A review of Afrobeats star Ayra Starr’s ‘The Year I Turned 21’ album

Ayra Starr‘s sophomore album is befitting of her superstar status.

Ayra Starr’s sophomore album ‘The Year I Turned 21’ comes off the back of a massive run of news-making feats that rocketed her to the summit of the music industry.

It’s from the summit that she delivers an album that conveys the experiences of life from the perspective of a 21-year-old with the world at her feet.

A popstar whose sensibilities are forged by Nigerian and international influences, Ayra Starr’s ‘The Year I Turned 21’ offers brilliantly curated music that brings together Nigerian and global audiences under the “Sabi girl” umbrella.

While the buzz that preceded the album release is a testament to careful planning and a consequence of Ayra Starr‘s status as one of Africa’s most commercial artists, it also shows how strongly her music resonates with the average listener and her brand with a bigger audience.

Assured in her abilities, Ayra Starr delivers an album that brilliantly explores Afrobeats, Highlife, and a blend of RnB and UK-leaning genres to convey the multiplicity of influences that shape her talent while also showcasing the confidence of a superstar who’s fully aware of her place in the scheme of things.

At a time when some Nigerian artists who have enjoyed international success are disassociating from the Afrobeats tag in a yearning for more, Ayra Starr is opting to bring the world to Afrobeats in a bold embracement of her cultural identity.

Ayra Starr’s embracement of her Nigerian culture shines from the London-produced opener where a Fuji praise singer announces her presence before she kicks off the 40 minutes 31 seconds of breathtaking spectacle with sensational vocals and chest-thumping lyrics.

With the confident Ayra Starr leading the beautiful exploration of what it means to be 21, listeners are taken on a trip of her many experiences. Ayra Starr shares her experiences with love, heartbreak, loss, family, fame, success, and the good life while delivering music that excels in their different genre exploration.

To love is to hurt, and these bittersweet experiences are conveyed on the groovy drums of the Swing record ‘Goodbye’ where she pairs up with one of the leaders of the Afrobeats’ new school Asake to talk about the complexities of romantic relationships.

When she linked up with America’s R&B heartthrob Giveon, it was to share a rejection of all things love after a painful heartbreak that she delicately documents on the stellar RnB track ‘Last Heartbreak’.

A Sabi girl never says die, so even after the pain of heartbreak, Ayra Starr tries again. She shares the feeling of romantic love with the glee of a 21-year-old on ‘Lagos Love Story’ and the brilliant Afrobeats facing RnB record ‘Rhythm & Blues’.

21-year-old with a critically acclaimed album under her belt, a multi-certified Grammy-nominated hit single, a global fan base, and a strikingly recognisable and bankable brand, Ayra Starr is setting the pace for female stars on the continent this is a role she embraces and relishes on her sophomore album.

On the punchy up-tempo Rage produced tingling Afrobeats lamba (Nigerian pidgin English slang often used for bragging and painting an exaggerated narrative) driven party-starter ‘Woman Commando’ she invites Latino star Aniita and American sensation Coco Jones to join her craft an anthem for Sabi girls and women globally.

She boasts of her success in ‘Commas’ while telling off detractors on ‘Bad Vibes’ where she dazzles next to Seyi Vibez. On ‘Control’ Ayra Starr pays homage to global Colombian music star Shakira by interpolating a melody from her classic record ‘Hip Don’t Lie’ feat Wyclef Jean while embracing her sensuality as a sex symbol for a generation of young women who want to be free and respected like their male counterparts.

While only 21 and 4 years into her career, Ayra Starr is a student of Nigerian music. On ‘Sare’ off her debut EP, she pays homage to the classics that shape part of her upbringing by sampling ‘Orere Elegibo’ by the iconic Nigerian siblings Lijadu Sisters. She shows an appreciation for indigenous Nigerian music on the Highlife record ‘Orun’ where she switches to Yoruba to deliver soothing melodies over groovy strings and drums on a song that showcases the versatility that holds up her claim that there’s no one like her from this part.

On the delicious hit single ‘Jazzy’s Song’ she brilliantly samples Wande Coal‘s ‘You Bad’ produced by Mavin’s CEO Don Jazzy in a tribute to the Afrobeats classic and the legends behind it.

While only 21, Ayra Starr has had her fair share of loss, heartbreak, and heavy scrutiny by morality police over her fashion choices. It’s this reflection that delivers the very personal singles ‘1942’ and ‘The Kids Are Alright’. On ‘1942’ she flexes her ensnaring vocals as she embraces the rewards of the sleepless nights on a record that features her brother Milar who has been by her side all the way. She closes the album on a victorious note as she embraces the love of family and friends while basking in the euphoria of being 21 with the world at her feet.

While some may consider Ayra Starr’s decision to include ‘Santa’ her collaboration with Rvssian on the album a numbers-farming move, the song doesn’t stick out. She also did dazzle on the song and it can be considered a necessary adjustment to the current realities of some to the metric that defines commercial success.

‘The Year I Turned 21’ is an achieved sophomore effort that excels on all grounds. The confidence that Ayra Starr oozes is a testament to the superiority of her talent and an acknowledgment of her place in Afrobeats’ global exportation.

When placed next to Asake and Seyi Vibez who are two of the biggest artists of her generation, she not only held her own but also ran circles around them. The manner she guided Aniita and Coco Jones on ‘Woman Commando’ is also a marker of her superstar status.

Through balancing commercial appeal with a grounded desire to make good music that captures her essence and resonates with listeners, Ayra Starr has staked a strong claim for Album of the Year.

In a male-dominated mainstream and at a time when numbers and hits shape the narrative, Ayra Starr is showing that not only does she have what it takes to compete but also the talent, range, drive, and panache to be the best.

On ‘Bad Vibes’ she says “Anyhow e be I dey play my part,” the way this writer sees it, this is a part that’s not easy to play, cosplay, or replicate.

Take a bow, Ayra Starr.

Ratings: /10

• 0-1.9: Flop

• 2.0-3.9: Near fall

• 4.0-5.9: Average

• 6.0-7.9: Victory

• 8.0-10: Champion

Pulse Rating: /10

Album Sequencing: 1.9/2

Songwriting, Themes, and Delivery: 1.7/2

Production: 1.8/2

Enjoyability and Satisfaction: 1.8/2

Execution: 1.9/2

TOTAL – 9.1

Ayra Starr’s sophomore album is befitting of her superstar status. Read More

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