fbpx

The Rise of Burna Boy

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email
Burna Boy (via Shutterstock)

Listen to this episode:

Powered by RedCircle

The African Giant

Burna Boy is having his moment:

–  Spotify’s most-streamed African artist globally in 2022

–  Sold out Madison Square Garden in 2022

–  Performed at halftime at the NBA All-Star Game

–  Will become the first African artist to headline a show at London Stadium

His rise lines up with Afrobeats’ popularity, but he also separates himself from the pack.

Burna has positioned himself as a headliner in the same way that an actor who wants to be the star. Sure, they do occasional guest spots or supporting roles, but if they do too many of those and the industry views them as the side dish, not the entree. The character actor, not the lead. Nate Dogg, but not Snoop Dogg.

This is the tougher route, especially if your peers are blowing up from guest features on Drake tracks. But collaborating with superstars isn’t necessarily the golden ticket that many believe it to be. Burna’s path has been the long game, but that long game is why he’s headlining stadiums nearly a decade into his career.

In our Trapital podcast episode, Stan’s Denisha Kuhlor points out that if Burna is doing a feature, he’s more likely to bring up another African artist who can benefit from his exposure. She cites the Lenu Remix with Bnxn’s “Lenu” remix and Asake’s “Sunga” remix.

“If I was an African artist or emerging artist from the continent vying for a future, in some ways, I’d probably want a Burna feature over potentially a big artist from the West.” – Denisha Kuhlor

You can listen to our episode here or read more below for a few more Burna Boy takeaways.

No overnight success

The streaming era has been great for artists outside of the US and the UK. Artists from Africa, Asia, and Latin America can grow more easily without the traditional gatekeepers holding them back.

In Africa specifically, movies like Black Panther have increased interest in the continent too. And every time I talk to other investors, people are always staying close to the deal flow coming from Lagos, Accra, and other major cities.

Burna’s boat has risen with this tide, but he’s also put in the work. He has released six albums since 2013 and has built his touring strategy over time.

Last summer when I was out on paternity leave, Denisha wrote a guest essay in Trapital where she highlighted this quote from Burna’s Mom, Bose Ogulu, in a Billboard interview:

“We took the stairs,” Bose says, quoting her son’s description of the slow path he was forced to take in the live sector. “We didn’t do any elevators. We spent a lot of time and money planning to go around the world. We ran through the label’s tour support pretty quickly, so we were using money he’s making from shows in other places, particularly in Africa, to bankroll our initial touring. Yes, it has been hard, but there is no way we’re performing 16,000 to 20,000 capacity venues when we didn’t start with 3,000.”

Back to Coachella fixed things

Sometimes Burna’s headliner mentality has caused some issues. In 2019, he performed at Coachella but was upset that the font on the festival lineup wasn’t bigger. He took to Instagram to say he “will not be reduced to whatever that tiny writing means.”

Listen, I get it. He wouldn’t be where he is without this energy. But his name was right next to Lizzo! She blew up in 2019 and “Truth Hurts” was the song of the summer. It’s not as big of a slight as he thought it was.

But as Denisha said, “In some ways, it probably helped his brand. It was a testament to the type of artist he desired to be.”

In 2023, Burna Boy makes his return to the desert in Coachella. This time, his print on the flyer is a lot bigger.

He’s still below Bad Bunny, but he’s the second name mentioned in that second row. A source told me that Burna’s payday for Coachella was likely $1.5 million ($750,000 per weekend).

And since this year’s lineup featured two headliners who release a majority of their music in non-English speaking (Bad Bunny and Blackpink). It might not be long until The African Giant is a headliner himself. Then, there would be no complaints about his font size on the lineup poster.

In the rest of the episode, we talked more about:

–  How Kanye West incidentally helped Burna Boy’s breakout

–  How Wizkid, Davido, and Burna Boy measure up

–  How fanbases are built in Africa vs the US

Listen to the episode here.

0:30 What sets Burna Boy apart from other African artists

4:10 Burna’s show at London Stadium

5:20 The Burna fanbase

7:53 Streaming era impact on African music

10:27 Returning to Coachella after 2019 drama

15:47 How Ye incidentally helped Burna break out

17:40 How fame is perceived in Africa vs US

20:15 Fans of Africa’s “Big Three” artists battling each other

21:25 Burna’s “contested” Madison Square Garden sellout

23:30 Possible missteps in Burna’s career

28:39 Projecting Burna’s future shows

32:38 His best career move

38:56 Building record label infrastructure in Africa

45:45 Five-year prediction for Burna’s career

TRANSCRIPTION:

[00:00:00] Denisha Kuhlor: I think it was interesting, him being so vocal in the approach he took, I think a lot of, Ayra Starr did a documentary for Spotify and she’s quite big, especially within West Africa. And she talked about touring in the United States for the first time, and she basically said that she viewed it as an opportunity to make someone her fan, right?

[00:00:19] Like, just by someone attending her show, her goal was to convert them into a fan. Whereas, Burna definitely takes the approach of, “you should either already be one or recognize my fan base for what they are.” I think in his case he’s lucky cuz he’s been able to back it up. especially when you look at Coachella to now.

[00:00:40] but definitely a, an approach that’s consistent with his brand. 

[00:01:11] Dan Runcie Guest Intro: Today’s episode is a case study style breakdown on the one and only Burna Boy. I was joined by someone who is a near expert when it comes to the world of Burna Boy, and that is Denisha Kuhlor, who has been on the pod several times, and she is the founder of Stan, where not only does she focus on how artists can engage their fan bases, she’s actually been involved with ticket giveaways for Burna Boy’s upcoming stadium show in London. So she has insights into what these fans are like, what are some of their preferences? And we talked about all that and more. We broke down, Burna Boy’s rise. What are some of the key things to his success? What are some of the challenges? Talked about some of the other moments that he’s had that we wanted to talk about.

[00:01:57] Where does that stand with him? What is his standout moment and where things could really go for him from here on out? Really great conversation. If you enjoyed the one we did on Cash Money a couple weeks ago. This is something similar, but about an artist who is really having this moment right now, and we broke it all down.

[00:02:12] Here’s our breakdown on Burna Boy.

[00:02:14] Dan Runcie: All right, today we have our case study style breakdown on the one and only Burna Boy, and who else is gonna join me then? Someone that understands him and the work that he’s done in and out over the past few years. Denisha Kuhlor Welcome back to the pod.

[00:02:29] Denisha Kuhlor: Thanks so much for having me. 

[00:02:30] Dan Runcie: Yeah, and I wanted to talk to you because you wrote that piece in Trapital several months ago, talking about how artists who have relied on music festivals, maybe there’s something that they may regret down the road in terms of actually getting in there and building the true fanboy fan base. And you used Burna Boy as an example of someone that went through this and obviously he’s blowing up. He’s had a huge year and we’ve now seen so much growth, especially in the past few years of just how so many African artists have been able to rise and grow platform.

[00:03:05] But Burna Boy has clearly been able to hit levels that many others haven’t. What do you think it is that has set him apart?

[00:03:13] Denisha Kuhlor: Yeah, I think one, just Bruno boy is very compelling, as an artist. I’ve seen him perform, last year twice. his Madison Square Garden show. Then I got to see him at, Afrochella now, Afro Future, in Ghana. And one, he is a live band, as crazy as that sounds, I feel like that’s rare and rarer these days. as consumers, it kind of feels like we’ve gotten used to maybe a DJ or kind of that accompany accompaniment. So the live band aspect is a huge one for me, and I think he’s very compelling on stage and has great, charisma. and then lastly, I kind of feel like he was everywhere this year.

[00:03:53] You couldn’t really. Escape him, whether it was last, last, as a hit or, him touring so much of the United States. I feel like if you didn’t know about Burna boy, maybe a year or two ago, last year was definitely just a true breakout year for him on the global stage. 

[00:04:09] Dan Runcie: Yeah, I think that makes sense. I think there was a couple other things that stuck out to me too. So he has been able to position himself as a leading man. I am the person that’s headlining. I’m not just gonna be the person opening for the artist. gonna be the person that is doing the guest first.

[00:04:27] And I do think that’s some of the other artists who rose up from Africa, they have done a bit more of the, “okay, let me jump on the Drake verse. And then that becomes Drake’s or things like that.” although I know that Burna has done several guest appearances and feature shares, it hasn’t been in that same way.

[00:04:45] And I think he’s still just been so focused on himself in that way. And of course it could take a little bit longer to develop, but it’s almost like how in Hollywood you may see someone that is always positioning themselves as supporting acting roles. If that’s where you’re taken to blow up, it could be hard for the industry to see you.

[00:05:04] The lead actor, but if you’re willing to do the lead actor roles for the smaller things and you get the right thing, then you become seen as the lead actor on the big I feel like that’s 

[00:05:14] been his experience. 

[00:05:15] Denisha Kuhlor: I’m totally aligned with you when, just based off you talking about that makes me think about some of his features on the continent. And he’s largely broken those artists, right? You look at Bnxn,formerly known as Buju, right? 

[00:05:27] And the Lenu remix who was signed a Burna. I first heard about Amapiano,because Burna Boy got on the Spoon, No No remix, and one of the biggest breakout stars of the continent, Asake, the Zumba remix, this year. So I agree, I think he’s positioned his features as more as like, let me lend a helping hand and let me get your distribution and your visibility. But if I was. In African artists or emerging artists from the continent vying for a feature in some ways, I’d probably wanna Burna feature over potentially a big artist from the west. 

[00:06:04] Dan Runcie: Yeah. And I think a lot of that is with his. And his persona, and we can get into that in a minute, but I that played into a lot of this. And as you said, he’s been every run the past year and we’re setting stage for an even bigger 2023 where he will do his stadium tour at London Stadium, the first African artist, a headline and do that.

[00:06:26] What does that mean for his career?

[00:06:28] Denisha Kuhlor: Yeah. One, I think it’s just huge and a testament to how far music from the continent has grown. I think, you know, you look at the story or how people paint the narrative of how music from the continent has grown. And so often it’s kind of like, oh, there’s a population of people here or there’s little, you know, subsets of people that are interested in the music.

[00:06:51] Whereas now, it’s makes it very clear that this is world music, right? This is pop music in a lot of ways in that people have embraced this music in the same way you look at, Latin music, right? And people are singing whether they know Spanish or not. I think it’s really a testament to the ability to do that. So it’s very exciting. 

[00:07:13] Dan Runcie: Yeah. I think you’ve also had a front row seat to this as well, because with your work at Stan, you’ve been doing ticket giveaways and things like that to really tap into who the Burna Boy super fans are.

[00:07:26] Denisha Kuhlor: Yeah, so we’ve found two things working with Burna Boy fans or Burna Boy fan pages. Is that, or maybe even three. I find that one you have the fan that maybe, it reminds them of home. So typically a fan with roots or ties back to West Africa or Africa more broadly, who’s now living abroad or first generation, but there’s a sense of nostalgia or home as a result.

[00:07:52] I think you also have fans that are like learning or being introduced to, Africa. Through his music, which has been really fascinating and really cool to see us talking to a fan, based in France, right? That like taught herself pidgin and like wants to visit Nigeria because she’s such a big Burna boy fan.

[00:08:11] and that’s also really, really cool to see. And then third, I think you just have like hometown pride, right? Like you look at people in Lagos or even other African cities and people are just really, really proud of what he’s been able to do. So it’s interesting seeing all the subsets of fans together.

[00:08:29] Denisha Kuhlor: But as someone who’s attended his shows, I think it’s exhilarating when you watch it all come together. 

[00:08:36] Dan Runcie: And just for some context for the listeners, what does your giveaway entail and what does that process look like?

[00:08:43] Denisha Kuhlor: Yeah. So, we run live interactive trivia games that allow us to test a fan’s knowledge and how much they actually know about the artists. So everything from lyrics to questions that fans would only know if they watch music videos to general information about Burna boy that you probably would only get if you read his interviews 

[00:09:04] or you just deeply know about him. Every time we’re crafting these games, I actually learn so much more about, these artists that we work with. And so I say that to say, I’m continuously surprised not only by his fans’ knowledge of his music and his lyrics, but also how intentional they’ve been about truly learning about him and what they feel he represents. And so I feel like he’s done a really good job of being consistent in that narrative.

[00:09:32] Dan Runcie: I think too, one of the other things that really works in his favor is that in the rise of the streaming era, we’re seeing the rise of local repertoire and local language artists being able to rise and not just have to rely on Western cultures. And I think that the music industry has shifted a bit, or at least from a mentality perspective, and you could see this on the Spotify daily charts.

[00:09:56] You can see there’s so many places where there were so many artists who were used to being able to have that global footprint of essentially exporting their music elsewhere than making so much money they’re now seeing less and they’re seeing less because a lot of these artists are being able to do it themselves, and it’s not just.

[00:10:16] Burna Boy’s being able to do this in West Africa, but he’s being able to do this in France, which has, you know, a large West African population and some of these other corners of the world that do, and I’m curious to see how that will continue to develop, because you know how the diaspora and certain regions that.

[00:10:34] You see more fans of West African artists than just West Africans in general, and how that will align with where someone like Burna Boy continues to tour and where some of the bigger concentrations of his fandom end up being.

[00:10:49] Denisha Kuhlor: Yeah. I think, you know, interestingly enough, like he also probably benefited from the rise of like macro things that maybe couldn’t plan, but like one black panther, right? Black Panther, like reignited people’s curiosity about Africa and maybe in a way in which, they hadn’t thought of before you look at things like the year of return in Ghana in 2019 and this bridge or this desire to have a bridge between black Americans in the United States and you know, people in Ghana.

[00:11:18] And I think all those like, factors made people, got people excited and got excited in a way that his music just set the stage. If you came to Ghana in 2019, you were gonna hear br boy and people were gonna take it back, right? 

[00:11:33] Denisha Kuhlor: Davido said it best. He said, you know, Afrobeats will succeed because in America, everybody has one African friendand whether you realize it or not, like, you are exposed in some way, and I think as people’s proximity changed and curiosity about each other and where people are from grew, especially as it relates to Africa, he really benefited from that. 

[00:11:56] Dan Runcie: That makes sense. That makes sense. And I think the other thing too, that I think about for him this year, he of course has the huge stadium show in London, but he’s also coming back to Coachella and very famously back to Coachella after being quite upset in 2019 about the size of his name on that Coachella poster. And this day, this year, this time around, his name is much bigger. Still not a but I’d be curious know what you think, like how he must have felt about that process. Was there some level of buy-in? Because I could see at his level him thinking that, okay, I’m a superstar. I should be a headliner. But if they’re now putting him on that second line right under the headliner, then how that may affect him. Obviously it’s still great placement, but. Yeah.

[00:12:45] Denisha Kuhlor: Yeah. You know, it’s interesting and I remember when that happened and in some ways I think it probably helped his brand and really showed like it was a testament to the type of artist that he desired to be. I do, you know, think it’s interesting because you do see within Africa stars that are huge, right?

[00:13:04] And maybe they’re numbers, quantitatively don’t show up on the Spotify charts, they’re on YouTube or they’re on other platforms. there’s still quite of downloading, that exists within just Africa as a whole. So sometimes we don’t necessarily see an artist as set the way we would, maybe with an artist in the States or with a huge listenership in the States, from a charts perspective or immediately.

[00:13:27] But I will say is I think it was interesting, him being so vocal in the approach he took, I think a lot of, Ayra Starr did a documentary for Spotify and she’s quite big, especially within West Africa. And she talked about touring in the United States for the first time, and she basically said that she viewed it as an opportunity to make someone her fan, right?

[00:13:48] Like, just by someone attending her show, her goal was to convert them into a fan. Whereas, Burna definitely takes the approach of, “you should either already be one or recognize my fan base for what they are.” I think in his case he’s lucky cuz he’s been able to back it up. especially when you look at Coachella to now.

[00:14:09] but definitely a, an approach that’s consistent with his brand. 

[00:14:14] Dan Runcie: Right? Because I think that part of it too is there’s clearly a western skew for a festival like Coachella. I know that when Burna had complained back in 2019 about where he was, people had shown where Kendrick Lamar was, I think it was 2012, and how small his name was compared to him being a headliner several years later.

[00:14:35] Denisha Kuhlor: The difference there though is that Kendrick Lamar is from Compton, which is which is driving distance to Indio, California where Coachella is, versus Burna boy may have numbers, may have the base, it’s is that base, if they’re not a strong contention of them in the in Southern California, are they going to be able to get there?

[00:14:58] And I do think that the fact that he is, you know, second because this year you’re headliners, unless someone pulls out, you never know what happens. But, right now your headliners are Frank Ocean, Bad Bunny, and Black Pink. So he’s, you know, just under there. So you never know what could happen. Things shift all the time, but I assume if based on his placement, it must be a pretty decent size bag as well.

[00:15:21] At least I know for the headliners, the last I checked a few years ago, they were getting paid 4 million per weekend, which totaled 8 million total. so that’s what I would assume the payday would be for, Bunny, Black Pink and Frank Ocean, but then that next row down probably isn’t too far below that.

[00:15:40] I mean, I’m sure it is less money, but I don’t know how much less.

[00:15:43] Sure. Yeah. Yeah. And when you look at like negotiating from just a hard tickets perspective, in terms of what he’s been able to drive from last year alone, he definitely had some strong leverage from a negotiating standpoint.

[00:15:57] Dan Runcie: definitely. And with someone like him too. I know that we’ve talked a lot about artists and how they’re able to develop true fandom, and I think true fandom is the people that are showing up at your. Concerts and they know the words of everything and not just singing the TikTok part that goes viral that we’ve seen from whether it’s many artists that have experienced that, that have had TikTok hits that have blown up.

[00:16:24] How do you think that impacts someone like Burna boy, I don’t necessarily feel like he is making music, quote unquote for TikTok. I know a lot of the stuff that blows up their artists don’t have any control over, but how do you think that skews, like how do you think that soc or short form video has played a factor, if at all, in his career and his rise?

[00:16:44] Denisha Kuhlor: Yeah, I think a few ways, one, touring, right? I think people want to go to a Bea boy show even if they haven’t seen him before or only know a few songs. So I think it’s definitely been really, really helpful there. I don’t know how many, people know, like the story behind Ye, one of his breakout hits, but like SEO just like really helped him.

[00:17:05] So he had the song, Ye. It was already uploaded to streaming platforms, and then Kanye came out with his album. . And so a lot of folks search for Kanye’s album, but his, was still like ranking pretty high on Spotify. They actually released a video that that day or around that time thinking, thinking Kanye, for, for the album name.

[00:17:25] So I do think in, this is what’s so interesting. He’s very true to himself in the sense that he’s definitely not an artist that like hopped on those trends, right? Like TikTok is not really potentially his thing. he’s not gonna be doing any TikTok dances, so he’s still been authentic to himself. While I think galvanizing his fans or letting his fans know, he appreciates their effort and I believe his fans look at it more so it as like, let’s spread this message, regardless of his participation.

[00:17:58] That’s something I always get from his fans specifically, it seems like you have different artists, with fan bases. Like the Barbz need Nicki to participate, they want Nicki to participate, right? 

[00:18:09] Whereas Burna fans, I feel like they do their own thing. They know the temperament of the artists and what he likes to do, and so they don’t, they’re not really like rushing for him to, adopt maybe some of those technique. 

[00:18:23] Dan Runcie: And that’s an interesting breakdown. Do you think that any of that is compared to where the artist is from or just the nature of their fans? Thinking specifically about the Barbz versus Burna Boy’s fans.

[00:18:37] Denisha Kuhlor: Mm. that is interesting. You know, I can’t say with certainty, but what I will say and as I’ve spent more time in Ghana is that there’s a level of familiarity. I find, past, maybe, I don’t know what it is, but past like, experiences that maybe invoke a certain socioeconomic status. There’s a level of familiarity, that you’ll find these artists like I’ve definitely maybe seen, or you can be in spaces with so many of these artists just casually like going to a restaurant or, you know, like you living your.

[00:19:16] And, I do think that invokes a certain sense of familiarity in which fame is perceived differently here. like in Ghana specifically, you see a lot of, a lot of artists here with very little to know security. just like really doing regular things. it’s very different, whereas the fame is more sensationalized it feels, in the states, like you can be in the club with Burna, he’s walking up and there’s not gonna be the, oh my god, Burna, like that kind of thing. It’s very different in that way. So maybe that wouldn’t really add much, at least to his core or his home base fans, because that familiarity is there. 

[00:19:56] Dan Runcie: Yeah, it feels a bit the closest thing that I would. You have in the US is Atlanta, where you would have the artists that are at the mall or you see them walking around and stuff. And it isn’t necessarily the same level of frenzy, although that may be a little bit different now, but in like, you know, the nineties, two thousands, you would see them a bit more.

[00:20:17] And I think there was a bit more of that vibe that felt a bit more natural like, you know, you go to Magic City or something like that and you would see someone. I think the other thing that is distinctive too with the US fans versus maybe some of the fans, others, is that online, I think you do see a bit more of that hive behavior, specifically from a group like the Barbz, where I think there’s almost a falsification to them.

[00:20:45] Denisha Kuhlor: And in that, I mean the reactiveness to the other side and what they’re saying, and there’s almost the galvanization of that and how the barbs can galvanize in Cardi B take down, or a snide comment of someone trying to come at Nicki in a way, but they that bit of catalyst to feel galvanized.You know what’s interesting? I do find it that I do think that Burna fans and maybe the big three, so for folks listening, within Africa, the big threes typically referred to as DeVito, Burna boy and Whiz Kids. So they all have their, various fan bases. And the only time I really feel like that’s activated.

[00:21:27] Seeing how their artists are doing in the West and comparing. Right. So, you know, obviously with Burna winning the Grammy, but and I talked to you about this, like his, Madison Square garden numbers were quite contested. Like if you actually look at the Twitter account that shares,ticketing information. That one was like retweeted so many times because it was the fan bases going back and forth.

[00:21:50] Like he actually did sell out MSG versus didn’t he? So it’s very interesting because while, you know, in some ways like his hyper localized approach in terms of the themes of his music is what’s propelling him on the world stage. I do think these fan bases are very curious to see just how well they’re doing and they use that as the point of comparison, as it relates to other African artist. 

[00:22:13] Dan Runcie: Wait, what was the contention that the fans had about the MSG sellout?

[00:22:18] Denisha Kuhlor: Yeah, so there were a few things. One, they felt like there weren’t enough seats available. 

[00:22:23] Dan Runcie: Oh, you did tell me about this. 

[00:22:25] Denisha Kuhlor: True . Yeah. Like it was a true sellout. And, at first folks didn’t believe that he had sold it out. So, it’s also interesting with fan bases because you’re now seeing like novice or people, fans knew to wanting to understand how the industry works and also wanting to dig into what that means. But that, I think gave the confirmation that he did sell it out,and led to other fan base battles over the discrepancies. 

[00:22:56] Dan Runcie: Right? Yeah. Cuz you and I talked about this. It isn’t like if someone just books like a music hall or a House of blues, purpose of that is for music venue. So the capacity’s listed as the capacity, but for some of these sports venues, it could be very different because artists have such different set pieces and stage and production and you don’t wanna perform with your back to people like yyou’re gonna be different places. So 

[00:23:18] Denisha Kuhlor: Exactly. 

[00:23:18] Dan Runcie: You can’t compare the sellout for a Knick’s playoff game capacity and be like, oh, well that had more people than Burna Boy’s selling out MSG. It’s like, it 

[00:23:27] Denisha Kuhlor: Exactly. And that was a lot of, the conversation, which I thought was so interesting. But I also think it it came about because of how he branded it, right? One Night in Space was the name of that. It wasn’t part of a tour, anything, it was just one night in space. And so there were gonna be a lot of eyes on that event, regardless.

[00:23:48] Dan Runcie: Yeah, and you know, people always try to poke holes when they see something that surprises them that they probably wouldn’t have, you know, seen otherwise.

[00:23:57] So we’ve talked a lot about the things that Burna Boy’s done well, how he’s got to this point. Do you think there’s any missed opportunities so far at this point in his career or anything that you’ve looked back on and be like, huh, I wonder if he did that differently, or even things that he may be doing after?

[00:24:11] Denisha Kuhlor: Yeah, so, I obviously have a company around fan engagement, so some of the fan engagement has been interesting. I will say, one thing that’s been, very pleasant for me has been some of his intentionality around connecting deeper with his fans this last album he did host quite a few meet and greets, and had people bring their albums or you know, even bring their kids and like that kind of thing.

[00:24:37] I felt like he was really like seeing and touching people, which is something that in the past it didn’t really seem like maybe he was open to or necessarily had the appetite for. So that was nice to see. It sounds like, or at least for me, the professionalism when it came to One Night in Space was also great. 

[00:24:56] the show started on time, ended on time. Can’t necessarily say the same for some of his shows within Africa. And that can be due to a host of reasons, but it definitely does lead to, maybe folks will get different experiences. And that’s what’s so tricky in some ways about artists, in supporting artists.

[00:25:16] He’s also headlined Afro Nation, Afro Nation, Puerto Rico. They’ve pulled out the day before and he was replaced with Rick Ross, which upset a lot of fans. So, I say all that to say, I think. It’s a Burna Boy production or Burna Boy affair. it seems like everything is phenomenal. and just A- plus end to end when there are other stakeholders.

[00:25:41] The process doesn’t always seem as smooth, at least for the end user experience, for the fan. so I, I think it sometimes becomes a question of like are we going to continue to pursue some of these opportunities with other stakeholders, whether that’s festivals or, just some of these other events, right?

[00:26:00] Denisha Kuhlor: Or are we going to take the bulk of our production or the bulk of our events or how a fan can interact with me from a live performance standpoint in-house, and control the end-to-end experience that way.

[00:26:13] Dan Runcie: Yeah. And I do think that this strength weakness here lines up with the things that we’re saying before, right? If he’s someone that wants to be the lead, you wanna be the focus. You’re gonna put more energy into the Burna Boy Productions and you may take a slight at things that are not that right. And I think it’s unfortunate if some of that distribution skews between the things you do outside of Africa are the things you do in the Western world that do buttoned up, but then when you’re back home it has less energy, less focus because yeah, your day one fans of your stans are gonna feel like, okay, well now that he’s stadium status, what do we get?

[00:26:52] Denisha Kuhlor: Yeah. and in fairness, you know, some of that is probably, you know, thanks to the regulation, like there is no coming on at 2:00 AM at MSG. Like they will set everyone home. You’ll not be allowed to perform. they will charge you a fine. so there’s also I think just some of the like, again, the standards upheld within these ecosystems.

[00:27:12] But it breeds a dynamic that it’s unfortunate and I think is happening just overall where consumers are privy to this at this experience. As a fan that goes to see a show, I don’t really wanna hear the promoter and technical issues and like production. I paid my money, I took my money to see this artist.

[00:27:35] So, now the fact that fans are being so exposed in a lot of ways to all the elements behind these things, not only are making them more sophisticated consumers, in deciding whether to patronize you again, but it’s taking away some of the magic that was entertainment and like show business. 

[00:27:54] Dan Runcie: Yeah. I do think that for someone like him specifically, it is important to work on how could this product be the best that it can be? Whether you are doing it at home, whether you’re doing it elsewhere, and obviously knowing where you’re doing it elsewhere, you’re involved with other productions, there’s things that are gonna be outta your control.

[00:28:13] And I know it’s asking someone that is naturally more focused on putting more into the things they have more control into to still bring that same energy elsewhere. But hopefully, I’m sure that he wants to be eventually a headliner at a Coachella or a Glastonbury. I’m to do other stadium shows as well. That’ll actually go to the next thing that I’ll ask you, I think that if that’s the goal, then some of that energy has to con continue there. So, two questions here, this is a two-parter. So the first one, obviously London is the first. Well, I don’t wanna say the first, but at least it’s the one of the biggest stages that he has had himself.

[00:28:51] I think, you know, we’ll see how many tickets end up being sold. I assume it’ll probably be at least like 60,000 or so, just given the size of that place. But where do you think, if you could project where the next stadium shows would be based on his fan base, based on what you know, where do you think those would I would say Texas , somewhere in, Texas. I mean, Dallas and Houston have some of the biggest African populations, within the United States. And so when I think about that, not only do they have African, you know, or they’re first gen or immigrant populations, but a lot of people have also been exposed just by proximity.

[00:29:31] So I think, yeah, I think it would be either Houston or Dallas. Definitely somewhere in the States, I do think he could do somewhere else in Europe, but if looking at the data really does concentrate, at least in London and with the disposable income, I think that would allow for a show like that, for a show like that to be successful. Another thing about Burna that’s interesting is, he’s been touring. So a lot of these fans, you hadn’t seen him two years ago. You definitely have had your opportunity to see him now. even when I think about, by the time I saw him at Madison Square Garden, I could have seen him at Afropunk right in New York as well.

[00:30:14] He did summer or he was supposed to do Summer Jam. So there were like multiple opportunities, even just within New York to see him. So I wonder though, before he does that. There will be a bit of a, break, or at least new music so that the consumer feels like they’re seeing something. 

[00:30:31] Dan Runcie: What about Paris?

[00:30:32] Denisha Kuhlor: Yeah. So Paris is a really interesting market. He has a ton of fans in Paris and I talk to them quite often. I don’t know though. I, I don’t know if a stadium show can work there just yet. And part of the reason is because I do think that the market rewards in some ways, , those who try.

[00:30:53] And while he’s done a ton of podcasts, a ton of interviews, a ton of things, I can’t say how much he’s actually interacted with, you know, some of the French press andsome of the opportunities there. He did do something really cool, recently or, yeah, not too recently. where he did a like deep cuts performance for 300 fans and he just announced it on Twitter and folks got to go.

[00:31:19] So I think he can work up to it just quantitatively. It might take longer than other markets.

[00:31:27] Dan Runcie: Yeah, Paris was one that had in mind I think, those things you mentioned make sense. New York was another one too. Just given that MSG show and you have the MetLife stadium, I feel like like that could eventually happen.

[00:31:39] Denisha Kuhlor: Yeah. Yeah. I think New York makes a lot of sense. It’s pretty close to, obviously, you know, DC and Virginia, which also have big African populations. New Yorkers have seen him and know, someone who attended the MSG show. I really felt like there was like a sense of pride, like folks were really excited to be there, and to see this. And it definitely makes you feel like in events. And one that you could partake in multiple times for sure.

[00:32:07] Dan Runcie: Right. And two, with this, we talked about his missed opportunities, but what do you think about the best opportunity or the best move that he has made so far in his career?

[00:32:20] Denisha Kuhlor: Yeah, I think one consistency. He’s been pretty consistent about releasing new music, whether it came to the album that he released during COVID, as well as his latest album now. There’s definitely a strategy, I think, of always being focused or always looking ahead or being able to see what’s next.

[00:32:40] And so he’s been able to use consistency through his own music, but also relevancy by jumping onto trends that are new, whether it’s or not new. I feel like the Ima piano folks are gonna come at me for that. But,whether it’s Amapiano, right? or Asake who really brought a new sound for folks.

[00:32:59] So I think he’s been able to do that really well. I think it was really intentional of his team. We’ve gotten to see, and not to compare Burna Boy to Ice Spice, but as consumers, I think so often, we see folks, do really well as a result of a breakout hit and have these expectations of them that don’t necessarily correlate.

[00:33:23] And it’s actually been really great to watch an artist like Ice Spice or even a Little Nas X kind of come into their own when it comes to their performance and stage play overall. Whereas with him, I think he really got to build that methodically and, and over time, get comfortable on stage, see what works, what doesn’t work, figure out the kinks of working with the band.

[00:33:44] And so he’s really, really been able to perfect and invest in his live show, which we’re seeing dividends on now, while also maintaining just the consistency of new music and relevancy, which is quite d 

[00:33:57] Dan Runcie: Yeah, I think the Ice Spice is interesting because I was talking to someone about this a couple days ago and she had just put out her project, and I think it may be sold around like 15,000 units. And that of course sparked some discussion. And the thing is, it’s hard to even frame something like that as a negative because six months ago, most of you didn’t even know who this was, if we’re 

[00:34:23] So we have the nature of the internet being able to help someone skyrocket into a different level. Almost overnight, and then just realizing that her team, everyone else has to catch up. It’s a very different situation, like where Burna Boy is showing you that, yeah, it takes time to get to this point.

[00:34:42] I mean, if he starts really releasing music, you know, early 2010s. By 2017, still doing small venues in New York. And then it really until, you know, a couple years later where you’re being able to hit that. If you even get to that point, it’s so hard. And I do think that live performances in the honest you command is one of the few things that can’t quote unquote blow up overnight and it’s, if anything is the more humbling thing that we see. I think streams can be somewhat humbling to some extent, as you’ve seen, but even that can be misleading. So it does at least ring true, and I think for me, I’d spoke about this earlier, but the thing about his career that I think is the best move for him was just continuing to position himself as the lead and not necessarily, you know, following the latest trend just to hop on it. Although I think he was smart about things, but not just trying to attach himself. I think he still had the brand there and it took longer than some may have, you know, wanted, or maybe even he saw himself, especially, I can only imagine, you know, it’s 2015, you’re doing this for a few years, things still bubbling.

[00:35:53] So I do think that worked to his advantage cuz now it’s really only a handful of artists globally that can say they’re in that position. And then really his whole continent, you know, of the big three is at least the one that has the most exposure and platform in base right now.

[00:36:09] Denisha Kuhlor: What did you think of? I feel his choice to embrace Artis from the west like his last two or three really, his last maybe three albums, you see like a really conscientious approach, whether he’s had everyone from YG to Keilani, had Diddy executive produce an album, and that felt really intentional to reach, listenership or an audience from the westlike you said, it’s probably tricky like if that went wrong, it could have really went wrong but in his case it seemed to go right, but I’m curious what you thought that. 

[00:36:43] Dan Runcie: Yeah. I think part of the reason why it worked is like, I feel like he picked artists that felt somewhat aligned with like what he was doing too like I, at least from what I read, I think the YG track may have potentially would’ve involved Nipsey, but you know, Nipsey had passed, so like that didn’t work.

[00:36:58] It’s not as if he was just hopping on, you know, who is the hot single that like needs someone or like, you know, the Drake or whoever else. And not that I think with Drake is an issue, but because obviously is done and then Bad Bunny’s continue to grow. But I feel like because he’s like picking certain artists and maybe not every pick I necessarily, you know, thought was like his best music, but there seemed to be a ality with people that like lined up with him where it’s like, okay, I’ve listened to enough why G’S music over the years?

[00:37:28] I could see why someone like Burna Boy would want to do music with him, right? So I feel like for me, that piece of it did line up and I know that if you’re trying to grow there, there’s some inevitable push of who can I align myself with that isn’t just trying to do the generic pop thing. Like I don’t think I would ever hear him beyond a Maroon Five song, which I do feel kind of becomes like a bit of a rite of passage for a lot of, Western hop artists.

[00:37:57] But I’d be very surprised if I ever saw Burna Boy.

[00:38:01] Denisha Kuhlor: Yeah. No, that makes sense. That makes sense. 

[00:38:03] Dan Runcie: Yeah. the other thing that I think this conversation taps into is just the broader growth and the broader expansion of record labels and infrastructure in Africa from what the music industry to do and how Burna Boy’s been able to help. In many ways, not just, I don’t wanna say necessarily lead that because I think he’s did a lot of this without the infrastructure.

[00:38:26] If anything, the infrastructure has kind of started to come as a result of what he’s done. But I’ve also heard a few rumblings from different folks that some of the investments of certain record labels, some of the majors having offices there, there’s been questions about how they’re seeing what’s viable, what makes sense now because some of the artists that blew up, they don’t have those artists on those labels, so now they’re trying to find the next person and they’re realizing that really hard to do that.

[00:38:55] Denisha Kuhlor: Yeah. You know what’s interesting, and I thought a lot about this is I feel like most artists on the continent don’t necessarily need help on the continent. So much to our point of thinking about like Coachella, that was so surprising to Burna Boy because he was a huge star within Africa.

[00:39:11] and when you look at the labels, he’s engaged, for like a more global expansion. The thing I think he’s been very clear of and his mother and the rest of his team is that like they’ve got Africa covered. And so I do think that could be part of the reason why maybe some of these labels are struggling because in a way it probably makes sense or the hunches to put more money or investment into what’s already working, which is within Africa. When in reality I think it, it forces you to start to iterate and experiment on what’s gonna resonate in terms of an artist, fans, an artist who has fans abroad, or them starting to build their broad audience.

[00:39:53] And while an African audience it probably validates a lot of things, right? Maybe stage, presence, charisma, ability to connect, that the music is global or can reach people like it, that change or that shift. now being in the states or being in Europe is also quite different as well.

[00:40:11] Denisha Kuhlor: And I think it forces labels to take a true A and R approach, whether it comes to everything from media training, Interacting, there’s cultural differences. And so, I think it’s going to lead way to maybe a new type of executive. it’s something I thought a lot about music programs like the Music Business Academy,in Africa.

[00:40:33] That’s done really, really amazing work. I continue to be really, really impressed with the folks at Maven. And what their talent is doing, I think, for the African music ecosystem. But, with that being said, I think that the ecosystem is still getting to the point. where it’s maturing, but also maturing in a way where folks can capitalize not only on the talent from the ecosystem, within Africa, but there being true connections, going both ways, because that’s ultimately where the label will be able to recognize their power.

[00:41:05] But for an artist that is already successful in some ways already getting Booked for shows. You look at, you know, where Tua Savage was by the time she got signed, or a DeVito by the time, he got signed abroad, they’re already huge stars, which in some ways is different than what labels are used to signing in the States.

[00:41:27] They, you know, would either find an artist and before invest the development in them or find an artist who’s had maybe success digitally, but are working with them, on some of their more physical initiatives. So, I think it’s interesting, but I also think it’s a bit of a, different framework or thinking that some of these labels need to do in terms of the true maturity of the talent at the time they’re being signed in some cases.

[00:41:52] Dan Runcie: Yeah. When I heard rumblings that some of these record label offices that had recently started in Nigeria or elsewhere in Africa, that they were starting to question some of the future and the growth and things, I honestly wasn’t that surprised because if you look at the way the record labels work in the US and at least currently they’re working cause.

[00:42:16] you have the Drake’s and you have the Taylor’s and the Adele’s and Beyonces, and you’ve given them more favorable deals. But knowing that even if they more favorable deal, whatever share you get of that is still gonna make up for more than everything else. And that’s gonna help your strategy in so many other ways.

[00:42:33] Versus you’re starting from scratch in a landscape where it’s already harder to like develop someone from the ground up. And you’re starting that without the Burna Boy without DeVito or without them, and now you’re trying to find that person and you’re trying to, you know, still do the investment. It’s tough to get there because it took these folks so many years to get to that point.

[00:42:55] So if you didn’t start like a 10 year time horizon and you’re have a bit of that, you know, more of a standard, okay, what has this person done for me lately? Do we keep this artist? Do we drop them? It isn’t going to work in the same way. And we saw some of those same challenges, not even to this level happen.

[00:43:12] 20 years ago when there were so many artists from Jamaica that were starting to blow up when reggae and reggae Fusion was really starting to be the wave when Sean Paul was doing his thing, and we didn’t even get to that point where they were even trying to start the record label. There were issues with visas Yeah. Yes, and all. 

[00:43:31] Denisha Kuhlor: It doesn’t just transfer. That’s, you know, that’s such a great point. Like I think in some ways people expect the success in the continent to like transfer almost smoothly when in reality a new type of work is just beginning. And that’s the type of work that, you know, when you think about the office, the big office is looking for, right?

[00:43:51] Because that’s gonna produce quantitatively what they wanna see. and so in a way it can feel discouraging because you’re like, wow, I have this artist, they’ve done this, this, and this. They’re getting booked for shows here. Now we’re going to Europe and we can’t do a 500 person venue, but we just did a 5,001.

[00:44:06] Dan Runcie: Yeah, it’s gonna be fascinating to see how this develops, but before we close things out though, let’s say five years from now, 2028, where’s Burna Boy in his career, right? At that point, what is he doing?

[00:44:18] Denisha Kuhlor: Yeah, I really, you know, I call it like a bit of the Jay-Z effect, but in some ways I see that for him, one clearly has an ear, not only for like developing talent, but also emerging talent, from, you know, a feature to Bnxn who assigned onto his label, but ended up not staying ended to, ask to leave the label, which I think is very interesting.

[00:44:40] So I kind of wanna see if he focuses or hones more on also like developing talent innately his sister’s also the creative director for his brand. I think too, we’ll also will also see him play a role where he does a lot of fun things around fan engagements. he talked about in an interview that he’s performed at so many venues and gotten to travel the world. And so he wants to take a really exciting approach in like performing on a train or kind of doing all these other like, cool fan experiences. So hopefully will he’ll start to experiment with that as well.

[00:45:20] Denisha Kuhlor: And it’d be interesting, but I think he might have the potential to be a really high touring artist for a long time. We see some artists that are just like, they can go on tour. It feels whenever they want, regardless of whether they have new music or not. And to some extent, I think that he just might be an artist that can command that.

[00:45:42] and this has, you know, everybody’s talking about, everybody’s talking about catalogs nowadays, but as you think about how digitally Native Africa is, how young the population is. I’ll be curious to see if he gets an offer he can’t refuse. on the catalog side, there’s more and more, places invest in content within Africa.

[00:46:02] Denisha Kuhlor: It’s only gonna increase, syncs the power of nostalgia as well. . Well, my hunch would be that he wouldn’t sell, it wouldn’t surprise me if we also saw him really structuring his business or his brand in, a way, that commands a high catalog price as well. 

[00:46:19] Dan Runcie: Yeah, when you’re one of the biggest ones in this like wave and you’re really reaching the height that others haven’t reached before, you do have a bit of that advantage, right? Are able to this rise in a number of ways. So it’s gonna be fascinating. I’m excited feel like at a minimum, what headline in Glastonbury feels like an inevitable thing, just given with things.

[00:46:39] So yeah, I am eager to see how this all plays out. And who knows, maybe he’ll be at Coachella again, and maybe he’ll have the headline spot and at that point there’s nowhere else to, you know, complain. Maybe we’ll just have Burna Boy hyphen the African Giant and that’ll be what’s on the poster,

[00:46:56] Denisha Kuhlor: Yes, I can literally see like just the African giants. I think that would be just such a moment, in the funniest way, like very reminiscent of Jay-Z, Jay-Z at Glastonbury, no. Yeah, it would be cool to see that all come full circle.

[00:47:10] Dan Runcie: Definitely. Well, Denisha, this was awesome. Thanks again for making the time and making this happen

[00:47:16] Denisha Kuhlor: Thanks so much for having me.

[00:47:17] Dan Runcie: If you enjoyed this podcast, go ahead and share it with a friend. Copy the link, text it to a friend, post it in your group chat. Post it in your Slack groups. Wherever you and your people talk, spread the word. That’s how capital continues to grow and continues to reach the right people. And while you’re at it, if you use Apple Podcast, go ahead.

[00:47:38] Rate the podcast, give it a high rating, and leave a review. Tell people why you like the podcast. That helps more people. Discover the show. Thank you in advance. Talk to you next week.

Dan Runcie

Dan Runcie

Founder of Trapital

Share this episode:

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on whatsapp
Share on email

Listen and follow to the Trapital Podcast:

"The stuff that Trapital puts out is fantastic. Really interesting insights into the industry, artists trends, and market trends."
Mike Weissman
Former CEO, SoundCloud
“You tell the true stories. Not just the end product, but how you get to the end product. Your point of view on it is dope.”
Steve Stoute
CEO, UnitedMasters and Translation

Subscribe to the Trapital Podcast

More from Trapital

Get updates on new Trapital episodes, upcoming guests, listener Q&As, and more.