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A Pulse interview with Ghanaian superstar rapper Sarkodie

As music in Africa is concerned, Sarkodie has won it all, he has done it all, and he keeps doing it. From releasing his 7th studio album ‘Jamz’ in 2022 which featured a crop of Afrobeats budding superstars to kicking off 2023 with a historic official remix of a Bob Marley classic, Sarkodie remains at the head of Africa’s Hip Hop table.

Like many, especially fans outside Ghana, my first interaction with Sarkodie’s music was the energetic dance record ‘U Go Kill Me’ on which he featured EL. The record is a classic that tells a story of the soundscape at the time and over a decade later, Sarkodie has been able to morph with trends and changes in the industry.

His latest offering is a remix of Bob Marley and The Wailers timeless record ‘Stir It Up’. Sarkodie delivered two verses that straddle the world-famous chorus and this composition and the moment that created it was described as one the highlights of his career. It was a huge moment that he tells me he only believed after the label sent him the vocals.

“My manager told me that the label has an interest in us jumping on the project. In the beginning, I didn’t believe it. I didn’t pay attention to it because I didn’t believe it was possible until we went to London and met with the label, and they sent me the vocals. It’s one of the biggest highlights of my life to date.”

The Marley family is firmly rooted in music just like the Kutis who are Afrobeat royalties. Damian and Skipp have carried on Bob Marley’s legacy and I was curious to know their reception to the remix. Sarkodie told me the family has been supportive albeit he has never met them yet, something he told me would be changing soon.

“The family were very supportive of the remix. They heard my verse and they gave their blessings and they also posted the songs. I haven’t met them yet but I will be in Jamaica for the first time soon so I hope to meet them.”

In terms of ability, Sarkodie’s writing and delivery are in the superlative. He leaves his imprint on every record and most times thoroughly outshines other rappers with whom he has shared moments. For his verse on Bob Marley’s ‘Stir It UP,’ I asked him if he eased through his take or if the weight of the moment made him put a little more thought and time into it than he would ordinarily do. Sarkodie tells me, it took him close to a week to deliver his verse.

“It was a big task. It wasn’t my usual recording session because I’m laying my verse next to the legend on a song people already love. The pressure was there but in between, I have not to snap out of it and just do me. But I made sure that the lyrics were appropriate and I came up with the melody and the flow of the rap before infusing the lyrics.”

He tells me his first verse had a lot of English which he had to remake to have more of his indigenous language upon the label’s request.

“So I kind of did two verses. The first one was dominated by English and the family insisted that they wanted more of my language so I did the second one which is on the song.”

Sarkodie is one of the most decorated artists in Africa. He has won the BET, MAMAs, Headies, and Sound City MVP, nominated for the EMAs and the MOBO. If there’s a list of African rappers who can bring home a Grammy, Sarkodie will likely top the list. I asked him if he has his eyes on the biggest prize in music, especially as his collaboration with Bob Marley can position him for the award. Sarkodie tells me he wasn’t focusing on the Grammy while making the record but he welcomes all possibilities that follow the song.

“I wasn’t thinking of the Grammys when I was making the record. I just make music organically but I embrace anything that can take my career to the next level and the Grammy can do that. I won’t rule out the fact that it’s possible.”

The Nigerian music industry is closely knitted to its Ghanaian counterpart. This is a creative collaboration that started in the 60s and 70s and cut across generations of Nigerian artists such as Fela Kuti, 2baba, Wande Coal, Wizkid, and Davido. Sarkodie is one of the Ghanaian superstars whose music is popular in Nigerian and who has collaborated with lots of Nigerian artists. I asked about the nature of his relationship with the Nigerian music industry and he told me it’s no different from working with his Ghanaian compatriots.

“The collaborations between Nigeria and Ghana run way back as Fela so it didn’t start with our generation. For me, A Nigerian is Ghanaian and vice versa so working with Nigerian artists is similar to working with my Ghanaian brothers.”

After close to two decades as a professional with more than half of that as a superstar, Sarkodie continues to stay in tune with the evolution in the music industry. This solidifies his position as head of the table while also partnering seamlessly with budding superstars as he did on his latest album ‘Jamz’. I asked Sarkodie how he’s able to stay at the top while many of his fellow Hip Hop peers reclined, and he tells me he’s perpetually in search of new experiences.

“I got into music as a way to express my feelings and reality, and this hasn’t changed irrespective of my status or the type of music I make. I listen to my inner self and know that things change according to different eras. I appreciate sound and love music, so I know making music with different artists takes me to different realms.”

Sarkodie has evolved like most Hip Hop legends. From being a young rapper hungry for success to becoming a superstar, and a family man whose music is a point of reference for budding rappers. I ask Sarkodie if being a family man has shaped his art.

“Having a family has helped me to stay grounded. You know, as a celebrity, we sometimes are propelled by dopamine from the success and the love of the fans so these things can make you get carried away. However, having a family has helped me to always remember the things that matter.”

Having reached the heights of Hip Hop, I asked Sarkodie if hopes to go beyond music just like American Hip Hop icons. He tells me there is a lot he hopes to accomplish beyond music.

“Until it happens, it will be difficult to talk about it. But yes, I’m working on different things. You know, having a number one song in the country feels more exciting when I was younger but now, not so much. So now, I kind of have a different high that’s what inspires me to look beyond the music. Hopefully, soon I can announce something.”

Sitting at the head of the table for over a decade means budding rappers across the continent look up to Sarkodie. As is Hip Hop tradition, young rappers tend to take swipes at the leaders of the genre, most times, to announce their intention. This recently played out with South African star Nasty C who narrated how he was snubbed by Sarkodie when he was an up-and-coming artist.

I asked Sarkodie if he’s comfortable with young rappers coming for the crown and he tells me it comes with the territory.

“It’s rap. I used to do that when I was coming up as a battle MC but my musical journey was not based on that. I didn’t try to attack the crown and take it because you end up taking it without thinking about it. The kings are just worth it because they showed their ability and consistency. The battle side of me kept me on my toes even though I became commercial but for me, it was never about killing anybody lyrically, it’s about always being the best version of myself and showing consistency”

Sarkodie’s advice to budding rappers is for them to focus on their craft because the musical journey is just more than out rapping anybody.

“Music journey is very long so one must learn to control the ego side of it. It’s more than just out-rapping anybody because what matters is consistency and the legacy you can build over the years. It’s about putting in the work and doing it for yourself, and before you know it, you will be surprised at how far you’ve come.”

African Hip Hop enjoyed its commercial heights in the early 2010s with Sarkodie, Ice Prince, M.I, and AKA among the rappers who dominated the scene. The genre has slowly declined in commercial appeal while Afrobeats rose to prominence. Today, there are talks about the non-commercial appeal and linear sound of Hip Hop in Africa. While the belief that Hip Hop is dead is an incorrect one it’s nevertheless held by many. I asked Sarkodie for his opinion about this and he tells me music evolves and even rappers might need to evolve with it.

“Rap is like a subset of music so there has always been a limit to it, especially in Africa where people love to dance. I feel like a lot of rappers can move around and explore different sounds and still get back to rap. My hardcore fans don’t enjoy my commercial music. But I love music so I can jump on different sounds. But I don’t see the panic with Hip Hop because people are still rapping and the genre will still rise again.”

In a recent interview, Sarkodie talked about having a joint tour with fellow Ghanaian superstars Stonebwoy and Shatta Wale. I asked him if this might happen soon and he tells me it’s not as straightforward as fans might think but he hopes it happens.

“It’s not easy coming together and doing things with such powerful persons who have their things going on. However, as I said, it’s something I will love to do and if there’s someone that can bring us all together then I’m open to it.”

After over a decade as a superstar, Sarkodie has kicked off 2023 on a high that’s now become synonymous with his illustrious career. He tells me he’s planning a world tour which will take off from where he dropped off in 2022.

After over a decade at the top, Sarkodie remains Africa’s Hip Hop King, sitting at the head of the table and encouraging budding Hip Hop superstars to take their sits.

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