It is a little over a year since we Ghana music was subjected to a debate on what “Deep Music” is and we are yet to get an operational definition of “Deep” in the musical sense of the word. Is it about dropping ponderous bars or exclusively doing so in the English language flavored with words that makes the listener open a dictionary? We will never know or probably never come to a consensus. What is reinforcing however is that deep is a fluid concept. It comes and goes in the life cycle of most rappers. Some sustain it throughout their rap career. Others drop it as and when they want in their music and the rest are simply bereft of it.
It will be a total travesty to say Sarkodie is not capable of being deep. He sure does drop what we do call “nonfa” lines in his songs but when he wants to, he can be as deep as the Grand Canyon. Maybe not when rapping in the English language but his mastery over the Twi language afford him a luxury of being Kwaku Picasso when he wants to. The Highest album is a revealing insight into 2017 Sarkodie. No doubt, a chunk of it is the run of the mill Sarkodie we all know but that Sarkodie we do know has consistently managed to make cliché exciting. Whenever his You Go Kill Me or Original starts blaring through your headphones, you can’t help but do the fore arm swinging Sarkodie uses as a replacement for a full body dance.
The key to appreciating Sarkodie’s latest album, Highest, is in two folds. First of all, look at the album as a repainting of the Sarkodie we have always known led by the Kwaku Picasso himself but this time, a lot of insight into his love life with Tracy Sarkcess. And then you follow the interludes presented by Suli Breaks, the famous spoken word artist who gave us “I Will Not Let An Exam Degree Determine My Life”. Or you can listen to Highest like it is a Ghanaian 4:44, a podcast on financial literacy and raw vulnerability with one’s lover.
Suli Break’s Not So Subtle Deification of Sarkodie
Let us start with what Suli Breaks does on this album. First song in and Suli Breaks does not wait too long to break the silence on the greatness of Sarkodie. “He is the one that wields the microphone of legend…. The Shakespeare of this GH poetry….Standing at a reported height of flyer than the rest of these niggas……one of the greatest men to have ever communicated with a microphone, yes that includes Kwame Nkrumah….Your nation’s champion. Your world champion”
Suli Breaks plays the role of the historical court crier, leading the king into his court and singing platitudes on him. But this is no king about to simply sit down and receive emissaries. This is a king in the arena wrestling to maintain his dominance so Suli sings the platitudes like Michael Buffer would but short of the “Let’s get ready to rumbleeeee”.
Suli returns after the first verse with more platitudes but this time, grounded in the legendary story of the Excalibur. “many shall come and many shall form, claiming that they have the strength to pull the sword from the stone and have a claim to throne. These fools … will only see that they are out of their caliber, when they see that it takes more than hype to swing the Excalibur”. Suli implies that Sarkodie is the King Arthur of Ghana’s rap game. The only one worthy of pulling out the Excalibur and taking his rightful place on the throne. But this positioning on the throne is not eternal. It is a continued process and as Suli Breaks says, Sarkodie is the David continuously fighting several goliaths, sometime falling and sometimes on his feet. But he always bounces back.
Now let us zone in on the interludes. The first one sounds eerily similar to something you will read in the bible. ”There’ll come a king from amongst the people. Who’ll dine with them. Grind with them but his tongue will speak the truth of the masses. He shall not walk on water but his flow shall wash away the tide of their ignorance. And his words shall make a pilgrimage to the hearts of the desperate. And his lyrics shall be made from the books of his revelation. And his words, their daily bread.” These words apotheosizes Sarkodie into the god of Ghana music. The make him the rapper who worked miracles with his words and casts him in an image of a god. But they also tell us that the words he raps have a firm place in the hearts of the masses. And that deep or not, he has a place in the heart of the masses and that is all that matters.
In the second interlude, we again here the casting of Sarkodie in a light that is evocative of the Biblical story of Jesus. Some will try to deny him as savior, sell him out for 30 pieces of silver, false prophets with no profits, still too broke to pay homage.…in the end, his music would be the gospel for conversation. All this is a lot about the deification of Sarkodie as it is about his words still striking a chord with the masses.
In the last interlude, we again hear a comparison that sounds like that we know of Biblical Jesus. In the land of the blind the man with the one eye tends to see everything. So in the world of the voiceless come like the man with microphone will be king. But heavy is the head that wears the crown. Great men have always experienced opposition from mediocre minds. So forgive them. Forgive them for they don’t know what they do.
To Sarkodie, his apotheosis in the Ghana music industry is a matter that has long been concluded. His unending list of achievements and feats should have made that clear. Maybe he should have said he was the god of the industry and not the King. That way, no one else would have laid claim to being a god of any shade in the industry. But Suli Breaks makes that lucidly clear on his behalf in a manner he probably would have only been able to do via the Twi language. But as we will soon learn, Sarkodie is no longer about words, punchlines or hits. He is about the money. As he said in Highest, Where my mind is ain’t about fight and beef coz I have financial responsibilities.
Minus the three interludes, there are 15 other tracks on the song with a bonus track. Partitioning these 15 songs into “A retelling of the Sarkcess Story” and “The Opening Up of a Hard Guy” guides your way through the remainder of the album.
A retelling of the Sarkcess Story
Silence is the first song in the first partition. A typical Hip-hop song, we are informed of the hard beginnings of Sarkodie. While others were wearing Giuseppe’s, he made do with tattered clothes. The song comes across as boastful as most of his songs seem to sound but they are valid narratives on work ethic, his dreams starting up and his claim to being the best rapper.
So is Overdose. You might be having an overdose of Sarkodie’s talk on his success and humble beginning but he drops something key in this song. People think relevance is about hits. They lie. The forget my biggest song was adonai and that was two years ago and I’m still the shit. Sarkodie is no longer about making you think he is deep or otherwise. His message has already ensconced itself into a base that remains faithful to him. So faithful that two years after his last major hit, he is still talked about as arguably the best rapper of all time in the country.
In We No Dey Fear, Sarkodie says (of course all this are loosely translated from Twi) You ain’t gotta talk to me until your money long….If not for me, Ghanaian rapper will be treated wrong. You think I give a fuck about bars? Hell no I wanna make money. Everyone says they the king of rap but when I saw their pay slip it was still funny…..It’s not my fault that my rap reaches people that you can’t.
Certified is about the certification of the Sarkodie we all know by now. A man who is not satisfied by the success he already has. It is still a business making scheme, not just a hobby. It is a 9-5 driven by the pay.
Highest, the name of the album and is the financial podcast, an advice to young men on how to advance financially while giving some self-help advice. The chorus it still chides income earners to look out for their parents. And then comes the verses that advise against spending money in strip clubs, acting like you are a celeb when you are not and then proffers a maxim for the rest of the year “help yourself or you will be eating kanzo (burnt part of cooked food). Light Up then comes on giving you the hard-cranking Hip Hop millennials bump their heads to.
Before we transition over to the bit where vulnerable Sarkodie is revealed, let us talk about Love Yourself. With a message akin to J Cole’s Crooked Smile, Sarkodie tells ladies don’t be insecure, love yourself…… beauty no be from the cars and wealth. This does not sound like the Sarkodie that has constantly touted mainstream conceptions of beauty. Maybe his fiancé and baby girl got him rethinking these things. We will never know.
The Opening Up of a Hard Guy
We are now here. The other partition. A departure from hard guy Sarkodie to the guy head over heels for Tracy Sarkcess. Come to Me details the nature of the relationship between Sarkodie and Tracy. Me and Babe started from scratch….what we hate is clubbing, Netflix and chill, night beach and slow jams. What I’m after is what I’ve laid my hands on……I’m not leaving her and later saying OH DAMN. The relationship the two have has been glorified online. “Before and After” pictures of the two during the days Sarkodie was hustling to the present day when he is apotheosizing are somehow used to advise couples to support the dreams of each other. Sark uses the song to throw some light on his reclusive nature. We have heard that he never/rarely steps into a club and he avers that. He is the lets stay home and Netflix and Chill type of guy. But he also tells us how Tracy is far from material. In the early days of the relationship, he tried showering her with gifts but she refused to take them. That made him worried and insecure. Maybe there were others she was taking these things from and she was only pitying him. So he tells us of how he stalked her just to be sure and even seeks spiritual insight from a pastor. Hard guy much?
“My mother said it. Kwasi this is unlike you. You are a tough guy but you have meet your Achilles” (again, translation is all mine and that takes away the luster of what he said). Maybe Far Away is not just literally about his baby going far away as the chorus repeats but about how he Sarkodie is far away from the tough guy we know. In the song, Sark adopts a meeker voice, one evocative of a person who has embraced all his vulnerabilities. This lady who he met has changed everything in his life and showed him how to be a man by helping him deal with his quick temperedness among other things. You can’t really relate if you have never been in love. Ebe some beautiful feeling.
Your Waist is a continuation of the love epistles. At this point, it is Sarkodie who must respond to the vulnerabilities of Tracy. Set a trap for me just so you’ll know that I truly love you but he also admits his vulnerabilities. He cries for her because he loves her. But in the next song, it is no longer about vulnerabilities but the sex life of the two
The song, Baby Mama is about how good the sex Tracy gives him. She is the bad bitch and freaky in the sheets. But she is also the girlfriend that spoils her boyfriend nutritionally. She serves him like Movenpick buffet. Oh and the Sark household is a strip club too! No wonder he does not like clubbing. I mean why else would he after all we have heard?
Given how long Sarkodie and Tracy have been together and the baby the two have, gossip blogs have been wondering when a marriage between the two is happening. In All I Want is You, Sarkodie puts that question to rest. The ceremonial acceptance of drinks signifying an upcoming wedding has occurred. All he wants is Tracy, the lady to queen beside him. The well educated lady (she has a masters degree I believe), his Kim Kardashian and the lady who helps him financially when he lacks.
All Night, as the title and its placing in the chronology of this album suggests is about sex and love. Sarkodie proclaims his sex prowess. He can go all night and from the image Kwaku Picasso has painted of Tracy, she is up to it. That is exactly what she wants. And what he also wants is the girl he describes in See Only You. Everlasting love is all I need, hold me down in these streets baby…. I am not one of the guys who change girls like diapers…..Instagram girls can’t compete!
Tailing It All Off
Reinforcement is clearly Sarkodie forte. In the final song of the album Glory (minus the earlier released bonus track, Pain Killer), Sarkodie tells the story of a conversation he had with Kwame Boadi who doubted him when he said he was going to take Ghana rap to places. The ensuing message is about fortitude, never giving up regardless of how big your dream is, even if it is bigger than Martin Luther’s. Glory is a praise giving song. Have faith in God. Trusting the process. Praying to Him. You might be suffering today but just hold up.
Was there something revealing in this album? Probably not. It is the same old Sarkodie we know. Hard hitting lines, interspersed with run of the mill sentences. But that should never be a problem about an album. After over a decade of dropping hits consistently, your stock of “out of the blue” lyrics will run out. But the key is how you still make those into hits and already, the album has a lot of traction.
We have been looking at Sarkodie through the wrong lens and that makes some quarters underappreciate him. It is not easy to remain relevant for this long in the Ghana music industry. Like he said, the last hit he dropped was two years ago but his relevancy is intact. It means the message of King Sark is already ensnared in the heart of the masses. This album is not an attempt to make a reach for those hearts or new hearts. It is a statement, a rather boastful yet possibly accurate one. Sarkodie has apotheosized to god status in the Ghana music industry. And gods do not argue out their case, their body of work speaks for them.