The Inimitable Flair of BNXN
We talk to the Afro-fusion star about his year of ascendance, legendary co-signs, and headline shows around the world.
“There is this pressure that comes with it. It's on a level of ‘How are you going to do better?’, ‘How are you going to beat these songs? 'Can you back up the same energy the following year?”
BNXN (pronounced Benson) calmly highlights the weighty pressures of his phenomenal 2021 run of hits that have cemented his spot as one of the hottest artists in Africa.
The last time I spoke with BNXN he was known as Buju. We sat in a recording studio within Burna Boy’s exquisite home, with the conversation centered around a seven-month stoppage in music releases. Weeks after, Buju released "Outside," the first single under his imprint, To Your Ears Entertainment—parting ways with Burna Boy’s Spaceship Records.
The release of "Outside" commenced a streak of relentless hits for BNXN which included guest verses on songs such as Savage’s "Confident," Ladipoe’s "Feeling," Blaq Diamond’s "Italy" and Wizkid’s "Mood." BNXN’s 2021 crescendoed with performances during Wizkid’s sold-out three-day residency at London’s iconic O2, a Grammy nomination for his work in Made In Lagos, his seven-track debut EP, Sorry I’m Late, and headline shows in London and Lagos.
“Coming into 2022, the speculation was about what the run was going to be like this year. Who else are you trying to do it with? 'Finesse' happened and it was wild.” BNXN earmarks the impact of the Pheelz-owned record, released in March. “Finesse” became an earworm after individual videos of Pheelz and BNXN vibing to the record went viral on Tiktok. The BNXN-assisted song charted in the Netherlands, United Kingdom, France, and America, and was featured on Barack Obama’s coveted summer playlist.
Photo courtesy of BNXN.
After implementing an identity change from Buju to BNXN and etching collaborations with Dave, Jae5, Zinoleesky,and Darkoo, BNXN released his sophomore EP, Bad Since 97. A seven-track spectacle guest-listed by Afrobeats trailblazers Wizkid, Wande Coal, and Olamide.
Now, in his lush Victoria Island home, BNXN dons a black Calvin Klein sweater and pink shorts while kicking back over a game of UFC. He's often away from the public except on social media, and offers fans a vantage peek into his life only through his deft lyricism and multilayered versatile music.
The Afro-fusionist has grown from emerging into prominence off viral tweets, touring with Koffee and winning a 2022 Bentley for coming in as the Next-Rated artist at The Headies, Nigeria’s most prestigious music awards platform.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
You’ve had many highs. When was the last time you were genuinely happy?
If anything made me happier, it was after the project dropped. It was the acceptance. I was able to achieve what I wanted on a level whereby whenever I dropped that project, it was going to be the best thing I had put out ever. When the project dropped, everything that was happening with the project just gave me hope.
The project, Bad Since 97, peaked at #6 in the US and #4 in the UK on the Apple Music charts.
It was mind-blowing. I wouldn’t say I didn’t see that for the project, I would say that I just needed you to be way better than Sorry I’m Late. When it did happen, I was stunned and excited at the same time.
How long did it take you to create this project?
This tape took me about eight months to make, It’s a tape that I started working on the third week after Sorry I’m Late. On this project, I was trying to be very intentional about what I was doing. I wanted people to see and notice the growth, confidence level, and dynamics in the vocal delivery. These were the things I was paying attention to on this project. On Sorry I’m Late, I felt like I left the project begging for more. There was a little bit more that I could have done to make the project sonically better.
Do you think anyone flows harder than you?
I don’t. I have taken over two years to work on songwriting. It’s the intentionality behind making these records. I try to make you feel like you are part of my story. You may not know so much, but I make sure I can make you feel like you do. I try to be vulnerable so you can feel my pain or my story without even being there.
On “In My Mind,” I am talking about a toxic relationship. It’s about me thinking someone and I are Superman and Louis Lane, and that is supposed to be a lovely situation, meanwhile, it’s not. I always play "Loose Emotions" after "In My Mind," it's the graduation from “In My Mind." It’s like a sequel. Normally, “Modupe” is supposed to come last on the tape because it’s a song about thanksgiving but I wanted to switch it up.
How was it going on tour with Koffee?
We went to over 13 cities in America, packed out shows and packed out halls. It was such an amazing feeling. We were in places where you would only see Hispanic people. The sound has travelled so well to a point where we just don’t realize it because we are here in Nigeria.
Talking about shows being filled, you headlined the Lafayette in London and you are about to do the Indigo. How does that feel?
It is amazing!! It is super amazing that I am about to do the Indigo. People don’t understand the work ethic that goes into this thing.
How does it feel to be Grammy nominated?
It was amazing and even more so, that it was for "Mood" and being on the Made in Lagos project, but I feel like I want Bad Since 97 to be Grammy-nominated too because if Koffee could do it, I think I can do it.
Is there an album coming?
There is an album coming, maybe because I feel like there’s a lot that has happened or is happening.
What do you want your legacy to be?
I just want to be bigger than the greats. Everything that somebody can say the greatest has done out here, I want to do it. I think I started something with Bad Since 97 and I just want to see it through. I want to look back and be able to say I aimed for this and I got it beyond human understanding.