As a young college student exploring his sound, Fireboy DML wasn’t sure how to stand out in the vibes-saturated Afrobeats scene, but he knew one thing: “I want to be a fucking superstar.” Once a nerdy kid who rarely ventured beyond school, church, and home, the Nigerian pop singer now finds himself at the forefront of the globalization of Afrobeats. The first Afrobeats artist to perform on the BET Awards mainstage, he’s made a name for himself as an Afropop ambassador in the age of virality and snippets. On his latest album, Playboy, the 26-year-old grapples with newfound fame and attempts to shed his characteristic loverboy reputation as he leans into a Starboy-esque cool-guy persona. The formerly earnest Fireboy sporadically peeks through while the newborn star parties, seduces, and manifests success, not just for himself but for his entire continent.
Since the success of 2020’s Apollo, Fireboy DML has embraced the universal appeal of Afrobeats and been welcomed in turn. His jet-setting, snare-punctuated single “Peru” achieved global TikTok fame and caught the attention of Afrobeats admirer and Ghanian flag tattoo enthusiast Ed Sheeran, who hopped on a remix. With megastars like Beyoncé, Drake, and Madonna also tapping into the Afrobeats wave, some critics have been wary of Western musicians taking from the continent, especially while African artists’ contributions often go unrecognized. Assured in the cultural power of Africa, Fireboy DML doesn’t see a reason to gatekeep. “Historical, deeply-rooted genres like hip-hop, Afrobeats, reggae, amapiano, they cannot be taken away,” he insists. “It’s only right that we collaborate, merge cultures and build bridges for the future.”
As if to make up for the time lost chasing elusive women on his 2019 debut Laughter, Tears and Goosebumps, on “Ashawo,” Fireboy DML adopts a laissez-faire approach to love. “If I cheat on you I’m sorry and if you cheat on me no worry,” he seems to assure his lover, but it really sounds like he’s assuring himself. He desperately tries to keep his affections for women on a purely physical level, but his mask slips on “Adore,” a collaboration with Dominican American rapper Euro, and on the smooth, R&B-influenced “Diana,” he can’t help but beg for her not to go. Though it comes at the cost of a Chris Brown feature, “Diana” proves that Fireboy is in his element when he does what he’s been doing since his breakthrough single “Jealous”: yearn. The only woman featured on the album, Jamaican dancehall singer Shenseea, lends her honeyed vocals as the song’s fictional muse.