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Entertainment of Saturday, 28 May 2005

Source: Maximus Ojah.

The HIPLIFE story

Yo Osagyefo,

I know you have missed me. I missed writing to you too. I hope you are doing well and working for Ghana?s good. You know I think about you a lot even when you don?t hear from me. That is because you are worth it and Ghana is worth even more.

There is this ?thing? that is employing a lot of ?Ghanaian? youth these days. It?s more than music, it?s more than an art, and it?s more than a business. The earlier, they realize it, the better it would be for Ghana. It was an idea generated by one pillar who is continuing your dream; Reggie Rockstone. This music genre mix borrows heavily from ?hip hop? and our own ?highlife? as well as reggae, ragga, R&B, Indian music and whatever kind of music sounds with the beat waves of Ghanaian eardrums.

So where did hiplife come from? Damn, the spelling isn?t in even concrete, MicroSoft Word highlights it in red. What does this tell us? As much as we are pushing hiplife into the world music arena, it has a long way to go. In 1994, Rockstone figured that boys from Nima and Legon rapped and lip-synched to da dogg?s music, dat of a two-pack and also of a guy who is big in stature and small in name. This Reggie guy said to himself, ?damn, these guys have no idea what this music is about and they are spitting it?. Reggie may have been mistaken, but what did he do; he wanted to see his ?people? spit it in Twi and still rap.

Welcome hiplife. (damn u, Word!) Rockstone anointed himself da ?Godfather of Hiplife? and released his first album in 1997 titled ?Maka a maka?. Whatever he wanted to say, the message touched a lot of Ghanaian youth. Shortly afterwards, Ex Doe came out with ?Daavi medekuku?. It was unbelievable to go to school and hear my friends rap in ?Ewe?. I hardly even heard them speak the language! By the time Nananom?s first album came out, my siblings and friends would sing along and dance like we ?owned? the music. Yeah, we ?owned? it. VIP, Buk Bak, Azigiza, and a few others released albums to give Rockstone, the Oseikrom President, even more competition.

But c?mon, the hip hoppers from Yonkee still ruled the game. Days wouldn?t go by without hearing about DMX and his dog, Jay Z and his rock, a big-small guy fighting with a guy who popularized two pockets (packets) ? East coast west coast jaw wars, a Gangsta?s paradise and all the Western rap that found its way to our televisions and radios. In 1999, however, something changed. Osagyefo, yes, it was a year to be remembered. Ao, you should have been here.

Wait! If you had been, the year wouldn?t have been so remarkable. Why? This guy who called himself, Obrafour (stage name) anointed himself the Rap Sofour (priest). He had this sterling tribute to you which also implored Ghanaians to better themselves for Ghana?s sake and pay tribute to what you gave the former Gold Coast. He even used some traditional ?libation pouring? antics to prove a point - this song is totally Ghanaian. The ?Kwame Nkrumah? song had great acclaim in Ghana and his ?Pae mu ka? album is still the best hiplife album ever, so good that the intro and outro tracks had constant airplay! I know half the lyrics of that album and would go even crazier over his songs. Well, when an Odadee called Hammer also does the beats for his songs, you?ll know his ?music? is sheer class.

Obrafour was different from the start, he was a Twi lyricist. He has continued to rap about various issues, from love to indiscipline, battles to gossip, nationalism to gospel. More came after him, threatening to dethrone him as the best Twi lyricist because Obrafour?s Twi had set the bar really high. Obrafour actually got his exposure first through one of hiplife?s most popular (and controversial) songs, Philomina by Tic Tac. If anyone doubted how music could affect youth, (s)he may have wanted to see young children to do the ?Philomina Kpetenge? dance. (Enwi wo aha, enwi wo aha oh ? yes, you could guess where the ?enwi? ? hair is)

Around this same time, a few hiplife acts who were more R&B influenced followed. Ded Buddy, Nana Quame were the most popular pioneers. By 2001, Lord Kenya had established himself as the ?Rap Heavyweight champ? and he helped establish hiplife as the dominant music genre in Ghana by winning the best song of the year award with ?Medo?. This was from his ?Yeesom sika? album, following his ?Sikacard? and ?Sikabaa? records. Other great artistes then were Obour (who was adjudged Ghana?s best rapper in 2001), Akyeame, Deeba, Akatakyie, Omanhene Pozoh (who separated from Nananom) and Th4Kwages who rapped in Fante and some patois (yeah, i-man make i-ray, what aguan?).

By 2002, Ghanaian youth were flocking into the hiplife industry in search of jobs. Abrewa Nana led the female rappers with Mary Adjepong rising into Ghana?s Mariah Carey. Osagyefo, as if hiplife couldn?t get more boring, Kontihene (another person who named himself with a royal stage name) came out with ?Akatasia?. The song opened with a catchy tune but what was even more significant, was the chorus. ?Akatasia, mese m?afa wo la, la la, eno nti na m?aba wo ho?. Osagyefo, did you ?shii? this jama in Motown? We did. Hiplife meet Jama, Jama meet Hiplife. Kontihene?s album was hailed in ?Pae mu ka? terms and ?Akatasia? was Ghana?s best song in 2002. It faced stiff opposition from Buk Bak?s latest hit, ?Klu Blofo?. Buk Bak was one of the few hiplife groups that sang (rapped) in Ga, at a time when Twi music absolutely dominated the market. Klu Blofo was produced by Jay Q, who pretty much introduced Jama and Kpanlogo beats into hiplife.

Ever since Klu Blofo, Ga music?s popularity has been shooting for the stars, thanks in part to Jay Q?s efforts. Hammer introduced Tinny ?Aletse Kankpe? in 2003, and his ?Makola Kwakwe? was the first major Ga hit. Buk Bak?s hits had all been Twi or half-Twi songs. ?Makola Kwakwe? was straight up Accra and Hammer?s beats just drained the song in glory. Osagyefo, you may be pleased to hear that Tinny was Ga?s answer to Obrafour, sensitizing the public with his good and deep Ga lyrics. When Obrafour featured Tinny on his ?Oye Ohene? remix, Tinny became Ghana?s premier Ga rapper and that song was a remix for the ages.

I think I mentioned Nananom somewhere. In 2003, one guy in the group, Sidney broke free and released his ?Akofna? album. His lead single, ?Abuskeleke? was highly controversial because it denounced and ?promoted? prostitution (depending on your understanding of the song). Shortly after the song was released, women and girls who wore mini-skirts, and exposed their bodies like their counterparts in the West had a tag name, ?Abuskeleke?. Sony Achiba also released his Hipdia albums, where he fused hiplife with Indian music. Okomfo Kwaadee (who came into the limelight a year earlier) released his ?Metoaso? album. Okomfo was different in the sense that he was schooled in the Ghanaian ghettos. His music was as traditional as hiplife could get and his style was welcomed. Other like K-Wuo and Quata have followed his style. His ?Ahwedie Abena? track was on top of Ghana?s charts forever, until VIP?s ?Ahomka Womu? usurped it. ?Ahomka womu? enjoyed massive airplay, coupled with a spectacular video. It also won Ghana?s best song in 2003 and went on to win VIP a Channel O award for best African group. (Is someone noticing hiplife, someone?)

Hiplife?s first tragedy struck the same year. Osagyefo, you know sometimes, people never really get appreciated until they kick the bucket. Terry Bonchaka, who popularized kicking and holding one leg up as part of his famous dance for his ?Puulele? song, joined the other side of town late 2003. He had been thrilling secondary school crowds in Cape Coast in his school days and he also won the best hiplife act as part of the Miss Ghana pageant. His funeral was one to behold, with his uncle, Mr. I-can?t-drive-in-an-?unbulletproof?-car Adjetey in attendance. Bonchaka had an idol following. Let?s hold our right legs up for a minute to remember this hiplife star.

Whew, Osagyefo, I wonder how Bonchaka used to do that all the time, this exercise was tiring. But you know, our favourite rapper was still going strong in 2003. The same year, Obrafour released his ?Time Out For Adhesion? album. As if that was not enough, he decided to fight indiscipline in Ghana with his music, status and influence. This was an unprecedented move ? he released a second album the same year. The theme song for his anti-indiscipline campaign, ?Nya Ntetee Pa?, is the most lyrically involving song that ever came out of hiplife?s ranks. I thought it should have won Ghana?s best song, but the award judges had other ideas. They preferred party songs like ?Ahomka Womu?, ?Ahwedie Abena?, ?Puulele?, ?Atia Donko? by Nana Quame, and ?Adwoa Sokode? by Asaase Aban. A Pluz used his hiplife talent to talk about politics, and had some good publicity after accusing hiplife artistes of not using highlife enough.

Boi! Fast forward to 2004, and a new wave of hiplife was taking over. Batman who had been on hits like King David?s ?Aayefe Notse?, K. K. Fosu?s ?Suudwe? and Kokovelli?s ?Zaaza? brought out his debut album, Dankwansere (Twi for ?bat?). Batman had a great ragga influence and in some circles, he made popular Yoggi Doggi and Sonni Bali?s efforts with his ?raglife?. His ?Boi? signature has also made hiplife signatures popular, almost every artiste has his own signature now. His ?Linda? (Osagyefo, he talks about rain and ?pan pan pan?) song was on top for a long time, only to be overtaken by Obour?s ?Konkontiba? which featured Batman as well. MadFish, a self-proclaimed patois don, released ?Wo ne me baby? which also featured Batman and was a hit. Mzbel came out as Ghana?s Lil Kim with ?Awoso me? which had an even more controversial video. Other artistes were Bandana, Kwaw Kese, Antwi ne Antwi, 4x4 (Buk Bak and some colleagues), Mr. Borax (who featured an artiste on each of his songs and is produced by Ghana?s Michael Jackson, Daddy Lumba).

Osagyefo, you are probably asking what happened to Reggie Rockstone, ?the hiplife godfather?. After seeing his ?Keep your eyes on the road? track make it big in the US and helping hiplife artistes get noticed on Channel O, he released the ?Last Show? album and called it his last. He used the album to remember his father, Ricci Osei and sang about the mobile phone phenomenon that continues to grip Ghanaians. His ?Ah? (Fa me bone kye me) track won a Kora Award for Africa?s best video. Uh huh, hiplife is going places. It?s funny, Mr. Nkrumah, even though Rockstone was a pioneer and a legend in Ghanaian music circles, he didn?t sell as many records as some other hiplife artistes and did not dominate. Some birds have been chirping away that he does not do ?payola? so that affected his marketing and publicity. In spite of whatever challenges he may have faced, he?s the first hiplife legend and garners all the hiplife stakeholders? respect. He also helped bring Mensah, an English rapper into the spotlight. Mensah?s been doing really well and his colleague, Bazaar aka Blitz is now making people nod heads to his music on America?s streets.

That brings us to 2005 ish. Osagyefo, sometimes I can only express ideas and thoughts in slang. That?s what happens when we have to write letters in our second language so that ?a lot of people? can read it. Hammer followed Obrafour and Jay Q?s footsteps by releasing his first compilation album, ?Sounds of our time?. He wants his music to be reference music so that when people in the near future wanted to test or know the pulse of the nation years before, his ?compilations? would tell them just that. For his music being the sounds of the time, Jay Q may have something to say about that. His ?jama? and ?kpanlogo? beats put more ?highlife? and ?Ghana? into hiplife and he is doing as much for Ga hiplife as Rockstone did for hiplife itself. Hammer contends that he is bringing Ewe rap back into the limelight and we wait to see. Other artistes like VIP, Batman and Okomfo have a few Hausa and Northern Ghana songs that have not received as much airplay as they should.

Music producers like RoRo, Morris, Appietus, King Cyrus have also helped engineer excellent hiplife tracks through the years. Castro da destroyer has been doing well too. Yeah Osagyefo, I don?t know where that name came from; but when we have hiplifers called 50 Cedis, Joe Frazier, Chicago, Pastor Coolio, Teasoup, Desmond Tutu and Guy Jesus, it?s not so shockprising. Castro released his Toffee album with great tracks like ?Boneshaker and Toffee?. His example just goes to show how most hiplifers these days are combining Twi, Ga, Pidgin, English, and other languages to make hiplife music. Even our Anago brothers from Agege have not been left out. Naija has seen a lot of hiplife these days with Tic Tac making his ?Fefe N?efe? track (sampled Fela Kuti) popular there by collaborating with Naija?s own Tony Tetuila. Dr. Poh?s ?Na who? makes use of ?Pidgin? and Naija slang?, following Obour?s efforts with ?Shyne your eye?.

Hiplife and R&B?s bond has been growing strong with Nana Quame, K.K. Fosu and Kofi Nti?s efforts. Their music constantly features hiplife artistes and could be mistaken for highlife. Heck, these days they call their music genre ?Kriss kross? or ?comtemporary highlife? with Daddy Lumba, Ofori Amponsan and others all falling into this category. Some highlife artistes are increasingly featuring hiplifers in their music in trying to appeal to today?s hip and hop crowd. However, the Amakye Dedes, Kojo Antwis, Daasebre Dwamenas, and Nana Tuffuors are holding their own as Oluman Boogers (a song sang by FBS) against the music ?Konkontibaas?.

Osagyefo, the hiplife story unfolds. I left a lot of details out of here, this is more like a history paper albeit the grading, and corner-corners of English grammar. One may wonder what is next for hiplife. I strongly hope it makes Ghanaians love our languages much more and makes languages other than Twi popular. I am learning a few language terms from the music and I think having the variety would unite our country. From there, we could think about uniting Africa with kwaito, bongo flava and African hip hop. The future?s bright, the young guns have a profession and we can only hope that they think ?creation of value? before ?money?.

Yours ?nokware?ly,
Maximus Ojah.

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.