“I told them I’m a genius” is succinct and grand as an opening salvo, and Burna Boy is nothing if not grand. This is the lyric that introduces I Told Them…, the Nigerian superstar’s fifth album, and a callback to a comment he made in June, when he performed for 60,000 people at London Stadium, becoming the first African solo artist to sell out a venue of its size in the UK. The line implies either a savvy album tease or quick work recording the subsequent song, but it also positions him as both giant and underdog: an artist who simply had to succeed in order to prove he could. “I told them I’m the realest… for some reason they didn’t believe it, so here we are,” he purrs over a glissade of guitar and congas, with satisfied nonchalance.

Burna Boy has increasingly little to prove: The peripatetic musician has released a slate of juggernaut hits that have made him Afrobeats’ biggest global star, and has spent 2023 selling out stadiums across the world. Each of his moves registers a massive ripple; weeks before I Told Them dropped, “City Boys” became a viral TikTok challenge. The “Big 7” video, which partly documents Burna Boy’s introduction to New York pizza via Brooklyn rap icon Busta Rhymes, had 10 million YouTube views in less than a month. Belying the faux-exasperation of his station, I Told Them’s chill acceptance of his global footprint translates to an even broader musical slate as he blends—and links—his influences: Caribbean dancehall, UK drill, U.S. hip-hop, Ghanaian hiplife, Nigerian highlife, Afro-Cuban percussion, and, yes, Afrobeats. Through this process, he steps further into Afro-fusion, the pan-African genre he’s claimed for his music. His undeniable voice—low and warm, raspy and pooling with intensity—is the unifying force. That, and some well-placed tenor saxophone that conjures a rare Cheval-Blanc by candlelight, signals his desire to push forward beyond the imaginary borders he’s traversed.

I Told Them is enough of a swerve that Burna Boy thought it prudent to create I Told Them magazine, an intriguing and well-put-together document that shades in the backdrop of his Afro-fusion project. (Its tagline: “The magazine for Afro-fusion music, life jewels, and big vibes.”) In his editor’s letter, he writes that now felt like “the right time to reflect and make a progress check of sorts on things ‘I told them’ from the last decade.” But it’s also clear that, as he strays further from Afrobeats as a sound (and after his own criticism that Afrobeats “mostly” lacks substance), he wanted to reassure fans that he’s still grounded in his roots—to “explain the process,” in his words—showcasing Nigerian chefs, fashion designers, and entrepreneurs. The message arrives most explicitly in an intersecting history of juju, highlife, and hip-hop in Lagos written by Benson Idonije, the veteran Nigerian music critic (and Burna Boy’s grandfather).

Contextualizing I Told Them, the album, is a valid project as Burna Boy further explores the ’90s U.S. hip-hop he grew up loving, preemptively hedging skepticism even as he infuses the songs with Wu-Tang Clan members, boom-bap beats, and a Brandy sample (on the ebulliently 1998-sounding “Sittin on Top of the World,” which also features 21 Savage delivering his best Mason Betha flow). Released from the wallpapery niceness that sometimes characterized 2022’s Love, Damini, Burna Boy explores the spoils of his talent and renown, weaving triumphantly through wealth, women, weed, and, on the J Hus-sampling “City Boys,” creatively rhyming “ice cream” with “disgusting.” Throughout his victory lap, he experiments with form to winning effect. On standout “Giza,” Burna and young Nigerian powerhouse Seyi Vibez craft an international mobster movie over a beat that smolders like amapiano turned inside out, and on the sax-reggae joint “Tested, Approved & Trusted,” a man has never pleaded more sincerely for a woman to “jump upon my body like animal” mid-wine.

There is a sense of self-reflection, too, after a “Virgil” interlude that captures the late designer Virgil Abloh philosophizing extremely Virgilly about how Burna Boy can further connect with the masses. “Big 7,” which pours some out for Virgil and posthumous collaborator Sidhu Moose Wala, the Indian rapper who was murdered in 2022, makes being “wavy since morning” sound like the most beautiful thing in the world—despite its lyrics warning everyone away because he simply can’t talk to them in his altered state. Moments like this, including the easy minimalism of “On Form” and the self-reflective, Kwabs-sampling “Cheat on Me,” featuring the London rapper Dave, are emblematic of Burna Boy’s growth, reflecting his hope to translate “the temperature of the times” into his music, as he says in a conversation with RZA in I Told Them magazine.

Still, he has a notorious, if occasional, inability to stay out of his own way. On “Thanks,” he falls into the superstar’s trap of taking criticism as a knockdown attempt, coming after some Naija fans for a perceived lack of support and allowing J. Cole to devolve into an eyerolly, self-referential bromide against PC culture. It’s misguided, particularly on an otherwise fascinating track that chops his vocals into a flanged and skittering mini-cyclone of guitar and beats. An underdog needs a powerful opponent, but creating one when the world says he’s winning is beneath Burna Boy’s talent, particularly after a reverent interlude, “12 Jewels,” in which the longtime Five Percenter RZA enumerates the life tenets toward which a man should aspire. Fortunately Burna Boy is dextrous enough to evade his own traps, and that emotional range is a huge part of his appeal—that he can believably move from lashing out to roadman fuckery to spiritual deliverance, as on the acoustic-guitar devotional “If I’m Lying.” “Every day, I just dey give thanks for life,” he sings. “Know how to move ’cause I know how to sacrifice.” Burna Boy has more than established himself; I Told Them is an adventurous promise that he won’t become complacent.