Opinion: What’s Happening To EL, Chale?

A six worded tweet was all it took to attract comments that ranged from those of best wishes to pure disparagement, from followers and non-followers alike. The tweet came from EL. It was simply an expression of his desire to become the first Ghanaian rapper to win a Grammy.

EL (born Elorm Adablah) can be described as a veteran musician – if we should count his days with the Skillions in the early 2000s, when the group was ushering in a new wave of music they dubbed GH Rap. But, his commercial breakthrough took many years to come. It happened in 2011, following the release of Sarkodie’s azonto-driven single, ‘’You Go Kill Me’’ – produced by EL and Nshona Muzik (the proponent of the Azonto sound). In addition to production credits, EL also featured on the song’s hook. It was that song that shot him into the limelight, marking a very good music career spanning thus far, two albums, four mixtapes and numerous singles.
The tweet, together with the responses it provoked, especially the negative ones, revealed a certain sentiment that led my friend Aubrey (@AubreyMensa) to pose a question: were these ‘hater comments’ born out of malice for EL or did the respondents truly think he isn’t cut for such an achievement. An answer in the affirmative would fit both questions, considering the lacklustre nature of his recent creative output and how much polarizing EL has been in recent times.

In December of 2017 when XXL Magazine Africa published its list of Africa’s 10 best rappers, EL took offence at his omission from the list. Taking to twitter, he expressed his sentiments nakedly, his expression laced with expletives. He went on a twitter bashing freak against ‘trolls’ and ‘haters’ who questioned him on why he felt deserving of a spot on the list.
Granted, he released the fourth installment of his BAR (Best African Rapper) mixtape series plus an album along with a string of singles and performances across the country and outside, it needs to be said that: EL’s impact in the Ghanaian music space especially within the last year has waned.  His feats registered lesser impact, if any, on the minds of many music enthusiasts – except his fans, perhaps. The saving grace for him was his crowning as ‘’Artist of the Year’’ at the 2016 edition of the Vodafone Ghana Music Awards (VGMA).
Aside his hit, the gospel-toned ‘Koko’, EL hasn’t scored any significantly impactful material in quite a while. It is worth stating again that the rapper/producer who ‘installed’ azonto (as he once declared), has become a catch-up rapper than an actual game changing influencer. The Azonto sound, despite its short-lived shelf life, changed the music scene. It brought global attention to the Ghanaian music scene thanks to its ingenious dance steps and house music qualities. (The fast paced nature of Azonto earned it a place on the playlists of many DJs across the globe, since the adrenaline exuded by the infectious sound fell within the soundtrack of the music policy of many a European club).

If there’s an accolade worth stamping on EL, it’s one of versatility. Over the years, he has evolved from a rapper to an artist who is singing more (not excellent crooning but good enough to get you to listen). The afro-pop/afrobeats craze has since swayed many towards that genre. And it makes sense, commercially speaking. However, the problem is that, most of these afro pop songs he has released thus far have merely scratched the surface of the charts instead of engraving their spots. In short, they have received less critical acclaim. Compared to ‘Koko’, some of these songs have only flown under the radar without notice.

Aliens sometimes vanish from the earth when they are under threat, just to emerge more formidable.

EL endured a few mishaps last year- including cutting ties with BBnZ, the record label he had been on since 2010- a move that many didn’t anticipate. Although EL had reportedly expressed very critical opinions on the lack of support from BBnZ towards promoting his music, I for one felt it was one of those unsophisticated antics ahead of an album release. He had promised the release of WAVs (West African Vibes) in the latter end of 2017. In fact, he was on YFM’s Ryse N Syne assuring the host of the show, MsNaa, that WAVs was done with.

A couple of weeks after his complaint, he announced his departure to VONation. During the latter part of his days with BBnZ, EL released a bizarre video for ‘Mi Na Bo Po’, a song that had had its nectar sipped out entirely by radio DJs. The Phamous Philms video was a huge disappointment; a far departure from what was expected from a well-regarded music figure. Watching the video, I kept wondering who proposed the video concept and who passed it as a good idea? It was truly underwhelming.
The run of songs with minimal impact didn’t stop there: he released a sexual innuendo of a song- titled ‘Abaa’ – which had a good groove. Although the song was, again, not hugely popular within the commercial music space, its accompanying video was ridiculed online for its lack of creativity. The video for ‘’Abaa’’ was a Kanye West ‘Fade’ parody by all accounts. As if that wasn’t enough, he had a public spat with the producer Kuvie over the release and wrongful credit of another producer as creator for “See Me Sometime’’,  another song that failed to grow the EL brand.

As things stand -considering his switch to VONation- one can’t say with certainty when his WAVs album will land on our shores. He has already released singles which could potentially be on WAVs. And that is where my apprehensions for the album lay. First, some of the singles are as flaccid as it could get. Songs like ‘Overdose’, ‘Pay Like A Boss’ and “Vim Yaazo’ are poor renditions unexpected from an artist of EL’s repute. The songs are gloriously annoying in their cheesy amateurishness. The vocals couldn’t be saved by the auto-tune that embalm them.

The praise-y ‘‘Ayeyi’’ owes its grace to 2DopeNation who delivered a very remarkable hook. ‘’Ayeyi’’ stands out as a better song than most of all the singles he has released in recent times; together with with the hope-filled ‘Joy’. What’s noticeable is that EL is following the template of ‘’Koko’’ with his recent releases. Perhaps, it’s these unimpressive releases that led to Shatta Wale’s open criticism clad as advice for EL: to make music for his fans rather than satisfying friends.
Isn’t it curious that his albums and singles which hitherto dominated radio and DJ playlists are less prominent in recent times? EL’s hard work and desire to succeed is not in doubt. What, then, is accounting for these kinds of output -in both audio and videos? Such lackluster displays would no doubt give critics -among them those who thought he didn’t deserve his VGMA award- a reason to drag him in the mud.
This critique isn’t borne out of hate for EL, as some of his ELiens may feel. This is from an individual who honestly wants him to win. I’ve been a fan of EL from his Skillions days till date; and therefore have watched his growth as an artist. His talent is definitely not in dispute. He’s up there with any of the top notch rappers one could mention.
My concern is simply this: should EL fall off, it would be a blow to the rap scene considering all his efforts at helping grow Ghana’s music to the rest of the world. As the Akan proverb goes, he who is cutting the path can’t tell if the path is crooked. Again, fans who proclaim love for an artist must be brave to tell them if they think their songs and videos are subpar.
If he can, EL should do some introspection regarding his musical output in recent times, refuel and come back with new level of energy and creativity. After all, aliens sometimes vanish from the earth when they are under threat, just to emerge more formidable.

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