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breathing new life into Afropop

May 31st, 2024

Ayra Starr’s second album ‘The Year I Turned 21’ arrives three years after her debut with clear, astute messages about the coming-of-age experience. The rising star ushers in her early twenties with colourful tales to match. Delivered with high energy and powered by her independence, on standout ‘Birds Sing of Money,’ she sings “I don’t watch my tone / ‘Cause I like how I sound, bitch,” an open confessional that begins with her oriki – an ancestral poetic praise from the Yoruba tribe in West Africa.

Across 14 tracks, the Beninese-Nigerian singer pays homage to the past while crafting imaginative stories that sit firmly in the present. She radiates with palpable energy on ‘Goodbye’, a jazz-inspired number where she fires kiss-offs alongside Afropop heavyweight Asake. “Goodbye to my ex / Hello to my next,” she sings to a past lover, each word delivered with an audible smirk. Her commanding presence creates plenty more cinematic moments. Starr wades off naysayers (‘Bad Vibez’) and flexes her magnetism (‘Woman Commando’) alongside heavyweight collaborators like Anitta and Coco Jones.

For all these moments of clarity, the album moves with an underlying sense of unease, as Starr also references what it means to grow up in the public eye. “I don’t want to lose,” she sings on penultimate track ‘1942’, which captures the competitive nature of success; ‘Orun’, meanwhile, is powered by live instrumentals and candid conversations with God. These moments feel authentic and personal to Starr’s ascendant rise, yet will ring accessible to her audience.

Starr confidently blends genres in her orbit, segueing from romantic deep cuts to emotional odes about her roots with producers like Louddaaa. She threads a collage of sounds together with an adept narrative style. As she flirts with the idea of reckless romance (‘Lagos Love Story’), finds the strength to move on the R&B-powered duet with Giveon (‘Last Heartbreak Song’), or weaves intergenerational conversations (‘The Kids Are Alright’), each track radiates a clear vision.

‘Jazzy Song,’ finds Starr breathing a fresh vibrancy long overdue into Afropop and interpolates a Nigerian classic produced by Don Jazzy, founder of her label Mavin Records. She closes on a reflective note, describing how she has managed to stay present while managing the loss of her father. Starr assures the listener that they can overcome hardship, too; stringing together a tightly-constructed album where love, pain, and joy exist in tandem.


  • Release date: May 31
  • Record label: Mavin Records


This content was originally sourced and posted at NME »
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