Yaa Pono in recent times has been in the news almost constantly. After Shatta Wale had “beefed” with and shut down nearly all the competition for years, Yaa Pono came along and delivered a “beef” Knock Out. For once, there was a unanimous decision. No controversy over the winner. Even the Shatta Wale fans agreed that “Gbee Naabu” had won, even if it only strengthened their support for their hero Shatta Wale. So perhaps the saying “beef is a win-win situation for everybody…” rings true after all.
Indeed, Shatta Wale has come back stronger than ever. And Yaa Pono is pulling huge crowds wherever he performs. His “faster than gods” album is getting him a new kind of radio attention, and people are noticing how much the artist has grown and diversified in his craft.
Yaa Pono originally found a global audience through Youtube “freestyles”. One of the first Ghanaians to exploit the video medium, he was also the first to rack up 1 million views with his witty rap videos (mostly filmed by King Mo Joe), straight from the underground scene! He captured the hearts of Ghanaians with his creativity and manipulation of words, and his nickname “ns3mkua” seemed very appropriate.
But a talented rapper whose extraordinary singing ability allowed him to sing nearly every hit highlife song with ease was always destined for greatness. And although he has remained relevant with a constant flow of good songs, many argue he has not lived up to their expectations yet.
And yet Yaa Pono headlines major concerts and at Kumasi last week 100,000 people sang along word for word to underground mega hits like “High grade” & “Codeine”, which get zero airplay. It makes you wonder if Yaa Pono was right when he said he would take the underground to the mainstream. A song that is not played on the radio can barely be described as a mainstream hit, but Yaa Pono has just disproved that.
It isn’t really difficult to see why radio has avoided a lot of Yaa Pono’s music. The subject matter was always controversial and/or radical, even if songs like “Amen…” somehow slipped below the radar. That may have just changed in a very odd way.
A lover of Ghanaian hiplife myself, I listened to the 17-track album and PONOBIOM truly outdid himself. Little has changed in terms of content. But he has evolved into a more mature artist that has been able to hold on to the rawness that endeared him to us. If anything, Ponobiom is going even further, and songs like “Mr Lucifer”, “#1 in Africa”, and “Jamming” put his versatility in full view.
The album has reggae, hip-life, afrobeat and even Highlife sounds. It is becoming harder and harder to describe Yaa Pono as a rapper, but it is not a bad thing at all. He was always a fantastic rapper. Perhaps that was the hindrance all along. He was so good at “Nsemkua” that he didn’t need to explore the highlife, afrobeat and reggae that is very obviously a big part of his repertoire. If his current trajectory continues, he may very well take the underground mainstream.
** David Pablo is a Creative writer and content Producer at United Television (UTV)