Over 7 thousand eyes peered into the makeshift home studios of two foremost Ghanaian producers who agreed to indulge in a producer battle or #BehindDaHitz. Jay Q, full name Jeff Quaye and Nana Appiah Dankwa, known by many as Appietus are veteran producers whose names are attached to some of the biggest records in the history of hiplife, and by extension, Ghana music. The two were instrumental in expanding the scope of hiplife, our own form of hip hop. Before every sound out of Africa came boxed under “Afropop” and “Afrofusion”, these two – along with Zapp Mallet, Hammer (Last 2)- were the production nucleus. There was a time in Ghanaian music history where a song produced by Jay Q and Appietus was a guaranteed national hit.
So, when Sarkodie tweeted his intention to host a #BehindDaHitz, a producer battle involving the two on Monday evening, the consensus among twitter fans was unanimous. This was a battle they wanted to see happen based on the history of these two renowned producers whose works became soundtracks to the lives of many 80s babies. Even before Jay Q and Appietus could accept, the debate had begun online as to which producer had hits for days. Catalogues were compared; longevity was discussed and influences were not ignored. What stood out at the end was the fact that their individual producer credits run into hundreds. They both had over 200+ producer credits to their names from the late 90s till date.
History of Jay Q and Appietus
Jay Q and Appietus were cut from the same cloth as far as their grooming as producers was concerned. The two understudied one of the best producers/sound engineers of his time Fredyma (Fred Kyei Mensah).
According to Fredyma ‘’ JQ, Don Waxi, Appietus, Bishop Mantey and about ten sound engineers were all bringing jobs’’ to his studio. According to Fredyma, ‘’JQ left for Town House Studio; a studio just adjacent to mine and later Combined House of Musi or CHM but did most of his programming at Fredyma for his clients including VIP, Castro, Nkasei and other artistes’’. Fredyman would lead Appietus to Kay’s Frequency after his apprenticeship.
According to Fredyma, ‘’whilst Appietus was being trained, I asked him to program some songs for some clients including Ofori Amponsah. All of them refused for him to program for them because they considered him too amateur. Years later he became the corner stone for them’’. Other engineers who were tutored by or had dealings with Fredyma included Kwame Yeboah who was a session man at Fredyma’s studio for 4 years (1996 to 2000).
Both Appietus and Jay Q came through the church system, meaning their love for music was shaped at church where they learnt how to play a variety of instruments. What Fredyma did was to mentor and coach them on the technical aspect of music production. When they were of “age”, each went their separate ways to build their careers. With each finding a studio to worin, the hits followed. Through the music, their fame soared, their clients list grew longer and the perks of the trade also increased.
Both producers are versatile. They produced records with diverse genre undertones: hiplife, dancehall, highlife and gospel. Whereas Appietus defined contemporary highlife sound, Jay Q impacted hiplife with his kpanlogo/jama signature sound. Jay Q crafted a sound that married traditional Ga rhythms with hip hop sounding drums that resonated with a youthful demographic. You knew a song was a big whenever that “Bottle Breaker” tagline dropped.
For Appietus, the lack of a tagline during that time meant some would not know that some of the records he produced. For years, Jay Q had the music industry by its neck. If you heard 10 songs on the radio, you were assured to hear 5 songs produced by Jay Q. Whereas Appietus remained a fixture on the music production circuits, Jay Q sojourned to the US, thus halting an incredible career run.
The Battle As It Happened
When news came that the #BehindDaHitz battle would take place on Wednesday (April 1), expectations were high. Fans were expectant and when the time came, over 7,000 eyes converged on IG Live to witness history. For two hours, these producers run through their extensive catalogues across a myriad of genres. Not only that, the camaraderie and affection between them was palpable. Jay Q would make things clear from the onset: that the battle is not to determine who was a better producer. It’s them offering Ghanaians a thrilling experience.
In the two-hour session consisting of two rounds, the two producers shared 63 songs across the genres of hiplife, highlife (now labelled afropop). Most of the hiplife songs were classic throwbacks which elicited excitement from those who watched. It confirmed the fact that the high nostalgia provokes in a person is more potent than the effect of any ecstasy drug. (Find music list below)
Jay Q treated the waiting audience with instrumentations of Buk Bak’s ‘’Chingilingi’’ while waiting on Appietus to join the feed. The night was not only about showcasing music from their respective archives. The producers shared backstories on how certain songs came together. For instance, Jay Q shared the story of how VIP stormed his studio with their Nima fans when they heard Q had lost the files to what became their biggest debut single.
As Jay Q explained, the files were lost as he was moving the DAT files onto the cutting board (Note: all the production works were analog). The reaction of VIP was valid considering their rivalry with Buk Bak, whom they suspected were in cahoots with Jay Q to sabotage them. Their record ‘’Salah’, released in 1999 would end up to be their biggest debut single. VIP and Jay Q would establish a solid working relationship that resulted in many hits.
Jay Q also revealed how he recorded Buk Bak’s debut single ‘’Komi Ke Kena’’ at CHM Studios using live bass and a 4-string guitar. ‘’Komi Ke Kena’’ did not only launch the career of Buk Bak, it also affirmed hiplife (rap) as a youth driven culture. That is, the song and the swagger of Buk Bak resonated with a younger generation, mostly secondary school students. The success of Buk Bak and VIP would inspire a younger generation of rappers to break into the mainstream.
The producers released a total of 28 songs in the first round – 14 songs apiece. All the drops by Jay Q were hot tracks that dominated both radio and the streets. He emptied his clips as the tracklist below shows. Where Appietus faltered was playing Castro and Sarkodie’s ‘’Swagger’’, a song that was not a major hit. Jay Q thus came up tops in the first round.
The song sequencing was nuts. The whole affair was organic. Both producers went back -to-back on hits they have produced for a particular artist. That is, if Jay Q plays a record from Buk Bak, Appietus would respond with a song he produced for Buk Bak. And, when one producer switches from a particular genre to another, the other responded with the same level of energy. The first round was a delight to watch as these two friends offered the audience a once in a lifetime treat.
The second round was taken by Appietus, thanks in part to his timeless works for Ofori Amponsah and Daddy Lumba. It was neck- to-neck contest at a point till Appietus dug into those folders starting with Daddy Lumba’s ‘Enshiwo’. It was a run for him after dropping Ofori Amponsah’s ‘’Emmanuella’’ and ‘’Otoolege’’, 5Five’s “Mujei Baya (Move Back) and ‘Azonto Fiesta’’ featuring Sarkodie and Kesse. A total of 34 songs were dropped- 17 for Jay Q and 17 for Appietus.
Castro (R.I.P) was one hell of a talent. If there was a winner during the battle, it was not the two producers. It was Castro De Destroyer. From the comments to the nostalgic feeling his songs evoked, one realized how incredible Castro was. A total of 13 songs by Castro was played on the night – 7 original songs and 6 features. Jay Q dropped 7 while Appietus played 4 Castro records. It was not much of a surprise to have Jay Q drop that number of songs featuring Castro considering he ‘fathered’ the career of Castro. The evening was a celebration of Castro. They also sent out eulogies to R.I.P to the late highlife legend Kofi B as well.
Appietus adores his own productions than the artists he worked for. During the 2-hour run, except for when they went on a break, he kept nodding his head throughout, jamming to his classics. So invested was he in the music that he had Jay Q constantly reminding him to cut off the song (‘’Yeah, that was a good song’’) so he could play his set. If I don’t know anything about Appietus, I know for a fact that he has a very strong neck. It was hilarious.
The battle also confirmed the importance of amassing a large cache of catalogue as a producer. The songs we heard on the night were created some 15/20 years ago yet they did not sound dated. It was also a true affirmation to the importance of being diverse as a creative-i.e. branching out of your comfort zone to try other things. Clearly, Appietus was handicapped in producing hiplife music compared to his highlife productions. Jay Q was great at crafting hiplife beats than the more melodic highlife sound. These inadequacies did not prevent these two men from trying out these genres including dancehall.
The producer battle was truly a once in a lifetime experience. The thrill still lingers a day after the battle. The songs did not only provoke nostalgic feeling. It showcased the individual contributions of Jay Q and Appietus to shaping the Ghanaian sound. It was a testament to the fact that talent and what you use it for would forever live. It was a good night. We could not have asked for anything better than this battle.
Words By: Swaye Kidd