Burna Boy is running out of second chances, and he knows
For a while now, Burna Boy has been one chess move away from a checkmate, a last card away from checking up, one dice roll away from winning the Ludo game. But no matter how many times it seems the rollercoaster that is his career is about to reach a crescendo, the self-saboteur-in-chief always finds a way to bring his momentum to a halt.
Burna’s talent and immense promise make the highs of his career Kilimanjaro-high, while his tendency to get in his own way makes for some hellishly low lows. For all his musical attributes, Burna Boy has the kind of rap sheet that would make most 90’s gangsta rappers green with envy. What’s more, he’s still adding to it.
In 2010, a young Burna was reportedly involved in a gang-related stabbing in London that left one person dead. He was tried as a minor, found guilty and sent to jail. Eleven (11) months into his sentence, the singer was released on parole on the grounds of good behaviour. But he reportedly flouted the terms of his parole and travelled back to Nigeria to pursue his singing career. As a result, Burna Boy wasn’t welcome in the UK for several years. And even though he went on to become a reputable artist in his home country, the travel restriction contributed to his inability to become even bigger.
That was until 2016 when Burna made a triumphant return to the UK with a couple of shows that were christened his “homecoming”. At the London event, a police van with Burna’s name on the license plate served as one of the stage props. It was a self-deprecating reminder of his criminal past but that’s about as much as the singer lets on.
While he admits to being a problem child, Burna Boy has repeatedly denied those press reports. A couple of years after they first surfaced, he tweeted: “These bloggers be writing *expletive* thinking it’s a game until I see y’all face-to-face one day and I hospitalize or murk you.”
For the uninitiated, to ‘murk’ someone is to have them killed. Burna obviously wasn’t happy with the details of his past leaking. Now, I‘m no Einstein, but when denying murder allegations by the press, I doubt making a whole new set of murder threats towards the press does wonders for your cause.
The damning report came out in 2013 but Burna began unraveling all by himself shortly afterwards. In 2015, he and his crew allegedly manhandled Zimbabwean dancehall star Buffalo Souljah at a party in South Africa. In the same year, they got into another altercation with a motorist after an award show in Lagos. Burna Boy played up his ‘tough guy’ role on the streets and online as well, by brandishing guns on Instagram; all that’s in addition to running through the Nigerian artist starter kit, which includes: unceremoniously leaving the record label that first broke you and public drama with your (alleged) baby mamas.
But through it all, Burna Boy has no regrets. In 2016, he released an EP titled Redemption which contained “Pree Me”, a song where he claims that even if he had a time machine, and could go back into his past, he wouldn’t change a thing. That’s fine. But if Burna Boy had a crystal ball as well, I wonder if he would leave his future untampered with, because as colourful as his past was, it was obvious that there was even more drama to come.
In 2017, only a few months after signing a potentially life-changing recording contract with Atlantic Records, Burna Boy was a key suspect in Mr. 2Kay’s robbery at Eko Hotel & Suites in November. Following a misunderstanding between the two PH-bred singers, Oluwa Burna allegedly paid Mr. 2Kay’s assailants, which included his road manager, to rough up 2Kay.
Burna Boy was invited for questioning, and after docking the police for weeks, the singer eventually turned himself in. Burna was subsequently charged to court for ‘accessory after the fact’ and ‘conspiracy’. At his hearing, he pleaded not guilty and is currently out on bail.
As a result of his legal troubles, Burna was forced to cancel two of his headline shows in Lagos and Port Harcourt in December. Furthermore, the robbery case threatened to overshadow the release of his new album Outside, which is a damn shame because — in a 6-disc catalogue that includes two critically-acclaimed mixtapes, and a well-received debut album — Burna Boy released arguably his best and most personal body of work yet.
Curiously, Burna Boy and Atlantic are trying to downplay the importance of Outside by calling it a ‘mixtape’. But when you consider that Atlantic was recently in hot water for allegedly retitling their artist’s albums as mixtapes so they can underpay producers, things begin to add up. Nonetheless, Outside debuted at #3 on Billboard’s Reggae Albums Chart.
Ominously, as the album closes, the very last line could prove prophetic in the years to come. In a moment of brutal honesty, Burna sings about turning his life around, maybe: “So before me mother cry and her eyes start swell / Cos her son end up like Vybz Kartel.”
Those familiar with Vybz’s story know how (much like Burna Boy) despite his success, the Jamaican superstar remained deeply-rooted to the streets. But in 2014, those roots came back to haunt him, Kartel was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of his associate.
Burna is facing far less severe charges, right now anyway, but you can only hope he takes his own advice going forward. Because a time might come, when, much like his promising career, Burna Boy will run out of those second chances he seems to always have.
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