By Prince Etim
UK born and Port Harcourt raised Slim Burna is a man of many parts. Most times he sings, other times he raps, as well as being a gifted producer. Growing up in the bubbling city of PH afforded him the opportunity to experience the rise of the city, musically if not culturally. Looking back at his 15-track mixtape, I’m On Fire; it’s quite clear why the city has enjoyed a renaissance of sorts in recent times: the prodigious talents that abound there only need an outlet to show the world what they have in their arsenal.
I’m On Fire was released on Slim Burna’s 25th birthday as a free downloadable album. His city showed love and it notched over 50,000 downloads at the end of twelve months. With the benefit of hindsight, one can examine it again and review its merits and demerits- if any.
The tape opens with the fiery “I’m on Fire (Freestyle)” which sets up what the project is about: a young man attempting to have his voice heard in a saturated pop music market. In a fast-paced fusion of ragga, dancehall and afro-pop, he announces his arrival like an eager prodigy. His influences are clear on the track: Plantashun Boiz, Wizkid, Wande Coal all could have made the track and it would have the same feeling.
All Day featuring Ikwerrian.
It’s been six years since four students of the University of Port Harcourt were lynched in cold blood- in broad daylight- for allegedly stealing a mobile phone. It was inevitable for any musician with a voice not use it to talk about his. That’s what Slim Burna does on All Day with Ikwererian, another native of the PH area. With a few bars addressed at the government, he boldly calls for better treatment of his community. He could have been prophesying because those issues persist till date, especially as the 2019 elections approach.
Claro featuring Pi Piego
When this track opens with two seconds of someone coughing, you could have guessed what the song is about: a cheeky ode to marijuana. The hook “Smoke, smoke, smoke claro” has no pretences about the love for the herb. Rightly or wrongly, it’s popular among peoples of all ages across the world. As of today, recreational use of marijuana is now legal in Canada. One can’t hate too much on a song that is as catchy as this.
Turn Me On
If Slim Burna needed a mainstream hit, this track could be it. It’s obviously designed as a club banger and it hits the mark. The up-tempo beat merges nicely with the cheesy lyrics like “She too set o, she dey whine her waist/her waist,” it doesn’t promise much except to have a good time, and it delivers on that.
Sometimes artistes feel a need to remind the audience that they’re not just pop musicians and that their sense of morality is still in place, even if it doesn’t fit thematically in the project. The Orphan is a haunting tale of an abused orphan girl over the extrapolated instrumentals of DJ Khaled’s I’m On One. Perhaps if the song were properly arranged and mastered, it could have been a classic like 2face’s African Queen or Asa’s Jailer. Either way, the song belongs on another project entirely, or at least as an original single.
Hold Yuh featuring P Jaydino
See what I said about the previous track not fitting thematically? This next track underscores. Hold Yuh is a party song, like any other that is the rage now. By itself it is unproblematic, but next to a sad tune about a disadvantaged girl, this track makes me feel uneasy. In the last third of the song, it appears that even the artiste himself is forcing it. No need to announce that you want to party, you want her body repeatedly.
Money good iye, poverty na disease iye… Sounds like something Timaya will endorse. The Nigerian Dream can be said to be escaping from poverty. Everywhere one looks, there’s extreme poverty staring at your right back. Again, Port Harcourt is a prime example of that: with billions of dollars emerging from the degraded lands and swamps, citizens are stuck in generational poverty. It’s easy to see where the inspiration for this song comes from and it is relatable. His message too fits every Nigerian: make money, lots of it and floss. QED.
Bad Man featuring SQueeze
Slim Burna could be Burna Boy’s cousin. This track sounds like something latter would be a natural one. The dancehall/ragga feel of the song has proven to be a winning formula for Burna- Boy not Slim. But then it shows Slim Burna’s ability to spot trends before the become mainstream. The guest artiste SQueeze holds his own quite well. Imagine performing this in the Caribbean neighbourhoods of London… Yuuuge!
Shokoto featuring Attitude
For a while Timaya propped up Dem Mama Soldiers. Attitude was (is?) a member of the collective and plays alongside Burna on this track. It’s quite dancebable and again, underscores the lightheartedness nature that the entire mixtape should have been made of. The title is the Yoruba word for “trousers”. One can only imagine today the song was remade to feature any of the Shaku Shaku boys or a CDQ. Massisve. It’s a jam still.
Real Recognize Real featuring Young Stunna, Zubillonaire and DJ Joenel
Hiphop lovers will feel hard done by that they had to wait until 70% of the mixatpe was over. Real recognize real is a hiphop slang and it delivers as much as it promised. Slim Burna was magnanimous and smart enough to take the backseat and allow these emcees take the wheel. In 4:08 minutes, the hard bars that came from this track will make some other rappers blush. Strings, snares, bass all on point. MI was right: Nigerian rappers need to fix up their lives. This song is a good place to start. Pure flames.
On My Way
If you see anybody from PH with a chip on their shoulder, please allow them. The superstars that have come from that city can be counted on one hand. Slim Burna returns to his ragga tendencies here as he announces his forthcoming On My Way. The repetitive lines “I be number, I be champion, I be superstar” almost makes it monotonous, plus it’s a contradiction. Are you a champion already or are you just on your way? Again what he does is understandable: Nigerians connect to music that mirrors their own lives. So if you say you’re on the way, it’s okay to speak your superstardom into existence.
Port Harcourt Boy featuring Knowledge
Like Timaya, Duncan Mighty and Mr 2Kay, Silm Burna couldn’t avoid repping for his city, and with good reason- see On My Way above. Artistes need love from their city and he no doubt got it on Port Harcourt Boy. It doesn’t hurt that he speaks his local dialect on it to connect with people in the hoods. By this point, it’s obvious that Slim Burna favours ragga/dancehall beats. PH rapper Knowledge drops a decent verse but it doesn’t strike as much as it could have. Not to crap on his bars, but the song could have done without it.
Love Me Tonight
Here Slim Burna returns to Wizkid territory, and I don’t mean that nicely this time. Heavily autotuned, it steals too many elements. First, it was Shaggy’s Mr Bombastic, then Peter Andre’s Mysterious Girl. The cringe-inducing lines that follow borrow Bruno Mars Lazy Song. Not only is it a mishmash of too many things, but it would also have clearance issues if it were ever released as an official track.
Side To Side featuring Slidez
Shaku Shaku was made possible by South Africa’s kwaito/house music. Slim Burna may have been psychic when he did this. If redone today, it will find a home in many legs. Slidez did great but in the current musical space, it’s begging for a Mr Real/ Niniola feature.
Take You Home featuring Pi Piego
Grand opening, grand closing. The only artiste to feature twice on this project appears again here. After featuring on Claro, Pi Piego returns on Take You Home to usher out the I’m On Fire mixtape. It’s fitting that it closes, a double entendre on the title. It’s ragga tinged as well, as is a ladies anthem. One hears a slight instrumentation of Rude Gyal,Reminisce’s collabo with Burna Boy off the 2013 album Alaga Ibile.
The big takeaway from this mixtape is that Slim Burna will have a voice in today’s scene. He already showed that he has a diversity of sounds but is most comfortable with afro-pop. It seems as though that’s the most popular sound of the Nigerian music industry now and it’s evident by the successes of Davido, Wizkid and Burna Boy that there’s room for it- and him. However, it is essential that he recruits the services of an A&R exec who can nip and trim some redundant tracks on the mixtape. Most importantly, the project begs for mastering to clean up some of the sounds.
All in all, it was a more than decent effort for a mixtape and has aged well. He’s right on his way to big things.