Welcome to #VGMANostalgia, our continuing buildup to the 17th annual Ghana Music Awards ceremony slated for the Accra International Conference Centre on April 8th.
This week’s instalment, the third in the series, focusses on veteran hiplife group VVIP.
The years 2004 and 2011 are the highest points for hiplife group VIP as far as the Ghana Music Awards are concerned. They were adjudged Artist of the Year on both occasions. Only Sarkodie has annexed the coveted title as many times. But their true legacy transcends awards.
Now VVIP (with the exit of rapper Promzy and the addition of Reggie Rockstone), they have grown to become an institution: indeed, one of our most important examples in the evolution of the genre. Among them dwells incredible history: Reggie Rockstone is credited with coining the term “hiplife” to begin with –an undoubted founding father, and though they have witnessed constant gentrification, VIP (Vision in Progress) has been active since 1997, and so are veterans in their own right.
Originally consisting five men and a dog, the band’s fortitude has consistently been threatened, but they have always prevailed somehow. Bone parted with the group first. Founder Friction (born Musah Haruna) also left after the release of their second album Ye De Aba to pursue a solo career. So did Promzy (Emmanuel Ababio) in 2013. Even their dog, Chicago, passed away not long after they started gaining fame. The point is this: like the spirit of Nima, the suburb where the group was conceived, they have remained resilient. Among the group’s other projects are Bibi Baa O (1998), Lumbe Lumbe Lumbe (2001), as well as the widespread Ahomka Womu (2003). They’ve published nine records till date, and show no signs of stopping.
Today, as VVIP, they consist of Reggie Rockstone (Reginald Ossei), Prodigal (Joseph Nana Ofori), and Zeal, (Abdul Hamid Ibrahim), and still know how to make hits. They’re yet to release an album under their new name, but their singles, as soon as they are dropped, become favourites on the radio, clubs, and the streets. Skolom, Selfie, Book of Hiplife, Alhaji, Dogo Yaro, as well as their recent After Party (ft. Stonebwoy) all contain the hit formula –they all come in appealing rhythm and catchy hooks.
Ghana’s music terrain is quickly becoming chocked with the release of new songs daily, and this has seen some of our cherished veterans being pushed to the sidelines. But like a powerful rock, VVIP has remained steady while others have simply been swept away. If it were an easy thing to do, everybody else would have succeeded at it.
There’s a powerfully rebellious quality about the group. It is perhaps what has ensured their survival over the years. This can be strongly felt in their choruses too. Usually led by Zeal (formerly going by the stage name Lazzy), the hooks come as blasting chants which you simply can’t ignore. The songs, like them, will not take “‘no” for an answer. Even if they were released 20 years ago, they scream at you. This astounding recall feature that their songs possess, even causes much younger generations to lay claim to them as though they were released in their time. Ahomka Womu, Obaa Sweety, Daben Na Odo Beba, Besin, Manenko, Sisi Yare3, Kuzo Muyi Wassa (Show Me Wossop), pass for “throwbacks”, but are very much present in this day and age too. At concerts, these songs inspire deafening roars from patrons, proving what timeless pieces they are.
Contemporary acts will only accept the label of “hiplife artist” when convenient (say, to secure nomination at the Ghana Music Awards), never mind that it is specifically hiplife that they might be doing. The quest for continental/ global appeal sees them adopt labels as “hiphop artist’, or “Afrobeats artist”, or “Afropop artist”. Or, they would come up with their own coinage: this pop or that pop, this music or that music. Unfortunate in many regards, it finds them needlessly shying away from the rich heritage that accompanies the name “hiplife”. VVIP is among very few Ghanaian acts who wholeheartedly refer to themselves as “hiplife” acts, essentially, the last of a few custodians of what remains of the genre.
At the same time, they have successfully assuaged negative stereotypes about Nima, where they come from — the image of a rowdy slum. Steadily, they have steered the Nima narrative to become a hub of dreams, and a centre of endless possibilities to them that believe. Their annual Sallafest, consisting of a huge feast by day, and a musical concert by night, has been running for something like 20 years, and has proven to be a source of pride for fellow Nima natives. It has inspired similar initiatives by their colleague musicians: Dancehall singer Stonebwoy is achieving something similar with Ashaiman.
Renowned street artist Moh Awudu testifies to this: “they are the first group of people who put Nima on the map with a positive perception. Before them, everyone thought of Nima as a place of negative people. They opened that door to us, especially for me — when I started with my art: the Nima- branded t shirts”, he tells me in an interview this afternoon.
“Now I’m using art as a medium to change and promote Nima, and teaching free art classes on weekends. Because, in the end, you don’t have be in a higher position to make an impact to the society”, he further submits.
VVIP’s impact on Moh is especially affective because, he has come full circle: from admiring them from afar, to now collaborating with them on projects.
It is refreshing to see VVIP achieve such high success levels, and still have their street credibility intact. At Sallafest, they are personally involved in distributing food items to the thousands who sit around the endless feast table. Their stardom doesn’t hold them back from connecting with the people on an intimate level. To be this close to your idols, and to receive gifts from their very hands does something to your spirit. These people you watch on TV daily, and witness travel the world, are just like you. They come from the same lungs as you. The streets which nurture your modest ambition are the same streets which raised them. If they made it, what’s your excuse really? Now message is stronger than this.
VVIP are one of only three surviving mainstream groups of the class of early 90s and this new millennium who are associated with heavy activity: R2Bees and 4×4 being the others.
They have attracted collaborations with esteemed colleagues from across the continent and beyond, and have shared stages with even more. Over the years, they have been recipients of awards too many to mention. However, one of the two laurels they picked up at this year’s Ghana Music Honours summarises the core message of today’s conversation: Evergreen Hiplife Honour!