Guest writer @amsataar reveals the importance of names and its impact on one’s career.
I had a conversation with a young rapper who called himself God. I was intrigued by his nascent ‘wokeness’, especially, since he was just making the come up. A rapper with a recognized musical catalogue would have a stronger reason for such self-assuredness. I asked him this: “What makes you think you are God?” He replied that he didn’t think he was God. “I know I am God,” he declared confidently, and went on to say I was God too even though I was scared of it. His conclusion about my fear irked me, and so I asked him again, “What makes you God?” This time, he had a sombre, cryptic response, something to the effect that I wouldn’t understand him if he typed it on Twitter.
That got me thinking of how rappers and artistes try to make or choose a name for themselves. Names are powerful. In The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, we learn how important it is to understand the true name of things. The story is told of a young Namer (Magician) called Kvothe who has managed to find the true name of the wind while pursuing a scientific study in magic.
“Names are the shape of the world, and a man who can speak them is on the road to power”, the author tells us through a character. The story, still in the telling, is meant to throw light on how a genius student magician with dubious ancestry and the memory of steel eventually becomes a forgotten bar-tending Kote running from his legacy.
Truly, names have a bearing on their owners. They can shape a rapper’s destiny, leading the rapper on a path of self-realisation and, in some cases, self-identification. For such people, a name is something one purposely grows into. Take M.ANIFEST, for instance. An acronym for “Music. Always Needing Illumination For Every Soul Today,” immediately project a young man fluent in symbolism. Whether for good or bad, his music is judged differently. The reputation precedes him so much so that people look for clues even when he sings a simple line like, “Are you content with your content.”
The World Acclaimed Lyrical Entertainer [WALE] is meant to give a marginalized artiste a moniker to match his ambition. Bandana was a short-lived experience; his career faded just like the scarf (the fashion trend) that inspired the name. Today, Shatta Wale is the ‘Dancehall King Inna Da Whole Ghana’. He sings with the conviction that he is the best out there and would out-shine Wizkid in a battle of the stars. You might worry about his relevance outside Ghana, but the ghost that rose from Bandana’s corpse is not afraid of any challenge.
While artistes hope to live forever, their names can sometimes carry them only too far. Michael Elliot Kwabena Okyere Darko called himself the Executioner; that is Obrafour in Twi. It is a fitting name for a rapper looking to murder his compatriots on a beat. ‘’Ako’’ was a daring sneer to anyone attempting to lay claim to his throne, ‘’Yaanom’’, a solid declaration of himself to the world. But what happens when an executioner also calls himself the Rap Sofo (Pastor)? Perhaps, it is no wonder that the proverbs-dealer now serenades rather than boasts, he sings where before he would rap out, “Rap kung fu, hayaa!” His relevance in the history of our music culture is, perhaps, testament to how the two names are linked; the former executes only after the latter has taught you or alerted you to the dangers of your actions.
Abodam is another man whose name has shaped his destiny. It takes a brave man to call himself mad, and a crazier population to rally behind madness and call it kingly. Fit for each other, Kwaw Kese has delivered on his name by spewing wild lines in front of a raging public. Calling himself ‘’King of The Street’’ was not a show-off. At his peak, the streets were his and he commanded it with the zeal of a young ruler.
There are also names that reflect an artiste’s growth. Rather than choosing a name that they will grow into, these artistes recognise the importance of wearing a cloak that actually fits. When Batman became Samini, he showed the world that he was now taking control of his future. Since then, the Dagaati Boy has reigned and continued to reign, taking foreign dancehall tunes and blending them expertly with local proverbs. It represents a coming of age. Batman was fictional; Samini is alive with untold stories.
Another artiste who has demonstrated the above wholly is none other than Amandzeba. The Ghanaian highlife veteran morphed from Nat Brew in the aught of the 90s as part of the incredible trio ‘’NAKOREX’’- along with Akosua Agyapong and Rex Omar. Recognizing the importance and power of identity, Nat Brew assumed the name Amandzeba which translate as ‘Son of Tradition’. Since then, his whole demeanour took a different course; his music became truly African; his couture also reflected his new path. Same went for the ‘Divine Drummer’, Guy Warren, who changed his name to Kofi Ghanaba to reflect the origins of his afrojazz musical style in the 1960s.
There are others like him too. Oteniba the rapper became Nuru Shaba the singer. Where Sidney paid homage to the white man’s influence on his life, Obarima showed the Rap Ninja had finally discovered the true magic of his ethnicity. Kendrick Lamar evolved from a mere K Dot, while Sean Combs, for the love of the spices in life, enjoys impersonating the different personalities his riches afford him. And, can you imagine a 40-year old performer called Wizkid?
Some names are bare and straightforward: first name, last name. They come with no strings attached. There are no stories behind the name, no hidden scars to be unravelled. Where others hide behind alter egos, these performers give you all of themselves, even if it is a vain portrait. Artistes like Kofi Kinaata, Kwesi Arthur and recently Fameye jumps into mind.
Names can also serve as a cloak or a mask behind which an artist unleashes his imaginations and artistic potency. Unlike in the case with hidden personalities like Bruce Wayne and Batman or Clark Kent and Superman, these names give ordinary and often shy creatures super powers to move entire crowds from the corner of a studio. Trigmatic is a sharp shooter, Akan is pure, Strongman defies his body size, and AYAT wants you to call him by his name.
For names that last a lifetime, few matter more than Sarkodie. There may be someone faster and cornier than him. There may be swift falcons in the midst, but the eagle still soars above most of them, with vast wings casting deep shadows over their pretty lines, his proud neck unbending even before a god! And what do you say to a doctor who pairs his prescriptions in funny couplets? “Haha! I for stop that thing.”
This article is written by @amsataar, a freelance writer and content developer. He blogs at @anansianddragon