ASEM Versus TEMA: A Detailed Investigation

If there is anything good that this Coronavirus induced global lockdown has contributed to the entertainment scene, it is the fact that it has made people creative. Rappers and DJs have found a way to spend time with their fans via social media. Instagram Live has become the concert hall where many go to have a good time. In the US, within the hip hop community, Producer battles have become a thing. Music producers and songwriters have often met online to show off their works in a friendly but competitive way.

That concept has been replicated in Ghana. Rapper Sarkodie, borrowing from what is happening elsewhere, has been organizing a series of producer battle meets or #BehindDaHitz. Not only did the producers show off their extensive catalogues and overall production credits, the audience were treated to some good stories which we would not have been privy to if not for this COVID-19 lockdown.

In the midst of all the excitement and friendly banters, another battle was being stoked. Some artists and producers came after Sarkodie for a variety of reasons – from allegedly not paying producers to refusing to deliver a verse after making a request. In a surprise move, Sarkodie would release a song titled ‘’Sub Zero’’, where he partly addressed the issue including a string of subliminal shots directed at the rappers who called him out.

One name that kept cropping up during this producer battle, especially when Richie Mensah and Killbeatz were scheduled to face-off was Asem. Although out of the scene for years, many recalled with nostalgia how he singlehandedly beefed with Tema artists. With the beam of good will on him, Asem, without any provocation would record a freestyle where he threw a jab at Sarkodie. This particular jab was one of the reasons Sarkodie recorded his ‘’Sub Zero’’ freestyle.

Since we are in a quarantine season and the issue of Asem and Sarkodie has resurfaced, let’s go down memory lane into how the whole drama between Asem and Tema rappers evolved. This article brings you a timeline of events that ultimately led to this beef.

It continues to be a mystery in establishing exactly what instigated the beef between Asem and artists from Tema. However, there are so many conspiracy theories as to how this lyrical war, which almost turned violent started. This article will chronicle a timeline of songs, some which went unnoticed as diss songs and also highlight some of these conspiracy theories for the purpose of context.

The reality is, a musical disagreement between Kwaw Kese (who hails from Agona Suwedru but resided in Tema) and Richie Mensah’s label, Lynx Entertainment coupled with a sour relationship between Asem and R2Bees gradually metamorphosized into an Asem verses Tema beef.

Let me explain:

Part I: Asem Vs Kwaw Kesse

Asem (L) and Kwaw Kese

During the Crunk era of hip hop, specifically the music scene in Ghana from 2009 – 2014, many credited Richie Mensah as the ‘pioneer’ of this musical revolution. Kwaw Kese, who was the most popular rapper during that time and also the victor in his lyrical feud with Kontihene, was not too pleased with the accolade being bestowed on Richie. He accused the Lynx Entertainment Label of trying to lay claim to a global hip hop trend which was also being replicated in Ghana.

It was asserted that Kwaw Kesse, during a television interview made “insulting” comments on the issue, something which offended the Lynx team. To the surprise of the Lynx team, Kwaw walked into their studio right after the interview and recorded “Who Be You?” which featured Professor Jay from Tanzania in 2009. Although the label was pissed at Kwaw’s earlier comments, the situation was treated as business over personal sentiments.

Kwaw Kese’s feature on Edem’s breakthrough “Keva” which also had Sarkodie and Ruth (of Mentor fame) would further ignite the brewing feud. Kwaw poked the Lynx crew with this unforgettable lyric; “Mo na mo di ba yɛ, n’anso yɛ na yɛ nu hit” (To wit: You brought it but we made it a hit, a reference to the crunk style of music).

Feeling slighted by Kwaw Kesse, Asem stood up for the label and jabbed Kwaw on the remix of Tinny’s “Ringtone”. The remix featured artists like Okyeame Kwame and Richie, who produced the record. Asem deliberately mimicked the flow pattern used by Kwaw on “Keva” dropping his now famous line: “Yɛ na yɛ di baayɛ, yɛn na yɛ yɛnu hit/ Mu na mu bɛ faayɛ, ɛna mu yɛ nu shit”. Literally translated as ‘we made this style a hit, you picked it and made a shit out of our creation’.

Part II: Asem Vs R2Bees

Asem Vs R2Bees

The conspiracy theories on what set off the heat between Asem and R2Bees varied. Some claimed that PaeDae,the frontman of R2Bees, and Asem were fighting over a girl. Others say an incident broke out in a club which had the two go at it each other. I am sure there are more theories that underline the beef between the two. What was clear was this: Asem and PaeDae were never cool.

On the musical front, R2Bees were the first to throw shade at Asem with a line: “Asem Maame” on hook of their “Tema” song. Sarkodie, who was featured on the song delivered what seemed like an attack on Asem, Bradez and the entire Lynx team.

Asem would respond to ‘’Tema’’ on ‘’Saving The Game’’, an unofficial remix of Obour and Okyeame Kwame’s “Killing the Game”. He would make mockery of an alleged shot thrown at him by PaeDae referring to him as a “Class 1” rapper”. He explained that, although he was in Class 1, he was seen as the head of the pack when assembled. He also made it known on his verse that he was being “beefed” from “Agona to Tema” (a reference to Kwaw, R2Bees and Sarkodie).

Part III: ASEM Vs Sarkodie

On Sarkodie’s “More”, off his debut ‘’Makyɛ’’ album, which featured Kwaw Kese, the man insane (Kwaw) took aim at Asem and his Lynx team. Interestingly, this was the first time in the beef that a name was mentioned.

Sarkodie and Kwaw Kese would collaborate again on the Lil’ Shaker produced “Da Message”. It was obvious who both rappers were trying to hit at with their lyrics. The lyrics of Sarkodie’s “Road to ‘MAMA’s Freestyle” gave further indication of his intent: he was now a full participant in this Asem Versus Tema beef.

To the best of my knowledge, no direct response was made by Asem to Sarkodie on any of his rebuttal verses as at that time. Well, the closest was “Behave” which featured Black Prophet. Asem responded to the “foolery” directed at him and his team on “More” and “Da Message”. “You no be ma paddy make you behave”. Some however, felt Asem’s verse was directed at Kwaw rather than Sarkodie .

Asem Vs Sarkodie

What occasioned Sarkodie’s entry into this beef is unclear. Could it be the rapper’s ego; his desire for supremacy in the rap scene in Ghana or was it that he felt he needed to be loyal to the hood by supporting his colleagues from Tema. Well, I think the latter sounded tenable.

Sources close to the Lynx camp were surprised as to why the then-upcoming star, Sarkodie, would involve himself in this feud. Although he was liked by many within the Lynx camp, his participation led to a gradual loss of likeness towards him. If my memory serves me right, his only encounter with the Lynx team at that time was on a UN or World Bank sponsored health campaign song recorded at the Lynx studio with Irene Logan, then signed to Lynx.

Kwaw Kese’s torment of Asem would continue on “Killer Bɛ Wu Last Show’’, where he teased Asem for being “broke”, thus his haste in signing a contract with Glo Communication as one of their brand ambassadors.  

Not long afterwards, R2Bees. who were still not done with Asem released another diss track, “Tema 2 (Fair Warning)”, a sequel to “Tema”. It featured usual suspect Sarkodie and R2Bees’ affiliate Yaw Siki.

No words could explain the bundle of joy the Lynx team shared when “No More Kpayor”, which was supposed to be just a response to all the subtle hits Asem, and by extension the label were receiving became a nationwide hit. Asem’s “No More Kpayor” was and is still a huge record today. Inside word had it that, Asem was requested to take out certain lines because it was deemed too vulgar when the song was being recorded.

To the Lynx team, the song was a game changer and its impact was victory over the Tema squad. ‘’No More Kpayor’’ was not just an all-out diss song, in the context of how diss rap songs sounded. It was a diss song that found its way onto mainstream radio and the clubs, thanks to its infectious beats, catchy and sing-along hook and Asem’s well delivered lyrics. Long before Drake made “Back to Back”, Asem had set the template on how to make a diss record with pop record aesthetics.

Though the song was about laying out his credentials as the best rapper of that period, the jabs were direct and glaring. He would take aim at R2Bees and Sarkodie in a condescending tone. Lines like:

‘’Lil skinny dude trying to act tough/ Tinny bɛ siɛ abuumɔ alo rough/ I get dababee fans chale you be low cost’’ were shades to R2Bees. For Sarkodei, Asem had a bar or two for him: For the other squad they don’t deserve to be mentioned/ Puss in boots craving for attention/ Cry-babies waiting for detention”.

Part VI: Asem Vs Other Matters

In 2011, the relationship between Asem and Lynx Entertainment was almost non-existent. The reasons for the break-up are still nebulous. Since going their separate ways, none of the parties have spoken in details about the matter. What we have gathered so far are rumoured and unconfirmed stories. It was during the break-up period, with Asem’s career hanging in the balance that a rape allegation was levelled against him. Yaa Pono, also from Tema, took advantage of the rape allegations to engage himself in this beef; taking swipes at Asem on a song he titled “Filla’’.

Coincidentally, R2Bees released “Bayla Trap”, another song that featured their usual ally Sarkodie. The song title and lyrics seemed to suggest that a plan had been excellently executed. That is, their hatched plan had indeed caught it’s intended prey. It was alleged R2Bees masterminded the rape allegations against Asem. They ‘backed’ this claim with a line from Paedae’s “Tema Motorway Freestyle” which featured Efya. “Your thought was cheap, a sex scam”, PaeDae would rap on the song. I recall Peace FM’s Akwesi Aboagye interviewing the victim on his Entertainment Review show when the issue came to light.

Asem would present a response to his rape charge on “Moati” which featured Dr Lay Low. He indicated in a verse that “very soon we will see the true story”. Clearly, Asem had a strong suspicion of foul play on the overall rape charge levelled against him. In the end, nothing substantive was established thus Asem walking without a blemish to his reputation.

Between 2010 and 2012, Asem would released a string of satirical songs at the end of each year under his Fylla series: Fylla, Last Song and Last Fylla. These songs reviewed trended events within each annual year. Though comical, people read different meanings into some of his lyrics, considering them as swipes directed at his Tema “friends”.

So who won?

For Asem to have gone to war single-handedly against the top-ranked rappers in Tema, and by extension in Ghana and emerge unscathed, lyrically speaking, is enough grounds to confirm him as the victor of this battle. Unlike the Tema artists who bounded together and launched an attack, no one from Accra, including his own label mates came to support him on wax. This ‘victory’ was an attestation to his formidability as a rap contender.

Part V: Aftermath of the Beef and Career Paths of The Major Actors:

After the unsuccessful release of his third studio album “Tough Times Don’t Last” in 2014 and what seemed to be a break from the music scene, Asem has since relocated to the United States. He cites personal reasons for this decision. His absence rendered him irrelevant within the music scene. He has not released any big song since then. His last big record was Bye Bye featuring Kwabena Kwabena in 2012. Most people speak of Asem in the realm of nostalgia.

While Sarkodie and R2Bees continue to dominate the Ghanaian music scenes; releasing albums and singles, headlining shows and winning awards, same can’t be said about Kwaw Kesse. Although relevant to some extent, he is not as dominating as compared to his other colleagues from Tema: Sarkodie and R2Bees

Words by: Safo (@forksafo) and Swaye Kidd

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