On September 8 2016, rapper M.anifest released his fifth studio album, ‘’Nowhere Cool’’. Events surrounding the release of the album helped elevate ‘’Nowhere Cool’’ to the level of ‘most anticipated album’ for one key reason: curiosity following his battle with Sarkodie.
Last year, June 30th, M.anifest overtly called out Sarkodie, arguably Ghana’s best musical export in the last decade on ‘god MC’; a diss song that earned M.anifest both national attention and new fans. ‘god MC’ was considered by fans of Sarkodie as an act of drawing a line in the sand, with M.anifest assuming the crown as Sarkodie’s chief nemesis.
On the song ‘’god MC’’, he hinted: ‘Nowhere Cool is a game changer’. The collection of short stories (of the same name) by renowned author and poet Prof. Ama Ata Aidoo inspired ‘’Nowhere Cool’’, the album. The novel recounts the journey of a young woman who left the shores of Ghana for a better life in the US; but soon realized that, the good life she dreamt of wasn’t going to come on a platter. She began to miss home (Ghana).
The story of the protagonist of ‘’Nowhere Cool’’ (the novel) mirrors in part, the story of M.anifest- a Ghanaian who went to the US for studies and discovered his passion for music. But soon realized it’s tough to crack through the American music market and life out there is tougher than he had imagined. As he disclosed in an interview following the release of the album, he identified with the story told by Ama Ata Aidoo.
The 14 track album is a conceptualized work hinged together by the themes of life. ‘Nowhere Cool’ is a pidgin slang that translate as ‘It’s Tough Out Here’. This notion is heavily reflected on the songs littered across the 55 minutes long album.
Love, in all its shade is spoken about on songs like ‘Sugar’, ‘Cupid Bow’, ‘Goodbye’, ‘Simple Love’. On the hook of ‘Sugar’, Brymo described the state of love as it exist in present time as a transactional deal in the lyrics: ‘’drop me the paycheck, make we fuck’’ and ‘’affection for favour na ein we dey talk’.
Life and its swings are touched on ‘Hand Dey Go, Hand Dey Come’, ‘Nowhere Cool’ and ‘Rich People’s Problem’. On ‘Bear’, ‘Damn You Rafiki’ and ‘Ozymandias’, M.anifest went from bearing his credentials to asking the real question about power, greatness and loss on ‘’Ozymandias’’: ‘Have you seen a statue that gives command?’, a song inspired by the Percy Bysshe Shelley poem of the same name.
One song that placed the album’s title in context is found on the second track of the album. Tucked neatly between the album opener ‘’Nowhere Cool’’ and the ebullient, horn driven ‘’Bear’’, produced by Drvmroll, ‘’Invisible’’ is a demonstration of his incredible skills in social observation.
M.anifest is a politically ‘woke’ artist. (Not surprising considering his background). He, however isn’t your political artist. Unlike his fellow compatriots like Wanlov and M3nsa (either as individual artists or as a duo FOKN Bois) and Blitz The Ambassador who are very vocal in expressing their socio- political opinions, M.anifest tuck his views in the lyrics of songs as exhibited on ‘’Debi Debi’ and ‘’Someway Bi’’, off his 2013 EP, “APAE” when he articulated his socio-political views on the century old challenges this country has been pretending to solve since attaining independence some six decades ago.
On the first verse, he weaved a tale about the ‘social division’ existing in our society; where the struggles of those at the very low end of the economic strata are invisible to those at the top. He also made references to how blacks are treated or harassed at airports when travelling. He broached the issue in the lyrics, ‘’At airports is when I appear /Belt buckles and shoes off /Small London wey I want see’. The excessive searches on passengers at airports is obviously based on skin colour (racial discrimination). White passengers literally get free passes whereas dark skin passengers get harassed; a point ace satirist Kweku Sintim- Misa (KSM) shared during one of his famous standup comedy shows. (He didn’t understand why check-in queues for whites moved faster at our national airport than the queues of fellow blacks). As the first verse revealed, M.anifest was speaking out for the class of people who sit at the fringes of society: The ‘’outcasts and misfits’’.
It’s on the second verse that M.anifest proved his credentials as a social observer. The narrated story was about a young 17 year old girl whom he once saw at a place where they ‘sell fornication’ (one of the informal red light district). He rapped: ‘’Girls dressed for the night work/And felatio? That’s light work/Get a mini skirt and it might work’’. The sight actually instigated a torrent of questions in his mind. He wondered what drove her into this trade; what her background was. Legitimate questions that begged for answers.
Over a beat that is typically M.anifest (traditional Ghanaian rhythmic elements, bouncy feel and striking bassline), he laid bare his feelings; his baritone voice adding a ton of grease to the sentiments being expressed on the song. The disdain or resignation of faith is evident in a simply phrase like ‘Nobody see ein pain /She’s just up for grabs’.
The song and its critical observation of everyday life of the average Ghanaian especially, those at the bottom of the social class is summed up on the hook:
Invisible/ Nobody sees me
Goodbyes and hi’s, nobody greets me
Can I be a member? I do surrender
I have no agenda/ Just see me…
M.anifest became the Ralph Ellison of our time on ‘Invisible’: a man who observes and chronicles the plight of the Invisible Man within our society. (Man here as a descriptor of all humans). In his famous novel, ‘’Invisible Man’’, published in 1952, Ralph Ellison narrated the story of the black man in America through the eyes of an unnamed protagonist.
‘I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me’, he wrote in the prologue of the novel. ‘Invisible Man’ was written to point out the institutional racism within the American society. What M.anifest did on ‘’Invisible’’ was to mirror the struggles of the downtrodden and those who fall outside the bracket of ‘seeable citizens’. As a song that explored the differences in social classes and its negative impacts on society, ‘’Invisible’’ is dotted with lyrics that reflected the plights of this section of the society
Bus boys and the waitress
Work more e dey pay less
Kayayo with a headload
She dey run at the speed of techno
Trotro mate count with vim
He coulda been a mathematician
And in addition, he knows well social division
We all dey eat fish
Careless whose doing the fishing
At the chop bar I dey chop bad but how’s the chef faring?
The above lyrics does reveal how those at the base of the economic ladder and usually do the hard work aren’t regarded or acknowledged properly –either through good wages or offered better opportunities- by those who live lavishly off their sweat; a situation akin to the master-slave nexus. Despite the disdain accorded them, they are conscious of the social schism existing in our society, what M.anifest termed ‘social division’.
The challenges often faced by the downtrodden in society inform most of their actions which are often lost on people, mostly the privileged in society. Take the case of the ‘seller of fornication’ who trades her ‘hijab in the daytime’ for ‘secular garbs in the nighttime’. For some section of society, (those at the top class who may even be her clients), her choice of ‘trade’ may be due to her being lazy or simply a deviant, yet won’t acknowledge that, the lack of opportunities and desire to break from the shackles of poverty could be the thrusting factor to her choice of ‘trade’.
On the penultimate track of the album, ‘Now Here Cool’, Ama Ata Aidoo recited a poem to bring conclusion to the overriding theme of the album. This was after M.anifest had shared details of his growth as an artist- a young aspiring rapper with no confidence in his own words to the huge, successful and respected rapper he is today. The poem is about finally finding nirvana when you figure out the rules of the game.
‘’Nowhere cool, sister, ain’t nowhere cool
Therefore, let me hide here among the thorns, while I dine on wild desert grain/ And if they should ask you of me, tell them the name of the game was life and I never learnt the rules.”
M.anifest has called ‘Nowhere Coo’l his best work thus far (although I think Immigrant Chronicles tops his catalog). Listening to it, you may not argue much. The circumstances leading to the album release got people both excited (the Manifans) and his critics curious. Anchored in a very prominent novel, M.anifest, like Ralph Ellison offered a snapshot into our society; the striking division between the haves and the have nots and how this imbalance affect the progress of our world. In short, the album revealed the ‘dirt’ in our society. And none of the songs brought this theme home more like ‘Invisible’.
All photos used from M.anifest’s twitter page