Hip-hop, a culture that was built on people’s ability to outsmart and outwit colleagues while keeping up with the rhythm of the beat and the resounding cheers of spectators has always been bloody. It’s hunt or be hunted and like the game of chess, the Queen (in this game King) is never secure. The throne is always up for the taking and as new acts grow bolder and exert some level of confidence, it is only a matter of time that once upon a King will find himself in the crosshairs of a sniper staring down a barrel.
And like the home or the place it was born, hip-hop has over the course of generations created gods and legends based on their ability to destabilize thrones, organize coups and make statements. Hip-hop beefs are nothing new. The recent maneuvering of acts to prove who is who and what led to what while wordplay, wits, punchlines, crowd pleasers are thrown into the bag is just health. It is a normal cycle of life and if Game of Thrones has taught us anything, it is always upon the sitting King to find more than a way to stay in touch and more relevant.
Now back to the issue, before Ether became the legendary beef tune and way before Kendrick jumped on ‘Control’ and pronounced himself a King, there was Nas. The 18-year-old Queens boy who had created a masterpiece, loved by the critics, adored by the legends and held high by the fans. He had produced 2 great albums both of which are still great records today. ‘Illmatic’ and ‘It was Written’ had introduced fans to a place they knew but never knew they could go, handed critics all they wanted and more and legends, a step back to recalculate their next move. ‘I Am…’ and ‘Nastradamus’ got them on stable on the high.
This King was growing more confident and too good for his own sake. Along came Mr. Carter who was looking for a way to reintroduce himself and tell the world, the Kingdom of Nasir was no better than what he had in mind. Fasten things to ‘Ether’, ‘Takeover’ caused stirs but ‘Ether’, created a splash. It created a vortex of ultimate smack down that had not been seen or witnessed in a very long time and that is what Sarkodie tried with ‘Kanta’- ‘Onua, wo y3 bitch’.
However, M.anifest had taken the game to a higher height and a place where Sarkodie needed more than a line to kill, deeper than rap to make a statement and bigger than his act to turn heads his way. His message was loud and clear but with punches that were acknowledged even by him, he had to come again. M.anifest has over the years been seen as the nicer rapper with more legacy than any of the acts in the deep ends of the game. After all, his grandfather happens to be an emeritus Professor of Music Ethnology and one of the best on the continent. With a lot more finesse and style, his delivery and flow is mostly a thing for conversations when it comes to people who consider themselves ‘discerning listeners’.
As the fight grew and the social conversations swelled, there was one party who looked unconcerned and not in the mood to play a part. EL, the reigning artiste of the year who had taken a dig at Sarkodie during this year’s VGMAs, looked unperturbed and totally unbothered. But in his silence and the growing talks, he came atop his horse proud, calm and more composed with not one but two tunes, ‘Talk don’t Bother Me’, a conversation with his mother and ‘Love God’, a statement. This is the artiste who is seen and respected for his versatility. Producer, singer, and rapper all wrapped in one with the ability to jump through genres while making hits out of them.
His flow on the tune seems to come from a deep seated pain that has over the years been played as underrated and not seen for the talent and prowess he possesses. After two hip-hop mixtapes, two albums that play between genres as well as a lot of collaborations, EL feels the curse of the Gifted and makes a statement as arguably the first artiste on ‘Love God’. Interestingly, it is the first cut of his third hip-hop mixtape, 3 years running.
The joy and the fun will, however, be lost in the midst of all this if you don’t appreciate the overwhelming blessing of competition. For the past 2 weeks, we had 3 of the most competitive and arguably best artistes of Ghana rub shoulders and create art in record time. As they compete for the ultimate crown, there is the growing hip-hop scene where youngings more hip to read, learn and plot their own coups to take a piece of the land. It is not enough for these acts to make statements claiming the throne, they need to prove why and how we should see what they claim. As they wrestle to the top, we need someone to set the path, create an enabling space and a room for growth, development and sustainability. What is the plan from here?