Sarkodie (born Michael Owusu Addo) is in the first rank of contemporary rappers in Africa, and that is incontestable at this point. A BET Award from three nominations, along with appearance on lists compiled by Forbes, selling out the famous Apollo Theatre and the Indigo, 02 Arena …these are the very heights of modern success.

Because this list is based exclusively on his albums, mixtape material, as well as songs like the brilliant Adonai (ft. Castro), were not considered. The same goes for such popular songs as Hand to Mouth, Choices, and Original. Here are ten songs which synopsize Sarkodie so far.

 1.Saa Okodie No (ft. Obrafour):The above phrase is the etymology of the name Sarkodie. It means “ that eagle”. It is also a coronation by Ghanaian rap veteran Obrafour. It was produced by Da hammer, who is generally credited with producing Ghana’s best rap album yet –Obrafour’s Pae Mu Ka (1999).

As expected, Sarkodie elucidates why the crown could not have been passed to anyone else, with a fiery that is unmatched. Instrumentation, which embodies reverberations of warfare, effectively sculpted the hip-hop tune to one of Sarkodie’s most fitting portrayals –like a national anthem would do for a newly independent people.

2. Illuminati: Since a sparkly career sprouted for him, Sarkodie has been keen on proving himself and debunking erroneous tales about himself –his mixtapes overflow with them.

Illuminati though, typifies this in a way that is stunning. In November 2012, when his meteoric rise has been attributed to Freemasonry enough, he releases Illuminati to straighten records. “When I first came out, I was nobody’s business, now I’m getting money, so they call me Illuminati”, he sets off on even-paced ominous kicks which are also lonesome for the first few bars, and then goes on to detail what got him where he is; his God and unrelenting hard work. The third verse stands out because of the pace it comes in – rapid blitz in masterful Twi, which is the delivery Sarkodie is known for anyway.

Of course he brags, about his shopping budget, for one (how many rappers do you know don’t?), and ridicules rumour mongers and their lack of, well, imagination.

3. Babe (ft. Mugeez): Having been undisputed underground for his excellent wit and macho persona, it was time to take the next logical step –to brave the mainstream. That meant, among other things, thoughtfulness toward the female audience –and portraits of the perfect love story have been known to work. So in 2009, he teams up with one half of Afro-pop duo R2Bees, whom we had begun to value in the manner you would treat a new gift. Mugeez transposes Sarkodie’s sentiment into a plain and appealing melody in a chorus and so on; “baby the things you dey do me dey make I dey go/ girl my heart don dey for you, my love na real/ I promise on my honour to dey by your side/ I go come tell your mama say you be my wife.” It worked! It became, for several months, the de-facto courting speech, and the ladies loved it, still do. “I can be your man, you can be my girl”, the beautiful chorus rounds up.

And so, aside Efya, Mugeez is a constant wingman in articulating the pathetic abyss that is the state of being hopelessly in love –Give it to Me (2012), All is You (2015).

4. U Go Kill Me (ft. E.L):U Go Kill Me, released five years ago, is among Sarkodie’s career- defining tunes –also one of his most ubiquitous. Wizkid and Iceprince were enlisted on a remix, and Jamaican dancehall star Busy Signal, sampled the instrumentation for freestyle. Unfortunately, as is the case of many songs, which explode out of imagined proportions, the accompanying video, released several months after, falls significantly short of the song’s status. Even so, U Go Kill Me, which is vain flirtation with an accidental damsel, contains the sugar, in fatal assortments: “ the way you dey be my spec oh, this girl you go kill me oo…”

This song is why Sarkodie has been cited as azonto forerunner, for this song is among those that defined that peppy sound which complement frantic foot twitching and diverse hand gesticulation of the same name. The beat is light on bass, and piano governs the anthem, which is how Nshorna Muzik (who co-produced the song) likes his vibe.

5. Borga (ft. J Town): The Ghanaian has often been cautioned against the smokescreen that a journey to the west could be. At the end of the day, the argument goes, that there’s so much being gainfully employed can do for you than saving every last pesewa to go and slave abroad, often in undignified enterprise. “ So much for a Borga”, is what the theme circulates.

And it is nearly certain that an artist’s first album is mostly inhabited by some of the most relatable authenticities they will ever create i.e. their struggle toward becoming noticed, as well as some good old brotherly advice. And so on this slick funk of a hip-hop number, a lyrically ruthless Sarkodie satirises what degrading undertakings our Borga, which is a local nickname for a pompous returnee from overseas, has had to deal with, as verses what he could have become had he invested his skills home. The narratives, delivered in his native Twi, are hilarious, and mysteriously comforting to the layman going about his kpa kpa kpa business.

And yet, Borga, off Sarkodie’s debut Makye (Duncwills, 2009), is an outlier. Makye, which loosely translates as “I’ve been here for long”, is an outlier for the specific grit of debuts. It doesn’t exactly ooze with sage words of advice and endless low points, well, save for Borga, for it is obvious that Sarkodie, confident in his dexterity with word and rhyme, above everything, wants to show it off. Indeed, in a latest single Take it Back, he advises the upcoming rapper, that rhyme is paramount at the start. One line in the conclusion of his monologue translates, “ second of all, it’s all timing, when you set off, your wealth is your rhyming”.

It all adds up therefore, that Makye should feel like a very long sparring session, lyrically speaking.

6. Down on One (ft. Fuse ODG): Down on One is single number 5 off his 30- track 2014 album, Sarkology (Duncwills). Sarkology is perhaps, the project that solidifies his reputation as an African powerhouse. An impressive blend of rap and Afrobeats, the album automatically became a model for the contemporary commercial album upon release.

This song too, is of the dynamics of courting a woman, but KIllbeatz’s programming makes it feel very festive, so that it’s more for dancing than anything else –listen out for the indigenous gong for timing. Down on One is also a key song in the azonto conversation, because Ghanaian born UK singer Fuse ODG gained popularity with his song Azonto.

7. Mary: Our grandmothers are our first love, in the final analysis. Mary (SarkCess, 2015) is a tribute album dedicated to the memory of his grandmother, Mary Lokko who had always asked for an album like this. Recorded entirely live, the project is, without doubt, the most tasking thing Sarkodie has ventured creatively. It also ends up symbolizing what a well-rounded artiste he’s evolved into.

Mary is such a joy to listen to, perhaps because it is filled with some of the most beautiful romance conversations associated to the rapper –more so because of the title track.

Performed entirely in his native Twi, and riding on nostalgic guitar strings, this gentle highlife song is life. It’s pensive and gentle, and the first verse is some of he best singing the rapper has ever done. In elegant austerity and poetic language, he reconstructs the imagery of the countryside love affair; picturesque and genuine —“Adutwumwaa, your nose captivates me, when you kiss me, my idiocy arrives”.

Nothing fancy, just plain old village love that tolerates whatever amount of replay it’s exposed to –and that makes a good song, a great song by any index.

8. Mewu (ft. Akaboah): Mewu is the first single off the CD, which was released September 2015, and sets the air for album. Borne in traditional adowa rhythm which also counts as highlife, Mewu discusses the temperament of the one who misses his lover; “Flying bird, tell my lover that if she does not return, I will die a miserable death, and it will be on her”, label mate Akwaboah croons in the hook.

Rhythm thus (I’ve concluded), is best suited for Sarkodie’s kind of rap, for they complement each other like lovers. Mewu is one of the best off Mary, one of the best from Sarkodie.

9. Edwom tesen: Because of the keyboard progression, it reminds you of U Go Kill Me, only this one is multifarious, fuller. This is what live band can create. This re-enactment of azonto era is exquisite. Period.

This lively record addresses idle gossip, which is a recurrent subject in Sarkodie’s creations. Edwom tesen is Twi for “ how are sales”, which is what you would ask the blabbermouth who peddles tittle-tattle about you.

When Sarkodie ridicules detractors engaged in such business, it’s entertaining, because Sarkodie’s wits are high, and his words suggest someone who’s exceptionally observant.

10. Bra (ft. Pat Thomas): Also off the Mary album, which might not be the most commercially viable project he’s done (albeit the most arty), Bra features highlife great Pat Thomas, whose voice, a delightful silk, has hardly blemished over several decades.

Bra could translate as “come”, or “ return”, depending on the circumstance. On Mary, it’s also endless adulation of a soul mate, and Sarkodie has the words; “your love has gotten me insane, your love has blinded me”, he confesses as soon as the song starts, and the song pours with such quintessential flattery, in English or in Twi; “ take my hand, let’s play, and have my child”, “I’m yours, do with me what you please”, “ your love is remedy for the cold weather”follow me to paradise /I can see the future when I look into your eyes”, “your love is all I need”, and so on.

On his latest album Mary, for instance, Sarkodie has proven that he’s as versatile as can get—he is capable of creating commercial masterpieces, as he possesses the skill set for making interior art. That is Sarkodie for you –a master of much.

Gabriel Myers Hansen is  editor of Follow him @myershansen on Twitter

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