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How King Pharaoh Demystified Rap In Ghana

Whereas most people might not remember where they were when they first heard the raps on this particular song, many would remember their reaction. The success of the song was something the music duo and the producers of the record perhaps did not anticipate from the beginning. That verse undoubtedly elevated the song to cult status.

Around the year 1999, hiplife had found its sonic character. The sound had moved from relying on heavy hip-hop and funk samples to producers incorporating highlife grooves in their beats. It could be said that in five years, hiplife found the perfect sound that made the localization of the genre possible. One of the moments that defined the period was the release of “M’asan Aba” by Akyeame in 1995/1996. The infusion of highlife instrumentation and melody bridged the gap between highlife and hip hop.

The brothers King Pharaoh (L) and Kobby Culture (R) formed Akatakyie

The “explosion” of hiplife resulted in many other artistes entering the fray. The prominence and success that rappers were accruing – whether real or imaginary- was like the nectar in a flower. Each ‘bee’ [sic. rapper] wanted a taste of it. Music labels saw an opportunity and thus began flooding the market with songs by artistes who exhibited a semblance of brilliance.

With the door wide opened, groups who hitherto might have stuck to highlife saw an opportunity to walk the fine lines of singing and rapping. It was during this time that Akatakyie entered the scene. Consisting of two brothers, the duo did split work duties. On their records, one sang while the other rapped. Their debut single “Odo Esisi Me” shot them into prominence. The highlife flavoured song about love, deception and unfaithfulness became one of the biggest records in the country. It was not the sugary tone of the song that did the magic. Rather, the 8- bar rap by King Pharaoh was the spell that enchanted Ghanaians.

It was not that the 8-bar rap verse was out of the world brilliant, or delivered with razor-sharp sheen. The rap was ridiculously humorous. The content of King Pharaoh’s verse was good. However, the delivery was amateurish. His lyrics were stacked up with haphazard precision. These low points however, became a blessing in disguise for Akatakyie. The following year, at the Ghana Music Award ceremony, “Odo Esisi Me” would pick the “Best Highlife Song” award. As King Pharaoh stepped to the microphone to express his gratitude to fans, the auditorium would chant in unison, the lyrics of his verse.

So, how did this rap verse demystify hiplife?

Prior to Akatakyie’s presence on the scene, the hiplife field was dominated by very talented rappers. Reggie Rockstone epitomized the essence of hip hop culture. Obrafour’s poetic elegance and depth was unparalleled. Lord Kenya’s dexterity was mind blowing. Akyeame bridged the urban and the traditional with great formidability. We also had the likes of Nananom, Native Funk Lords (NFL), Ex-Doe and later, Buk Bak, LifeLine Family and more. These class of rappers knew the tenets of rap and thus incorporated them in their music. Where (a) rappers lacked lyrical depth, they compensated for with excellent flow and melody.

All that changed with Akatakyie’s single. King Pharoah’s verse invalidated what were considered the hallmarks of rap and what qualities a rapper should possess. The bland delivery was an invitation to other would-be rappers to participate in the rap game. And that, lyricism and depth were not as important as the Class of 1994/1999 had posited it to be. This move indeed paved the way for rappers like C-Zar, Kaywuo to join the rap game. If you don’t remember who Kaywuo was, at least you do know of C-Zar.

Twenty years after the release of “Odo Esisi Me”, Akatakyie continues to hold a place on the roll of best music groups. King Pharoah’s rap is still one of the most memorable moments in the history of hiplife (rap). Till date, whenever the song is played, many wait for King Pharoah’s verse and join in rapping his verse. King Pharaoh and Akatakyie did not only immortalize their name in hiplife history, that verse changed the face of rap.

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