When music producers Hammer (Last 2) and Jay Q took their turn on #BehindDaHitz a couple of months back, one could distil the level of respect and profound conviviality between the two producers. The veteran producers shared backstories on some of the records they produced, the artists they worked with and how they came up in the game, together. On the night, Hammer would reveal how he met Jay Q and ended up working within the same studio along with him. Although the two had different production styles, the quality of songs and the sound they pioneered continue to generate excitement among listeners, a decade and more after most of them were released staples for a generation.
Hammer announced his presence on the music scene after producing Obrafour’s seminal album ‘’Pae Mu Ka’’, along with Yaw Opare Anoff in 1999. The album is considered one of the most important albums in the history of hiplife and music in general. For some critics, ‘’Pae Mu Kae’’ set the template of what became hiplife. However you look at it, the album’s influence on producers, rappers and would-be rappers cannot be overstated. Hammer (Last 2), Yaw Anoff and Obrafour changed the game with ’’Pae Mu Kae’’.
Friends: Jay Q and Hammer
Jay Q came up under the tutelage of ace producer and sound engineer Fredyma. After his years of apprenticeship, he would find working space at the legendary Hush Hush Studios at Awudome Estate, Accra. It was at that studio that he crossed path with Hammer for the first time. Both producers ended up taking turns to work at the studio. Hammer, who had returned to the United States to pursue further studies in music engineering after recording ‘’Pae Mu Ka’’ would cut short his studies and return to Ghana when the album became a huge success.
The story of how Hammer began work at Hush Hush is an interesting tale since his first day at work produced one of the best songs ever in the history of hiplife. According to the account rendered by Hammer, he was literally dragged from DKB Production studios by Mr. Holdbrooke, a manager of hiplife artist Jay D, to the newly opened Hush Hush studio to work. In his quest to familiarize himself with the production softwares in the studio, he ended up crafting a sketch beat which became Jay D’s ‘’Alampan’’.
Jay Q was already working at Hush Hush Studios before Hammer arrived. The two would forge a friendship that, as revealed in their chat, was professional and cordial. It is said that Jay Q dissuaded Hammer from using his famous “Last 2” tagline on songs as it was against the rules of music production, obviously, a lesson instilled in by the veteran engineer Fredyma. Hammer would ignore Jay Q’s advice. The placement of tagline on songs, pioneered by Hammer would become a novelty that Jay Q would borrow.
Here Comes Tinny
Known for elevating rappers from obscurity to national prominence, Hammer would guide the career of Tinny to mainstream success. Tinny is according to Hammer, “one of the difficult” artists he has ever worked with. His ego and pride were both a blessing and curse to his career. The meeting between Hammer and Tinny was an interesting encounter. The young rapper showed up at Last 2 studios with his dad to meet Hammer. Tinny had informed his dad that if he was to work with any music producer at that time- early 2000s, it had to be Hammer and nobody else. That declaration led his dad to, literally, hand over Tinny to Hammer to shepherd his career – from incognito to superstar status.
‘’Makola Kwakwe’’, both the album and the single would bring Timmy into the spotlight. Subsequent singles and features would establish him as one of the best rappers from the mid-2000s to 2010. The ‘sexy man’, as his moniker went, elevated Ga rap to a status unattainable since he became ‘inactive’ in the music scene. Prior to the arrival of Tinny, there were a few Ga rappers, prominent among them Kassim (Baby). Tinny’s entry changed the face of Ga rap: he elevated it from ground zero to the top floor. He injected vibrancy and pride in the language as non-speakers like myself considered learning the language.
It is interesting to note that Tinny’s decision to rap in Ga was largely influenced by Hammer. It was the case that Tinny had recorded a full album in Twi which he wanted to release as his debut. But Hammer, being the consummate producer as he is would prevail on Tinny to reconsider his decision since in his words, Tinny, a Ga man ‘could not out rap Obrafour, Okra Tom Dawidi or Moatia, guys who were excellent speakers of the Twi language’’.
Jay Q was at that time enjoying great success as well, overseeing the production of albums for old time collaborators Buk Bak, VIP, Castro, MzBel and more. His signature bottle breaking sound, heavy jama compositions would become an important and recognizable tagline than the face behind these classic records. Jay Q’s success would lead to another step in his career. He would start his own label, Q-Lex Entertainment with DJ Lexus, signing Shiloh in the process.
According to unsubstantiated reports, Shiloh was brought in to compete with Tinny and by extension, Last 2. After all, a bit of competition would not spoil the broth that is Ga rap. The signing of Shiloh was not only a business decision. It was also an ushering into the realm of a beef that lasted a few years; involving Tinny and Da Last 2 and their industry competitors Jay Q and his Q-Lex Entertainment.
Tinny and Buk Bak
Despite the alleged plan of Jay Q to compete with Tinny, the tiff was further heightened by Buk Bak, the rap duo who had worked with Jay Q from 1998 on their breakthrough single and album, ‘Ko Me Ke Kena’’. The relationship between the two was thus inseparable. While researching this piece, I found out that this beef was occasioned by Buk Bak on their song ‘’Tankase (Muji)’’.
Found on their album, ‘Gold Coast’ (2004), ‘Tankase’ (Muji), the fifth track off the album featured Castro, who was at that time managed by Jay Q. Buk Bak would indicate the song was to aid a sanitation campaign they were spearheading. The lyrics were about the dangers of observing poor sanitary practices. For Ghanaian readers, the term “Tankase” is a popular one. It’s a corruption of the word “Town Council”, a colonial establishment set up to administer a particular locale. It’s similar to today’s district or metropolitan assembly. The term would be used to describe sanitation officers who went round to supervise, charge or arrest people who flouted sanitation rules. Overtime, the locals would corrupt the word town council people (sanitation officers) to Tankase. In the Ga lexicon, muji refers to dirt of filth.
Though on face value the title of the song and the explanation offered was devoid of any malicious intent, critics would interpret the lyrics as subliminal shots directed at Tinny. This suspicion would gain much currency when Tinny crafted a hook on a response song referencing a line used by Ronnie Coaches, one-half of Buk Bak on “Tankase”. In fact, Ronnie, name dropping Aletse, the moniker of Tinny made the suspicion more valid. The translated verse by Ronnie went like this:
‘’Hey naa aleste [See this too known or sharp guy]/…Ni etso muji atse [he’s become a dirty person]/Fee see eijie ketse [Yet, he still acts like he knows it all].
The underlining reason for Ronnie Coaches’ or Buk Bak’s beef is still unclear. All explanations have been speculative. According to some, a scuffle at a club between Tinny and Ronnie was the triggering factor. It must be stated that, except for Castro’s verse that was performed in Fante, Prince Bright and Ronnie delivered their verses in Ga.
With rap being a contact sport where ego and acclaim matter, a hint of spite from a colleague is regarded as a declaration of war. That was the outcome between Tinny and Buk Bak. Feeling touched by their song ‘’Tankase (Muji’’), Tinny would respond to the Buk Bak alleged diss record with ‘’Aletse’’ which was produced by Hammer. Tinny on the song’s intro sounded like a man who knew his position: that he does not belong; an acceptance that validated Buk Bak’s assertions (See this too known) on ‘’Tankase’’.
‘’I’m aware when the elite are on the move, I’m not included/ I don’t have the legs/This is Aletse/ I’m aware I’m not handsome/Even if I’m called (invited), I don’t know I’ve been called/ I don’t even get close’’, Tinny would assert on ‘’Aletse’. As the beat rode, his subliminal shots began to form, clearly indicating who he was aiming at. Jay Q took one on the opening verse: ‘’I’m very ok (fine) with everyone/ I hold no grudges/ But it’s only a drunkard who breaks bottles’’. He would add on the hook: ‘Yes, “the all-knowing” (too known) guy, they’re now calling me the dirty guy’.
Even though Tinny acknowledged his years in mainstream hiplife paled in comparison to that of Buk Bak, he knew he had more clout than they did. And he was not the least humble to emphasize that on ‘’Aletse’’. In Tinny’s estimation, being a muji (‘’filthy’’) does not impact his status as echoed by the words: ‘’When did I arrive for them to be calling me a landlord?/With all the Ghanaian ladies surrounding me with my filth (dirt)’’.
On the second verse, Tinny called for peace within the ranks of hiplife, where conflicts are eschewed and unity forged. In his view, any beef among artists would rather short chain the industry. He used his case as a reference point, rapping the words: ‘’O God Almighty/You’re the head of everything/Hear my cry because these people are destroying the game (they’re calling me the dirty guy)’, before closing the verse with an advice ‘never mock a sick person’.
If Tinny was more measured in his response, then Quata, who was featured on the song was more obvious as to whom they were aiming ‘’The whole world is dancing to Hammer’s beat not ‘jama’/ The ‘’Tankase’’ (town council) is here/ You’re making the place dirty, just throw this rubbish away”, Quata would assert.
Castro, featured on Buk Bak’s ‘Tankase’ and whom many referred to as the 50Cent of Ghana was not spared by Tinny either. On ‘Kaa Bu Ame’ (translated ‘Don’t Mind Them’), Timmy teased that 50 Cent was dancing ‘Mapuka’. This was in reference to Castro’s ‘Toffee” music video where he was seen in his G-Unit t-shirt laying out some dance moves over a Jay Q’s jama beat. To buttress the point that Hammer’s beat production was better that Jay Q’s, at least from Tinny’s point of view, the catchy phrase “The whole world dancing to Hammer’s beat not ‘jama’’’ would find its way in other Tinny songs.
Tinny and Jay Q
One would have thought the détente called by Tinny on ‘’Aletse’’ would end his beef with Buk Bak and Jay Q. But, the ‘’son of Ricky and Naabadu Quaynor’’ would not live by his words. He would take a shot at Jay Q once again on a song off Obrafour’s ‘’Execution Diary’’. The Execution Diary was produced by Hammer at Hush Hush Studios. It featured a host of rappers from the Last 2 camp, both famous and non-famous. It also had songs by artists who were not affiliated to Hammer’s label.
As Mohammed Khan Adae, then General Manager of Execution Entertainment, Obrafour’s label revealed prior the compilation; “Obrafour had released hit albums including ‘Pae Muka’, ‘Asem Sebe’, ‘Tofa’ which had ‘Oye Ohene’… There were so many boys at Hush Hush Studios where Hammer was based at the time, waiting for Hammer to record their albums but since he (Obrafuor) believed in the talents he saw every day at the studio, he went into talks with Hammer and work started in early 2004”. A disclosure he made during an interview with Enewsgh.com in September, 2013.
It was on “Heko Ejor Ko” (I Believe I Can Fly) that Tinny turned his anger toward Jay Q and DJ Lexus, the founders of Q-Lex Entertainment with a line in his verse that ranks among the Top 3 one-liner diss in Ghanaian beef history. Tinny said a lot on “Heko Ejor Ko”- he reminded his opponents of his superior talent and his status. But, none is as memorable as the liner “Jen fed jo/Hammer beats jee jama”, which literally translate as ‘’the whole world is dancing to Hammer’s beats not jama’’. Hammer was noted for his hip hop sounding, speaker shuttering production. Here, Tinny was taking a swipe at Jay Q and his highly popular jama influenced beat, which he deemed inferior to what Hammer was making.
Jay Q did not directly respond to Tinny’s jabs. He focused his attention on producing and growing the reach of Shiloh who had a decent run, though it never measured up to the influence that Tinny had on the rap scene at that time. A feature from Tinny was guaranteed to blow up a song. His rapping abilities aside, his overall outlook – looks and style appealed to many youths. He was like A$AP Rocky of his day outside of rap.
In 2006, news emerged that the two feuding parties had patched up their differences and were even prepared to work together. Jay Q described how Tinny dropped by the studio during a recording session for Queens Block, a hiplife group in an interview with Modernghana,com:
‘’Tinny came to the studio shook hands and greeted everybody in the studio, and went into the booth. After he came out of the booth, he personally called me and asked if his verse was ok. From there, everything went on well’’.
As the years rolled by, both Tinny and Jay Q would amass both fame and success. While Jay Q immigrated to the US to pursue other interests, Tinny also saw a slump in his career, one he is still trying to resuscitate. The beef, however did not mar the relationship between Hammer and Jay Q, at least not professionally. The two seem to have enjoyed their time as forerunners in the music production space. We hope the proposal for a joint concert to celebrate Hammer and Jay Q for their decade’s long contribution to Ghana music would happen soon.
Words By: Swaye Kidd with Ga translation by Aubrey Mensa and Larry Andy