Why Hiplife Is ‘Hip’ Everywhere but America
Do the names Tic Tac, Okyeame Kwame or Donaeo ring a bell? If not, that’s because you live in America and the word “hiplife” means absolutely nothing to you; at least not yet. The term, coined by Reggie Rockstone, the grand-daddy of the music genre, is a fusion of hip-hop and traditional Ghanaian highlife music that bridges the gap between my two cultures.
Like most kids, I rejected any and every musician my parents found remotely appealing. But as a first-gen teen, this also meant rejecting the cultural significance of their music and my heritage. When hiplife emerged as the dominant music style at the Ghanaian parties my mom would drag me to, I loved how it was still authentically Ghanaian, but not far removed from the songs my friends were downloading. Listening to artists such as Castro, D-Black and Eazzy, I found the medium between African and African American.
One of the artists who helped cement my fandom of hiplife was Fuse ODG. In 2012, he introduced the world to the “Azonto,” and even grandmamas couldn’t help but turn a foot to the afrobeat. On top of that, his 2013 hit “Antennae” peaked at number seven on the UK Singles chart. It also cracked the Irish charts, not to mention reaching over 20 million views on YouTube. ODG also recorded another chart-topping banger and one my personal favorites, “Dangerous Love,” with dancehall king Sean Paul. The song peaked at number three on the UK Singles charts and number four in Scotland.
And his laurels don’t stop there. In May 2015, Fuse ODG was one of six musicians nominated for a BET Award for “Best International Act: UK.” Keep in mind, there’s also a category for international acts from Africa. So here’s an artist who makes hiplife music, but also has the ability to moonlight as an international act from the UK. If there were a bias toward acts from western nations, you would think ODG would get the pass. But despite his dual reach, the Britain-born Ghanaian has yet to move the dial in the U.S.
So why haven’t the rhythmic beats and stylized flows of Fuse ODG and others cracked the U.S. Billboard charts, infiltrated the Grammys or made their way onto the airwaves of your favorite radio station? America ain’t ready.
Black American artists have shaped America’s music scene, evidenced by jazz, blues, R&B and hip-hop. You would think it would be natural to use our leverage to introduce the country to black musical movements from Africa and the African Diaspora. Yet how many African American artists have collaborated with African artists? How many African artists have launched successful musical careers in the United States?
Maybe America isn’t ready for hiplife because it’s making the choice not to be ready. Maybe it’s hard to embrace the reality that Africa is at the forefront of synergizing culture and music that’s relevant. The hiplife movement speaks of an Africa that western media outlets rarely show. This Africa (note: Africa is a continent, not a country) is just as vibrant, just as innovative and just as progressive as any other part of the world.
(Cover Photo Courtesy of Fuse ODG, http://www.fuseodg.com/)