The beauty of Netflix is that the streaming service has a wealth of genre options at your disposal. If you want to get your action fix on, you are free to do so. If you’re in the mood for a comedy, thriller, or straight-up horror movie, they’ve got those as well. But sometimes it’s hard to beat a genuinely great drama, and boy does Netflix have a wealth of options in this particular genre. To help whittle down your choices, we’ve gone ahead and curated a list of the very best dramas on Netflix right now, which run the gamut from period pieces to relationship dramas to little-seen gems. There are movies from big, well-known filmmakers on this list, and there are also films from up-and-comers that are absolutely worth checking out.
So peruse through our list of the best drama movies on Netflix below, and get to watchin’. But beware; some of these may require a tissue or seven.
Someone Great – (2019 film)
Jenny, a music journalist living in New York City, lands her dream job with Rolling Stone in San Francisco. Her boyfriend of nine years, Nate, breaks up with her, and she spirals into a depression. Her best friends Erin, a real estate agent afraid to admit her feelings to her girlfriend Leah, and Blair, a social media manager who needs to break up with her boyfriend Will, with whom she has lost chemistry, are the only ones who can bring her out of it. Jenny contacts Erin and Blair after learning the concert series known as Neon Classic is putting on a pop-up show at Sony Hall and proposes one last adventure together before she moves, both to celebrate a new chapter in her life and to mend her broken heart.
The Lovebirds – (2020 film)
Jibran and Leilani are a couple who have been together for four years. Their relationship is fraught, and the two argue constantly about a variety of topics. While driving to a dinner party, the two mutually agree to end the relationship. Distracted by the breakup, Jibran runs a red light, hitting a cyclist with their car. The man refuses help and flees the scene. A man with a mustache suddenly commandeers their car, claiming to be a police officer and that the man on the bike is a criminal. He pursues the cyclist, but after catching him runs the cyclist over with their car several times, killing him. Mustache prepares to kill Jibran and Leilani with a gun but flees after hearing police sirens. Jibran and Leilani then flee the scene themselves.
I’m In Love With A Church Girl – (2013 film)
Wealthy drug dealer Miles Montego meets a nice Christian girl, Vanessa Leon, at a mutual friend’s house, and the two hit it off and start a relationship. Miles tells Vanessa that he used to be a drug dealer, but now wants to change his life. At first she is reluctant, but accepts it, assuming that he will start having faith in God. However, unknown to Miles, a few DEA agents are watching him and his friends and plan on taking them down.
Queen And Slim (2019 film)
While some would call it more of a dramatic thriller than a romance, it’s hard to ignore the chemistry between main characters Queen and Slim. They meet for the first time during an awkward first date, but are soon forced to go on the run after they fatally shoot a police officer in self defense. What follows is a complex reflection on Blackness in America, and a heart-pumping tale of runaway lovers.
365 Days (2020 film)
After a meeting between the Torricelli Sicilian Mafia crime family and black market dealers, Massimo Torricelli watches a beautiful woman on a beach. His father, leader of the Sicilian Mafia family, is shot dead.
Five years later, Massimo is now the leader of the Torricelli crime family. In Warsaw, Laura Biel, a fiery executive, is unhappy in her relationship with her boyfriend Martin, who rebuffs her when she tries to initiate sex. Laura celebrates her 29th birthday in Italy but after Martin embarrasses her, she goes for a walk and runs into Massimo, who kidnaps her.
The Photograph (2020 film)
Journalist Michael (Stanfield) follows a lead that introduces him to Mae (Rae), a successful art curator who’s grappling with the recent death of her mother. But as we follow their romance, we’re also introduced to a love story from the past that’s unexpectedly linked to the present.
Elisa & Marcela (2019 film)
Elisa & Marcela (Spanish: Elisa y Marcela) is a 2019 Spanish biographical romantic drama film directed by Isabel Coixet. Starring Natalia de Molina and Greta Fernández, the film tells the story of Elisa Sánchez Loriga and Marcela Gracia Ibeas, two women who passed as a heterosexual couple in order to marry in 1901 at Church of Saint George in A Coruña becoming the first same-sex matrimony recorded in Spain.
Love Jacked – (2018 Film)
The film stars Amber Stevens West as Maya, a young woman on a trip to Africa. While there she enters a whirlwind romance with Mtumbie (Demetrius Grosse), but shortly before returning home she breaks off their engagement when she catches him with another woman. To protect herself from the disapproval of her father (Keith David), she enlists Malcolm (Shamier Anderson), a Canadian hustler on the run from his vengeful partner in crime Tyrell (Lyriq Bent), to impersonate Mtumbie.
All the Bright Places (2020 film)
Teenagers Violet Markey and Theodore Finch attend the same high school in Bartlett, Indiana. Violet is reeling from the death of her sister in a car accident while Finch is on probation in danger of not graduating. The two come together and grow closer when they are paired up for a school project in which they are required to report on the wonders of Indiana.
Everything, Everything (2017 film)
Eighteen-year-old Maddy (Amandla Stenberg) is being treated for SCID, an immune disorder that prevents her from leaving her home and interacting with others. Her mother, Pauline Whittier, takes care of her with the help of her nurse Carla, who has taken care of Madeline for 15 years. Pauline does not allow Maddy to leave her house or interact with anything that has not been “sanitized”. Pauline monitors her daughter’s health status constantly and provides daily medication. Only Pauline, Carla and Carla’s daughter, Rosa, are allowed in the home. Pauline does not let Maddy leave their home or interact with anyone outside. Maddy yearns to see the world, particularly the ocean.
MEET FRANKY 5: The Tale Of A Banker Turned Journalist
He started off as an astute Banking Executive, after he had the opportunity to undertake his National Service assignment with Akuapem Rural Bank at Mamfe, Akuapem in 2005. Following this feat achieved, he worked professionally at the same bank for 24 months as an Assistant Accountant. Later in 2008, he joined United Bank for Africa (UBA) as a Retail Banking Officer. Due to his dedication to work, he won the Most Outstanding Staff award and later was poached by Access Bank, where he worked as Head of Asian Corporates desk.
In less than 3 months at Access Bank, Frank Kwabena Owusu liabilities portfolio had risen to $25million, unprecedented in the history of the bank, as he got recognized by the Board of the bank. Then he moved to Unibank as Head of Commodities Banking, later to Fidelity Bank as Head of Exports desk then finally left to First Atlantic Bank as Branch Manager at North Industrial Area, where he reigned to follow his passion in music and media.
Prior to the banking experience, he had his basic school education at the Alajo Basic School and had his secondary school education at Koforidua Secondary Technical School in Koforidua. He had his first degree at Valley View University where he studies Business Administration (Accounting option) and graduated with 2nd class upper division.
Franky5 has become a household name and one of the most talked about radio personalities in recent times. He is the host of “This is Gospel” radio show on Hitz 103.9 fm, a Multimedia Group. During this period he has conducted big interviews with top showbiz names such as Sarkodie, Stonebwoy, CK Akonnor, Prince David Osei, Obrafour, Yaw Sarpong, Joe Mettle, Diana Hamilton, Nacee, etc, and also securing two nominations, one each at the Ghana DJs Awards – 2019 and
RTP Awards – 2018.
Franky5’s entry into radio space started when he was into Artist Business Management where he managed Gospel music stalwarts such as Nacee and No Tribe music group, Ceccy Twum, One Voice Choir and OJ. There, he developed great love for radio as he encountered and studied top radio hosts such as Kuami Sefa Kayi, Akwasi Aboagye, Andy Dosty, Abeiku Santana, etc.
Later in 2016, he decided to divert to radio and television. His first application was to host the TIG Show on Pluzz fm which fell off along the way, until Mark Okraku-Mantey (Programs Director at Hitz fm) decided to give him a chance to develop his passion at Hitz fm in the same year.
Absolute belief and faith has been his guiding principle in the processes that has led him throughout his career. “If you don’t believe you can absolutely transform your life and get what you want, then you might as well forget about goal setting and do something else”. If you are in doubt, look around you. Everything you can see began as a thought. Make your thoughts turn into reality. The ultimate is to be able put a smile on someone’s face by virtue of my service to God and humanity.
Having worked in the corporate world, creative arts and the media space, his dedication to work and excellence has positioned him to serve on the Board of the 2nd biggest music awards scheme in Ghana, ‘3 Music Awards’ as the only Gospel representative. He also serves as an Academy member the biggest music awards scheme in Ghana, VGMAs. He is also a consultant to Africa Gospel Awards Festival and the Ghana National Gospel Music Awards. He also served on the Board of Zylofon Arts Fund, Ghana Tourism Authority Film Support Fund and currently a member of the “Beyond the Return” planning committee.
The 7 Record Producers Making Afrobeats Music A Globally Accepted Genre
When Drake hopped on Wizkid’s “Ojuelegba Remix” back in 2015, his co-sign helped elevate the blossoming Afrobeats scene to global heights. With the impending Afrobeats bonanza in his sights, a year later Drake, the globe’s biggest (and most opportunistic) artist, again sought Wizkid’s helping hand for his own Afro-inspired single “One Dance,”
This foray into the unknown paid off for him as “One Dance” exploded into one of the most successful singles of the streaming era. Just like that, almost in the blink of an eye, Afrobeats became a global commodity.
The emergence of artists like Burna Boy, Rema, Mr. Eazi, and the continued success of the likes of Wizkid and Davido, have propelled the genre globally. The recent release of Beyoncé’s The Lion King: The Gift, which featured the who’s who of the Afrobeats scene—Mr Eazi, Wizkid, Yemi Alade, Burna Boy, Maleek Berry, Tiwa Savage, Shatta Wale—is further evidence of the world’s growing interest in Afrobeats.
Throughout the years, there have been several producers who have consistently been behind many of our favourite hits. We take a closer look at the cream of the crop.
It took almost two years for Davido’s “Fall” to make its mark across the world, but when it did, it quickly became a torchbearer for the expansion of Afrobeats. The Kiddominant-produced record broke ground in the US and became the longest charting Nigerian pop song in Billboard history, peaking at number 13 on the US R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart. It also notably rose to one of the top 100 most Shazamed singles in America in early 2019 and was enlisted among Pitchfork’s 200 best songs of the 2010s. Other notable production credits by Kiddominant include AKA’s “Fela In Versace”, DJ Neptune’s “Marry” (feat. Mr Eazi) and Orezi’s “Rihanna”.
African Giant, Burna Boy’s magnus opus, would not have been possible without Kel P. A producer and co-writer on 10 of the album’s 19 songs, including the standout singles “Pull Up”, “Killin Dem”, “Dangote”, “On The Low” and “Gbona”, his production on African Giant provided a smooth canvas on which Burna Boy could showcase his immense talents. With multiple gold and platinum certifications all over the world, African Giant has arguably been the most important project in Afrobeats’ ongoing global expansion. Aside from his work with Burna Boy, Kel P has produced for an array of gifted African acts such as Niniola, Phyno, Wizkid, Solidstar, Ceeza Milli, Diamond Platnumz and Davido.
London-based producer P2J is perhaps the continent’s most visible Afrobeats production export. The versatile Nigerian has worked with the likes of Doja Cat, Chris Brown, Stormzy, Mario, H.E.R and Tiwa Savage. On Beyoncé’s album, Lion King: The Gift, he produced arguably the two most memorable songs, “Brown Skin Girl” and “Ja Ara E”. Other notable records produced by P2J include Amine’s “Easy” featuring Summer Walker, DJ Tunez’s “Cool Me Down” featuring WizKid, and Wizkid’s “Smile” featuring H.E.R.. Last year he had the impressive distinction of having two of his songs featured on President Obama’s list of his favourite songs of 2019: Gold Link’s “Joke Ting” and Burna Boy’s “Anybody”.
When E-Kelly and Mr Eazi came across each other in Lagos in 2016, Mr. Eazi was fresh off the success of his breakout singles “Skin Tight” and “Bankulize”, while E-Kelly had recently left his role as an A&R for Patoranking. Both were in search of a new challenge. The two connected instantly, and it wasn’t long before they had their first record together—the easy, infectious and sultry “Leg Over”. As the song enjoyed global success, they soon collaborated on yet another chart-topping single, “Pour Me Water”, which helped propel the Nigerian star into the continent’s highest streaming artist in 2018. Aside from his work with Mr Eazi, E-Kelly has produced songs for other stars such as Major Lazer, Patoranking, Vanessa Mdee, Tekno, Ycee and Waje.
Since bursting onto the scene in the early 2010s, Nigerian producer Sarz’s production style has evolved year on year. A pioneer of the growing Afro-house scene, his extensive work with Nigerian singer Niniola continues to break boundaries. The award-winning producer’s work stands out for its smooth, bouncy African rhythm and minimalist production. He counts among his collection of hits songs such as Wizkid’s “Closer” featuring Drake, Niniola’s “Maradona” and Skepta and Wizkid’s “Energy (Stay Far Away)”.
Award-winning Ghanaian DJ and record producer, GuiltyBeatz has been on a tear since he released his breakthrough single, “Akwaaba” featuring Mr Eazi, Patapaa and Pappy Kojo in 2018. After collecting several awards, including most notably Best African Collaboration and Song of the Year at the 2018 All Africa Music Awards, he went on to co-produce three songs off The Lion King: The Gift: “Already”, “Keys to The Kingdom” and “Find Your Way Back”. On his recently released debut EP, Different, GuiltyBeatz presents a more uptempo rhythm than the mellow, sexy vibes that have become his signature sound. It’ll be interesting to see if the sparse, clubby Afro-house world he imagines on “Different” will be a staple in his production work going forward.
Few songs have been as important in elevating the Afrobeats genre than Wizkid’s “Ojuelegba”. The soulful melody on this gold-standard production paved the way for Wizkid to provide a spiritual and joyous classic about harsh life in the streets of Lagos. With Skepta and Drake’s contribution on the remix, the song received critical acclaim in the UK, North America and beyond. Aside from producing several hit songs for Wizkid, the multi award-winning production duo, which comprises siblings Uzezi Oniko and Okiemute Oniko, have also produced for the likes of Mr Eazi, Seyi Shay, Ice Prince, L.A.X and Skales.
– Shingai Darangwa/okayafrica
Shatta Wale Curates A 10 Track Playlist For Essence [LISTEN]
I wanted to personally thank you all for making the Mariah The Scientist edition pop in a major way! That piece did so well that we’re evolving the format of ESSENCE’s The Playlist to feature more song selections by your favorite rising and established artists, such as this week’s co-curator, Shatta Wale.
The Ghanaian reggae-dancehall talent from Nima, burst onto the American scene thanks to his show-stealing appearance alongside Beyoncé in Disney’s Black Is King. And although here in the U.S., people are warming up to the sounds of Afrobeat, Afrovibes, and more—Shatta Wale has always professed himself to be a worldly talent and his latest single, “Winning Formula,” proves why the crown is secured firmly on his head.
“In life, if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail,” Shatta tells me. “You need to have a plan, a strategy, and stand for something. ‘Winning Formula’ will be your key to always being triumphant.
It also doesn’t hurt to shine brightly alongside Queen Bey in “Already,” a standout moment from Black Is King. I asked Shatta what was like when he first arrived on set and what lessons he learned after the experience, to which he said, “It was a superb feeling because I wasn’t just representing Shatta Wale, I was representing Ghana and the entire continent of Africa. I had to bring my A-game alongside the Queen Beyoncé. To be a part of such a masterpiece is an honor and to showcase our Black heritage and the beauty of Africa was a moment never to be forgotten and a lot of fun! The experience reinforced my belief that when it’s your time, no one can take that away from you, and the journey of Shatta Wale is a winning formula within itself.”
Ranked as one of the most influential artists in Africa, Shatta Wale has the unique ability to connect his story to the listener and infuse his charisma with relative ease. “I have been on the top, went down, and now I am back and making all these great moves. [“Winning Formula”] represents all the phases of my hustle [and] I think listeners can learn from these relatable stories to cook up their own recipe,” Shatta says. Whether encouraging the youth through charitable actions (Shatta Foundation) or through his evocative use of song, this Akata has mad respect for the leader of the Shatta Movement and I say “nhyira” to him and all his future wins.
To all my chalés, I say, “Medaase paa,” for enjoying this week’s version of The Playlist, served fresh with a side of Red Red and Waatse!
Shatta Wale & Gold Up — “Winning Formula”
The artist formerly known as Bandana from Ghana kicks off The Playlist with his latest single, “Winning Formula,” via Gold Up. The Black Is King co-star offers up motivating lines about what it takes to bring home championship gold. “Tell yourself that you are more than enough, keep God in your life, and go after what you want,” he shares as advice with yours truly. Wise words indeed, especially when you’re bigging up those who went from nothing to something, and makes me recall a line from Wale’s “God Is Alive”.
“Mɛda w’ase oo yehowa,” which breaks down to “I thank you Jehovah,” a belief that anyone can identify with deeply, and should apply to their own lives to experiment with their own winning formula.
Darey — “Jah Guide Me”
Nigerian’s Darey Art Alade (mononymously known as Darey) released his first single in five years titled “Jah Guide Me”. The Pheelz-produced single is blessed by the Creator and feels (pun intended) like an instant hit. Imbued with hope and positivity—two things we need an abundance in these difficult times—”Jah Guide Me” is an aural experience which anyone from any walk of life can participate in. In short, this song serves a higher purpose, and you cannot lose when following the word of the Almighty.
Kelvin Boj — “Whip It Up” (ft. Gucci Mane)
Shatta Wale’s second pick for The Playlist introduces Kelvin Boj and his Afrobeats and hip-hop blended song called “Whip It Up.” The man formerly known as LayLow connects with Atlanta rap icon Gucci Mane for a carefully crafted blend meant to get you hype and excited for something new from an artist with some substance. “The energy this song gives off is a superb feeling,” Shatta shares. A compliment from the King of Dancehall and Afrobeats is a win that is strong enough to ensure ears will be enticed for this diasporadical ditty.
Cuppy — “Jollof On The Jet” (ft. Rema & Rayvanny)
Cuppy is a supremely talented force on the scene and I really hope that you all add her to your rotation ASAP! The brilliantly titled “Jollof On The Jet” is a smooth slice of Afro-pop from the talented Naija DJ, producer, and all-around star, and features contributors Rema and Rayvanny. Over producer Killertunes‘ celebratory beat, Cuppy and her two cohorts craft a lavish and lush song that, with an extra dash of bongo spice, makes “Jollof On The Jet” a very catchy and irresistible track to play wherever you’re at in the world.
Iwan — Gye Nyame
Iwan, a reggae and Dancehall artist also from Ghana, is known as “Lyrical Gunshot,” and has a reputation in the Gold Coast for being ahead of the curve. As Shatta Wale’s third pick for The Playlist, “Gye Nyame”—which means “there is nothing but creation or God”—is a song that resonates because “in life you only have yourself and God to be a motivator.” With a name that is an acronym for “I Win Always Naturally,” this song should align one’s faith with the energy to make one’s dreams a reality.
Ecool — “Knock“
Ecool and Oshow Beatz as a tandem have put numbers on the boards for a minute. But now, with “Knock,” they add a huge win for pollinating Afrovibes around the world. As DMW Records‘ in-house DJ, Ecool floats over this mid-tempo cut—with its soft major chords, brass melodies, and trademarked Afrobeat drum sequence—and proves that vocal artistry can add a huge W when you’re using love for that special somebody as motivation.
Jada Kingdom — “WiN”
Ghana and Jamaica are connected not just through the love of Dancehall, but through shared familial bonds that date back to the forced Ashanti/Akan emigration to the Caribbean. For Shatta Wale’s next selection, Jada Kingdom‘s “WiN” is a bouncy track that articulates the struggle, what goes on around us, and inspires us all to go for the gold. “This song is uplifting, inspirational, and relatable,” Shatta says. “No matter how many times you fall along the way, put God first and keep going!” If you’re looking for melodic, yet motivational song, then this is it!
DJ Tunez — “Cool Me Down” (ft. WizKid)
DJ Tunez and WizKid are two world-renowned Afrobeats stars and their collaborations are must-see events. Their new offering, “Cool Me Down,” is right for those who enjoy a mellow, yet dance-worthy song after working up a sweat. With WizKid dropping some cheeky lyrics over DJ Tunez solid production, these two make a winning combination that would make Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet envious.
Vybz Kartel — “Big Bizniz” (ft. TeeJay)
By now the entire world should know “A Gaza Mi Sey,” which is a fantastic bop if you haven’t heard it yet. According to Shatta Wale, the street certified Dancehall King, “This song is encouraging to the youths in the ghetto, giving them hope that they can achieve anything if they work hard for it.” Vybz Kartel and featured artist TeeJay pack this song full of wisdom and financial advice for the listeners that want the size of their bankroll to be on championship levels.
Yemi Alade — “True Love”
Award-winning artist (and friend in my mind) Yemi Alade arrives just in time with this record, “True Love.” Fresh from her appearance in Beyoncé’s Black Is King, this song is a refreshing number for those who have had bad luck in romance or are just feeling a bit lost during this COVID-19 crisis. Poised to breakout across the globe, Yemi’s exciting, youthful, and exuberant vibe will not only brings a smile to one’s face, but also prove that the Yoruba and Igbo talent has one of the most beautiful voices inside and outside of the Afrobeat genre.
Burna Boy Has the Whole World Listening
Burna Boy — the Nigerian songwriter, singer and rapper who was born Damini Ebunoluwa Ogulu — once thought he’d be content writing the sleek, self-assured party tunes that first drew fans to his mixtapes in the early 2010s. But as his popularity spread worldwide, the spirits who guide his songwriting had other plans for him. Soon, he was taking up broader, more consequential ideas.
“Music is a spiritual thing,” he said in an interview via video call from his studio in Lagos. Wearing a white Uber jersey and puffing a hand-rolled smoke, with jeweled rings glittering on his fingers, Burna Boy spoke about his fifth album, “Twice as Tall,” which was still getting some finishing touches ahead of its Aug. 13 release date.
“I’ve never picked up a pen and paper and written down a song in my life,” he said. “It all just comes, like someone is standing there and telling me what to say. It’s all according to the spirits. Some of us are put on this earth to do what we do.”
Success has brought him “a very huge responsibility that I didn’t think I would have,” he added. For his new album, he said, he’s “basically continuing the mission I started, which is building a bridge that leads every Black person in the world to come together, and to make you understand that without you having a home base, you can’t be as strong as you are.”
Burna Boy, 29, has assembled an international following since he released his 2013 debut album, “L.I.F.E.: Leaving an Impact for Eternity.” He sold out Wembley SSE Arena in London last year, and songs from his 2019 album, “African Giant,” have drawn tens of millions of streams and views.
His fans include Beyoncé, who featured a solo Burna Boy song, the irresistibly insinuating “Ja Ara E,” on her album full of collaborations, “The Lion King: The Gift,” which became the visual album “Black Is King” last month. Sam Smith shares their new single, “My Oasis,” with Burna Boy as singer and co-writer. And when the 2020 Grammy Award for world music went to Angelique Kidjo, a three-time previous winner, over Burna Boy and “African Giant,” she held up the trophy and dedicated it to Burna Boy, praising him as a young African artist who is “changing the way our continent is perceived.”
Burna Boy is a leader amid a bounty of new African pop that has been increasingly welcomed in the West: a confluence of widespread availability via streaming, discovery via word-of-internet rather than former gatekeepers, and the sheer inventiveness taking place outside established music-business strongholds.
But Burna Boy also sees newfound interest in African music as a turn toward refuge. “From what I’ve read and from what I’ve studied and from what I researched, the world started from Africa,” Burna Boy said. “So music must have started from Africa. And I feel like when everything starts kind of going left, like what is going on right now, everybody runs home.”
He calls his music Afro-fusion rather than the catchall label, Afrobeats, that has been attached to recent, electronics-driven Nigerian music from performers like Wizkid, Davido and Mr Eazi, and even more vaguely to other current African pop as international listeners discover it. (The term Afrobeats also invites confusion with Afrobeat, the complex, steadfast, handmade protest funk that Fela Kuti, also from Nigeria, forged in the late 1960s and 1970s.)
Burna Boy’s Afro-fusion is omnivorous and supremely catchy. Its beats are often programmed, but their stops and starts evade expectations. Instruments, sampled or hand-played, bounce against the rhythms or deftly dodge them, while his voice — which can be as staccato as a rapper or as cottony as a crooner — glides easily across and atop everything else.
For “Twice as Tall,” Burna Boy enlisted an American executive producer: Sean Combs, a.k.a. Diddy, who has long guided rappers and singers (most famously the Notorious B.I.G. and Mary J. Blige) toward wider audiences. “I’m on record that I like hit records. If they’re not hit records, I don’t like them,” Combs said via FaceTime from Los Angeles.
“A lot of times when an artist wants to be coached or pushed to maybe a greater level, that’s where I’ve come in,” he said. “He, as every artist, he wants his music to be heard by the world. He doesn’t care about crossing over. You know, he’s not trying to get hot. He’s not, like, ‘I want to be a big pop star’ — he’s already a star. He wants his music to be heard, his message, his people.”
Most of the album was recorded during the pandemic, and Burna Boy and Combs collaborated across an eight-hour time difference via frequent Zoom calls and file transfers. Combs brought in musical contributions including drums from Anderson .Paak on the foreboding “Alarm Clock” and additional production from Timbaland on “Wetin Dey Sup,” a song punctuated by gunshots and sirens that warns, “They only respect the money and the violence.”
Combs also makes his presence audible with voice-over intros on some songs, briefly upstaging Burna Boy. But he said that the music was about 80 percent complete, including all of the songwriting, before he was brought in to provide “fresh ears” and his sense of detail. The album he added, is “a modern but pure, unapologetic African body of work.”
For the most part, Burna Boy hasn’t diluted his African heritage to reach his global audience. Instead, he has placed an unmistakably African stamp on music drawn from all around Africa and from across the African diaspora. He has a calm, husky, resolute voice that exemplifies the West African cultural virtue of coolness: poise and control transcending any commotion. His melodic sense is rooted in pentatonic African modes but unconstrained by them, and he has a stable of producers who deliver some of the most innovative rhythm tracks in 21st-century pop — usually working alongside Burna Boy in his studio, he said. He sings, most often, in a pidgin of English and Yoruba, confident that his meaning will get through even if listeners don’t recognize all the words.
“The thing that I learned about him is the importance of what he’s doing for his nation and representing the people that aren’t really heard globally,” Combs said. “Through this album, I think it’s important for Africa to be heard. And so it’s bigger than just an album. He’s not just on a musical artist trip. He’s a revolutionary. His conviction is serious.”
Hip-hop, reggae, R&B and rock were all part of the mix of music Burna Boy grew up on in Port Harcourt, the southern Nigerian city where he was born, and then in London, where he spent some teenage years in Brixton before returning to Nigeria. His lyrics have often mentioned that he kept some rough company. In “Level Up,” the brooding-to-triumphant song that opens “Twice as Tall,” he celebrates his own achievements, but also notes, “Some of my guys might never see the sun/Some of them still peddle drugs.”
On “African Giant,” Burna Boy pointedly addressed Nigeria’s colonial history and lingering corruption alongside more hedonistic songs. And with “Twice as Tall” he sought to make music as, he said, “a citizen of the world.”
In the 15 songs on “Twice as Tall,” Burna Boy takes stock of his accomplishments and his vulnerabilities, and he encourages ambition and perseverance against long odds; he also parties. And he lashes out at racism, exploitation and widespread misconceptions about Africa.
“We’re not what they teach in schools out here,” he said. “They don’t teach the right history, the history of strength and power that we originally had and that they should be teaching now. They don’t really teach the truth about how we ended up in the situation we’re in. They don’t teach the truth about what’s going on now and how to overcome it. And I believe that knowledge is power.”
He wants all the countries and cultures of Africa to unite as one continent. “I want my children to have an African passport, not a Nigerian passport,” he said. “I do not identify with any tribe. I do not identify with any country. I do not identify with anything, really. I identify with the world in the universe — I believe I am a citizen of the world, and I have a responsibility to the world. But at the same time in the world, it’s my people who are really getting the short end of the stick. It’s just doing what I have to do when I have to do it.”
The songs on “Twice as Tall” hold echoes of Nigeria, South Africa, Jamaica and the United States, and there are guest appearances from Naughty by Nature, the Kenyan band Sauti Sol and Senegal’s musical titan, Youssou N’Dour. The momentum is crisp and nonstop as the songs draw on — among many other things — Zulu choir singing, electronic dance music, alt-R&B and the patterns of West African marimbas and Zimbabwean thumb pianos.
On the album’s most vehement song, Burna Boy, with Chris Martin of Coldplay arriving on choruses, turns to stark, echoey roots reggae in “The Monsters You Made,” an indictment of miseducation, historical injustice and systemic racism, delivered in clear English with mounting fury. “When they’ve been working like slaves/To get some minimum wage,” he sings, “You turn around and you blame/Them for their anger and rage.”
It’s the rare Burna Boy song where he lets coolness fall away. “That song comes from a lot of anger and pain, and me having to witness firsthand what my people go through and how my people see themselves,” he said. “I see how many people are deceived and confused. I just try to blend all of that in and make it understood that we’re all going through the same problems. We just speak different languages.”
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