Three years ago, I heard IWAN say on Accra-based Pluzz FM say that Sarkodie is not a hip hop artist but rather a hiplife artist. I listened as he struggled to differentiate between the two. Same here, I read Edem’s tweet that Pappy Kojo’s Ay3 Late was not a hip hop song but rather hiplife. As an artist and a hip hop/hiplife enthusiast, I wrote this article that year to add my voice to the long-holding debate over what hiplife is and how to differentiate it is from hip hop in relation to the categorization of the Vodafone Ghana Music Awards. This article is still relevant and I stand by it
Everybody knows I love Kanye West. If you didn’t, you just found out. I’m the Head Pastor of the Church of Yeezus, Ghana Branch. Just like Pastor Chris can’t start a sermon without a reading a verse or two from the Bible, I can’t start an article about hip hop without first quoting my Bible, I mean, without quoting a Kanye song.
On Kanye’s new album, The Life of Pablo, there is a gospel song called Ultralight Beam. The other rapper he featured, Chance the Rapper, said and I quote, “I hear you gotta sell it to snatch a Grammy.” I can hear the church screaming “Preach on” in my head.
Explaining that line on Genius, Chance said Pharrell asked him to say that line in the song to draw people’s attention to the old school mentality of the Grammy Academy towards music distribution.
In this day and age, where music sales mean nothing, the Grammys have not updated their laws to reflect the modern way. Songs get big because the artist released it for free on social media or YouTube. Those songs still don’t qualify for Grammy nomination because there weren’t released ‘commercially’.
We are always comparing the adolescent VGMAs to the almost retirement age Grammys to condemn our own. It is only right I start my article by commending the VGMAs in an area where they got right ahead of the Grammys.
The VGMAs acceptance of songs that were not release ‘commercially’ for nomination like Atom’s Ye Wo Krom shows there are more in tune with modern day music distribution than the Grammys.
The areas the Grammys is ahead of the VGMAs are areas I think the VGMAs can do nothing about. The George Quaye can’t force artists to perform better; neither can he stop people from performing because their performance suck if they have hit songs the audience wants to see performed. I think the VGMAs performance lineup pretty much reflects what is hot on our airwaves.
The reason the Grammy performance list is more diverse is because the American airwaves is more diverse.
There are stations that play strictly rock music, some strictly hip hop, some that play strictly country music and so on.
There are the Top 40 stations that play pop music and any song from any genre that is a big hit. The Grammys by definition are supposed to reflect this diversity. Even with the Grammys, the hip hop a.k.a black community is always complaining that they are not properly represented.
Artists like Future and Young Thug don’t get Grammys though their music rule in the clubs, which a problem. This is to say, even with the Grammys, people think they are biased. No award scheme in the world can be fully unbiased. (Kanye West is yet to win the Nobel Peace Prize he deserves).
Ghana here, majority of our radio and TV station play the same types of songs. There is no diversity on our airwaves. So instead of Knii Lante and other people criticizing the VGMAs for not being diverse enough, they should blame our airwaves managers.
They are the problem. People had a problem with Kumi Guitar’s nomination because they claim they never heard of him. More of that will happen if my short friend’s team decides to diversify the VGMAs when our airwaves are not diverse. I am an artist who does a type of music that is out of the box, a diverse system will help me more but I can’t force it.
Social media gives me the power to create my own market, which is why I am happy the VGMAs include social media presence to the factors that makes a song qualify for nomination.
Music is getting more and more diverse by the day.
Though our DJs are still closed-minded, the audience is beginning to be more accepting of every form of music. Musicians are getting more and more confident about picking influences from various genres are merging it.
I think most of Bisa Kdei’s songs are trap songs instead of highlife but he has been able to merge highlife and melodious hip hop to create his own unique brand of music and people love it.
Hip hop, I think, should be credited for the crossbreeding of genres we are enjoying. Until the 90s, there was nothing like a hip hop sound.
Rappers took jazz, rock and blues beats and rapped over them. Early form of hip hop was more diverse.
In the 90s when gangsta rap hit mainstream, all rappers started going towards that sound. I learnt paying for samples was the reason for the switch in sounds towards computer-generated sounds. From the 2000s, the diversity of the sound came back. God bless Kanye, Pharrell and their contemporaries for bringing musicality back to hip hop.
In the 90s, when hip hop got global, youth from all over the world started rapping like the Americans. In Ghana, the rap culture caught on too.
A lot of young men started rapping too, especially in the Secondary Schools. The old people, who ran the airwaves at the time, weren’t buying it. A son of a fashion designer who was a dance competition winner thought he could take advantage of the fame his dancing is getting to get his rap music on the airwaves. He found a creative way to do that. He decided to rap over local beats in his local language.
He has been schooled in the US so he knew the American rappers he was listening to were rapping about their surrounding over music that were popular in their environment. Sugarhill Gang’s Rappers Delight, the song that took hip hop mainstream, was a song that had rappers rapping over Good Times.
Good Times was a disco song by Chic that was popping that year, 1979.
The young Ghanaian dancer, Reggie Rockstone, who was inspired by earlier rap songs knew the way to sell something new to a people is by linking it with something they are familiar with, hence him rapping in a local language over a local beat.
Since he was the first person to go mainstream with rapping, he had the opportunity to make people accept him more. He did that by creating the gimmicky name, hiplife, by merging hip hop and our local sound making waves at the time, highlife.
The hiplife name and sound caught on with people.
I call hiplife gimmicky because rap has always been rap. Rap always took on the clothes of the people it was being marketed to. Rap didn’t have a sound; it takes on any sound and makes it its sound. In Liberia, they call their rap music HipCo.
What started as a gimmick has now become an authentic musical genre. Whether we chose to call it hiplife or hip hop, it’s not a big deal. Every art form looked gimmicky when it started. Every gimmick that people accept becomes authentic. So hiplife is a gimmick that works so hiplife, which made it authentic.
This is why I don’t see why the VGMAsboard likes to separate hiplife and hip hop in their categorizations.
I understand that Ghanaians now love rap. Most of our secular hit songs have rapping in it. 3 of the 6 songs nominated for Highlife Song of the Year at this year’s (2016) VGMAs have rapping on them.
That tells me how much Ghana loves rap. The VGMAs usually have too many rap hits to pick from. I think that is why they have always separated hiplife and hip hop.
In reality, hiplife and hip hop is the same thing. They only separate hip hop and hiplife so they can get to nominate more rap songs. I think that is unfair to other genres. It makes less sense we have made them out to be two different things while we put two authentic genres, dancehall and reggae, under one category.
I am calling on the VGMA Board to reconsider the categorization of rap music. There is no need for separating the two.
There are no qualms about us deciding to call our rap music by a different name from what the Americans do. I also don’t see the point in having a Hiplife/Hip hop Artiste of the Year while also having a Best Rapper of the Year.
Hiplife/hip hop artistes rap so what is the point in awarding them twice for the one thing they do? The definition of categories doesn’t change the fact that we are awarding them twice for one thing. I know we love rap, more than anything else, in this country and I love rap more than every other musical genre but you don’t make your children feel less appreciated just because you have a favorite son.
The story of Joseph in the Bible tells us what happens when you do that. Yeah, in the Church of Yeezus, we believe in Jesus and so read the Bible.