Hearing a highly respected artist mention on a song, his respect for a colleague artiste is endearing. It is even remarkable when the artiste who is getting the props is not hugely popular. It’s like hearing Kendrick Lamar mention Killer Mike’s name as doing authentic hip hop yet his albums aren’t hitting platinum standards although hip hop fans say they miss ‘when hip hop was rapping’.
In recent times, some A-List Ghanaian rappers have given props to ‘unknown’ rappers whose talent they respect. EL catalogued a few on the second verse of Best African Rapper off BAR I. Wanlov hasn’t hidden his love for Yaa Pono. M3nsa, I recall mentioned Yaw Siki as one of his favourite rappers in a tweet.
Sarkodie on his $25,000 Ace Hood guest featured single, New Guy, rapped a line which translate as ‘rappers who move me nowadays/Shout out to Senavoe’. That Senavoe is no other than X.O Senavoe, one of the best MCs to touch the mic in recent times and one who commands respect among his peers.
X.O, as he is known, grabbed attention somewhere in 2012 with what could pass as a classic song. Taxi Music showcased a rapper who understood the art of rap. X.O’s rhymes, confidence, boastfulness, punchlines and wordplay was enviable. The first time I heard the song was on YFM in 2012-on Y Lounge which Jeremie Gershong hosted. I immediately assumed he was Nigerian or American with Ghanaian roots.
Before Ghana noticed him, X.O was making waves on the Nigerian hip hop scene, featuring on BET Cypher, Nigeria. He was hobnobbing and getting props from Nigerian rap kings like MI, Naeto C, Ice Prince among others.
The lawyer cum rapper, following the rave reviews from ‘Taxi Music’ and few singles – XO, a tribute for his late mom, a remix of Chris Brown’s ‘My Last’ announced the release of ‘X point O’ Mixtape which we are still waiting for. X.O, however, released a single Oluwadele with Efya to keep us excited.
Late last year, X.O Senavoe got noticed on the rap radar after a hiatus, dropping a new single, ‘Ghost’ produced by Gaffacci. What got people paying attention was the showcase of another side of X.O which many didn’t know or thought of as impossible.
X.O was heard rapping in Twi on Ghost and going ham with his flow about killing competitors lyrically. As I kept listening to the song, I noticed X.O touched on a very important nerve prominent yet mostly not much discussed per rap music (not hiplife).
In Ghana, there are two types of rappers. Those who rap in the local dialects-either Twi, Ewe or any other tongue- and those who rap predominantly in English with a bit of pidgin to spice it up.
Often, the Twi rappers get traction than the English rappers on mainstream mediums. And this, some English rappers have described as unfair. The reasons proffered for this situation include the ridiculous claim that the English rappers can’t do better than what the US rappers are doing. Simply, you can’t be a local Jay Z, Eminem or Kanye West.
On Ghost, X.O Senavoe became a spokesman for many of his colleagues who get overlooked despite their incredible talents. He spoke about the frustrations of English rappers-one of the many themes he touched on. To let you better appreciate the things he spoke about, I would address it under 4 subject matters. I would provide lyrics-from the 2nd verse- to buttress the explanations.
ENGLISH RAPPERS ARE OVERLOOKED
As highlighted in the paragraph above, English rappers are overlooked mostly for being ‘too American’ than Ghanaians (locals). The result is that most get frustrated and quit. Those who continue remain ‘underground’. X.O drummed home the point at the end of his first verse & before the 2nd began:
‘You can overlook me with awards and the praise /press (VGMAs)/ I don’t give a whoo! Y’all niccas know that I spray/ On every list I should be Top 5/ If you no dey understand/ Drop die’
What XO is pointing at is the fact that one can have all the talent but would be overlooked when the best rapper list is compiled or at awards shows. It wasn’t until recently that the Ghana Music Awards introduced ‘Best Hip Hop Artist’ and ‘Best Hip Hop Song’ categories in the annual event after much talk. That notwithstanding, the bitter truth is it’s hard to get recognized as an English bar spitter.
TOO MUCH ENGLISH DOESN’T PAY
When XO, in the 2nd verse of Ghost rapped the lines below, it was not without a reason. He drummed home a very solid point many rapping in English have seen unfold in their careers
Sorry, I’m African right?/So, I gotta spit something we relate to/ Like if I rap in English even if I’m the greatest ever/ Dem no go rate you’.
XO then proceeded to establish his ‘Ghanaian-ness’ by blasting out a 16 bar in unadulterated Ashanti Twi.
This line buttressed a point made by EL in his Ten Commandments where he pointed out ‘I had to be a sell out before I sold out’. Other rappers such as JaySo and M.anifest, who were all rapping in English have found ways to ‘localise’ their music. It seems to be the case that unless you become a sellout, chances of an English speaking rapper get the attention like his Twi peers is near impossible.
BLOW UP AND GET ALL THE LOVE:
Recently there was an uproar of social media when reggae superstar Rocky Dawuni nabbed a Grammy nomination. Amidst the celebratory tweets, some pointed out how suddenly everybody is praising Rocky. Some fans were offended that people have suddenly become fans of Mr. Dawuni. One group who got bashed for being hypocritical was the radio presenters who never played his song.
On Ghost, XO emphasized this ‘success has many friends’ refrain. English rappers don’t get support, even those who are breaking the ceiling and getting recognized international. Blitz The Ambassador is selling shows yet many don’t know him despite starting from here.
So, when XO opined ‘yes you know it/Don’t you know it?/ Same suckers who forget you at your lowest/ Them go holla when you blow/I’m on the edge men/Don’t push me’ he was pointing out his frustration at the lack of support from those who should and most importantly the sudden love you get.
THE HYPOCRISY OF THE SYSTEM:
As already stated, Ghanaians and for that matter, those on radio exhibit an element of hypocrisy per their music choices. Artistes here would have to beg, pay DJs and TV stations to have their songs played on radio or videos shown on TV. Yet, these DJs will play hip hop from American artistes and show their videos for free. The English speaking rappers get overlooked and disrespected as if they are doing something awkward and strange.
Shout out to everybody that never gave up on us…I love my people/ But, we don’t respect our own.
One is not saying English rappers should be supported even if their music is trash. The best ones deserve the push and support. JaySo dropped a solid album and how many DJs are playing? I’m sure if he’s nominated for a BET, you would hear the plaudits and accolades.
People should understand that not every Ghanaian English rapper has command over the local dialects. They can’t express themselves excellently in their mother tongue when it comes to rap like they do in English. This however, should not be criminalized by those with the power by refusing to play their songs on radio. Like we do for the Future’s, Drake’s, Kendrick Lamar’s or J. Coles, we must show them love as well.
On Ghost, the world discovered that X.O, unlike other rappers, has command over the language-English- as well as Ashanti, Akuapem and Fante versions. His choice to rap in English has served him good as seen by the huge audience he has in Nigeria and South Africa. And in Ghana, it is growing steadily.
On Ghost, XO not only expressed his personal views about the unfairness in the music scene, he brought, from the whispering chambers, the tumor that is afflicting and killing the dreams of artistes- especially locals rapping in English into the public sphere.