Album: Nowhere Cool
Label & Year: Singitdamnit Music, 2016
Nowhere cool sister, ain’t nowhere cool. Therefore let me hide here among the thorns while I dine on wild desert green. And if they should ask you of me, tell them the name of the game was life, and I never learnt the rules –Prof. Ama Ata Aidoo.
Throughout the build-up to September 8, rapper M.anifest’s dominant temperament appeared to be one focused on tidying up stray, imprecise claims, and asserting what actual truths exist, in his opinion.
So that, as soon as possible, all “distractions” were swept aside, and then the expression Nowhere Cool evolved into full perspective. We will not go into the specifics of how he managed this (this article might be helpful –I don’t know), but is it not remarkable, that in a month where everyone else is releasing albums, it is his particularly that has made all the difference? Anyway…
The launch of M.anifest’s album Thursday night drew the very crème; from H.E Jon Benjamin to Kweku Sakyi-Addo, legendary Obrafour to young singer Becca. Nevertheless, it is not so much about the launch either –which was brief, intimate and classy—that I want to brood over now –there are several videos online you can browse for yourself.
It is the album that is responsible for all this; of a title borrowed from a piece by author, poet and academic Prof. Ama Ata Aidoo, and brewed over two years, that I want to delve into.
Question: why would he declare, at the very start of the project; “if this album don’t make me happy and rich, I’ll gladly hang up the mic”?
Perhaps it speaks to what creative investment has gone into the project. And I’m not only talking the marvellous cover art by top Zimbabwean artist and activist Kudzanai Chiurai, who was in 2013, named by Forbes among “Thirteen Africans To Watch In 2013”, and whose piece; Fried Chicken, sold for as much as $9,447.
He (M.anifest) himself has admitted that this is the most tasking artistic enterprise he has ventured into thus far — and the work shows –the collaborations, the quality in production, the feel.
The album is solid…so much so, that every one of those 14 tracks can stand on their own successfully as singles. Still, it’s not entirely surprising: songs he published two years ago still enjoy constant radio presence like they were released days ago. Such strong songs as 100 Percent, god MC and W’ani Aba don’t make the cut. That’s how spoilt he is for masterpieces.
Nowhere Cool is daily truth; it will never change. Our ability to navigate the phenomenon, and identify the many joys in spite –however little –is what it means to be truly alive. The quest to discuss the phrase means attempting both known and strange things, the pleasant and the ugly, and everything in-between. It is exactly what happens on the album, only, this chaos is expertly organised, hence artistic –he sings of a simple love that money cannot buy, but still fantasizes of “rich people problems”, he sets off convinced that “nowhere cool”, by the end, he admits “now here cool”, and so on.
As happens in real life, each song –each scenario– eases into the next, and you don’t realise it until you’re in it. That’s the one constant of life; today it’s like this, next second it’s like that. Nowhere cool…
Singer Brymo’s appearance on the album is definitely a highlight, never mind that the album is full of highlights. On both Sugar, and Goodbye, a spirited voice and plain sentiments make his presence permanent; “cut me the paycheck, make we fuck”.
South African singer Nomisupasta definitely brings character to the album as well. The soul in her adlibs is distinctive. “There’s something special about you”, she serenades in Cupid’s Crooked Arrow. We could say the same about her, for she’s got such a sparkling attitude, and her melodies are so convincing.
Dex Kwasi’s place on Nowhere Cool also further augments the basic goal of experimentation here, as the sound he brings unto the project is not something completely familiar as of yet. With Afro-trap, as he calls his genre of music, he intends to “bridge the gap” between American and Ghanaian listeners. He believes this is possible for him especially as he has been nurtured by both cultures and sounds –being born in Dallas, Texas to Ghanaian parents, and moving back and forth since. With his Serious Jollof debut, his recent single Bass, and now his contribution on Nowhere Cool, that “bridge” in taking shape –any blend can be achieved and made appealing, like Palm Wine and Whisky!
I expect that in the end, the idea of contemplating retirement is meant lightly, for we can all agree that he brings so much to the table musically. He’s been widely seen to be the model Ghanaian rapper; creative, clever, soft-spoken, original in melody and dressing, usually scandal- free, respectful, possessing lyrical substance, and mindful of musical heritage –the whole package — he once more exhibits that on this album.
Like all things M.anifest, it’s a disaster to walk into Nowhere Cool with specific prejudgments you would want validated. It’s hip-hop but it’s agbadza/ adowa too, highlife but with extra-diviant youthful spice. The polyrhythmic feature, which defines the record, catches you unprepared, and is thrilling all at once; the endless winding of varying melodies requires actual listening.
What labels are accurate enough? What tags will suffice? When old understanding conflates with a new age, what is that exact spot called?
Nowhere Cool isn’t straightforward –in lyricism nor in flow. It is not for everybody. Nothing is.
Even at this point in his career, Bear for instance, is spot-on, because despite such extensive and breathtaking a discography, there still requires of him to reintroduce himself…to Ghanaians.
Hand Dey Go, Hand Dey Come (ft. the genius, Worlasi) may be Afro-house or not. But the idea therein is plainspoken –we all have to eat, we all have to live. Nowhere cool chale. The startling intricacies might just be too much for me, I confess. Maybe it will all come to me in time though.
Until now, I have solely associated hip-hop to producer Drvmroll, and that might be the issue. Whereas part of his rapid acclaim has been due to his appetite to try new things, Hand Dey Go, Hand Dey Come is something extra. Same for producer Jayso too —Sugar won’t strike you immediately as something he would do, but then again, it is in the nature of all greats to thrive outside comfort.
Nowhere Cool certainly makes several arguments for the question of greatness. This album is special.
The other Worlasi feature, Time No Dey, is what really makes me attentive. It is also the one song through which I thoroughly tour Nowhere Cool. It comes in exceptionally gentle groove that it inspires graceful knee sway, handkerchief in hand.
Nowhere Cool is M.anifest’s most collaborative effort, also the most altruistic, especially in how he engages young talent on this album; Drvmroll, Yung Fly, Kuvie, the graceful Cina Soul of Julor fame…
To be truly great is to be accessible (in influence) to both the old and the young.
Nowhere Cool is M.anifest (born Kwame Ametepee Tsikata)’s fifth work as solo artist following Apae: the price of free EP (2013), Immigrant Chronicles: Coming to America (2011), The Birds and the Beats (Free Mixtape, 2009), and Manifestations (2007). In a remarkable career, he has won Best Rapper of the year (2013) – Ghana Music Award, Hip-Hop Song of the Year (2013) – Ghana Music Awards, Best Hip-Hop Video – 4syte Music Video Awards, Minnesota Emerging composer Award (MECA) (2010) – American Composers Forum, Songwriter of the Year (2008) – City Pages, among others.
–Gabriel Myers Hansen is editor of enewsgh.com.Follow him @myershansen on Twitter.