Nigerian Pop Star Burna Boy Finds Success In The U.S. On His Own Terms

Kevin Mwanza
Written by Kevin Mwanza
Burna Boy
Already a star in Africa and well known in Europe, Nigerian music artist Burna Boy has broken out in the U.S. with 45 million views on YouTube. In this Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2019 photo, recording artist Burna Boy poses for a portrait in New York. Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP

Nigerian music artist Burna Boy, who is already a star in Africa and well known in Europe, has broken out in the U.S. music scene over the past year with his distinct husky-voiced Afrofusion – a variation of Afrobeat – that he credits to his grandfather, Mr. Idonije.

The 28-year-old singer, who spends his time between London, Los Angeles, and Lagos, signed with Bad Habit and Atlantic Records in July 2017 to handle his music outside of Africa.

In 2018, the video of his song “Ye” from his album “Outside” — some listeners initially confused it with Kanye West’s album “Ye” — racked up some 45 million views on YouTube. This was a great feat for an African musician.

“We’ve seen artists tap into the rhythms of Afrobeat and have success, mainstream hip-hop artists. So it’s time for an indigenous artist to have (that) kind of success,” said Craig Kallman, chairman and CEO of Atlantic Records, in a Wall Street Journal interview.

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Burna Boy pushing Afrobeats globally

Burna Boy’s song “Ye” and several others have spearheaded Afrobeats’ global expansion, with its soft, enticing drums and echoing, easy hook digestible for ears from all continents.

These songs are now connecting with the U.S. audience as fans increasingly ignoring the traditional boundaries of genre and nationality, and streaming makes it easier to discover new artists.