African music is forever evolving, and Nigeria is its epicentre. With the colossal success of genre-blending stars like Burna Boy and Wizkid – who are now dominating in numerous territories worldwide – the music we once called Afrobeats has morphed into many subgenres, each as infectious as the next. Splitting into street-pop, alté and more, African music has moved away from the monolith that Afrobeats has become known as in the Western world. Enter BNXN, the Nigerian crossover star who already has huge hits under his belt.
Having enjoyed viral success with his features on Wizkid’s 2021 single ‘Mood’ and Pheelz’ TikTok smash ‘Finesse’, BNXN definitely knows what success is. He also has industry respect, having been nominated for Rookie of the Year at the 2019 Headie Awards, Nigeria’s equivalent to the Grammys. At last year’s Headies, he cemented his rise by taking home the prestigious Next Rated prize.
Now, the artist whose name is pronounced “Benson” is showing all facets of himself on a brilliantly reflective debut album, ‘Sincerely, Benson’. Blending elements of dancehall, R&B, highlife, drill and more, it sees BNXN put his own stamp on Afrofusion – a term coined by Burna Boy to describe his own genreless style. “You need to show that you can deliver music with substance and give people a good time,” BNXN says when asked about the term. “It’s a fusion of [both things].”
The 26-year-old from Lagos is also determined to get the BNXN name out there having begun his career as Buju, a moniker that led to confusion with Jamaican artist Buju Banton. “I felt like I had more to prove to myself and other people,” he says. “When you change your name, you kind of go back to being unknown – [you] might even lose [your] community – but, for me, I wanted every success in my career to be original to me. I didn’t want my success to be a result of a pre-existing name or attachment. I wanted to show people that it’s not in the name, it’s in the sound.”
With ‘Sincerely, Benson’ earning rave reviews and a headline gig at London’s Roundhouse next month, BNXN talks to NME about what Afrofusion is, his influences and what Burna Boy meant when he said Afrobeats has “no substance”.
‘Final Answer’ featuring Popcaan is quite a standout on the album – how did it come about and what is the track’s message?
“I realised that he was following me on Instagram and I wasn’t following him back. I was like, ‘What kind of weirdo thing is that?’… After I followed him back, he texted me to say: ‘You’re a really talented guy. I love what you’re doing.’ My head was swinging because I’ve been listening to Popcaan since high school… I sent him two songs; I sent him the first song and I didn’t think he really liked it. I felt like it was perfect for him – it had more of a dancehall bounce. [Then] I sent him another song and he was like, ‘Yo, that’s sick,’ sent back his verse and it became ‘Final Answer’.
“‘Final Answer’ is the perfect way to end the project. It’s a very inspiring song – [and] at the same time, it makes me feel very confident in myself. It’s my response to everything negative or everything that seems like a doubt to my growth or success or how far I might go in this.”
What is Afrofusion to you?
“Afrofusion is more like a combination of every genre… with your core African element. On this project, I am being as conscious as possible with a whole lot of message[s] going on. But at the same time, I come from a place where people like to enjoy music for what it is and not necessarily the complications around it. People want to have a good time, too, as much as they want to reflect [on bigger things].”
You say that your music has substance, but how did you feel when Burna Boy said Afrobeats doesn’t have “substance”?
“When Burna [Boy] said Afrobeats [doesn’t] have substance, a lot of people took it the wrong way because he meant the Western acceptance of Afrobeats or understanding of what Afrobeats is. [To them] it’s just a good time. If you stop [someone who’s not African] and ask him, ‘Do you know what they’re talking about? Do you understand what he’s saying in that song?’, he’ll tell you, ‘No, man, but it feels good. The beat is amazing.’ That’s how the West sort of interpret Afrobeats.
“That’s why Burna himself tried to be like, ‘I’m doing something totally different from what you people understand as Afrobeats and that’s [called] Afrofusion. Because there’s a whole lot of substance to what I’m doing.’”
Is it correct to use the terms Afrobeats and Afrofusion interchangeably?
“Everybody just wants one tag that is going to carry everybody but it’s not [possible] because, when you look at it as a creative, you’ll be like: ‘I’m different from these people. We’re in the same country and have almost the same elements that we abide by in music, but we don’t do it the same.’ There’s so many genres outside [of Africa] and there’s nobody [there] wanting to say, ‘Let’s box everything up into one.’”
Who influenced your own Afrofusion style?
“Burna Boy, 2Baba – he’s also on the album. 2Baba, he’s like a legend out of Nigeria. He’s one of the [first] people that pioneered the global diversity of Afrobeats itself. At the time when 2face [Idibia – 2Baba’s stage name prior to 2014] dropped ‘African Queen’ [in 2004], you could tell that there was a difference. There were people dropping other stuff but his stuff was able to stand out because he had substance.
“Also, J Hus. I used to listen to that bro a lot – very, very judiciously. It was the diversity in how he was bringing his sound, you know; I want my sound to be as distinct as that. Everytime I listen to J Hus, Burna and 2face, [it makes me realise] I really want my sound to get you like, ‘Ah, that’s that boy, BNXN.’ Oh, and I love Fatoumata Diabara. She’s from Mali and I don’t understand a thing she says in her records, but you can almost feel the emotion.”
Did having some viral hits under your belt make it harder to create a cohesive album?
“It was super-amazing. Those records put me on a high pedestal and gave me a lot of the fanbase I have right now. It was a blessing having them out way before I could drop my [first] album but, I mean, I’m not the type to get stuck on just one song. I always wanted to keep it moving and make a lot more bangers. So, yeah, I’m still looking forward to doing that a thousand and one times.”
“Winning a Headie boosted my confidence and taught me patience”
You won a Headie last year – how does it feel having the respect of your peers?
“Winning the Headie Award, I didn’t see it coming. It was the only category I was nominated for [last year], so it was more like, ‘How are you going to win that?’ I’m always very confident in myself but, at that point, I was like, ‘You know, let overconfidence not kill me.’
“In 2019, I was nominated for Rookie of the Year at the Headies, but I lost. And [from then] to 2022, I’d watched the next-gen artists come up [and] win it. [I realised] I don’t need to rush for anything. Winning that award boosted my confidence in life and [taught me] patience.”
Finally, what is your mission with your album?
“[I want people to pick up on] the sincere emotions in it: the lyricism, the message, the dynamic sounds, the production, the arrangement. I want people to feel the passion it took to create this project because it took a lot from me and the ones who worked on it with me.”
BNXN’s debut album ‘Sincerely, Benson’ is out now via T.Y.E. / Empire. He plays London’s Roundhouse on November 18
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