Albums – probably the toughest, certainly the primo quality test for all musical entertainers. The importance of a carefully curated project means earning the bragging right; making and breaking existing yet tacit egos amongst peers in the industry.
Over the past decade, Ghana’s music industry has seen its fair share of releases that proved the cocky prowess of its biggest players. From Sarkodie’s ‘Highest’ in 2017 – ‘Album of the Year’ at both the 3Music Awards and the Ghana Entertainment Awards, to Samini’s critically acclaimed 7th studio album, ‘Untamed’, which won ‘Album of the Year’ ahead of key releases by Jamaica’s Stephen Marley, Protoje, Kabaka Pyramid and Mr. Vegas at the internationally competitive Reggaeville awards show in 2019.
Within this period, with not one but five albums, MzVee has reminded us female entertainers have just the perfect amount of skill and spirit needed to compete the machismo that riddles the music space. La Même Gang proved to us no talent sings about anything as well as they do about their favorite subjects, Kwesi Arthur moved from the streets of Tema to the BETs, and Asem went of a bewildering, one-sided ‘beef’ with all the industry’s rappers, chiefly Sarkodie. It has been a decade for destructing built consensus about who the best entertainers are.
A list of the top 20 albums from the last decade worth revisiting may not exactly tell, in entirety, the story of the evolution of Ghanaian music.
It may skip some of what makes it a concrete piece of case worth studying – say one-hit wonders, random collaborations, viral videos, and some historical moments such as the battle of hits and imperialism between Stonebwoy and Shatta Wale.
This notwithstanding, the importance of an album for any artiste cannot be overemphasized.
In no particular order, here are the ones that transcended their moments.
Ko-Jo Cue, ‘For My Brothers’
Released: November 1, 2019
Ko-Jo Cue’s For My Brothers is an introspective, nuanced, and expressive dissection of the very struggle and journey that ties his fans directly into the empathetic nature of the album’s title. The 15-track offering is critically acclaimed largely for its presentation; defining a true conceptual album, and inducing into its listeners a specific kind of enlightenment into the hard-knocks of growing in Ghana. Ko-Jo Cue doesn’t show any weaknesses on For My Brothers, and neither do any of the guest emcees. The flaws may instead be rooted in other factors, depending on what a listener looks out for in their music.
Pure Akan, ‘Onipa Akoma‘
Label: A-Level Music
Released: October 20, 2017
For aficionados and music critics, this is possibly the most profound album you’d find searching around for some of the best music from Ghana in recent years. On Onipa Akoma, Pure Akan captures through folklore, the conflict of balance between man’s spirituality and material possessions, speaking directly to the intrusive toils of a regular kid on the verge of manhood through its characters and trajectories. The weight of this content is its distinguishing card, making do with a fine blend of several genres including highlife, rap, and hip-hop. It is a project that hits your cognition and leaves you lingering with careful thoughts long after you’ve reached its end. Onipa Akoma is great for all the right reasons, and albeit a debut project, is worthy to be called one of the best Ghanaian rap albums of all time.
Stonebwoy, ‘Epistles of Mama‘
Label: Zylofone Music/Burniton Music
Released: 12 December, 2017
Epistles of Mama is a typical rendition of genre mastery. Stonebwoy is at the peak of his prowess on an album he dedicates to his deceased mother. On the 24-track album, 12 songs comprise his submission for ‘best afrobeat artiste’ in the award scheme mostly determined by fans’ choice. The other half is a shift from a genre he is closely associated with, into one that he proved he could champion if he wanted to – reggae. There’s no cohesion here, and there isn’t a need for one; the album is a masterful dare to his industry cohorts [we’re looking at you Shatta Wale] to produce anything of commensurate quality. It is not surprising that this earned him multiple international recognitions and deals, the ‘second-best album in the world’ spot according to Reggaeville, and millions of streams.
King Promise, ‘As Promised’
Label: EmPawa Africa
Released: July 5, 2019.
At a period that could arguably be considered the culmination point of afrobeat yet, KP delivered something special with As Promised. He offers the smoothness of R&B and pop music in a time when radio is greatly riddled with overplayed typical afrobeat and rap sounds, deftly segueing from loverboy – with features from the Music Man, veteran and legend Kojo Antwi – to lover man in a way that does not sacrifice the commercial savviness of the album.
Overall, KP’s vocal performance throughout the album is consistently impressive, a testament to his range and ability to deliver both powerful and vulnerable performances.
Kirani Ayat, ‘Aisha’s Sun’
Label: The HASKE Group/ONErpm
Released: September 16, 2022
Kirani Ayat stunned many with this one. ‘Aisha’s Sun’ is a representation of the 32-year-old’s intrinsic root and its place in the modern society. It employs Hausa, his native tongue and scenarios to convey his message of truth, authenticity and drive. The instrumentation is also peculiar the records merges percussions like goje, kakaki and kalangu, with HipHop, R&B, and Pop-Rock to flaunt Ayat’s rich musical diversity, his vocals resonates with authority and fluidity on each record. The album chronicling his journey into manhood comprises collaborators such as Sarkodie and Worlasi. Conspicuously present on the album is his ‘Guda’, originally released in July 2018. That notwithstanding, critics have so far placed Aisha’s Sun on a pedestal as it rubs shoulders with respected projects up there.
Label: SarkCess Music
Released: September 12, 2015
It only took him 45 minutes to create the ideal eponymous dedication to his grandmother; an 11-song live-recorded hybrid album that at the time was unconventional of Ghanaian musicians. A consummate blend of highlife and hiplife, ‘Mary’ has an appeal that impels even the shrunken elderly to the dancefloor, and leaves younger fans astounded at the rap proficiency demonstrated on traditional beats. Though Sarkodie proves himself a more than capable MC, it’s Akwaboah who merits a good amount of the accolades that this album fetched – or continues to fetch. Writing close to 90% – if not more – of the songs on the album, the ‘I do love you’ hitmaker, together with whom many consider the country’s greatest rapper makes a strong case for the most well-written Ghanaian album of all time.
Worlasi & Senku Live, ‘Worla (The Man And The God)’
Label: 653808 Records DK
Released: December 6, 2019
Numerous pundits have been critical about the propensity for a Ghanaian audience to embrace Worlasi’s daringly authentic style of music. On Worla: The Man And The God, a live recording of one of the most traditionally eclectic pieces in recent times, he collaborates with Senku Live, a band of sonically adept instrumentalists to provide a captivating blend of English, Pidgin English and some local languages – predominantly Ewe and Twi – to convey his diverse range of messages. The instrumentals are harmonised with Worlasi’s energy, quickly switching from his calm persona into a frenzy and a bit of comedy. Interspersed with some previous hits like Nukata, the refreshing excitement of an unorthodox trend of authentic Ghanaian music seeped through from Chant, Okwasia, We All Go Die and Animate all the way down to Preek and other tracks which collectively make up the record. Artistically, it is one for the books.
Label: High Grade Family
Released: December 22, 2018
Samini is evidently in a league of his own. His Untamed album – a jumble of different themes that spans the perfect length – provides variety in an afro-beat-ridden scene, cementing the Batman’s legacy as more than a mere icon. Radio hits like ‘My Own’ and ‘Obaa’ are some of the smoothest love songs your spouses will want to hear on the anniversary of your relationships. The balance he strikes between religion, romance, and politics on the album typifies his ability to flawlessly execute the subject matter on past features irrespective of their perceived concepts. Fair to call this project a classic, for an artiste who remains one of the leading faces of reggae/dancehall on the continent.
Label: Lynx Entertainment
Released: May 31, 2019
The album title is effectively suggestive of the very substance of its content – an incredibly talented KiDi posing as a famed casanova, instead of a much-anticipated pivot; a rethinking of a sound and image. He retains the grooviness of his music, making up for superficial songwriting with enough earnestness to ingratiate himself to fans and even first-time listeners. The album is processed by many simply as a good time with one of the country’s most promising musical exports. It helps that Sugar is just a bit over 30 minutes and meticulously sequenced, and it also helps that it was released together with a complementary movie. But most of all, it helps that KiDi is a consummate vocalist.
Released: December 11, 2020
She might have been snubbed, somehow, for best album recognition at the Vodafone Music Awards 2021, but that takes away nothing when you have a masterpiece like InVeencible under your belt. Inspired by her depression-induced hiatus, the album percolates with so much candour, so much pain and pleasure — individual, societal, generational — while boasting some of the best, most richly grandiose production you’ll hear on a Ghanaian record. The songstress really got the crew together for this one, with features from the likes of Sarkodie, Efya and Falz. This project was a gigantic statement, cementing MzVee as one of the most varied and creative female musical acts in the industry.
Joe Mettle, ‘The Experience’
Label: Reverb Studios
Released: July 23, 2021
Joe Mettle’s inclusion on this list certainly shouldn’t raise rows of doubt; the charismatic minister’s ability to fuse traditional gospel music with more contemporary idioms and style has attracted a passionate following that transcends the borders of Ghana. His optimistic approach to ministry is writ large on The Encounter, a thirteen-song gifting offered in passionate harmonic layers. The album emphasizes an underlying two-way bond of sounds and spirit: that music can both be a vehicle for praise and celebration, and an everyday place to commune with God. It’s hard to come away from The Experience and not consider the thought of rekindling a relationship with the Maker, because there’s something about his sounds that moves the soul into a fleeting pursuit of a bigger, divine connection.
Kwesi Arthur, ‘LFNK Vol II: Home Run
Label: GroundUp Chale
Released: April 26, 2019
Live From Nkrumah Krom Vol II: Home Run is a project that can accurately be described as a tour de force. Kwesi Arthur is hungry, and he channels that hunger through this masterpiece. Struggle, pain, and triumph are plainly articulated in his music, carefully presented to resonate with every fan and listener’s immediate reality. LFNK Vol II: Home Run isn’t exactly an album, but an EP that best distills the Tema rapper’s singularity: hurt oozes from his voice and words, illustrating the inauspicious journeys of every hustler youth. Many may attribute the weight of this project to the collaborative efforts of some of the industry’s heavyweight players – Stonebwoy, Mr Eazi, Shatta Wale, and Sarkodie, but the fact remains that the genius of Kwesi Arthur’s music makes every accolade earned instead of bestowed.
M.anifest, ‘Nowhere Cool’
Label: Singidamnit Music Ltd
Released: September 8, 2016
Nowhere Cool, one of the most well-received albums from the ‘God MC’. For an artiste barely in his prime during the making of this album, M.anifest raps like he has nothing left to prove to anyone; distilling myriad metaphors, convulsing flows, and witty storytelling lyrics over some of the best blends of African rhythms and contemporary hip-hop beats, making it a standout in the world of African hip-hop. His pen game is never in doubt; lethal and piquant, and his delivery is more impressive than ever before. On this album, he expands his persona and talent while presumptively killing off emcees whose best bet is at creating gimcracks for radio. And for that alone, he deserves his flowers.
Kelvyn Boy, ‘Blackstar’
Label: Blakk Arm Entertainment
Released: November 6, 2020
There aren’t many in the music industry who bring to the table the spice that Kelvyn Boy serves with his music, and he’s sure to assert that dominance with the Blackstar album. The influence of highlife, Jamaican dancehall, and patois is difficult to miss on this one; from songs like Watch Nobody with veteran rapper Gyedu-Blay Ambolley to Finally featuring Samini, he showcases the ability to curate some of the most cohesive and melodic contemporary afrobeat music to originate from a place other than Nigeria. Although writing might not be his strongest forte, it’s undeniable that he creates distinct sounds, perfectly delivered thanks to his vocal flair, that set his production at par with the biggest names in afrobeat at the moment.
Okyeame Kwame, ‘Made In Ghana’
Label: One Mic Entertainment
Released: April 20, 2019
Made in Ghana is a brilliant exploration of the complexities of patriotism. What makes this album exceptional is the fine blend of various traditional sounds [Okyeame divulged during an African Dialogue and Investment Summit that he travelled cross-country during the making of this album, his dedication to being a student of the creative ways of each significant tribal group]. The result of his hustle is a combination of elements that create a cohesive and powerful listening experience. Lyrically, he delves into the nuances of patriotism as cleverly as he’s acclaimed for. The album’s Intro explores the sense of pride and loyalty that he feels towards the country, while conversely acknowledging the darker aspects of nationalism on tracks such as Kpa ft Wolomei. A must listen.
Omar Sterling, ‘Same Earth Different Worlds’
Label: R2bees Entertainment
Released: June 22, 2021
When he’s not curating another hit single with Mugeez, Omar Sterling is making heavyweight hip-hop music for his fanbase of dedicated listeners. The R2Bees rapper’s name easily pops in mind when you think of one entertainer who has built a reputation for being an out-of-the-box thinker, speaking only when he actually has something to say, personifying his once-viral tweet “What is famous is rarely wise”. On Same Earth Different Worlds, Omar Sterling is not backtracking on his philosophy, as he is heard confidently juxtaposing emotions against reality and delineating Ls and Ws that have shaped him into the man he presently is. The lessons go as deep as recounting spine-chilling accounts of peers who lost their lives (physically and metaphorically) in some tragic ways while seeking greener pastures. It is a must listen and six years were worth the wait.
Fameye, ‘Songs of Peter’
Label: Fameye Worldwide/TML
Released: April 29, 2022
Songs of Peter is Fameye’s coming-of-age story; tapping into contemporary highlife in a sax-filled recall of authenticity on his latest project. The 28-year-old’s road to stardom basically played out before the eyes of Ghanaian music lovers, leading to the creation of varied perceptions about his music. Against narratives peddled by everyone but him, Peter eventually broke out his shell of what many have known as ‘sorrowful music’ into his own, charting a new path on his discovery of self amid his musical influences. Songs of Peter is a silky pack of thirteen tunes. The songwriting is particularly impeccable – a testament that Fameye learnt on the job, all this done over a pretty laid-back groove that triggers introspection. Smoothly done.
Label: One Nation Entertainment
Released: April 22, 2016
From sweet flirtation to full-throated proclamation, Efya’s vocal range remains fresh and vibrant some seven years after the release of Janesis. There are as many as 21 songs on the album, full of radio hits including One of Your Own ft Bisa Kdei, Jorley ft Sarkodie and Boy Bi Beh Gye. Her velvety voice is undoubtedly her biggest selling point. Credible sources including the Big Dragon herself have hinted at a groundbreaking sequel currently in the works. While fans look forward to another classic from the 36-year-old. Until then, we all need to be reminded from time to time of the beauty of 2016’s Janesis.
Jayso, ‘Making Tasha Proud’
Label: Skillions Records
Released: December 10, 2015
Jayso was, and remains quintessential when it comes to hip-hop in Ghana. And Making Tasha Proud was the indelible stamp after over a decade of platforming the crème de la crème. Centered around his biggest fan, the album is the product of his passion to see the genre thrive on the local scene during the 2010s. This was pivotal at the time since he had earned production credits on ground-breaking music projects of many A-listers. This was his time to teach the world how it’s really done. He combines piercing rap and communicates values of community, legacy, and affection in a seamless manner. Grounded in the stems of structural upgrade of the music game, he speaks on need to use cultural origins to accelerate the music scene through collaborations with Ayisi fka AI, Efya, Sarkodie and Manifest.
Black Sherif, ‘The Villain I Never Was’
Label: Blacko Management/EMPIRE
Released: October 6, 2022
A debut album is a significant landmark in an artiste’s creative journey; It’s an amalgamation of their thoughts, ideas, and experiences up to the point of that particular project and a more solidified introduction to their artistry. Black Sherif owned the underdog title like very few of his predecessors have, connecting with his street audience while giving radio songs at the same time. The Konongo trapper, whose career rocketed after a thorough reinvention of his style, makes quite a statement with The Villain I Never Was, a sonically refreshing body of work that typifies his personal struggles and triumphs. The album, widely lauded as avant-garde, houses some of his biggest hits like 45, Soja, Kwaku The Traveller and Oh Paradise, an ostencible ode to his deceased ex-girlfriend. It’s essentially a record that seeks spiritual truths in the context of sobering earthly realities.
Written by Elikem Doe & Kenneth Awotwe Darko