On Sunday, the biggest names in entertainment and music will gather in Los Angeles' Staples Centre for the most important night in music: The Grammys. This year's show will see new and old stars unite to celebrate their accomplishments in the music industry, with first timers like Lizzo, Billie Eilish, and Lil Nas X dominating across categories.
Also among the long list of names up for a coveted Grammy is one Burna Boy. The 28-year-old musician is nominated in the often overlooked Best World Music Album category, earning the top spot for his 2019 project African Giant. Blink twice, and you might miss the category — other notable nominees include Benin's very own Angelique Kidjo and Haitian songstress Natalie Joachim — but you'll definitely want to pay attention to Burna Boy in the future.
Born Damini Ebunoluwa Ogulu in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, Burna Boy first found fame in the competitive Afrobeats genre of West Africa. Afrobeats developed in the early 2000s, its sound the result of a fusion of elements taken from hip hop, R&B, highlife, dancehall, and more. Inspired by Nigerian human rights activist and multi-instrumental artist Fela Kuti (his grandfather was once Fela's manager), Burna Boy pursued his music career with the intention of standing out in the crowded genre.
Burna Boy began releasing music in 2011, dropping two mixtapes in the same year, but what many consider to be his official entrance into the mainstream happened in 2012 with the release of "Like to Party." The aptly-named feel-good song became a staple at clubs around Africa and throughout the diaspora, stamping the musician as one to watch. He followed up the single's success by releasing four others from his 2013 studio album debut L.I.F.E. (Leaving an Impact for Eternity).
Still developing his unique sound as his career progressed, Burna Boy began carving out what he dubbed "Afro-fusion" with albums like On a Spaceship and Outside. The projects were a success, specifically Outside; it debuted at number 3 on the Billboard Reggae Albums chart, and its 2018 single "Ye" became the power anthem for every African party before trickling into Western bars and clubs. "I want chop life, I want buy motor," raps Burna Boy on the track in breezy Nigerian pidgin English. "I want build house, I still want turn up."
The song propelled Burna Boy further; the singer was invited to perform at Coachella in 2019 and won Best International Act at the 2019 BET Awards. Beyoncé soundtrack The Lion King: The Gift, which was released alongside the film's soundtrack, was heavily Afrobeats-inspired. It called upon stars in the genre, including Wizkid ("Brown Skin Girl"), Tiwa Savage, and Mr. Eazi ("Keys to the Kingdom") to contribute to the project. Burna Boy was the only guest artist with a track of their own on the album, with "Ja Ara E," an obvious ode to the sonic stylings of his hero.
A month later, Burna Boy dropped African Giant, his fourth studio album, to critical acclaim. The perfect blend of the party ("Gbona") and the political ("Collateral Damage" and "Wetin Man Go Do"), it is Burna Boy's most introspective and personal project yet — and his most successful. The album, which featured everyone from hip hop heavyweights Future and YG to Damian Marley to Jorja Smith, resulted in two international tours as well as Burna Boy's first Grammy nomination.
The nomination makes him the ninth Nigerian to be nominated for a Grammy — past nominees include Wizkid and Timaya, Femi Kuti, King Sunny Adé, and writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. A win could make him the second Nigerian to take home a Grammy in the awards 62 years.
Find out if Burna Boy will take home the gold by tuning into the Grammy Awards this Sunday 26 January.