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Is Life Living Records the Most Influential Label of 2020?

2020 might have been a fucked up year, globally. The COVID-19 pandemic, which engulfed the world from the aught of January 2020 had left in its trail devastating consequences. The vermin has devoured almost everything on its path. The human casualties are in the millions, global economic gains have been eroded, jobs have been lost, and businesses have shut down. No aspect of human life has been spared. The effects, like a burst pipe, cannot be capped. At least, not anytime soon.

The entertainment front has also not been spared. The global lockdown has meant no concerts for artists. The income streams from festival bookings and pop-up concerts, press runs for projects have all halted. Despite connecting with fans via the medium of social media, the pockets of artists has taken a big hit.

The pandemic and lockdown however did not affect music releases. Artistes & labels still distributed their works and led their listeners to various streaming sites including Boomplay. With many people stuck at home, the chances of them consuming music or streaming videos increased in folds. In an article published on techcrunch.com, music revenue across digital streaming services like Spotify increased by 24% courtesy paid subscriptions.

In Ghana, the show never stopped. Our artists got busy with their releases, taking advantage of the ‘new normal’, as the clime has come to be known. Both A-List artists and up comers ensured the musical tap kept flowing.

From the haze of excitement that is bellowing emerged a music label, and its unrelenting crop of artists whose drive and bravado have turned them into one of the most exciting collectives in the country. Their music has crossed the shores of their city and the country, attracting music fans in Europe, the U.S.A, and music executives around the globe, as well as notable publications who are now placing their beam on the emerging cultural trend.

Kumasi-based Life Living Records is at the forefront of this wave. Known locally by the players as “Asakaa”, the wave is known across as drill music, a variant of Hiphop popular in the UK. Drill music, birthed in the city of Chicago was made popular, in recent times by the late New York rapper Pop Smoke. The adoption of the sound by Life Living Records artists – City Boy, O’Kenneth, Jay Bahd, Reggie, Kwaku DMC and Yaw Tog (formerly on the label) – and its growing popularity in Ghana is testament to how rappers could influence the music space in less than 6 months.

Life Living Records, co- founded by Rabby Jones and Sean Lifer, was to serve as a studio for the rappers in the neighbourhood of Santasi, Kumasi. As the roster grew with the likes of Kwaku DMC, City Boy, O’Kenneth, Reggie, Yaw Tog and Jay Bahd, they decided to pursue their version of drill music inspired by Pop Smoke’s hit song “Dior”, thus changing their musical course from the straitjacket hip hop angled by Lil Wayne, 2Pac, and 50 Cent. Pop Smoke’s successful hit song was their Thomas Edison moment.

Before the Life Living artists and the “Asakaa” or “Kumericans” would be felt, Dead Peepol had scored a viral hit with their drill heavy, afro-fusion record “Otan Hunu”. The success of the song propelled the sub-genre from the enclave of Kumasi to national prominence. The Life Living artists, who have been on their drill shit seized the visibility, and like an entrepreneur seeing an opportunity to becoming a market leader soon sunk their fangs into this inspiring wave. That has indeed paid off as Life Living Records and their artists are influencing the hip hop game.

Sean Lifer and Kwaku DMC, co-leaders of the collective, have been on their “Asakaa” wave as far back as 2018 with the release of the former’s, “The Life of a Lifer” tape. With a series of other noteworthy singles and EPs, including “Off White Flow”, they succeeded in keeping their names afloat in Kumasi while growing their audience.

From L-R: City Boy, Sean Lifer, Kwaku DMC, O’Kenneth, Reggie, JAY BAHD

O’Kenneth and Reggie teamed up to release an 8-track EP “STRAIGHT OUTTA KUMERICA”, this year, with tracks like “Ya Parke” and “MOB” gaining attention in the music central of Ghana; Accra, courtesy YouTube algorithms and soon became fan favorites. Though the celebrated designer Virgil Abloh was a fan and voluntarily used his platform to champion their songs, it took “Sore” by Yaw Tog featuring his fellow mates to capture the imagination of the country and the world.

The magic of “Sore” was down to many factors: the arresting drill beat, the rhymes and the infectious energy that their voices emitted. The accompanying video – raw, low budgeted but exhilarating – helped sell the song. A flurry of Youtube videos by non-Ghanaian vloggers soon saturated the internet. These music reviewers were more intrigued by the red bandanas and so-called “gang signs” the Asakaa boys were exhibiting in the videos. They also appreciated the song for its beat and not the lyrics (language barrier). For most Ghanaians with a grasp of the Twi language appreciate the depth of their lyrics. Rap nerds applauded their flows and melodies.

The success of “Sore” silenced the critics of the genre and converted some who were initially feet dragging. Now, everybody is awake to the sweep “Asakaa” is making, a sub-genre that was dismissed as a passing fad. To sustain the flare that “Sore” has ignited, JAY BAHD released “Condemn”, another street anthem featuring Reggie, O’Kenneth and Kwaku DMC last month. (DMC’s verse is short but classic). 2021 promises to be a greater year for the boys.

If one is to consider the level of doubt some people had about Asakaa music, the resolute and obstinacy of Life Living Records and her artists to continue pushing the drill sound, albeit the initial scepticism is something great, epic and testament to not derailing from your vision. Sometimes, the timing might not be right for a new wave thus delaying its “catch-on” rate. Asakaa, however, did not take that long to catch on.

To witness the embracing of the sound by both established rappers and upcoming artists including known dancehall acts over a short period, goes to confirm the impact Life Living Records and the artists on their roster are having. What makes this worth talking about is the fact that Rabby Jones chose not to pursue the more attractive, vibely and easily recognizable afropop sound but Asakaa or drill, which is not a popular genre.

Asaaka or drill is still at its nascent stage. The seed planted by Life Living Records is germinating; it’s gradually blossoming, taking roots through the many drill tunes being released by our hip hop artists. How huge the stem would be is a matter of time. Of course, Lynx Entertainment is having a good 2020 with its two main artists. But, it would be foolhardy for anyone to dismiss the impact and success of Life Living Records this year in pushing a hip hop sub-genre the way they have done.

At a time when gloom hangs over us, the artists on Life Living gave us something to be proud of, and rekindle once again, our love for rap, this time with their Asakaa branded hip-hop.

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