Writing about hip-hop in Africa is always complex, with as many layers of history and meaning as there are layers of samples, midi instruments, and coded language that make up the music. But here goes:
In the mid 1990s, Reggie Rockstone coined the term, “hip-life,” a combination of hip-hop and high-life, and this term became used to describe the new style of music which he was cooking up with producers Rab Bakari, Zapp Mallet and others. It blended New York-style head-noddin’ beats with rapping in local languages (primarily Asante Twi) and samples of West African records and rhythms. But before Rockstone’s breakout album Me Na Me Kae, producer Panji Arnoff was making his own version of a Ghanaian hip-hop/high-life hybrid with the duo Talking Drums.
As we were researching the pioneers of Ghanaian hip-life for our upcoming Hip-Deep Ghana 2: 21st Century Accra: From the Gospel to the Hip Life show, we came across this very interesting Youtube video of one of the (if not the) first Ghanaian music videos, of Talking Drums’ debut single “Aden,” from 1993. On this track, producer Panji Arnoff sampled the funky highlife beat from C.K. Mann’s “Asafo Beson,” which was arranged by none other than Ebo Taylor. For more about the legendary Ebo, check out Hip Deep Ghana 1: Ebo Taylor and the Pioneers of Afro-Funk.
In recent decades, as in the 1970s, the connections between Ghanaian popular music and African-American expressive culture go deep. In the video, the rappers Kwaku T (Kwaku Tutu) and Bayku (Abeeku Ribeiro) appear in an interesting mix of traditional batakari from the northern region of Ghana and hoodies and other markers of African-American hip-hop fashion. They are alternatively shown in a recording studio, riding in a convertible and playing “African” drums and dancing around a fire. Their lyrical flow and their accents are clearly styled after the African-American hip-hop of the period, but the message of the song expresses an Afro-cosmopolitan frustration with “people” who make assumptions about Africa and Africans. Kwaku raps, “Africa is the Motherland/Just because I’m a black man doesn’t mean I live on trees/Ignorant is that, man.” Like the producer Rab Bakari, Kwaku Tutu spent his formative years in New York City, immersed in the city’s emergent hip-hop culture, before returning to Ghana to pioneer hip-life music. His history helps contextualize the expressions of frustration with (African)-American assumptions about Africa, and references to Phillies, crack dealers, Glocks and Afro-Centricism, uncommon concepts in the Ghana of the 1990s. Check out this classic video, and stay tuned for more of the hip-life story from Ghana!