There’s a lot that Nana King did for hip life in its nascent stage: he founded Ashanti International Records which housed top acts such as Sonni Bali and Ex-Doe. This was in 1999 when the whole hip life movement was beginning to take shape. Embodying a flashy and sometimes gangster-like sense of American hip hop culture, Nana King, who, prior to settling in Ghana and establishing his record label, was domiciled in Los Angeles.
He entered the scene with a strategy that worked; resulting in some degree of success. He used his ‘ties’ with Tupac as a vehicle to promote his hip hop and street ‘credibility’. A claim many disputed until a video surfaced of the two sharing a stage during a 1994 concert in Santa Monica, Los Angeles recently.
One would remember him for instigating the whole Ex-Doe (as the villain) against Reggie Rockstone and Chicago rap beef. (Interestingly, Ex-Doe and Chicago had jointly released a smash hit ‘Daavi’ two years prior). The beef and the song, M’aba on hindsight, helped accelerate the ‘visibility’ of hiplife beyond the demography of the youth. Even older folks who seem unperturbed by hiplife at the very beginning began talking about how the beef could escalate into something a la Tupac and Biggie Smalls. Caution was advised. Resolution became the watch word on the lip of all major players within the entertainment scene especially the legendary music producer Faisal Helwani of Hewale Soundz.
It wasn’t only pitting two musicians against one another Nana King’s specialty. He was one of the foremost music sampling heads on the scene, along with DJ Rab and Zapp Mallet. He knew how to flip hip hop samples and infusing them within RnB or highlife octaves with such exquisite finesse. Tracks such as Ex-Doe’s ‘M’aba’ (I’m Here) sampled DMX’s ‘Ruff Ryderz Anthem’. Another hit song, Yebre (We’re Tired) off that album also used samples from Lauryn Hill’s ‘Lost One’ song. Nana King was also a good A&R whose legacy in that field remains the discovery of dancehall god Samini (formerly Batman).
One of my favourite songs from Nana King was his tune ‘Champion’ featuring Ex-Doe. Riding on sample chops from Fela Kuti’s classic ‘Lady’, Nana King laced his vocals over the mid-tempo, smooth R&B surrounded song whose base was built from ‘Lady’. What Nana King did was to keep the heavy horns and hard drums of the original composition soft. He added a gong and xylophone rendition of some elements of the beat to give it a very fresh outlook.
‘Champion’ was a proclamation of love to one other. Nana King confessed his depth of love to his lover: how much he’d care and treat her for ‘all knees to bend’ and appreciate the meaning of love. The lady in turn intoned: if we love each other then we are champions.
The initial reaction to the song was a full blown criticism for what was described as suggestive; citing the lyrics of the hook as evidence: ‘Give it to me. It’s not enough, you’ll kill me, when it comes to love then we are champions’. (As it translate from Twi).
The rapper, producer, singer and sound engineer went on to work with other artists such as Dasebre Dwamena (“Ahoofe” album on which he produced four songs and mastered the whole album), VIP and Akyeame among others during their early years as rappers.
Now back in the states and pursuing a different musical genre-Gospel, Nana King has certainly paid his dues to the music scene in Ghana.
Couldn’t find the full audio of the song online, except this mix by PM the DJ. Listen from the 4:40 mark