We live in a country where things relating to the arts, culture, and entertainment are not documented properly.
We may be inaccurate in retelling stories of old in terms of time/date stamps, but one thing most Ghanaians will never forget is how Sarkodie broke out as a mainstream artiste. And it was definitely not through social media.
Over the weekend against the time of this write-up, I caught a glimpse of an interview Sarkodie had with DJ Semtex on ‘Hip Hop Raised Me.’
In the interview, Sarkodie is heard saying that he got introduced to Ghanaians through social media.
This comes after the British DJ made a reference to a conversation he had with a legendary UK rapper on how social media has launched careers of successful rappers in the United Kingdom. Sarkodie was then asked by DJ Semtex if he could relate to that story, as an influential rapper from Africa.
“Yes, yes, I can relate to that because I came through social media” he calmly retorted.
“Mainstream radio in Ghana wasn’t ready to play any of my records because it didn’t make sense. We were just rapping on some beat that they didn’t term as commercial.
“And that, point when I was coming [through], was the toughest time ‘cos it was dominated by highlife. Highlife was like our authentic Ghanaian sound. And it is super commercial here in Ghana. When you do it, people are gonna love it.
“And I was a rapper, so I was coming in hard doing hip hop beat. But like you said, because I happened to get directly to the people so that the masses could choose what they wanna listen to. You can’t say people don’t want this until you give it to them” he continued.
Sigh. It didn’t end there.
“And as you said, because it was controlled, the people were used to listening to what was presented to them, and then the internet came in. And then people like myself and all these new artistes started putting out music, and now people have alternatives” he added.
At face value, I could see where Sarkodie was headed and why he said what he said. The last part of the quote captured above could pass for the damage control created from the earlier statement in his response. But it still made me sad.
"Mainstream radio wasn't ready to play my records" Sarkodie
African Rap legend @Sarkodie breaks down how he cut through & built his own fanbase.
Exclusively on the #HipHopRaisedMe podcast ⬇️
— DJ Semtex (@DJSemtex) October 9, 2021
Now let me take you on a journey of data and statistics recorded by the same vehicle that powers social media—the internet. Simply because the internet never forgets. And even if our memory will fail us, the internet wouldn’t.
Sarkodie began his journey as an underground rapper. A young vibrant, skillful, and sensational Hip-Hop/hiplife artiste from Tema who dazzled listeners with his rap style and rhymes on Adom FM’s popular rap competition—Kasahare Level. The show which was hosted by Dr. Duncan between 2005 – 2008 will see Duncan become the manager of Sarkodie under Duncwills Entertainment.
Adom FM was, and probably still is, one of the top two Akan-speaking radio stations in Ghana. They had or still have a monumental reach, nationwide.
‘Social Media’ was almost non-existent in Ghana during this era. The internet does not even have enough records to replay these moments of Sark’s days on Kasahare Level. Try googling “Sarkodie” and “Kasahari” in one search and you are not finding anything in 2008 of such. Not to talk of these same ‘hidden’ songs his tribe is arguing existed on the internet, captured by ‘social media.’ However, if you happen to see any record of such, best believe it was during and after the year 2009 when internet penetration increased and social media in Ghana was becoming a thing. In that same year, Whatsapp was born.
In those years, Sarkodie remained an underground rapper and was still putting in the work, the phone models in vogue were Blackberry, Sony Ericsson (Xperia), Nokia etc. These were Symbian phones known for their Bluetooth and Infrared features. People shared media files with each other through either of these features or they were going to café’s/computer centers with their phone cables to copy music. I am sure that’s what Sarkodie meant in his statement. And that is definitely not social media.
Many will argue there were the likes of hi5 and MySpace around at that time. Unfortunately, there are no records out there to back his claim. Though Sark’s MySpace account still exists, it does not have records of his songs whatsoever.
Remember, the argument here is how Sarkodie was introduced into the ‘system.’
In 2008, Sarkodie’s verse on Edem’s – You Dey Craze off the Volta Regime album— arguably became the record that ‘announced’ him proper to Ghanaians after a long wait in the ‘baking.’ His incredible flow and tongue-twisting ability to still make sense and keep to the beat, caught the attention of music lovers nationwide.
I remember fondly watching the music video of that song on Metro TV’s Advertising Cycle and TV3 in-between lunch hours and times before Ocean Girl/Dennis & Gnasher, respectively. Ever since that song came out, every Ghanaian made it a point to learn both Kwaw Kesse and Sark’s lines because they were the hardest.
Sarkodie came into a space that was dominated by Kwaw Kesse, Tinny, Okyeame Kwame, just to name a few who were seasoned rappers. Once again it is inaccurate when Sarkodie says highlife was dominating the airwaves at the time. Kwaw Kese in that same year (2008), won Artiste of the Year as a rapper at Vodafone Ghana Music Awards. Hiplife had already become the bedrock for rappers like Sarkodie to thrive.
It is fair to say most Ghanaians caught on the ‘obidi pon bidi’ sensation after that feature. A new king of Ghana rap from Tema was born.
Since then, Sarkodie went on to penetrate further in the hearts of many with hit songs like Baby, Borga, Lay Away, Push, etc. which all became a part of his first studio album—Maakye—released in 2009. These songs enjoyed several rotations on radio and tv as well.
Even when that album was released, we were still heavy on CD distribution.
Prior to that, he even had songs like Daabi and Bra Na B3 Hw3(ft. Guru and King of Accra) doing a few rounds on the radio. He was definitely here to stay.
He would later go on to win a number of awards from his first batch of nominations at the Vodafone Ghana Music Awards in 2010. He was the first Ghanaian rapper ever to win Discovery of the Year and win the Artiste of the year in one take.
Data according to the World Bank suggests that in 2008, with Ghana’s population at around 23,000,000, only 4.2% of the country’s citizens had access to the internet. In 2009, it increased to 5.44%.
However, according to statcounter, Ghanaians started using popular social media apps like Facebook and Twitter in 2009. With Facebook leading the numbers with 52% in that same year, while other apps like Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube caught up later.
As a matter of fact, YouTube, which would have been the online database for videos of any kind, only saw a peak usage of 17% in 2012. To put things in better perspective, Sarkodie’s hit singles from the Maakye album which had music videos were all uploaded on YouTube in that same year.
However, it is clear when you do the maths around Sarkodie’s global reach in juxtaposition to the internet penetration and social media usage data in Ghana.
So to Sarkodie, especially Sark Nation, you started from the streets of Tema and became a sensation on the radio. Your major career take-off after that verse on Edem’s You Dey Craze coincided with the advent of social media disrupting the Ghanaian internet space. You can’t, therefore, state that you came through social media. Mainstream airwaves in Ghana gave you a huge shout when you came in; social media only extended the reach of your brand globally because you caught on to that wave early.
You have enjoyed mainstream attention from when you ‘broke out’ for a whole decade and still counting. This is not to say you have never acknowledged the support from the mainstream media in Ghana. But you are not a social media sensation. Leave that to the Gyakies, Black Sheriffs, Yaw Togs etc. It doesn’t take away from your unique story. Embrace it.
In the meantime, stream Sarkodie – No Pressure album. Thank me later.
The writer, Olele Salvador, is a columnist with citinewsroom.com and an on-air personality with CITI TV.