While Sarkodie’s catalogue easily sets him apart as a remarkably gifted rapper, he has proven just as fertile with dance-ready anthems. Since his 2009 debut Makye (DuncWills), the BET laureate has made a bold case for African hiphop, dispensing regular bountiful fits of dizzying, dazzling, and clever wordplay (justly securing him a place among topmost names of his era). At the same time, the man is an expert in party songs: Baby, You Go Kill Me, Pon The Ting, Adonai, RNS, Fa Sor Hor, Gboza etc.
A lyrical phenom, Sarkodie is both Jack and master of many trades. This is why his fifth album Highest (SarkCess, 2017) was anticipated feverishly by all of Africa. Consisting 18 songs, it was published on September 8.
The CD follows Mary (SarkCess, 2015), which was published to immense critical praise. The project is a moving highlife album, which is also tribute to his grandmother Mary Lokko. Co-written by label-mate Akwaboah Jnr., it was swiftly touted as his most ingenious submission yet. Does Highest knock it off that pedestal? Most certainly not. Still, this new album is one fine piece of work.
It was led with Painkiller (ft. Runtown), which is listed as a bonus track. According to the rapper (born Michael Owusu Addo), the album title best encapsulates his current state of mind.
But when has the rapper never felt like the highest? If there’s one thing Sarkodie is known for in the past ten years or so that he’s done music professionally, it is his flair with braggadocio. It is what the culture of hip-hop requires, and he has studied to show himself approved. It seems pointless to list examples of songs which are strewn with infinite adulation of himself and his abilities, as it will mean citing nearly everything he has released but the Mary album. Still, there lingers an itch: New Guy, Lay Away, Saa Okodie No, Hand to Mouth, Illuminati, Oluwa is Involved, Rap Attack, Original, Preach, Take it Back, Kanta, Return Of the Spartans, Bossy…
There features a sufficient amount of conceit on the album, as can be noticed on Silence, We No Dey Fear, Highest, Light it Up, and Certified. But more than that, the work navigates “higher” themes such as notions of beauty and self-worth, focus and dedication, faith, and the subsequent recognition which crowns hard work.
And so, a song like Glory (ft. Yung L) bears great significance. Track 18 on the project, it is also easily the most loved number so far. Accentuated by delicate saxophone melody over what is essentially highlife, the song feels like church, and calls to memory another Sarkodie classic – Adonai (ft. Castro). Adonai and Glory bear similar themes: there’s light at the end of the tunnel, especially if God is involved. Accompanying visuals for Glory (directed by IKŌNE) depict the exact point desire metamorphoses into reality. Rendered in compelling black-and white, it shows the rapper, his partner Tracy, daughter Titi, and members constituting the nucleus of the “SarkCess” team reveling in the good life made possible by his consistency atop the throne.
Glory works flawlessly as what the album comes down to: no matter where you are, dreams do manifest if you keep at them, and are patient and resilient enough to see them come to pass. Thus, after citing a certain Kwame Boadi, one of the many doubters of his elaborate vision, and having fought off many battles over his career and emerged victorious, he can afford to declare:
“King Sark till I die/ nobody can ever pull me down.”
Highest is as much a rap album as it is melodic, something made possible by the layered approach of a typical Jayso production. Born Paul Nuamah Donkor, Jayso (who’s also listed as Executive Producer for the project) is widely considered a key player in Ghanaian hip-hop, especially for his inroads with the Skillions. Especially since the beef with M.anifest last year, one could argue that Sarkodie has felt the need to reassert himself as a prized lyricist, or at least remind all that while he strays occasionally, his feet remain firmly rooted in hardcore rap, and he does that conclusively in Highest. The nifty act he is, he serves the Afrobeat constituency a number of songs too: Overdose, Your Waist, Far Away, All Night.
There may not be a “massive hit” on the album, at least judging by the rapper’s own standard, again, referring to such songs as You Go Kill Me, Pon The Ting, Adonai, RNS, Fa Sor Hor, and Gboza. All songs on there require repeated play to fully engage with and properly appreciate –which is how albums should be consumed anyway.
Regular collaborators Efya, Mugeez, and Akwaboah are absent on this Sarkodie album, and that is note-worthy as they have served as central sonic complements for him over time. Protégé Strongman Burner is also missing. Instead, Sarkodie experiments with Victoria Kimani, Moelogo, Praiz, Korede Bello, Jesse Jagz, Bobii Lewis among others. The result is impressive.
Highest is one for the grown man. It is not as vulnerable as Jay- Z’s 4:44 for instance, but it is personal enough — more personal than Sarkodie has ever been. Notice how closely he holds Titi to his heart on the cover, the earnest with which he beholds her perfect eyes. Observe how flagrantly he worships the many sides of wife Tracy, very carnally and most notably on Baby Mama (ft. Joey B). And indeed, the nuance with which he remembers his journey.
There are even deeper interiors he can venture, and we expect that of him with time. On this project though, Sarkodie proves that he’s unafraid to confront his very depths. He has it in him. And if you really think about it, he’s always possessed this trait.
*Highest is Sarkodie’s fifth album after Makye (2009), Rapperholic (2012), Sarkology (2014), and Mary (2015).