Original Content on Arts and Entertainment

My Beef With The ‘Golden Era Of Hiplife’ Tag

“The most valiant thing you can do as an artist is to inspire someone else to be creative.”

If social studies ever succeeded in teaching us anything, it was the fact that it taught us the meaning of culture. The fact that it was dynamic, subjected to the changing times and bound by the feeling or the mode of the time. It is the pulse of the rhythms that influencing society’s flow, bounce or tip-toe, its the heartbeat of all things that evolves around what we think, our aspirations and our need to fit in a particular time trend.

It is therefore difficult to hear people talk about the ‘golden era of hiplife’ like it was a sacred era of enlightenment, brilliant lyricism the likes of which is yet to be witnessed and the storytelling compelling enough to win the hearts and minds of the generations before them.

While the era produced some of the most iconic tunes that continue to define our lives even today, as music lovers, it was no better than what we have today.

The Birth of A Genre   

From the late 90s through to the early 2000s, hiplife had an alluring pull, it was the freshest thing off the boat and the most youthful genre one could be part of it. As Reggie Rockstone and his comrades played to the sampled beats of Alhaji K Frimpong on ‘Kyenkye Bi A Di M’awu’ for ‘Keep Your Eyes on the Road’ and later, Sade’s ‘Nothing Can Come Between Us’ for ‘If You Don’t Love Me’ one couldn’t help but fall in love with the only source of self-expression the youthful spirit of rebellion could hold onto in this part of the world.

Reggie Rockstone, face of the Old School

It was ours and something as cool as they came. It played on the aspirations of the generations, their world view and offered an outlet for them to be politically incorrect using their indigenous languages. Its enchanting brilliance was how it worked with something old, something new, something borrowed and something out of the blue for their shock value. Like hip-hop, it had the gusto of a free-minded spirit, laced with local rhythms that paid homage to generations before it, it was now our thing.

The New School

As the torchbearers from the forebears who had bored the responsibility of moving the genre forward, they have been given the audacious task of caring and nurturing the genre for the next generation to take over. With technological advancement and growth have also come another level of eagerness for them to be relevant 24/7, have their conversations raging on like wildfire online and play to the whims of the time.

While their forebears, may not have had all their dreams come true through money or worldwide or even continent fame, they knew they had to crawl for the next generation to walk.

With all this detracting from the art form that was handed down, one shouldn’t discount the fact that today, weak lyrics don’t hold any space in the Ghana music town square. Artistes have been laughed off the stage with the slightest show of nothing to offer. Far from the days of GBC and the early introduction of Joy FM and the likes, today, avenues to sharing and listening to music have moved from recording cassettes to tap as you go and on-demand.

King Promise, one of the New School Artists

Along with this change has come the need to compete globally and as the global audience, exposed to 1001 offering each second continue to choose 4 line verses and repeated chorus, it is hard to make music your daily bread without succumbing.

With more and more young people finding innovative ways to be heard, getting booked doesn’t happen on the bad of a deep lyric that demands a further interpretation of like-minded individuals.

While their forebears, may not have had all their dreams come true through money or worldwide or even continental fame, they knew they had to crawl for the next generation to walk.  Today, avenues for sharing and listening to music have moved from recording cassettes to tap as you go and on-demand.

Along with this change has come the need to compete globally. With a global audience exposed to dozens of offers each second choosing ‘the 4 line verses and repeated chorus’, it is hard to make music your daily bread without falling to its alluring pulls.

They also taught today’s generation that music wasn’t one dimensional. As part of a culture, it was evolutionary; only a few can stay true to the art and make something meaningful of it. How many of the so-called talented and pure hiplife or hip-hop artistes are making a dime out there today?

As much as we miss the days of MR. P.O.P and the storytelling of Okomfo Kwadee, there is a truth in the business of music today that wasn’t present in the early days of the genre. With more and more young people finding innovative ways to be heard, getting booked doesn’t happen on the bad of a deep lyric that demands a further interpretation of like-minded individuals. Today, the music consumer likes their music simple, easy and on-the-go. The fabric of what the genre was in the beginning has indeed seen some disintegration but the global music space which is not looking to us to provide them with the sumptuous meal of Ghanaian brilliance they’ve never heard of is playing by the rules, “you adapt, evolve, compete or die.”

Our choices are not limited to a DJ just playing our music on-air. It is now about building a strong ground movement that come what may stand by you, rally at the sound of your voice and dance without end when they hear you mumble or say nonsense unending. This is our new reality. Nostalgia has a way of romanticizing everything just like how fathers and mothers fantasize over their lives before they grew old.

In hindsight, we all feel something has been distorted or lost its shape in the process. As the barriers to our growth and blowing global become marginal, things like mumbling or meaningless music are the exchange we have to make at times. By the way, when was the last time, you listened to the ‘so revered old school hip-life’?

Written By Abdullah Yusif Mahmud, a music critic and a contributor to this blog. He tweets at @Karlyusif

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