For an individual to be part of an institution for years and not just be a dormant or passive part of that institution but be one of the top individuals over the years while contributing to the biggest moments in the institution’s existence deserves a lot of praise and celebration.
However, that does not seem to be the case in our own backyard. Ghana’s music industry is not new to having superstars. Since the early days of our industry, we have always had a person or persons represent the country on the international front.
The likes of Osibisa, Alhaji K. Frimpong, Tictac, Akyeame, Daddy Lumba, Samini, and a host of others all the way down to today’s scene with stars like Black Sherif, Amaarae, Gyakie, Kidi, and a host of others continue to wave the flag of Ghana high in places on the continent and beyond.
While all of these people have done and continue to do their part in the globalization of Ghanaian music, one person that comes to mind when we talk about Ghanaian music is the Landlord Sarkodie.
For people like myself who have seen the growth of Sarkdie over the years since his breakthrough in 2008, it is understandable why he is arguably the country’s greatest export yet.
As far as the blueprint of what it means to be a successful artist is concerned in Ghana, the one person that would be on everyone’s list is Sarkodie.
While some may argue that he may have fallen short in some aspects, which this writer agrees with, it still does not take anything away from the success and heights he has taken Ghanaian music to.
People that grew up in Tema and those that followed the rap community in the mid-2000s had already heard and witnessed what Sarkodie was capable of. The rest of the country would have a feel for him when he released his debut hit “Baby,” featuring Mugeez of R2Bees. Subsequently, he would drop a series of hit records, freestyles, and sell-out shows and win awards. In 2012, he would become one of the leading people who would elevate Ghanaian music with popular dance music Azonto with his single “U Go Kill Me” featuring E.L.
The song would become a hit continentally and feature a host of African stars on the remix. Sarkodie would go on to become one of Ghana’s most featured artists in Africa, a rapper who did so in a local Ghanaian language (Twi), the most awarded African rapper, solidifying his legacy as one of the greatest rappers from Africa. He has enjoyed a consistent run for over a decade in the music space, with 8 albums, multiple awards in Ghana and internationally, and sold-out shows around the world. Despite all his achievements and contributions to the Ghanaian music industry, there are people who have bashed him for being an underachiever despite having multiple opportunities, with some concluding that, we might never see him peak again. While I agree with some of the points raised against him, I disagree with the vast majority of them.
I do not think we want to win more than Sarkodie himself. For people who like to think Sarkodie has underachieved, I ask them to look around and tell me how many rappers from Africa have enjoyed the level of success and consistency Sarkodie has. Bear in mind, this is a rapper that many said would not go international because he was rapping in Twi, but he has proven time and time again that this was never limiting his potential. He has broken the ceiling and consistently raised the bar for rappers and singers on the continent with his accolades and musical exploits.
For all the stick Sarkodie receives from people on social media, I genuinely feel it’s not hate. It’s frustration, disappointment, pain, and, to some extent, ignorance. I mean, some of those comments may be hateful, but for some, I feel they are not, and here is why: When you put his career into perspective, he is arguably the most significant rap artist this continent has ever seen. He may not have the numbers to match it, but his consistency and legacy, especially in the country and the region alone, are second to none.
There was a time when a lot of young Ghanaian rappers sounded like Sark or flowed like him. He consistently gets praised by other rappers we in Ghana have said are better than he is. Over a decade in the game, it is expected that he will probably be rubbing shoulders with some of his mates on the big stages, but we can also attest to the fact that African rap has not gotten the level of push, support, and acceptance that Afrobeats is enjoying. The legacy he has built within the rap scene in Africa alone will take others years, and they might not get to that level.
Others have also talked about him not signing with a major label to help amplify his reach. Well, in a recent interview on 3 Music’s Culture Daily Show, he shared how he always wanted to get signed but never got the opportunity to get signed. He could not wait to get signed, so he started working on his own, and he ended up building what we see today. That aside, education about the music business will help people understand that an artist does not have to sign with a record label to exploit their music.
There are various deals an artist can sign, including publishing and distribution, among others, that can help them exploit their music and amplify their reach. Also, deals are very tricky and need to be handled well. While I will encourage acts to sign deals, I will also ask that they understand what they are going for. While getting backed by a major institution gives you an upper hand, it does not always guarantee success. For context, we have seen rappers and other acts sign one deal or another but have yet to hit the levels Sarkodie has now. Deals are not black and white. There are some gray areas that people like us do not understand.
In the pouring out of our frustrations and concerns, we should not undermine what Sarkodie has built. I understand that they constantly bash him because of the expectations that people have had for him. But he has held his own. I do not know any other rapper who can match his consistency on this continent. Despite the diverse genres that have carried our industry over the years, he has always been consistent with hit after hit. From the Azonto period through the Dancehall Revolution, Trap, Asaaka, and Amapiano through the domination of Afrobeats, Sarkodie has always found himself among the big boys. We have seen artists receive some of the biggest pushes via deals, working with global stars, and what have you, but they have still failed to capitalize on that to propel their careers.
I cannot speak for Sarkodie and tell you what his dreams and ambitions are (maybe just that he wants to win the Grammy), but from what he has done and how far he has pushed our music and identity, I can only ask that we celebrate him enough. Things happen, and sometimes our expectations for artists we support with our money, time, and resources are never met. We have to let out some frustration, but we also need to understand that things may not always turn out how we want them, and that is also fine.
At the end of the day, I feel he has overachieved more than he has underachieved. At a time when we needed someone to represent us on the international stage, he came and did us proud. His career has inspired others who have taken up the mantle and pushed on. I am very proud that I got to witness his greatness. Everything he has done, good and bad, has served as a lesson for other artists who can outdo what he has done.
Written By: Nana Kojo Mula