Making enough noise

2014-07-24 00:00

I REMEMBER it like it was yesterday. My older brother had just returned from his freshman year of secondary school and the loud engine of my father’s old Nissan Stanza pulling into the compound had sent us all rushing to welcome him.

Amid my parents chatter about his grades and how he’d lost weight, my brother signalled me to follow him. He pulled out a Sony Walkman and told me he had a new dance to teach me.

I can’t remember exactly what he called it, only that it was similar to the running man. The soundtrack to that dance was a sound I had never heard before: hip-hop music. I spent the days that followed filled with immense curiosity, digging into this new sound.

Years later, I would come to learn the names of the artists on that cassette tape: Big Daddy Kane, Rakim, KRS One, Salt & Pepa and Public Enemy. This was my introduction to a culture that changed my life.

I’ve always wondered what made hip-hop so captivating. Was it the beat? Perhaps, it could’ve been the hypnotic samples looped into 16-bar arrangements. Or was it the lyrics? Honestly, between the thick American accents and heavy slang, very few of my peers understood a word that these rappers said. So it must have been the urgency with which hip-hop artists asserted their views, a stark contrast to the love-themed Highlife tunes our parents listened to. Most young people found that content redundant and hip-hop music helped break the monotony.

With a wide array of sociopolitical commentary from Public Enemy and deep “5 Percent Nation” knowledge from Rakim laced over neck-snapping beats, a majority of young Africans were spellbound by the sonic manifestation of the culture.

I, however, was enthralled by the physical attributes of the culture, especially the fashion and style. Giant Africa medallions, dashikis and kufis were the core aesthetics of hip-hop of that period. In my 12-year-old brain, I interpreted all that Afrocentric style as a symbolic call and response from a distant relative.

I heard the call loud and clear, but how would I respond? Was hip-hop really interested in hearing about my struggles and appreciating my Ghanaian aesthetic? Did the culture really value its international roots?

After all, the godfather of the culture, DJ Kool Herc, was himself an immigrant. His block parties were directly related to the sound system culture of his native homeland, Jamaica.

So the light bulb went off — maybe I had to journey to the Mecca of hip-hop, New York City. There my response would be heard much louder.

That journey took me from local talent shows in Ghana to graduating college in Ohio, to numerous world tours and even sharing the stage with my personal heroes Public Enemy at NYC’s Summerstage.

But somehow the response to the call didn’t seem adequate. It took a while to realise that the initial call I heard in Ghana was powerful because it came from a collective voice. Whether it was the Afrocentric era or the Native Tongue era, or the most recent Soulquarian era, it was clear that to make an impact you needed a definitive movement.

I started wondering: perhaps this idea of responding to hip-hop’s call rested not on me as an individual, but on a collective of young African voices.

The more I searched, the more I found like-minded artists who were responding in their own way — from Somali-born M.C., Knaan, to Belgian-based Congolese rapper Baloji, to Nigerian-German singer Nneka (the list goes on).

We had all made inroads individually but had hit a similar brick wall collectively — being a solitary voice in the extremely territorial world of hip-hop. None of us could make enough noise to shift the paradigm, no matter how brilliant we were as individual artists.

So, some of us began a quest to help present a unified front — from collaborations to guest appearances to curating live shows and stalking the Facebook pages of some of our peers until they responded. We now understand that our power lies in our connectivity. To quote the brilliant scholar Frantz Fanon: “Each generation must discover its mission, fulfil it or betray it, in relative opacity.”

I believe we are the next generation of hip-hop. A more globally focused generation, one that can bring back the same urgency we heard in our native countries when the culture first beckoned us.

Thanks to the Internet, this movement continues to connect everyday.

I believe there is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come. The time for Africa’s hip-hop generation to influence the culture that influenced it is now. — Africa is a Country.

• Blitz the Ambassador is a Ghanaian-United States hip-hop and visual artist based in Brooklyn, New York.

• The blog Africa is a Country is not about famine, Bono or Barack Obama. It was founded by South African Sean Jacobs.

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.