Album Review: Close Captioning “No where Cool”

 

 

Last summer, or whatever we call the break between the end of the school year and the beginning of threats of strike by teachers and lecturers, we were entertained by an ephemeral beef. It was a tussle between arguably two of the best rappers in Ghana. You can say it was the precursor to the #AccraVsKumasi trolling Ghana Facebook witnessed last weekend.

On one side of this bout was the tongue twisting and versatile two time rapper of the year. Self-crowned King of Hip life, Sarkodie seemingly ignited it all with a line in Bossy which was a decent play on words. It did not take a long time for it all to manifest (pun intended) to greater proportions. After a couple of days, the release of GodMc conflagrated a fire which probably was not sparked in the first place.

The Manifest-Sarkodie back and forth “diss” tracks were not as entertaining as the savagery of the memes pumped out by Ghana Twitter on the issue. Needless to say, it got more people aware of the dope rapper wearing kaba. Manifest is undoubtedly in a league of his own when you talk about Ghanaian rappers. His mastery over the queen’s language, the strings with which he weaves his lyrics together and the extra Afrocentric touch to his music is unique in a thousand and one ways. His latest album is no different.

The title of Manifest’s fourth album “Nowhere Cool” was inspired by a short story written by Ama Ata Aidoo. In a classic “grass is greener on the other side” conundrum, the lead character who left her home for greener pastures in the USA, reminisces on life back home throughout the story. “Nowhere” really cool, you are the one who makes it cool, just as you water the grass on your side and make it greener.

The trailer of the album sums the fourteen tracks all up. Nowhere cool is a philosophy, it’s a truth that I found. It’s a trip, how we carry on tradition and remix it…..went from anonymous unknown to synonymous in a class of his own, don’t risk it they pleaded I’m glad that I never heeded the risk was so much needed, now here cool.

Manifest introduces you to the struggle he went through making this “Afrocentric thing” feel like the norm again. For someone who has railed against the infiltration of Azonto into the Ghanaian music scene and its subsequent dumbing down, Manifest continues to present himself as some form of savior. He is the one to take us back to the Inspector Bediako days after years of Kumkum Baghya. That journey was/is not an easy one. It was not going to be cool and the risks taken were worth it to the music purist he is.

The first song shares the same name as the title of the album itself. Nowhere Cool is filled with a number of motifs prominent amongst them being hope and the very idea the album is built on, nowhere cool. Manifest talks about the sacrifices he has made to keep the standards of his craft high. It now time to eat!!! I’ve sacrificed my personal life, to be creative and get the music right……,this album don’t make me happy and rich, I will gladly hang up the mic. This is the album that bears the fruits he’s been yearning for. That probably explains why you cannot download this album online for free. But the song is more than just the money. Ghana no cool but over here dumsor gives the blues whiles over there I dey fear boys in blue, an allusion to the never ending cases of police brutality in the USA. When it’s all said and done, I’m still a freeman like Morgan (in Ghana)

Invisible, nobody sees me, goodbyes and hi nobody greets me, can I be a number, I have no agenda just see me. Invisible talks about the outcasts, misfits, Trotro mates, kayayo, shoe shines, fishermen and every member of the hoi polloi with nothing but a dollar and a dream. It explores their struggles to be seen in society, broken dreams and untold stories. The most touching of all the possible anecdotes is that of a girl who probably is an Adiza wearing hijab during the day but bearing it all at night in East Legon just to survive.

B.E.A.R is pretty much a rapper beating his chest in King Kong fashion about how he is the best in the game. In the close to four minutes of this track, Manifest asks other rappers to check the score, claims to be the Anas of rap with his unapologetic showing off. And then he rhetorically asks who is “badder” than he is! It all might be a sub to Sarkodie or it probably is what he tells us it is at the beginning of the track: some hard bars for the fans!

Whether by coincidence or intentional design, Hand dey go, Hand dey come is the first collaboration on the album (featuring Worlasi). It talks about generosity, sharing and other themes connoting the larger idea of extending a helping hand. Nowhere really cool and it sure is going to be worse if you do not help a brother!!!

You know that scene in a Ghanaian movie where a middle aged man in tattered clothes sits in the shade, leans against coconut tree and drifts away into a day dream? Rich People’s Problem eloquently captures that in lyrical mastery. Manifest dey taya plus the hustle and hin den money for be couple. He wants that Starbucks life, a house on the hill (Beverly or Aburi, does not really matter), Jordan’s and every other thing good but it might as well come with access to Oprah and Dangote. The question still remains “when will it be cool?”

It is the 6th track into the album and even though Manifest asks Dex Kwasi to cover up his drink so Cosby does not slip something in it, I feel like he was a tad late. Palm Wine & Whiskey is a bit blurry on the message. Even Dex Kwasi’s voice on the track sounds a little slurred. There is repeated mention of some girl. She probably was a one night stander picked up after rounds of Palm Wine & Whiskey.

                On the streets we walk every day and litter after every pure water sachet has been gulped down, fine boy no dey pay is an oft repeated aphorism. In Sugar, Manifest and Brymo talk at length about it. The commercialization of love and affection is as rampant as Dumsor. Affection for favor…..he who get money na he get love. It is a very dicey topic to talk about without coming off as sexist and Manifest knows that very well. He tries to insulate himself from such tagging after detailing the women who sell their love for the cedis. But it surely is not enough to get him off the hook. It is a two way street with men just as guilty as women are perceived to be!

Maybe the hustle made Manifest too broken inside. Maybe it made him incapable of loving. He got struck by Cupid’s Crooked Bow after all what he went through, so he disregards the love of this girl who saw all his shenanigans on the tour bus. She only has eyes for him but all he wants is between her thighs. He is representative of the millennial generation. Meaningful relationships have little to zilch meaning to us.

In the fourth song on relationships, love and sex, Simple Love lists out the simple things Manifest wants. His broke self cannot afford the glamor of Instagram love. He is wary of the ever increasing rate of the Bride price. He wants a wife who fancies him over a car, can settle for ampesi when he cannot afford jollof and nothing to do with the commercialization of love in the name of Valentine’s Day! Would he find a girl when Nowhere Cool?

                Manifest has always styled himself as a “deep” rapper whose lyrics transcends mere themes and motifs. The question of how deep is deep in hip hop continues to baffle me but when you have to search for the meaning of Ozymandias, then you grasp the depth of Manifest’s deepness to a point. Ozymandias is a sonnet about a toppled statue in a desert. The inscription on it was “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair”. The irony of it should be clear to all on first reading. Paapa sings in this song tell Ozymandias, every man dies and Manifest raps on about the futility of amassed power, influence and wealth at the end of the day. Essentially, you can interpret this as a direct message to despots and democratic leaders as well on the need to not get carried away by the temporal positions they occupy. Think Gaddafi and Saddam and the image of their toppled statues. Heck, think Nkrumah!!!

From the get go, we are told this is a rap about nothing particular. Another opportunity for Manifest to display his dexterity. The track is filled with word plays, punch lines and anger at characters fleecing the system. Damn You Rafiki is basically Manifest against anyone else who wants to step up to the microphone. Actually, it is Manifest 2016 versus Manifest from back in the day. My only competition, me versus my old verses.

It sounds like Manifest is beginning to get to that greener land. The rain has been showering down on the side Manifest wants to be on. Time No Dey and he does not want to waste it on fair weather friends suddenly showing up once somewhere started getting cool. He takes shots at people who questioned his craft back in the day and shoots for the Grammy’s and not just the Ghana Music Awards! Time flies but you are the pilot. Time will tell, it’s an informer so let’s wait for the information….but you for no say Time No dey. There is a sense of urgency to finally get to the cool place.

Finally there!!! Now here cool. It is reminiscing on the days when no one in the country wanted to give the indie rapper a chance. Having gone through life with the “Tsikata son” tag, Manifest finally feels like the caterpillar which is finally blooming out beautiful wings. He stayed relevant without giving into the Azonto craze. It is a pristine feeling of having stayed unblemished. The song tails off with a short reading by Ama Ata Aidoo from her short story, Nowhere Cool and an Akan praise Gospel song!!!

Now here cool. What happens now? The clichéd Goodbye of course. Drunk Manifest still manages to put together meaningful words in saying Goodbye. But it is not to his audience. It is to a girl. Did he find that one person who could take ampesi in place of jollof? Simple Love seem to have found him but it sounds like he lost her. Writing Nowhere Cool preoccupied him and led to the loss of his Simple Love. Brymo gives a very soulful mood to Manifest’s predicament. The loss of his love takes him to ground zero. I discovered nowhere cool. This is after saying Now here cool just one track ago. So maybe Love is what makes everywhere cool!!!

 

 

 

 

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