“The Year I Turned 21” — Ayra Starr’s Creative Blend Of Sounds and Emotions

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You might think you’re putting Ayra Starr’s sound into a box when you call her a “pop star” when in the actual sense, you’re saying it as it is, and approving of her very distinct ability of being a shining star, spreading her tentacles beyond Nigeria, outside the borders of the African continent. So yes, Ayra Starr is a prolific pop star who is versatile and has an unbeatable aura. 

As at the age of 19, Ayra Starr had already begun embellishing her greatness into the Nigerian music scene, and after over three years of being in the music industry, Ayra Starr has only just begun her greatness. The female shining star is yet to clock 25, and she’s amassed quite the recognition for herself— with regards to her music, her style and her personality. When you mention “soft”, Ayra Starr’s name stands elegantly behind the word. 

When Ayra Starr dropped “19 And Dangerous”, perhaps no one could see it coming that the sability queen is a lofty bag of creativity. From her timeless releases and global performances, Ayra Starr has forged for herself a unique reputation and outlook that is quite appealing to everyone who stops to take a look at her craft. Hence, the release of her sophomore album, “The Year I Turn 21” represents a few things — evolution, classical representation and versatility. 

Before one can delve into a breakdown of what the album is, it is best to sum it up as a combination of melodious sounds, introspection, feminine aura and everything that can lie in the head of a stunning Gen-Z. This writer is yet to see any flaw yet, with Ayra Starr and her musical career. 

The album opens with the unconventional “Birds Sing Of Money,” showcasing Starr’s willingness to experiment while retaining her signature energy. Hints of Western and Jamaican influences evoke a Rihanna-esque vibe, setting the stage for a journey filled with rich melodies and musical elevation.

The next track, “Goodbye (Warm Up)” with Asake is a very typical sound of Ayra Starr’s and was most definitely made to perfectly house Asake’s vocals within it. The track opens with a burst of energy that Ayra Starr uses to launch the tune, she explores her dancehall and erratic ‘baddie’ vibe in it; the sync between Ayra Starr and Asake’s vocals, verses as well as their energies is impeccable and comes with a certain distinctiveness. Ayra Starr yet on the second track has now officially announced her supremacy on the track laced with mild log drums and mellow instrumentals along the track’s play line. 

For a song such as “Commas”, Ayra Starr explores the angle of love and her lover, it sounds crystal like where she is fully herself, the perfect ambience song for a typical Nigerian to enjoy, doesn’t come with a certain complex enjoyment like the first two tracks, released way ahead of the album but yet, it sounds refreshingly new on this album that builds up the enjoyability of the album. 

The fourth track with Coco Jones and Anitta, has Ayra Starr yet again creating another track that is suited best for the Nigerian women and women all over the globe who are excited about the talent of Ayra Starr. The percussion infused track roars strength that is nothing short of set to becoming an anthem. “Woman Commando” is poised to do well amongst Nigerian women, with the male gender equally perhaps, digesting it as well as we can. She has recreated magic as she exactly did with “Sability.” It is very soothing how the song explores women empowerment and she perfectly features international female artists on this track. 

At this point, Ayra Starr meanders through from sound to sound, from rhythm to rhythm, where on “Control” she’s the enigmatic songstress, channelling her inner Shakira into the track. What this song is, is seductive, alluring and very silky. With the strings, the Arabian influence and how Ayra Starr’s vocals erupt a certain western style that is stylishly similar. She knocks the song off with her signature stage hype “Go Ayra, go Ayra, go” and this writer thinks it’s such a mastery of brilliance. 

Ayra Starr’s album is better suited for different ears of this globe, from appealing to the western audience, it’s also appealing to the African audience as well as crafted for the versatile belly of Nigerians, as she delivered exceptionally on “Lagos Love Story”, that is very much along the lines of what Ayra Starr thematically touches but is very much suited within the Lagos market. Perhaps this explains the song’s title “Lagos Love Story” 

Sitting perfectly as the seventh track is “Rhythm and Blues”, this should explain thus the perfection of the song. The number seven represents perfection and the 7th track in the fourteenth track album is this track. It’s perfect, and has a certain charm about it. It displays Ayra Starr letting loose, exploring the might of her vocals and feminine aura within the song. Much like the song’s title, the song’s ambience feels very much like it. 

As a song to represent the overall theme of the album, Ayra Starr bares her heart within the track, “21.” Quite frankly, she sounds like the African version of SZA and if you’re very much aware of SZA’s music, you’ll agree to this assumption. She explains the innocence of her tender age at 21, in “21”. It’s as though she’s attempting to say “let me breathe, how old am I” and this should be a summary of what the song basically is about. There are mild thuds of drum beats within the track, the keys and strings roaring above it and leveling with her vocals, the perfect RnB introspective song for reflection. 

Featuring Giveon on this next track, “Last Heartbreak Song”, Ayra Starr bends her style and sound, while still maintaining her key qualities in a song, mixing pidgin and English along with each other. What better way to explain heartbreak through a song on international grounds than to feature Giveon on it? The mix of their vocals and chemistry within the track, has Giveon exploring outside his typical sound as well as providing ample opportunity for a flex of sound and style for both artists to revel exceedingly well. 

It is not only “Woman Commando” that Ayra Starr has perhaps summed up as an anthem, there also lies “Big Vibes” where she features Seyi Vibez. Ayra Starr doesn’t have to do much to thrive in this track by desiring Seyi Vibez. She and Seyi perfectly balance well upon the melodies of “Bad Vibes”. This song even provides Seyi Vibez a certain calmness to his sound and style. An anthem, an exploration of melodies between two artists of completely different sounds, that merge into an explosion of a well refined tune.

Going this far into the album, Ayra Starr has maintained the energy with which she used to open the album, safe to say even, that she tuned it up higher with the energy and intensity of the songs. With “Orun”, she gathers a much more native introspectiveness that is somewhat similar to “21”, except for the infusion of native and highlife melodies which she heavily adorns “Orun” with. She mixes fluently with Yoruba and English, accepting her flaws with a very rejoicing flute serenading the background of the song. 

Bringing it closer to home, Ayra Starr samples the melodies of Wande Coal’s “You Bad” on “Jazzy’s Song.” If you think it was produced by Don Jazzy, try P Prime! It’s more a display of beat and evocative melodies rather than a showcase of her singing prowess. The song is more a vibe track and is a mastery of sound play-ons. It merges Ayra Starr’s ability to create sultry music that has a swift captivating flow alongside Wande Coal’s nostalgic “You Bad” beat. 

Ayra Starr chooses to bring it down a notch in “1942”, exploring more introspective thoughts on this track. She still meanders between different moods on this song where in a minute it’s ‘vibes’ and the next, she’s cocking her furrows deep in thoughts and baring her soul out entirely as is seen in the follow up from “Jazzy’s Song” into “1942.”

“1942’s mood stirs into “The Kids Are Alright” and a salute should be given to Ayra Starr for choosing this as the perfect closing song to the album. On this song, she mourns the loss of her father, through the melancholic keys of a piano, a perfect tribute and a perfect choice as a closing song to the album. 

Everything that Ayra Starr claims to be, she indeed is, and so much more. “The Year I turned 21” so far has perfect songs for perfect occasions. The female artist managed to explore different facets of her craft and personalities all in one album. She’s either the typical lover girl or baddie she’s known to be, or even the actual growing Nigerian girl who’s recently blossoming into her adult phase. 

For what it’s worth, “The Year I Turned 21” is one of the best releases to yet come out of the Nigerian music scene so far into 2024, the impeccable replay value screams loud through each track, even for the ones that don’t suggest grooves and dance floor movements. 

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