”Beyoncé-endorsed Burna Boy make Afrobeat go international” declares a New York Post headline during the release fever of Burna Boy’s fifth studio album Twice As Tall last Friday. The headline stands as a microaggression filtered through the white capitalist machinery, one that frames Beyoncé as a value extractor, discoverer, finder, labels that echoes the complex historical interactions between colonialism and capitalism.
The extravagant scale of Beyoncé’s new Disney project Black Is King, while frozen in debates on what’s perceived as the problematic rendering of Africa, may have unlocked the continent as a new frontier with Afrobeats as an essential ingredient. Afrobeats is fast gaining global recognition, thanks to a talented dispatch of artists like Tiwa Savage and Yemi Alade, the UK launching its first Afrobeats chart, not to mention music corporations like Def Jam and Sony Music expanding into key African markets.
And there’s Diddy, the hip hop mogul who is credited as executive producer on Burna Boy’s Twice As Tall, and bolstered the album’s rollout at critical points through the power of his celebrity. ”Album of the year,” he tweets, on the eve of its release, then posted footage of making the project, cutting between video calling Burna Boy and Snoop Dogg and legendary producer Timbaland talking in approving low tones. To Burna Boy, Diddy talks snappily from his studio, a pep talk reminiscent of the frantic, disciplined atmosphere of his erstwhile show Making the Band.
Recycling his false charm that’s necessary to gain trust, Diddy makes a public address soon after in a three-part tweet, making it ostensibly clear why he worked with Burna Boy as his first African artist. Prefacing with ”Dear Africa” and wanting to connect with the ”motherland” with Twice As Tall, Diddy speaks on fostering black unity through music and hints at something more to come.
Dear Africa, you have been heavy on my mind and my heart … I’ve been trying to connect to the motherland for a minute, but I never got a chance to do it properly. When I say properly, I mean in a soulful spiritual way.
— Diddy (@Diddy) August 15, 2020
Even though there seem to be a sliver of positivity, Diddy’s tweets were mocked by Nigerians and Africans alike for being patronizing. More than that, there are reasons to mistrust Diddy, microwaving ”black unity” talking points and skeletal attachment to Burna Boy, while also having a record of exploiting and ruining the careers of artists under his Bad Boy imprint.
From The Lox to the splintering of female R&B group Danity Kane, Diddy has had a hand in orchestrating artists’ misfortune and spiral into obscurity. After receiving the Icon Award at the 2020 pre-Grammy gala, with an impassioned speech blasting the Record Academy for its disrespect for hip hop and Black artists, Diddy’s hypocrisy was called out by Mase.
Previously under the Bad Boy label, the ex rapper went on Instagram to publicly express his grievances about how Diddy took advantage of him back in the 90’s, and how he’s still robbing and enslaving artists. Mase claimed that Diddy only paid him $20,000 for his publishing rights then, and when he recently offered $2 million to have his publishing back, he was told by Diddy to increase his offer to match another interested party.
Diddy belongs to a self-preserving category of hyper-successful Black music executives fashioned through several shifts in hip hop and brutal economies. While music entertainment – streaming platforms, music awards, record labels – are still largely controlled by the white capitalist establishment, Black-owned ventures are also tethered to the same destructive, exploitative capitalist model.
The #BlackLivesMatter protests in the past months, raging against racialized injustices against Black people, also showed the reckoning within Black-owned media spaces. In light of Diddy’s questionable profile, his manufactured proximity with Africa through Burna Boy presents a rather complicated feeling. Like Beyoncé, his ancestral roots to the continent isn’t up for questioning. African Americans have been trying to reconstruct an Africa for themselves with fragments from pop culture (Black Panther, Black Is King), and calculated trips to preferred African countries. The former is the most destabilizing however, if you are viewing this imagery from the continent, as it reproduces Africa as a far-flung, fantastical concept.
It is why Diddy’s message didn’t find the intended resonance, save for fans scavenging online for endorsements and approval to push Twice As Tall. There’s reason to believe that Diddy’s intentions are veiled by capitalistic interests, and this could happen as an iteration of Making the Band in Nigeria or funnelling his record label into Africa. The Nigerian up-and-comers clustering around his social media feed show that validation can be expensive to obtain, even on the internet.
”We from the same tribe, It’s Black love,” Diddy says in spoken word cadence on Alarm Clock, the second song on Twice As Tall.
Only that, we have heard that line before.
When Bernard Dayo isn’t writing about pop culture, he’s watching horror movies, anime and trying to pretend his addiction to Netflix isn’t a serious condition.