“An identity would seem to be arrived at by the way in which the person faces and uses his experience” – James Baldwin
An artist’s claim to fame usually goes beyond just the music they make. Their brand-what they stand for and what they are promoting is as important as what they wish to project and be known for. The decision to re-brand could be a quandary for some artists. When done right, the results could be far reaching. When it goes left, it could be devastating for the artist and his or her management in terms of resources wasted.
Across the music scene, specifically Ghana, we have seen artists re-brand to reflect where they are with their art, their state of maturity and point us towards the direction they are heading. Examples of such instances include the transition of dancehall ace, Samini, who went from Batman to Batman Samini, ultimately settling on his current name. Rapper Edem shed off his initial “Ayigbe’ descriptor. Recently, IIl Haven Records act, Ntelabi had to change his name from Drillix. It wasn’t long ago that Obrafour disclosed he’d be changing his name to Obrafofor (new life).
The public acceptability of such transformations isn’t always immediate. For some artists, their former names still rings among fans. I don’t know if many know Abortion of 4×4 by his new name, Coded. Same could be said of Zeal of VVIP who changed his name from Lazzy.
Joey B, the high priest of new age music has been at the forefront of self-branding. At a count, Joey B has undergone four stages of re-invention; something he does with ease as a serpent shedding off its skin. Before he became a household name off the back of his spectacular delivery on ‘Vera’, along with D-Black in 2012, he was seen as the modern, trendy and talented rapper who combined humor with punchy lyrics. Between “Vera” and his debut single ‘Strawberry Ginger’, he morphed into a sex symbol. By the time, he released ‘Cigarette’, Joey B’s image was undergoing a change: his fashion sense reflected the mid-to late 70 era.
But, that fashion brand didn’t last long. With the revival and appropriation of skinny and tattered jeans- and other street wear apparels by hip hop culture (note that skinny jeans was reserved for punk musicians and fans and was seen as an anathema to hip hop), he embraced that culture. Darryl Bannerman, along with Pappy Kojo became the apostles of this fashion trend. The impact was huge, especially among the millennials who readily embraced it, and began posing in photos with the signature style of the two, including squatting during photoshoots.
Just like any fashion trend, especially street wear culture, the excitement bubbles down after a while. People usually move on to the latest wave. The swathes of influence Joey B held reduced. But, Adidas found in him a fashion influencer. A deal between the two entities was signed; becoming the face of the brand in Ghana.
In 2017, Joey B’s fashion sense took a noticeable turn: this time borrowing from the cowboy culture prevalent in the US city of Texas; home of country music. The influence wasn’t only found in his dressing. It also permeated his music and videos.
when i started this “cowboy” style, i read a lot of negative comments. those comments are boosters. thank you. ❤️
— Joey B (@1RealJoeyB) October 15, 2018
“Darryl”, his 2017 released 9- track EP – precursor to his highly expected-but-never-released “89” album- showcased its strong country/folk music influences. One prominent feature of the EP was the flashing, omnipresent guitar strum and its melting synths. Songs like “Dawn”, ‘Sunshine’, ‘Ranger’ and the tropically flavoured “Maria” (with its horse neighs) ubiquitously revelled in country music guitar strums.
The accompanying videos also played on such themes. The Prince Dovlo cinematic visuals for “Sunshine’ took a lot from Spaghetti Western movies; like one from the playbook of ace movie director, Quinton Tarantino. The Nwxth produced ‘Ranger’; an introspective musings by Joey B and Darkovibes over a stripped down trap beat also blazed in those realm. The cowboy hat, tight jeans, shirts have become a part of Joe B’s outlook. This, however, didn’t begin with his titled EP, “Darryl”. The love for cowboy hats was apparent in videos like “Wave”.
What is striking about Joey B’s evolution is less about his music (another topic that need to be discussed later) and more about sticking to this cowboy identity or style. In an industry where styles fade faster than a heartbeat, finding an artist sticking to a style far from how he began is very rare. That’s exactly what Joey B is projecting.
A confirmation of this came by way of the video for “Stables”. Along with the LaMeme Gang, where the love for cowboy culture was fully expressed. (The Altra Nova produced “Stables” beat was used by Sarkodie on “My Advice”, his infamous diss to Shatta Wale). Riding on horse backs, big truck and motorbikes, Joey B and his friends were seen having great fun in the video.
Read: What Happened To Joey B
The prominence that Joey B enjoyed since he burst on the scene has, arguably waned over time, largely due to his own doing. Decisions such as refusing to release a full debut, even after informing the world; and releasing a single (will “89” ever happen?) came to be regarded as his own version of the ‘fox story’. Where he has released projects, (a la “Darryl EP”), they have suffered from lack of intense promotion. Listening to the EP again, I wonder how songs like “Rangers”, “Chorkor Special” and “Temptation” didn’t become huge cross-over anthems.
Perhaps, Joey B is on a mission to letting his real fans find and enjoy his art. Maybe he’s tired of being that mainstream artist whose moves are closely monitored by the voyeuristic eyes and lenses of the public and bloggers. Or is it the case of him lacking resources to be pushing his projects like his other contemporaries? (A bird told me a record company spend over 20K a week to push the songs of their artists).
Whatever the case may be, Joey B’s steadfastness with this cowboy style is admirable. Every artists need an identity and, once you find one, it becomes imperative on you to push that brand. Like an anonymous quote goes: “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself”. Don’t play yourself; step into where you feel comfortable.
all photos used from Joey B’s twitter page. Top photo shot by Joshua Kissi