There comes along an album which defines a generation, not only in terms of the cadences or punchlines but the message within the music. In a year where most mainstream rap albums failed to meet expectations; most of these releases felt more like collections of singles rather than cohesive, well-curated body of work. “For My Brothers”, by Ko-Jo Cue is a perfect example not only of how an album must sound, but how it should be curated; in terms of sequencing, transitioning and features.
“For My Brothers”; released on November 1st, is the debut project by the BBnZ artist in five years, under the label. In an interview we had with the rapper back in 2015, he hinted at a project exclusively produced by Juls, but clearly, creative differences were inevitable after the latter found mainstream success with the “Banku” sound he created with Afrobeats pop star Mr Eazi. Fast-forward to 2019, “For My Brothers” has seen the light of day, four years later.
‘’A Prof. Kofi Awoonor poem of the same name inspired it. That and the fact that a lot has happened to me personally, to DJ Juls and to the rest of the world that made us realize just how crazy the world is. So the title is just us shaking our heads at life in general and all the unpredictable things it throws at us’’, he stated in the interview.
The 15-track album was preceded by two singles; the hip-hop themed, introspective “You Alone”, and the mellow afro-pop love-tinged “Dzo”, featuring Worlasi. On hindsight, these two singles served as precursors to the nature and tone of what ‘’FMB” was to be: an album about life and all it encompasses. A look at the album cover drums home this even more poignantly.
In recent times, opening tracks on rap albums have become highly essential and crucial to its reception; indirectly increasing the level of attention for the project. Ko-Jo knows this, thus the heavy introspective album opener ‘’Rich Dad, Poor Dad’, a song which pays homage to the Robert Kiyosaki book on wealth creation. On the track, Cue talks about economic empowerment, generational wealth and goes on to question his father’s poor life choices in comparison to his wealthy age-mates. Over haunting hums and lumbering piano chords, Ko-Jo Cue writes a soliloquy that resonates with many. ‘’Ebi my poppy wey e fail me, his mates been out hustling since the 80s so their kids will see better days, find better ways, elevate and make better ways’’, he raps.
Taking a cue from the wisdom of Socrates’ ‘an unexamined life is not worth living’, Ko-Jo Cue on ‘Dua’ presents a two-way perspective on the impact of words on one’s self-esteem. Whereas his dad scolds him for being lazy (‘’see the way my poppy dey advice, breaking me down, how I go rise?’’), his mum offers words of encouragement; that life should not be a race but be lived on one’s own terms.
At this point, Ko-Jo’s mission is quite clear; the man came to talk about what most of us have had on our lips, yet for some reasons are unable to talk about. With major thanks to social media or not, most of us easily throw titles like C.E.O, director amongst others around in our fight for independence from the rat race called an 8-5. The trap tune ‘’Workaholic Anonymous’’ is a vivid description of the challenges of being an employee and an employer, where stress is your cup of tea. Interpolating Kwesi Arthur’s “Grind Day”, cupped the narrative brilliantly. With lyrics like; “Nobody lie you brother, being your own boss hard pass, if you get employees de3 gyae koraa u make loss sef you for pay the bastards”, Ko-Jo ably gives us a picturesque narrative of a life we mostly dream of without giving any deep thought.
The three opening tracks form the root of ‘’For My Brothers’’, with the remaining 12 songs forming the branches of the narrative that ultimately becomes the soundtrack of life for many young folks running through the maze of this wretched life.
The album takes a mid-tempo afro-pop feel with ‘’Smiling’’ which features Nigerian acts Lady Donli and Show Dem Camp (SDC), who delivered a strong performance; advancing the narrative of navigating the hurdles of life as one chases their dreams. With production handled by Juls, Tec and Ghost (of Show Dem Camp) delivered some stellar anecdotes about their own come-up story. Lady Donli’s soulful hook ‘’boys are not smiling make you give us our pay today’’ summed up the theme.
The African vibe resonates on the A.I. featured, Lil Shaker produced ‘’Me Nsa Be Ka’’, a palmwine highlife song that reassures you of better days ahead. Success and its associated challenges are not the only themes explored on ‘’For My Brothers’’.
“Dzo” which features vocals from Worlasi; explores the downside of relationships we mostly overlook. Admit it, the grind is not the same when a girl enters the equation. You start spending way above your budget but its fine because you’re clearly having the time of your life (cue ‘Rich Dad, Poor Dad’), plus each decision you make needs validation from your partner. Ko-Jo Cue takes the age-old, “Get money and establish yourself as a man before you get yourself entangled in a love web” advice, and creates a modern day “Things You Shouldn’t Do as a Man”.
Depression, suicidal thoughts and mental health issues and the ‘taboo’ of opening up to others about it takes centre stage on ‘’Never Mind’’. Society has found a way of discouraging people enduring trauma occasioned by dark experiences from talking about it, a situation which compounds the hurt. Feminism and the need for women to be heard is tackled on “From My Sisters” which features verses from Raphaela, Anae, MsFu and Dzyadzorm. “Don’t you grow into your dad, be a new man bro”, MsFu belts out, asking for a change in current mindset men have towards women. The placement of this record is one of the highpoints of this project. What better way to capture the attention of a wide number of men than a on a project from one of the most revered rappers in the country, perfect. The song also happens to be the only song which doesn’t feature any vocals from Ko-Jo Cue.
The dancehall-tinged ‘’Best Paddy’’ is an assuring love tale. J. Derobie delivers one of the best hooks in his career thus far. On the Maayaa featured ‘’Muddy Water’’, Cue renders a ‘’letter to my born child’, explaining his truth to his child on what occasioned their distant and frigid relationship.
Ko-Jo might have penned one of his most personal records to date on this tape when he made “Loser” (not that we don’t feel attacked with the content, Cue). Its 2019, anyone with some data and a phone with a “QWERTY’ keyboard could easily do the work of Jimmy Iovine (for those who are late, that’s just like one of the most key personalities in music). Most artists are attacked by any and every one from the songs they release to just about anything; even the caption on their IG posts. And Ko-Jo Cue for one has had a rather rough career with regards to delayed project releases and his creative direction; (still can’t get over ‘Mama Yie’, THAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED!!??). He takes a swipe at his critics on this record, defending his decisions regarding his career; from his decision to sign to BBNZ down to the flak he caught for “Mama Yie”.
Read: Kojo Cue – You Alone
“Sometimes I feel, survivor’s guilt’’; this song could have easily served as the title-track of this album given the message on it. On this song, Cue once again puts his life in perspective and raps about friends he grew up with who aren’t doing too well in life, as well as those who bowed out earlier. He does this over a soulful hip hop production. Cue goes ahead to compare his own achievement in life with that of the people closest to him. “Survivor’s Guilt” strikes a chord with ‘’Nickle and Dimes’’ by Jay Z as well as Kendrick Lamar’s “U” in terms of content and not style and delivery.
Closing the album is “Shii The Song (Pt. 2). Originally performed by Adomaa on her 2015 EP” Afraba”, the soulful ballad “Shii The Song (Pt.2)’’ serves as the fulcrum of the album, where Cue sums up the chapters- part prayer-part real life tragedies- on the album thanks to lyrics like ‘everybody sucks at life, nobody get it right the first time’’ and the soul stirring hook ‘’
“For My Brothers” is an album that speaks about the realities of life. It vocalizes the challenges that confront the youth (or brothers) in this overly competitive world. Inherent in the gloom that the tales cast are vignettes that inspire us to rise above individual difficulties. From the soundscape of the album to the features, nothing was left to lax. Again, Ko-Jo Cue brilliantly eschews his rappity-rap style for something more pleasing to the ear. The album is helmed with a touch of perfection.
In the 25 years since hiplife became a genre, one could count the number of albums that have defined an era: Obrafour’s “Pae Mu Ka”, Okomfuo’s ‘’Kwadee’’, Akan’s ‘Onipa Akoma’, “Nowhere Cool” by M.anifest. With “For My Brothers”, Ko-Jo Cue has joined this elite club. ‘’For My Brothers’’ is definitely an “Album of The Year” contender. And it makes sense why it took him 5 years to craft this masterpiece. Ko-Jo’s heavy use of imagery and similes to create a vivid depiction of real life scenarios, is the selling point of this album and the only validation it needs to earn its bragging right as an instant-classic.