Revisiting Sarkodie’s Third Album, ‘Sarkology’
the bedrock of his popstar status
the bedrock of his popstar status
The early 2010’s was an interesting time for me, as a young writer and music lover. Rap music was always a part of life, but then I’d begun to immerse myself in knowledge of the craft. It was the years of deep cuts and Genius, the years of penning my own lyrics, of getting in online battles with silly pseudonyms, the year of Sarkodie. I think I had heard about Sarkodie in a non consequential argument about fast rappers. One wide-eyed boy, obviously revelling in this discovery, shouted out, “Una dun hear Sarkodie?!”
The three syllables of that name stuck to my head, so one day I browsed and found a song titled “Lay Away”. Shot on a tightly packed rural area, the considerably budgeted video centred on Michael Owusu Addo, the man otherwise known as Sarkodie who’d also go on to become one of my favourite rappers ever. His black skin and sunglasses had a militant feel, making the words he rapped seem like a message from a distant brother. Sure he was fast: he bended Twi like a glob of mashed cereal, and was crucially able to retain its essence even though parsing it through a foreign form.
Sarkodie’s appeal was however his gritty Hip-Hop swag, and I readily fixed him onto my playlist which at the time consisted of names like M.I Abaga, Boogey, Eva Alordiah, Tumi and Phenom, among others. To the best of my knowledge that decade was the final run of Nigerian rap as a focus of the mainstream, and so I wasn’t the only Nigerian catching the Sarkodie buzz. By the time the E.L-assisted “Azonto Fiesta” dropped, the Ghanaian MC was primed to become an adopted member of the Nigerian music scene, a role he fully entered with the ‘Sarkology’ album.
Admittedly, it’s a very lengthy album—thirty songs, and feature-streaked from start to finish. Listening to it now, it’s not a perfect album. Indeed, its most exciting moments come in the latter parts, with the beats even more polished. On it, you’ll find the Banky W (“Pon Di Ting”) and Davido (“Gunshot”) collaborations, which are prime examples of the pop-rap path which Sarkodie continued to explore.
I remember we were in college when the former rifled through the streets of Lagos, possessed with the swag found in rap crossovers at the time. I remember Banky W’s cheeky last line “baby, I can make you move faster than Sarkodie’s raps” introducing the rapper’s trademark element to mainstream Nigeria. 2Face Idibia (“War”) and Tiwa Savage (“Ordinary Love”) also turned in scintillating performances, but nothing could trump my love for Burna Boy’s output on “Special Someone,” a song which also featured South African rapper AKA. Asides the signficance of having three major acts from three African countries collaborate, the song was impressively tender, drawing from the soft nucleus of R&B while brazenly adapting the breezy cadences of rap within the verses.
Sarkodie was however more than just a fine curator. Regardless of how much leverage his Nigerian-facing collaborations gave him, ‘Sarkology’ still featured the rich Ghanaian flavour I’d fallen in love with two albums ago. On “Original,” he talks about the concerns of people that he’ll be limited by rapping in his native language, then discarding the thought by going on to decimate a boisterous beat lined with triumphant synths. There he also mentions Reggie Rockstone and Obrafour among his musical heroes, thereby noting Hiplife among his sonic touchstones.
On “Elijah,” he parlays his musical kinship with the iconic Obrafour into a notable rap affair. Zesty, calculated verses blend with a poignant hook, one which immediately takes the audience into the mood of being in an alcoholic bar somewhere in Tema, communing with like minds and getting high.
The duo of “Adonai” and “Devil In Me” centre Sarkodie’s tendency to align religious beliefs with raps. Rather than the more popular version of the former, it’s a musician called SK Blinks who delivers the hook and chorus of this one. Even the lustrous sheen of the remixed version isn’t present; rather, a stirring, primal percussive rhythm is maintained and amplified, rising with delicate knowledge of the traditional style of playing. Blinks’ vocals are deliciously roots-y as well, and setup by such brilliance Sarkodie’s thoughtfulness is given free reign to emerge, scarcely shackled by the technical demands of all-out rap songs.
“Devil In Me” is another such song. With Efya’s vocals being in its prime period, she renders a strong performance which raises the roof of the album. Hearing it again, this church-inspired rap music also forms the core of M.I Abaga’s “Imperfect Me.” The vulnerability of Efya’s sombre cry inspires a similarly heartfelt approach from Sarkodie, and it’s such a perfect way to close the album. Of course, you’d expect a number of skits from a 30-track album but the high points of ‘Sarkology’ are incredibly high.
The directness of a record like “Rap Attack” can only be attempted by an MC of high calibre, confident in his ability to hold his own over such a demanding beat. At the time Vector was really prominent for his battle tendencies so it just made sense–you went into the recording expecting something, and you got just that.
It’s also worth knowing, however, that such directness would not always have great compliments. A review I read of this album faulted Sarkodie’s eagerness to overtly display his rap credibility. This, the writer felt, was highly considered over the concept of a particular album, and I kind of agree with him. As much as Sarkodie is a fine rapper, I don’t always align with his albums. Well, there isn’t much to align with but in the case of ‘Sarkology,’ the impact trumps its quality, and that’s fine. There’s an array of such albums scattered over the tapestry of popular music.
Not looking much further, the expansive edge of a rapper like M.anifest have given him better albums down the line. Stitching the concerns of a capitalist world into his own exploration of identity, the Ghanaian has made enduring albums like ‘Nowhere Cool’ and ‘Madina To The Universe.’ However, Sarkodie as well has largely gotten it right with recent projects ‘Black Love’ and ‘No Pressure.’ The former especially has a unified sonic backdrop (of lush, warm beats), and is threaded by an array of perspectives about love. What pushes that over the line as an important album, would have been intimate lyricism. Admittedly, that was lacking even though Sarkodie’s delivery still had its assured flow and humorous observations.
Still, I’ll always remember ‘Sarkology’. Being Igbo and a fan of Highlife music, I’ve always been aware of some alliance with Ghana and Sarkodie was the first superstar born from that imagination. The trendier years of Hiplife in the early 2000s wasn’t really my generation; I heard the songs but Sarkodie married the fascination with Hip-Hop with obviously local content. For this fact, ‘Sarkology’ will always remain an important African rap album.