Legendary. Great(s). These adjectives have in recent times been watered down by many especially music fans who bestow the ‘L’ and ‘G’ words on anyone they find appealing. Like the fire emoji slapped next to any Soundcloud link, these terms could be misleading. Long before the internet made music more accessible-and anything thrown out to be celebrated-artists of old knew their work was cut out for them. To be accepted, respected and celebrated meant pushing and punching above your weight and that of your competitors. The music market was as tight as Slim Buster’s shirts. Despite these obvious hurdles, artists were ready to not only make music to move crowd; they wanted to stand out from the peers.
The quest to be distinct wasn’t only through music: lyricism and style. It also included fashion sense and of course, themes that resonated and provoked thoughts among listeners. If fans of hip life music were asked to name their best artists (rappers and groups) today, it would not come as a surprise if Nkasei is omitted from the list. Those who may list them might place them towards the bottom of the list. The music scene is most times cruel to certain grade of artists who place brilliance above mainstream popularity.
Rap duo Nkasei rarely get the respect they deserve. That’s they don’t get named in the league of best rappers Ghana music has witnessed. Their remarkable talents, themes addressed in their music and interesting ways they carried themselves notwithstanding, they were largely slept on.
Nkasei, made up of Isaac Mensah popularly known as Naa Kay and Kwame Godlove Yeboah Prah also known as Shyy (or Kashare Panther), blessed the hip life scene with refreshing catalogue. Prior to their (in)famous hit song Tuabodo, Nkasei, which translate as ‘Bones’,had relatively enjoyed some level of recognition between the year 2000 to 2005 .
From the biggest hit of their career Tuabodom back to Monkey Chop Banana and 3ko Ma Mo, Nkasei made you laugh, think and dance. Inherent in these songs were assertive lyrics and historical anecdotes about this country, its culture and the human conditions.
One song from their repertoire that captured not only the history of this country, but also inspired all to embrace our ‘Ghanaian-ness’ and eschew the ways of our colonizers was the edifying ‘Edua Ne Ebu’. Featuring Reggie Rockstone, the duo laced a narrative that is still relevant (content-wise) over a seductive seprewa laden highlife grooves.
‘Edua Ne Ebu’ saw Nkasei along with Reggie Rockstone reminding us about our heritage, history, colonialism, racism, exploitation, unity and self-belief. The song preached afro-consciousness across three verses. Opening the track was Shyy, who, over gorgeous seprewa strings reminded us again, in a dirge-like tone: ‘white man, you’ve sewn my anus and my mouth/all my thoughts are trapped in my head’ (Twi to English translation), before hitting the notes of the chorus: ‘The tree has broken/the white man destroyed it/that huge tree under which the kids used to play’. Here, the tree is a metaphor for our culture and our way of life prior to the arrival of the colonialist in the 15th century.
Prior to this collaboration, Reggie Rockstone hadn’t featured on any song by another artist; a claim he disclosed in the opening of the track. It was clear to see why Reggie hopped on this song, thus delivering one of the best verses in his career.
The entire verse- a wish list of things he’d love to see manifest in the future- were drapped in afrocentricism. Reggie prayed to see ‘Africans embrace dreadlocks’, a united states of Africa, an African 21st Century Fox. Reggie wants to bridging the gap between the youth and hiphop and ‘see his people spit in twi and still rock’.
Ten years down the line, Reggie’s wish has become reality, where today, the likes of Sarkodie are getting international recognition despite rapping in Twi. Beefs, black Jesus, apologies for slavey, reparation for African World War veterans and a total blackout of any ‘uncle toms talk’ were discussed by Reggie Rockstone.
Naa Kay, in his baritone voice, rapped in his usual laid back style and on verse one reminded us of how ‘the ship that brought the Bible brought the gun/Those who said they are here to help were the ones who destroyed us/Look at us; look at London’. Naa Kay doesn’t only point out the sense of docility inherent in the Christian faith- a primary conduit of exploitation- he attacked racism and emphasized how we must wise up and smell the coffee, to realize that the white man won’t help us become great and ‘take back our baskets’.
Shyy aka Kasahare Panther on the last verse of the track referenced a couple of proverbs to assert the view that, we don’t need salvation from the white man in our socio-economic development (”the white man exploited us through lies, abuse and conspiratorial schemes). In his view, the west doesn’t want Africa to prosper hence the many obstacles they place on her path towards economic sustainability.
Those who have studied the works of Walter Rodney and Kwame Nkrumah would be able to connect the dots between their assertions and Shyy’s couplets. Unless Africa look inward for its own development, the western powers would offer us aid with ‘the right hand and take with the left’. Interestingly, this game is in full display courtesy the crippling conditions that come with their loans and other assistance.
Two young rappers with a dream of carving their path to success found a way to join forces after a rap contest in Nima (the same place the group VIP was originally formed). The strongest force of attraction was their individual talents. Naa Kay and Shyy succeeded in leaving a track record that many acknowledge as formidable and inspiring.
From the themes they addressed on songs to their choice of infectious beats drenched in good old highlife grooves right down to their fashion sense, Nkasei were unique in their ways. (I compare them to the legendary hip hop group Outkast).
Nkasei made rapping seem easy. They crafted songs that bellowed truth about life, tradition and history. Nkasei also mastered the ways of the linguist in delivering their messages by deliberately allowing a bit of humor to foam atop these serious subjects.
Three albums and a couple of features were all that these ‘true preachers’ as Reggie Rockstone described them, needed to graffiti their name in gold within the pantheon of hip life