As a kid I always loved Hiphop. As far as I can remember at age 3, I would bump Public enemy and Mc Hammer all day and be in a state of utter euphoria. I considered myself a “Hiphop Head”. Growing up in Ghana there were lots of other “Hiphop head” kids like me. We would gather around Ghetto Blasters listening to songs memorizing lyrics, Rewinding Cassettes with Pencils, just loving Hiphop for days. We would also listen to Highlife, reggae, funk, R and B and other stuff that our parents played. In school we had to sing hymns and shit every morning. A great majority of kids sang in the school choir. Music was our Lives.
There were dudes like Gyedu Blay Ambuley , Talking Drum who had somehow started rapping with and “African” twist to it. Slowly that kind of vibe was beginning to grip a lot of kids. I remember the first time me and my boys saw talking drum. We knew one of the dudes Rapping, he was an older kid who lived in the flats right across our neighbourhood. They were like Pharcyde on African beats talking about African shit. They were all sorts of awesomeness. There was also an emcee named Azigiza Jnr. Now he started it all. He was one of the first emcees to straight spit in Twi with swag. His hit “Abena” can be argued as the first ever Hiplife track as we know Hiplife to be today. And then came Reggie Rockstone. Now this dude changed our childhood forever. I remember when I first saw his video for his hit song “keep your eyes on the road” with the lines “do I make myself clear? Yeah. Do I make myself clear?? Yeah. Then clap your hands like there was a million mosquitoes in here. Jump like you was some crazy Akranteɛ!”. I mean, as a kid in the 6th grade this was just phenomenal. Like that was the most African line ever. Something we could relate to easily. This was OUR Sound. Rockstone was like a god. He had created a new sound he called HipLife. Initially a fusion of Highlife and Hiphop, but which evolved into being any traditional African music fused with Hiphop. He had done something great for the youth of Ghana similar to how Fela had created the Afro Beat, and Kool Herc had Created Hiphop. This began to breed a whole new culture among the youth in Ghana in the late 90s. Then came Groups like NANANOM. The Trio were the next force to reckon with after Rockstone had come out. Everywhere you went you heard them. Within the next few years there was a sudden upsurge of Hiplife emcees. After Rockstone and Nananoms beginnings came Groups like Keteke who were the illest ever. There was Lifeline Family with their banger that was played every friggin where and could be sang from babies to old market women – “Wo sisi ye wo ya”. Sas squad which became TH4kwages, Buk Bak with classics like “Komi ke kena”,“chingilingi”, “Akwasi Obroni””Trotro driver” just to name a few, Akatakyie with bangers like “odo asisi me” (with Pharoes Memorable verse that almost everyone found wack but could spit word for word) TICTAC with his hit “Phelomena”, VIP with nonstop hits like every single year . Then came a game changer to Hiplife similar to the way Rakim was to
Hiphop. His name was Obrafour aka Ghana Rap osofo(go figure). He came out with a style of emceeing in Twi which he called “Kasahare”. My word this would take the way hip life was going to be expressed to a whole new level. I remember I actually saved up for 2 weeks just to buy myself a copy of his classic album “Pae Mu ka”. Trust me about 98% of Kids that grew up in Ghana around the time that album came out could spit a good amount of almost every track on that album, from beginning to end, word for word. From the intro to the outro of that album, Obrafour was just a lyrical genius. Tracks like “Pae mu ka” , “Aden” , “Yaanom” , “Kwame Nkrumah”, “Agro na aso”, “Kokonsa”, man I can pretty much say the whole damn album revolutionized Hiplife in my opinion. He challenged emcees to go hard with Lyricism, Wit, Production, pretty much creativity in General. This bred a whole new generation of emcees like Akyeame ( okyeame Kwame and Okyeame Kofi) , Obour, KGPM (these were some of the realest and dopest emcees to ever do it with tracks like “Miri bi be ba”) BAZAA which is now the Hiphop Emcee Blitz the Ambassador who performs with the likes of Chuck D from Public Enemy , CY lover, 4 x4, Lord Kenya who rocked Ghana with non -stop number 1 hits for like 3 albums straight, Pricky, J-D the highlander with “alampain”, M3nsa one of the dopest to ever do it now of the group FOKN boys (whose dopeness I’ll get to in a bit), T Blaze,Kontihene, NFL, Abrewa Nana, Batman, who evolved into Samini, Yoggi doggie, Nana Quame and a whole lot of other cats who escape my mind. From like the like 1997 to like 2002, Hiplife was the dominant
listened to by Ghanaian youth. We pretty much listened to nothing else but Hiplife. It was so dope seeing older kids you knew in your neighbourhood pick up a microphone and jump on a beat and become a fucking celebrity within years. This shit right here we called Hiplife was COOL. It had evolved into a whole contemporary culture kind of like how Hiphop was, among Ghanaian kids. We had clothing lines such as MKOGH, PKOGH, Hiplife Producers who were game changers like Hammer, Apietus, JQ, Hiplife concerts and events, club nights everything. Hiplife had fully become a way of life.
And then around 2002 – 2003 Hiplife began to spread even more. It was not just part of the lives of the kids living in the cities but also the kids living in the rural areas as well. They added a whole new flavour that also took Hiplife to a whole new level. This expanded Hiplife to a level where every single kid in Ghana could appreciate and love. This brought about of Hiplife Acts like Castro, Mz bel, FBS, Praye who were just phenomenal and still haven’t stopped dropping number 1 hits, Madfish ,Bolie with his track “you may kiss the bride “(which I argue is the origins of Azonto, but that is for another day) Okomfo kwade,Tinny whose Ga style was just the dopest, KK fosu and so on. Around that time for some stupid the reason a section of the urban kids started feeling Hiplife was becoming too “local” and lame. A more highlife style was taking over with all the hits being Ofori Amponsah, Kk fosu songs. Apparently this was not cool. I remember in my high school at dances when they started playing Hiplife ,some stupid snobby ass kids would actually leave the dance floor. Around this time( A time I call the dark ages of
Hiplife), Hiplife wasn’t taken as seriously by urban kids anymore. They began to associate it with fooling around and started inventing funny dances to it. People actually started forming mock dance groups to perform these funny dances to Hiplife and at entertainment nights in high schools, and it is from here that I argue that the dance crazw “Azonto” was born. This was a result of the “jama” fooling and talking shit trend Hiplife was taking around that time. The culture didn’t take itself too seriously as much as before. And then came Kwaw kese. Now he got everyone back into loving Hiplife again. At least in my circle of friends. His track “ Naya tar” was just insaaane and was remixed over and over. He then went on with this whole rebellious “Abodam” (insanity) persona which a lot of kids in Ghana at the time could relate and identify with. Around this time birthed what I call the Blue tooth Generation with the advent and popularity of cell phones. Ghetto youth started to get inspired by what cats like kwaw kese were doing and started picking up the mic again. They would record songs with basic software like fruity loops and spread it around via Bluetooth from phone to phone. This is how emcees like Asem, and the Group R2bees came into popularity. For years Asems track “ gimme blow” and R2bees song “I dey mad”( which I personally think is one of the greatest Hiplife song ever made) were known well via Bluetooth and were played at parties. Eventually they made their way to radio stations and the artistes blew up. This became a way a whole generation of artistes in Ghana started promoting themselves and still do today. Iwan, stonebuoy, EL, SKillions, Yaa pono , Sarkodie, Richie, Efya, Tiffinay, Becca,Wanlov the kubolor, Irene, asaesase crew, pope skinny,Trigmatic , Ayigbe Edem, Mugeez are all products of the Bluetooth Generation. Just like with every era in Hiplife this current era has involved into something else. The degree of dopeness now is just phenomenal. Hiplife has evolved to the point where it now has sub genres well defined and ting. There is the whole sub group of emcees birthed from this generation, who call what they do GH rap such as D black, kweku T, J- town, Gemini, C- real, Bills Rayoe , Peyo, Jeed Rogers etc . Theres is also the whole section now who do what they call Raglife with cats like Samini, Stonebuoy, Iwan, Mugeez, Gully princess, Black Prophet, There is still what I call mainstream Hiplife with cats like Richie, Ruff and smooth, Trigmatic, kwaw kese, Castro , Mzbel still in business, There is Kasahare which obrafour pioneered which emcees like Sarkodie, Guru , Yaa pono, pope Skinny who have taken to a whole different level with a whole new witty style of emceeing kasahare that they developed that just took the nation by storm. Sarkodie’s speed and lyricism is on a whole new level. And he is now the dominant force to reckon with in hiplife today. Lately a new sub-genre that has evolved and taken the Nation by storm is Azonto. I will discuss azonto in detail some other time
Hiplife has come a long way from around 1997 to 2012 and has evolved a lot and has definitely become a part of Ghanaian contemporary culture. I honestly wonder where it’s going to go next. It’s becoming more international with the influx of a lot of Nigerian collaborations. A lot of Ghanaians in the diaspora are picking up and promoting Hiplife as well. Hopefully soon it will become a continent wide thing with every nation having its own twist to it. Who knows. What I do know is that it’s fucking dope, I love it and I think this shit right here we call Hiplife Is here forever.