For Kwesi Arthur, making a decision to go ‘pop’ on his latest album, ‘’Live From Nkrumah Krom II ‘Home Run’’ (LFNK II) is more of an economic decision than selling out. That is, Kwesi Arthur is trying to break borders with his songs by riding the afro pop trends currently making global waves. And we should have seen this coming. On songs like the evergreen ‘’Don’t Keep Me Waiting’’, the dancehall tinged ‘’African Girl’’ and even his prelude tape ‘’Sorry This Is Not The Tape’’, one noticed a gravitation towards pop-centric tunes compared to his 2017 debut EP ‘’Live From Nkrumah Krom’ which spurned street hits like ‘’Grind Day’’, ‘Devil Knocking’, ‘’Back Against The Wall’’, and the gospel-esque ‘’Ade Akye’’.
His debut, ‘’LFNK I’’ was raw, visceral and passionate. Kwesi Arthur, on that debut EP was literally reading out his personal journal entries about life and dreams. He did not bite his tongue on the issues he talked about on the EP and on other songs- be it singles or featured verses thereafter. The stories, coupled with his ability to rap was the light that drew moths around him.
There is a striking connection between fans reaction to Kwesi Arthur’s ‘’LFNK II’’ and another hip hop royalty’s sophomore album. Nas, released ‘It Was Written’ album in 1996 to the chagrin of many who fell in love with his groundbreaking debut ‘Illmatic’. For these fans, Nas had abandoned his hip hop credentials and forayed into the world of mainstream rap or ‘hip pop’. Despite the commercial success of ‘It Was Written’ – debuted at No. 1 on Billboard 2000- a feat the classic ‘’Illmatic’’ could not pull off, fans were still displeased. Nasir Jones was, in their eyes, to remain a hip hop artist serving the ‘hip hop purists’. Kwesi Arthur is not getting a push back from fans. The reaction is mixed. And one gets to know why as the album plays.
The new afropop trajectory Kwesi Arthur took jumps at you on the Stonebwoy assisted ‘’Radio’’. He’s heard assuring a lover he’ll always be there for her. Kwesi acknowledges how his career is affecting the good moments that lovers should enjoy. “Just hold on to my memories/E go hard but don’t let them go”, he urges her to fill the ‘I-miss-you’ moments with his songs that would pop up on radio. The vibrancy of “Radio” contrast with the mundane, introspective tone of “Pray For Me”. Over a minimal beat, Kwesi Arthur taps into his pocket, asking all to pray for him to succeed while being backed by a choir.
On “Nobody”, he paints a picture of a relationship that’s floundering and his willingness to save it since he doesn’t ‘wanna live again without you’. The inviting mid-tempo beat from MOG Beats features Mr.Eazi who, like Kwesi Arthur is not ready to give up on love despite his girl’s unloving antics. “Believe me I go kill myself”, the almost whispery declaration towards the end of the hook confirms the desperation and value that these two are placing on this affair.
‘’Live From Nkrumah Krom II’’ treads on two broad themes: love and life including the support from close associates. “Kill My Spirit” deviates from the afropop/ love themes on the previous tracks. The house music inspired song is a cry against naysayers and people who aren’t ready to help him ace over the hurdles of life- and his career. Featuring Sarkodie and Nigerian alte act Santi,”Kill My Spirit” exposes what Kwesi seeks in life: “I dey need money, a little peace of mind, I get happiness in me, love is what you see”.
“All my people royals/ you just no dey see our crowns/ dey wan kill the vibe but we no dey hear a sound/came this far by ourself chale’
For the hip hop loving, Kwesi Athur fans, the Uche B produced “Walk” might put smiles on their faces. The trap heavy tune has Kwesi inspiring people to chase their dreams despite the curve balls life throws their way: ‘‘Dem just wan see you good, never better’’. Drafting South Africa’s Nasty C on the song did add a layer of excitement. First, fans have been looking forward to the two working together. And last year when Nasty C came to Ghana, he revealed during an interview on Hitz FM his readiness to work with Kwesi Arthur. On ‘Walk’, the expressive young rappers display their skills and rang while urging their fellows to ‘rise if you walk’ – chase their dreams. Be assured to hear fans single along to the hook and the repetitive ‘nantse’ (walk in Twi language).
Just like the opening track “Pray”, Kwesi Arthur closes “LFNK II- (Home Run)” with the piano led, Kayso produced “Colours”. The voice at the beginning is in disbelief with what Kwesi and the team have achieved over a short period. And true, they have a lot to be thankful for. That’s what Kwesi Arthur does on the track: he talks about his relationship with his dad- and the lingering shaky bond; his mum’s prayers keeping him alive, and how his confidence for Ghana music is hit high upon seeing two of his compatriots, King Promise and KiDi on BBC News. Kwesi, on “Colours” want people to be true and open with him: ‘Show me your colours, don’t you hide nothing from me’.
“LFNK II” is an album purposely crafted to elevate Kwesi Arthur from the rapper position to a pop star, and broaden his reach. This is evident in the pop oriented tone of the album which I surmise was largely influenced by the success of “Don’t Keep Me Waiting” and “Africa Girl” and to an extent, R2Bees “Site 15” album. (One cannot also ignore the influence of Mr, Eazi on the album.) Again, the short and lean tone of ‘’LFNK II’’makes for a replay value. That is, the listener would not hesitate to replay the album twice or more times after first the first listen.
But, “LFNK II” has its lows. Songs like “African Girl” could have been yanked and replaced with “One Stone” for balance and fan satisfaction. It’s however disappointing that a 9 track album like LFNK II had fillers like ”Sometimes” and “See No Evil”. These tracks are not bad, rather they are very much skippable. Being Kwesi Arthur’s “Home Run”, I thought this would have been an opportunity to put the likes of Kofi Mole and Kwamina MP, Twitch and some of his GroundUp colleagues.
One cannot fault Kwesi Arthur for the direction he took with this album. After all, there comes a time when one has to trundle with what is in vogue. Hopefully, he doesn’t forget what endeared him to his early fans: the reality rap style that his LFNK I exhibited.