For Sarkodie, the pressure was on to prove that he is still the indomitable force within the music scene, the rapper whose spot everyone wants, the Negus of his time. Changing his moniker from ‘King’ to ‘Highest’ were all calculated to drum home his credentials. For his fans, Sarkodie was infallible. Critics, however, had their own perceptions especially when Sarkodie became somewhat of a ‘Drake’ – keen on jumping on other people’s songs to advance his own clout.
This kind of strategy was considered by critics as vulturous. His fans saw it as a well-intentioned move to not only bring attention to himself but also, help propel the songs of these artistes into the reel of mainstream music. A verse or endowment by Sarkodie became the seal of approval for most of these youngsters. Every artist has his own ‘tricks’ that ensure their survival; that keeps them floating above the musical Bermuda. For Sarkodie, hopping on other artistes songs was his survival trick.
So, the question was this: what more has Sarkodie got to offer?
For almost a decade, he has been the burning light. We’ve heard him rhyme on a variety of themes or subjects which for many has become monotonous. What new themes would ‘Highest’ broach? What would Sarkodie do differently? What is inspiring his new album? Legitimate questions that, perhaps, crossed his mind after all, his safe nest had been threatened a year ago by M.anifest.
Whereas some artistes go out of sight when working on new material for an album, Sarkodie was never out sight. It’s interesting to note that, he released two songs – Gboza and Painkiller- from January till this point. All the rest were jumping on remixes or getting featured. Yet, it was as if he released over a dozen songs. For two years, the album was being recorded. And on Friday 8th September, the ‘Highest’, his fifth studio album, was released.
Within the two years, a lot had happened to Sarkodie- growing his brand beyond Ghana, he became a father. His daughter, Titi and long time girlfriend Tracy offered the inspiration for ‘Highest’. And it doesn’t take long for one to notice it-songs like Baby Mama, ‘Come To Me’, Far Away, Your Waist, All I Want, All Night, See Only You– celebrate his love for Tracy.
On the Joey B assisted ‘Baby Mama’, Sarkodie is heard highlighting Tracy’s seductiveness ‘Somebody tell Tracy Titi isn’t asleep‘, he raps. On ‘Far Away’, the featured Nigerian crooner, Koredo Bello’s words ‘Far Away, lady don’t go far away/I no go break your heart‘ is an assurance of his undying love for her.
‘Highest’ features an array of artistes, Ghanaians and Nigerians alike. The likes of Joey B, Worlasi, JaySo (who executive produced the album) offered their talents to their projects. Big Narstie, Bobi Lewis (UK), Moelogo, Flavour, Koredo Bello, Praiz, Jesse Jagz also came in waving their country’s flag. And it’s obvious why he put them on – friendship and economic reasons. According to Sarkodie, his decision to feature these artistes were based on Jayso’s recommendation.
It’s not all Tracy love on ‘Highest’. Sarkodie’s hip-hop sentiments, which has been capped in recent times by the rise of afropop across the globe was revisited on the album. On songs like ‘Silence’ (featuring poet Suli Breaks), the poet is heard exalting Sark as ‘the beast who wrestled with rap legacy and came out victorious’. Sark takes time to reminisce and thank all who helped him on his come up. ‘Dr. Duncan is the one I’m thanking cos you’re the only one who ever saw the dream’, he reminds all.
On the Jesse Jagz assisted ‘Overdose’, Sarkodie lived by the Jay Z lyric that ‘sometimes you need to remind these fools’. This is classic boastful, I’m-the-greatest- to-do-this talk with lines as ‘90 percent of rappers copy my style/I ain’t mad, I feel proud’. On the second verse, he drops the line ‘on Jay Z and Kanye’s level/don’t bring your Bobby Shmurda life close to me‘. For Sark, there’s a dichotomy between relevancy and hits. In his words ‘that philosophy doesn’t exist‘. An artist’s relevance is measured by how he’s impacting the game and selling Ghana to the world.
‘We No Dey Fear’ (with Jayso) is a brazen display of bravado: ‘we walk up in a room full of vultures’, Jayso sings on the hook. The way up isn’t light work. It’s not even done when you’re the top contender. Haters will always be clandestinely watching and readying to prey on you. Sark is heard taking shots at those with weak lines on this menacing 80 dictated beat.
None of the songs capture the two sides of the album- sound-wise- than ‘All I Want Is You’ featuring Praiz and ‘Certified’. The Nigerian crooner, Praiz brought a dose of warmth on the confessional ‘All I Want Is You’, courtesy his soulful, gospel-esque vocals. Despite Sark’s adoration of Tracy, it is Praiz whose delivery will be remembered. One can loop his vocals and listen to it all day. He has earned himself a new set of Ghanaian fans.
On the other hand, ‘Certified’ with Jayso and Worlasi, carries a banging hip-hop beat that rattles through you. Jayso comes in with his verse about not rolling with people who aren’t productive. Did he say he’s the matador to the bull? Worlasi is the Tom Hanks of our era. He executes magic no matter where you put him on a song.
‘Love Yourself’, an inspirational song about self-love which features Moelogo carries a sparkling afro pop feel.‘Insecurities only allows you to look down on yourself, but it’s not true’. In an era where no one escapes the scrutiny of others, self-hate is on the ascendancy, leading to depression and suicide on some occasions. ‘Highest’ the title track is about being smart with your finances. The beat feels like a fast tempoed version of ‘Bossy’. The theme also sounds like an extension of ‘Hand To Mouth’. This is typical Sarkodie in his element.
‘Glory’ officially ends the album (if you ignore the bonus, Pain Killer).This is clearly a praise song to God. A motivational tune to strive higher. Over it’s mellow or mid-tempo vibe, Yung L’s crooning is a standout- somber, introspective and emotive. Excellent closing song for this album.
The ‘Highest’ has clearly lived to its expectation. It’s a carefully conceived and executed piece of work. The production shall remain a talking point. Lyrically, we’ve heard almost every line used by Sarkodie before (in a different realm) but it still sounds great. One can’t also take a dig at him for showering Tracy with so much love on this album-she inspired it. It’s also clear that Jayso crafted a beat that brought the best out of Sarkodie.
In the album vault of Sarkodie, ‘Highest’ will rank at the top more on profits (sales) than wholesale impact on the music scene. That’s, it won’t be a game changer. However, ”Highest’ isn’t only an act of vindication, but a solidification of Sarkodie’s position as the best around. There was pressure on him to deliver considering the positive reviews his arch-rival M.anifest’s ‘Nowhere Cool’ received. It also confirms why he has the rap scene under his thumb for the past decade. Add all these together, and it’s clear that, he is indeed the highest. At least for now.
Initial standouts: Overdose, All I Want, Certified, Glory, See You Only