo teamed up with London rapper Dave.
Therein, the pair expound on getting out of their own way. The chorus, powered by a sample from British-Ghanian singer/songwriter Kwabs, sums it all up: "I couldn't see/ I was cheating on, cheating on me."
Blackpink — "The Girls"
BLACKPINK are a bona fide cross-cultural sensation, but they won't stop at the music: they're a game now.
A little over a year after their second studio album, Born Pink, the acclaimed South Korean girl group has released a mobile app, succinctly called "The Game." Therein — and above — players can watch the video for "The Girls," their first post-Born Pink jam.
Don't say Jisoo, Jennie, Rosé, and Lisa didn't warn you: "Stop sign, we're burning it down/ Better watch out, we coming in loud/ Bang, bang, just playing around/ Don't mess with the girls, with the girls, with the girls."
The Killers — "Your Side of Town"
The Killers' beloved debut album, Hot Fuss, turns 20 next year; as a ramp-up, here's "Your Side of Town," a new slice of electro-pop from the Vegas crew.
The sleek, aerodynamic, Auto-Tuned "Your Side of Town" is their first single since their acclaimed pair of albums, 2020's Imploding the Mirage and 2021's Pressure Machine.
Here, the five-time GRAMMY nominees take a Pet Shop Boys-like tack with the music; lyrically, they're still putting the "heart" in heartland rock.
"I'm hanging on your side of town/ I notice when you're not around," frontman Brandon Flowers sings on the chorus. "Can't keep my cool, I'm burning inside/ A broken heartbeat, barely alive."
But the Killers — like everyone on this list — remain very alive.
Photo: Marc Grimwade/WireImage
Lighters Up! 10 Essential Reggae Hip-Hop Fusions
Rap and reggae took divergent paths from their shared sound system roots, yet have fused throughout the decades. Read on for 10 songs that showcase the connection between hip-hop and reggae, and listen to GRAMMY.com's playlist.
When 12-year-old Clive Campbell, a.k.a. DJ Kool Herc, migrated with his family from Kingston, Jamaica to the Bronx in 1967, he brought with him a love of his island’s music and an understanding of the best way to experience that music: at a sound system dance.
The Jamaican sound system began quite humbly with a single turntable and a hand-built amplifier in the late 1940s, then expanded to include two turntables, a crossfader mixer, massive assemblages of speakers, a selector who chooses the records and an emcee that hypes up the crowd with rhymes. As the popularity of sound system dances expanded, the selectors’ need for exclusive music to attract large crowds and trump their opponents in heated clashes gave birth to Jamaica’s prolific recording industry, as well as the development of ska, rocksteady and reggae music.
In New York Herc experimented with audio equipment purchased by his father in an attempt to maximize their sound. Playing records in between the band’s sets, Herc noticed dancers were most responsive to the songs’ instrumental breaks. In a technique he called the merry-go-round, Herc utilized two turntables and a mixer to alternate between dual copies of the same record to prolong the instrumental grooves.
On Aug. 11, 1973, Herc’s sister Cindy held a back-to-school jam in the recreation room of their Bronx apartment building at 1560 Sedgewick Ave.; Cindy charged a modest admission to raise funds to buy new clothes. Herc played the music and his good friend, Bronx native Coke La Rock, took up the mic to shout out his friends and catchy rhythmic slogans over the records’ instrumental breaks — just like Jamaican emcees or deejays had done on Kingston’s sound systems in the previous decade.
Word of the party, and Herc’s groundbreaking techniques spread quickly. Soon, others began imitating what Herc and Coke La Rock were doing, adding their own flourishes, which ushered in a new musical movement. Hip-hop wouldn’t have developed as it did without Herc’s pioneering efforts, or the adaptations he made to the Jamaican sound system template.
From their shared sound system roots, rap and reggae, took divergent paths. Fifty years after hip-hop’s birth, it’s one of the most streamed genres in the world; reggae has yet to attain commercial recognition commensurate with its widespread influence (notwithstanding Bob Marley’s global acclaim). Nonetheless, ongoing hip-hop and reggae conversations on record have yielded some great moments in popular music.
Whether its rappers chatting Jamaican Patois, dancehall deejays spitting bars with "Yankee" inflections or American and Jamaican artists collaborations, the connection between hip-hop and reggae runs deep. Click on the Amazon Music playlist above, visit the Recording Academy’s Spotify, Pandora, and Apple Music pages, and read on for a chronological look at 10 songs that have brought together hip-hop and reggae.
The Fat Boys - "Hardcore Reggae" (1985)
"Hardcore Reggae" is a lighthearted yet sincere tribute to reggae and one of the earliest reggae/rap fusions by Brooklyn’s Fat Boys, Prince Markie Dee, Buff Love and (the sole surviving member) Kool Rock-Ski. Taken from their 1985 album The Fat Boys are Back "Hardcore Reggae" reached No. 52 on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop chart.
Over a bass-heavy reggae rhythm, the Fat Boys shout out a litany of reggae artists including Bob Marley (who died in 1981) and Peter Tosh, who was fatally shot two years after this song’s release. The song’s video features the Fat Boys starring in a western The Good, The Fat and the Hungry that also includes New York based reggae greats the late Denroy Morgan, (father of the sibling reggae band Morgan Heritage) Sammy Dread, Welton Irie and Mikey Jarrett.
Buff Love captures the essence of 1980s dancehall toasting (rolling ad libbed syllables, punctuated by shouts of "right" and/or "ribit") and concludes the homage to Jamaican music with the simple rhyme, "the people is fresh/ the music is ok/ we rapping to the beat called hardcore reggae."
Shinehead - "Who The Cap Fit" (1986)
Any list of hip-hop/reggae songs would be incomplete without Shinehead, a pioneer in blending the genres. Born in England, raised in Jamaica and living in the Bronx for many years, Shinehead’s impressive roster of reggae-rap mashups throughout the 1980s and 1990s undoubtedly inspired many Jamaican deejays forays into rapping and rappers attempts at reggae.
Bronx rapper KRS-One introduced many hip-hop heads to dancehall with the classic diss track "The Bridge Is Over" (which featured Jamaican-accented delivery and a rhythmic interpolation of Super Cat’s 1984 dancehall hit "Boops") — but the legendary artist said he was influenced by Shinehead.
Over the bassline taken from an early digital dancehall riddim called Tempo, Shinehead uses the hook from Bob Marley’s 1974 track "Who The Cap Fit" to address everything from "political chess games and bureaucratic red tape/worldwide genocide all the things we hate," to "terrorism, racism and all sorts of schisms/not enough work and overcrowded in prisons." There are American emcees who deejay and Jamaicans that rap, but few can vacillate between vocal styles with the astonishing skill Shinehead possesses.
Super Cat and Heavy D - "Dem No Worry We" (1992)
The 1990s were a significant decade for dancehall’s breakthrough beyond the Caribbean diaspora. Several Jamaican artists were signed to major labels, and hip-hop collaborations and remixes became essential tools in marketing the music in America and expanding the popularity of Jamaican hits.
Jamaican rapper Heavy D had already released three platinum selling albums by 1992, so his collaboration with Super Cat undoubtedly brought greater attention to the Jamaican dancehall "don dada" who had recently signed to Columbia Records.
Heavy D listened to Jamaican deejays toasting in Patois before he moved to New York and started rapping, so there’s a natural chemistry between Heavy and Cat as they trade playful Patois boasts that are crowned by Heavy’s barrage of mesmerizing, scatted improvisations. Essentially a dancehall party record, "Dem No Worry We" stands as one of the era’s very best.
Ini Kamoze - "Here Comes the Hotstepper" (1994)
Producer Salaam Remi, who excelled in fusing hip-hop breakbeats with dancehall’s syncopated rhythmic patterns, remixed several hit songs for reggae stars including Shabba Ranks ("Twice My Age") and Super Cat ("Ghetto Red Hot"); his most successful, a remix of sing-jay Ini Kamoze’s "Here Comes the Hotstepper," topped the Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks in December 1994.
Remi chops up an eclectic range of samples into an irresistible hip-hop pulse that’s dominated by the drum and funky bassline from Taana Gardner’s 1981 dance/R&B hit single "Heartbeat." Kamoze, the self-proclaimed "lyrical gangster," lays down a swaggering Jamaican accented rap. As "Here Comes the Hotstepper" ascended to No. 1 in the U.S. (and several other countries) a bidding war ensued and Kamoze signed to Elektra Records. Disillusioned with the lack of remuneration, he walked away from that deal after releasing just one album.
In 2022, videos posted on TikTok with the hashtags #hotstepper and #herecomesthehotstepper featuring people dancing to the song earned millions of views and "Here Comes the Hotstepper" entered the R&B/Hip-Hop Digital Song Sales chart, nearly 30 years after its initial release.
Foxy Brown feat. Spragga Benz - "Oh Yeah" (2001)
From the "most critically acclaimed rap bitch in the game," Brooklyn’s Foxy Brown asserts her supremacy in the male dominated rap world and dares "one of y'all rappin' chicks" to mention her name.
Teaming up with her then-boyfriend Jamaica’s Spragga Benz on this 2001 rap reggae nugget, the intro to "Oh Yeah" samples Toots Hibbert’s classic "54-46 Was My Number" and Bob Marley’s "Punky Reggae Party." A booming bassline underscores each of Foxy’s tough edged rhymes as she reps for the streets: "I respect the rap game, but I don't f— with rap bitches, I'm speakin’ from my heart/It's not that I'm too good, I'm just hood."
Spragga punctuates Foxy’s lines with the resounding, catchy chorus, "oh yo yo yo" as heard in the live versions of Bob Marley’s "Get Up Stand Up," which the reggae icon co-wrote with fellow original Wailer Peter Tosh.
Damian Marley & Nas - "Strong Will Continue" (2010)
Several tracks on Damian Marley and Nas’ Distant Relatives — a sprawling musical odyssey that explores the genres’ shared African ancestry beyond their sound system roots — merit ranking on a best of reggae/hip-hop list, but the motivational "Strong Will Continue" has a slight edge.
The track begins with a stark, rhythmic pulse akin to a heartbeat, building to a soldierly cadence overlaid with strings, keys and other flourishes. Damian’s emphatic vocals then offer persuasive encouragement: "When the Armageddon start get dread/a lot of weak heart go weep and moan/only the strong will continue, do you have it in you/‘cause we’ve got a journey to go." Throughout, their incisive lyrics and distinctive blistering vocals consistently complement one another but Nas asserts his dominance on the song’s final verse.
Shifting from generally inspirational lyrics to musings on his own life (including his acrimonious, costly divorce from singer Kelis), the Queensbridge rapper wonders if Kelis cheated on him, complains about the monthly alimony payments and fears his life has "taken a turn to the Louis XIII life, twisted and mangled sort of Bruce Lee life." It’s a riveting passage and the music returns to a heartbeat that sparsely frames Nas’ astounding flow.
Snoop Lion feat. Mavado & Popcaan - "Lighters Up" (2013)
Snoop Dogg's Rasta guise, Snoop Lion, generated understandable skepticism when he announced his reggae project Reincarnated. He earned outright ridicule after proclaiming that he was Bob Marley incarnate. Just before the album’s release, Bunny Wailer, then the only surviving member of the original Wailers and prominently featured in the Reincarnated documentary, "excommunicated" Snoop from Rastafari, citing "fraudulent use of Rastafari personalities and symbolism."
Despite the surrounding mayhem, Reincarnated is a solid pop reggae effort. One of its best tracks is the catchy hip-hop jam "Lighters Up," featuring the innovative brass embellishments of Jamaica’s Tivoli Gardens Drum Corp, with dancehall artists Mavado and Popcaan each taking a verse. Their presence on the track is significant, and belies a complicated history.
Popcaan was a protégé of now incarcerated dancehall superstar Vybz Kartel who was in a bitter feud with Mavado. Their dispute initially played out on an exchange of diss tracks, then escalated into violence between the respective artists’ camps and their fans, which eventually warranted intervention by Jamaica’s prime minister. Despite Mavado’s words on the first verse "Link up with me, all enemies" and Popcaan proclaiming "unity is the strength" on the third, the two Jamaican artists don’t acknowledge each other (or their battle) within the song’s lyrics or video. The dancehall artists’ icy exchanges thawed somewhat the following year and Mavado was featured on the remix of Popcaan’s "Everything Nice." However that truce was short-lived and the feud, which accelerated again in early 2016, continues today.
Kendrick Lamar feat. Agent Sasco - "The Blacker the Berry" (2015)
"The Blacker the Berry" is Kendrick Lamar’s remarkable, complex expression of outrage towards racist white America and his own hypocrisy for crying over the death of Trayvon Martin then gangbanging and killing a man "blacker than me."
Kendrick angrily poses profound societal questions over a track that’s an impeccable blend of hip-hop, rock and soul with a jazzy outro. Jamaica’s Agent Sasco — considered among dancehall’s most astute lyricists — underscores Kendrick’s sentiments with his raspy, thunderous, Patois-tinged vocal hook, providing a historical context that resonates whether you’re from the Caribbean or America: "I said they treat me like a slave, cah' me Black, woi, we feel a whole heap of pain, cah' we Black… imagine now, big gold chains full of rocks/How you no see the whip, left scars pon' me back/ But now we have a big whip parked pon' the block."
Kabaka Pyramid -"Kabaka vs Pyramid" (2016)
Kabaka Pyramid’s hip-hop influences run as deep as his reggae/dancehall inspirations. Prior to making his name as a reggae sing-jay, the 2023 GRAMMY winner pursued a career as a rapper. His ability to easily shift between rapped verses and Patois-chanted lyrics with optimal dexterity is highlighted on the clever "Kabaka vs. Pyramid," a battle track from his 2016 Accurate mixtape, produced by Major Lazer’s Walshy Fire.
In this skirmish, Kabaka is the Jamaican deejay and Pyramid is his hip-hop alter ego. Over the beat from the Notorious B.I.G.’s classic "Gimme The Loot" (where Biggie rapped in two voices, as himself and his younger self) each persona makes their case for vocal preeminence: Pyramid tells Kabaka "you realize your whole style is rap, posing as a reggae artist, hiding the fact." Kabaka retorts, "you only vex because when me deejay mi badda dan any flippin’ rapper ‘pon the planet where mi stand upon."
Who won the battle? That’s hard to say, "but we the same person so pull it up and replay."
Runkus - "Taxi: Zion" (2022)
The current generation of young Jamaican music makers have transformed decades of hip-hop/reggae blends, collabs and samples into innovative, genre-less sonics. An outstanding example from that progressive soundscape is "Taxi: Zion," by Jamaican sing-jay/songwriter/musician/producer Runkus.
Produced by British radio host Toddla T, "Taxi: Zion" is a heartfelt tribute to Runkus’ close friend, aspiring artist France Nooks, who was fatally stabbed by a taxi driver (Nooks’ voice is sampled on the track). Fluidly crisscrossing a six-minute kaleidoscopic collage of boom bap hip-hop, pulsing reggae basslines, sleek R&B and crackling dancehall beats, Runkus raps, sings and deejays with dizzying speed, asking Nooks about reggae heroes in heaven ("do you see Garnet in garments of Silk sing by the fireplace?") offers complicated considerations on seeking revenge ("we used to walk with patience now we walk with a slug") and doubting his convictions ("I lost my faith the day you met your fate"). The song is the impressive result of tradition meeting revolutionary ideas, which parallels the creation of reggae and hip-hop.
Photo: Jason Koerner/Getty Images
7 Incredible Sets From AfroNation Miami: WizKid, Uncle Waffles, Black Sherif & More
At the inaugural AfroNation Miami, stars of the Nigerian Afrobeats movement joined by Caribbean artists, South African amapiano DJs and MCs, all of whom kept the sweltering crowds grooving until late into the night.
If the inaugural AfroNation Miami could be described in one word, it’s hot — in all its meanings.
With thousands of tourists descending on Miami for Memorial Day weekend, many of them celebrating Urban Beach Week, it should be a no-brainer to have a festival focused on Black artists and music from around the world. The thing is, Florida gets pretty balmy in the summer — in the 80s and 90s every day — and the high-humidity heat during the two-day fest felt almost unbearable at times. But artists and fans alike didn’t let the climate ruin their good time.
An incredible selection of talent from across the African diaspora played to an approximately 20,000-strong crowd at LoanDepot Park, usually home of the Miami Marlins. Stars of the Nigerian Afrobeats movement including Burna Boy, Asake, and WizKid gave pulse-pounding performances, joined by Caribbean artists such as Jamaican dancehall talent Mavado and Panamanian reggaetonista Sech. Just outside on the stadium plaza, an entire stage of South African amapiano DJs and MCs kept the sweltering crowds grooving until late into the night.
There were a few snags common to festivals. Some artists, like WizKid, showed up late to their sets. Others, like Beenie Man, dropped out entirely, only to be replaced by the charismatic up-and-comer Shenseea. But more often than not, the international crowd was granted a formidable festival experience, anchored by extraordinary sets from some of the best Black artists in the world. Read on to discover seven of the most jaw-dropping sets from AfroNation Miami.
Asake Bares All-In Enrapturing Performance
Not even clothes could contain Asake’s exuberance — the Nigerian Afrobeats rookie basically undressed himself slowly during his half-hour performance. First he threw away his neon green wraparound shades. Then he ditched his Louis Vuitton jean jacket on the stage floor. His chunky silver sneakers came off at one point, and he finished the rest of the set walking around in his socks. His ear monitor fell out during one of his many twirling dance moves and had to be replaced later by a stagehand.
Eventually, that left his white tank top, which he’d been using to wipe away sweat for the whole performance. That came off at the climax of the show, when the singer stepped over the barrier to commune with the crowd. As a security guard supported him he leaned back in a crucifix pose, letting fans tug at his shirt until he finally tossed it into the throng.
Asake has come a long way in a very short time. The 28-year-old dropped his first album just last year and has been making the media rounds in the states, appearing on "Jimmy Fallon" and "Good Morning America." He’s a star on the rise, representing the new wave of Afrobeats, its embrace of continent-spanning sounds like amapiano (which he namechecks in the title of one of his biggest songs), and its potential to go even more global than it already is.
His stage presence signifies his world-conquering potential. He doesn’t interact with the crowd like Ckay or Burna Boy. He dances and sings, in a deep, sonorous voice, as if possessed by some spirit, staring into the middle distance, concentrating on nothing but leaving it all on the stage. It’s almost as if he was in a trance, and the moment he walked off after performing "Mr. Money," it felt as though everyone present had all snapped out of one as well, hypnotized by this one-of-a-kind talent.
Black Sherif Spits From The Streets
Although he played to a sparse crowd early Saturday, Ghanaian rapper Black Sherif didn’t let that stop him from giving a blistering performance. Fans holding signs thanking him for songs such as "Second Sermon" had camped out in front of the stage, and he didn’t disappoint them, delivering a passionate sermon from the streets.
As a proponent of the gritty Ghanaian offshoot of UK drill known as asakaa, Black Sherif was one of the few hip-hop-oriented acts on a bill dominated by pop and Afrobeats stars. He told stories of darkness and heartbreak with incredible focus and intensity, almost shouting his lyrics at the crowd in a raspy voice. Songs such as "45" feature lyrics in English and Sherif’s native language of Twi, and to his credit, his delivery was flawless through the entire set. He didn’t skip a single word, which is more than can be said for many American rappers.
The drama of Black Sherif’s passionate performance climaxed with his final song, the hit "Kwaku the Traveler," weaving a tragic tale of falling from and grinding his way back to success. About 30 seconds in, the DJ let the beat drop out, leaving the rapper to finish the song with a captivating a capella.
Burna Boy Withstands The Heat For Fuego Saturday Closing Set
Drenched in sweat, even Burna Boy eventually needed a break from the heat. After eight songs straight of passionate performance, he finally turned to a stagehand and declared "I’m gonna need some water."
The fiery performance was the climax of AfroNation’s Saturday lineup, and Damini Ogulu did not disappoint. Backed by a full band even larger than Asake’s, with backup singers, dancers, a brass section, and a drumline playing African percussion instruments, the global superstar dripped with charisma as well as perspiration. His million-watt smile shone brighter than any of the lights in the LoanDepot Park stands as he strutted around the stage and blazed through solo renditions of his biggest hits, including "Secret," as well as tracks from his recent album Love Damini such as the Ed Sheeran collab "For My Hand."
With pyrotechnics, smoke machines, and a stadium full of adoring fans at his disposal, the king of Afrobeats put on an incredible spectacle in Miami, with the most iconic moment coming at the end as the entire ballpark sang the chorus of "It’s Plenty" a capella. But an even more iconic moment may have been after performing his Dave collab "Location" when he recovered a Haitian flag, waved it around, and wrapped it around his neck like a bandanna. Out of all the flags being waved in the audience, this is the one that matters most in Miami with its huge Haitian diaspora population. And when Africa’s biggest star bore it proudly, the crowd erupted.
Ckay Celebrates Love And Money On The Main Stage
Before he went onstage at AfroNation Miami, Ckay’s DJ declared him "Africa’s number one boyfriend." It was easy to see why: Not only did he perform some of his most romantic songs, but the Nigerian singer spent much of the show making eyes at the crowd. And making heart symbols with his hands. And peace signs.
It seems the fans loved him back. The phones all came out upon hearing the opening strains of closer "Love Nwatiti" (a massive international hit and the first No. 1 on Billboard’s Afrobeats chart) and the crowd roared with approval upon hearing the sweet guitar melody on "Emiliana." "This is my first time doing this song in Miami, I want you to make some noise!" he declared.
The show wasn’t all about romance, however. Penultimate song "Hallelujah" is an ode to cash money, and Ckay displayed his clout by bringing out featured rapper Blaqbonez to perform his verse. "If you wanna make some money this year say ‘Ohhhhh,’" the singer said to the crowd before jumping into the amapiano-influenced track. Money and talent — maybe he would make a good boyfriend.
Major League DJz Offer A Scorching Set Of South African Sounds
More than anyone else at AfroNation, Major League DJz showed the world-conquering potential of amapiano.
Closing the stage on Sunday night, the duo ran through a scorching set of amapiano favorites, even slipping in an immaculate remix of Beyoncé’s "CUFF IT" while a succession of MCs pumped up the crowd. Shifting the vibe at will — from intense, futuristic rave and trance-indebted synth tracks to lighter tunes with soulful piano and organ chords, and always with eruptions of log drum bass and skillfully-deployed delays, filters, and other effects — they kept the crowd enraptured and in thrall to the power of ‘piano. So deeply in command of the audience were they that a guest appearance midway through the set threatened to derail it entirely. Atlanta rapper Kali took the stage to perform her song "Area Codes," and the trap-influenced track felt like a wrench thrown into the Majors’ finely-tuned amapiano machine.
Kali wasn’t the only guest appearance, as by the end of the set, it felt as though the entire Piano People collective had come on stage. Over a dozen people stood behind, in front of, and even on top of the decks, celebrating their success and lending their collective energy to give the performance a feeling of unstoppability. The MCs hyped up the crowd, the dancers (including the previous night’s headliner Uncle Waffles) danced, and the rest basked in the vibes of the by-then-bursting crowd. This is how Africa raves, and the rest of the world would be smart to follow along.
DJ Uncle Waffles Brings Impeccable Femme Energy To Piano People Stage
While the stars of Afrobeats took the stage inside on the LoanDepot Park field, outside the stadium the Piano People stage had the feel of a block party. Focusing on the ascendant South African dance genre of amapiano, the stage brought some of the scene’s biggest talents to Miami.
It was Saturday night headliner Uncle Waffles, also the only female artist to headline either stage, that offered the purest take on what makes the genre exciting. Looking like a Matrix character in a black jumpsuit and neon-green hair, the South Africa-via-eSwatini DJ put up a powerful mix of amapiano tracks, including her own massive hit "Tanzania." The pulse of the log drum bass and the steamy rhythms felt right at home in the swampy humidity.
While many of the loudest, most energetic voices at the stage were MCs such as Focalistic and Musa Keys, Waffles, despite primarily DJing, quietly behind the decks. She would often start a track and jump to the front of the stage to join her dance troupe, themselves dressed in cheerleader-style outfits, in thrilling, coordinated dance routines. The energy and enthusiasm onstage and in the crowd manifested itself the most in these moments.
WizKid Shows He's The Star Of The Show
WizKid knows he’s a star (he was calling himself "Starboy" long before The Weeknd) and at his festival-closing set on Sunday night, he delivered a star experience, taking the stage from atop a massive stair-shaped backdrop designed to let him descend from high above the rest of us.
Wearing sequined black pants, a leather fedora, and shades that never left his eyes, Wizzy strutted back and forth on the stage like a proud lion, performing the biggest hits from his massive catalog. Some guests came out, such as Buju for "Mood," while the artist let the crowd sing-along to Drake’s verse on "Come Closer." The instrumentals seemed to switch between a DJ and a live band, both of them obscured by the stage setup.
At other sets such as Burna Boy and Asake, the band was a major feature; here there was nothing to distract the crowd from Big Wiz. He absorbed their love like a sponge, and may have caught some thrown underwear from the crowd too.
Much was made by the artist of the global nature of the crowd. Wizzy started out his set by shouting out all the Caribbeans, from Jamaica to Trinidad and certainly Haiti, present in the audience, before moving on to Africa. "I see your flags, I see you repping for your country right now," he said. "This is a sexy ass crowd tonight, baby!"
Photo courtesy of the Recording Academy
Press Play: Watch Ibrahim Maalouf Spotlight His Improvisatory Powers In Energetic Performance of "Right Time"
Lebanese trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf showcases his improvisation skills in this instrumental performance of "Right Time," a hip-hop track from his latest album, 'Capacity To Love.'
Since the initiation of his solo career, Lebanese instrumentalist Ibrahim Maalouf has strived to diversify music with his trumpeting.
The musician found his start performing at international jazz and classical competitions. After quickly becoming one of the most decorated trumpeters, Maalouf began his career as a soloist, where he could transcend the bounds of traditional genres. His skillful, unique improvisation caught the attention of artists globally, including Afrobeats singer Angélique Kidjo.
Together, they released Queen of Sheba, which snagged Maalouf his very first GRAMMY nomination in the Best Global Music Album category at the 2023 GRAMMYs and made him the first Lebanese instrumentalist to be nominated in GRAMMY history.
In this episode of Press Play, Maalouf performs an instrumental version of "Right Time," an upbeat hip-hop track on his latest album, Capacity to Love. Accompanied by an electric guitar and saxophone, Maalouf plays the track's melody, originally sung by Erick the Architect from the Flatbush Zombies.
Maalouf then trades off with the saxophonist, as the two musicians deliver an impressive, improvised solo.
Capacity to Love is Maalouf's fifteenth studio album and first self-produced project. The genre-bending release features collaborations with pop singer J.P. Cooper, rapper D Smoke, New Orleans funk band Tank & the Bangas, and more.
Press play on the video above to watch Ibrahim Maalouf's performance of "Right Time," and keep checking back to GRAMMY.com for more new episodes of Press Play.