I. The Question
I guess it’s a two-way street with regards to feelings that come with the music career of Asem; once a beloved Ghanaian hip hop artiste. On one part, his fans are disappointed in him for abandoning his music to pursue other interests. Asem on the other hand (at least from my point), might feel disappointed with these responses, particularly from the media on his last studio album ‘Tough Times Don’t Last’ (TTDL) released in 2014.
‘So where is Asem?’ This question has solicited diverse responses from many quarters; sometimes bothering on speculations. According to some, his absence is due to ill-health. This speculation was pushed forward after pictures surfaced online with him looking a fifth of what he looked like years ago.
The dude had lost too much weight, leading others to think he was on a healthy life campaign. Others hinted that, he relocated to the US to seek greener pastures. A section said he could not stand the competition coming from other artists, and I’m like please.
Speaking from a fan’s point of view, it is really difficult to come to terms with the fact that after “Solid Ground”-his 2nd studio album- we had to console ourselves with “Tough Times Don’t Last’’; a solid album that was left to be discovered by fans rather than promoted.
After dropping “Running Away’ as lead single, Asem decided to release the album online for free. (Runaway was supposed to be on a joint album with dancehall ace, Samini. The album never materialized for reasons unknown).
Whether his decision to not promote TTDL may have been deliberate (perhaps to gauge the loyalty of his fans) or it was born out of his frustrations at the music industry (he had left his former label under unclear circumstances and according to insiders left behind a full album at Lynx Entertainment).
The 18 track album had producers like Genius, Magnum, and Mike Millz among others in its making. Artistes who featured on it include Samini, Afriyie (of Wutah fame) and Black Prophet. He also had highlife legends Pat Thomas and Felix Owusu on the album.
TTDL sought to portray a matured, energetic, lovable and respectable Asem to his core fans and potential ones.
II: The Album Tough Times Don’t Last
Asem on TTDL paid tributes to legends like Fela Kuti on “F.E.L.A”; John Evans Atta Mills on “Dear John”; and Nelson Mandela on “46664 Madiba”. The title is a reference to Mandela’s Prison number on Robben Island during his 27 years’ incarceration. As for Fela Kuti, his name still resonates today despite passing on decades ago. The sad passing of Prez. Mills is not one to be forgotten by Ghanaians anytime soon.
On the groovy afro-highlife love-song “Hold You Tonight” which featured Afriyie, the two showcased a chemistry on wax that is rivaled by his previous work with Kwabena Kwabena on ‘Bye Bye’. The two could have released a joint album off this performance.
“Hideaway” was steeped in highlife sentiments and rightly had Felix Owusu, one of the best highlife crooners ever. On “Love”, Asem described what true love meant. The rhyme, the lyrics and the overall composition of the songs were excellently crafted.
Followers of dancehall could relate to tracks like “Buyaka” which featured Black Prophet; “Crisis” and “Running Away” featuring Samini on the album. He threw in some party afropop jams on the album with songs like Wasted, Big Johnny, Go Harder and Adole which featured Quabena Mafia.
Asem stuck to his hiphop roots on TTDL. The album’s intro is a well-crafted hiphop tune produced by Magnum. It had sampled poetic phrases from the Boxing G.O.A.T, the Great Mohammed Ali.
Another well worked on hiphop tunes on the album which happened to be a personal favourite is “Dreams & Nightmares” produced by Genius. Asem’s rap on these two songs were flawless and spot on. Other hiphop/rap songs worth listening to on the album included “Go Harder”, “Show Me Now” (Outtro).
Judging by the scope of songs on “Tough Times Don’t Last” (TTDL), it won’t be farther to assume he wanted to showcase his versatility and satisfy a broader spectrum of fans. His core fans loved him because of his hip hop roots. As he matured from a boy to a man, he added a layer of growth to his music as was the case on “Bye Bye.”
With TTDL, he wanted to show again that the success of his magnum opus record, ‘Bye Bye’, wasn’t a fluke.
For sure, Asem is not in Ghana and has not abandoned his music. After his last studio album, Asem has released a couple of covers, did some features and even released a video to his 2016 single “YoYo” which many might not know. Quiet recently, he released “Gbenze” which featured Mr. Eazi. Though word on the streets has it that this song was recorded a couple of years ago.
III: When Fans Are Justifiably Fickle
The affection of some fans toward an artist suddenly wanes once they are no more in the spotlight. The loyal fans however continue to follow their progress. Like Asem, the likes of Tinny, Stay Jay, D-Cryme, Tic Tac, Kwaw Kesse (to an extent) and others continue to release songs, albeit not as consistent as they once did yet, nobody really cares about it.
The reasons accounting for this may cut across lack of promotion of songs and unwillingness to pay payola. Another reason could be a change in the music taste of fans, which could trigger a lukewarm reception from fans if it doesn’t feel ‘hot’ and ‘modern’.
That is, some of these artists get stuck in their ‘old ways’ that they tend to miss on the new wave, ending up clutching on to the coattail of that hottest genre. And once the single they release receives low ratings, fans move on.
Fans are like investors. They place their money and support behind an artist who delivers good returns (music). Once those returns are low or unsatisfactory, they move their investments to another artist. And unsurprisingly, they leave you out in the cold until the artist find the spark that made them glow once again. They only remember you in past tense.
Asem’s “Tough Times Don’t Last” despite its good production suffered from lack of promotion. One feels Asem could have pushed further for some of the songs to be played and performed on all music space. Plus I’m yet to come to terms with the ideology for uploading for free on various internet platforms and “disappearing” from the music scenes.
Set for a rebirth into the Ghanaian music industry according to information, Asem should bear in mind that the music terrain has changed. Although there are some considerable changes, the Ghanaian response to hip hop music has not changed much, at least not too far from where he left off. And being a versatile artists with good pen skills, he could crack through it.
Although the apathy for hiphop exist, good music would always sell itself and his classic single “Bye Bye” is an attestation to this.
Nana Safo is a rapper by night and believes in Papoose is the greatest rapper alive. His single “Allegation (Trotro) is available on YouTube. He tweets at @forksafo