Artist: Shatta Wale
Album: Cloud 9
Label and Year: SM4LYF Records, 2017
“Happy birthday Shatta Wale! You for come visit me for Flagstaff House o!”, read President Akufo Addo’s tweet to Shatta Wale on Tuesday October 17, as the singer turned 33.
The Head of State extending you birthday felicitations –in Pidgin –is the sort of thing that lands you on Cloud 9. Unprecedented, it is even more evidence of the controversial singer’s influence on Ghanaian social life.
The president’s tweet is surely the most monumental thing about Shatta’s birthday this year. But something else deserves mention about the day: the release of his Cloud 9 mixtape.
With little to prove in dancehall and Afropop, the Kakai man explores hiphop solely on the project. This year, as has been the case for five years straight, his songs are among the most impactful: Taking Over, Ayoo, Forgetti, Level, Dem Confuse, Umbrella, Low Tempo…
All six songs on Cloud 9 prove creditable contributions to the genre in Ghana this year, which is significant to say about a dancehall act. Because hip-hop everywhere is a jealous field, and while this project earns him notice in the genre, it doesn’t suddenly grant him “access” into the ranks that matter.
But again, this is Shatta Wale, who has never been good with rules, nor waited for permission to do anything. Largely misunderstood, he has turned that into fuel, and now he’s invincible. He storms in, takes, and leaves. There’s usually little anyone can do about it.
Dancehall may be his forté, but he is no stranger to the fundamentals of hip-hop: nerve, originality, and truth. These are elements of dancehall too, if you think about it. He exhibits these abundantly in Cloud 9, which is entirely self-produced.
Again, Wale is no stranger to hip-hop melody: as far back as his starting days in music, he has dabbled in the genre. He partners Yoggy Doggy on an early compilation by veteran producer Da’ Hammer. In May 2016, he drops Bingo. One of his major songs this year is Mayaa Tra (featuring Pope Skinny). So, it will be inaccurate to view the project as his first attempt at hip-hop. If anything, it’s reintroduction of sorts.
His delivery on the project is natural and unforced. The deftness he exhibits on Just Make the Money, for instance, is terrific. His command over, and method with rap language is both impressive and driven by the confidence which comes with practice. Blending his native Ga, Pidgin, and Patois over classic boom-bap, he waxes with blistering force about his abilities –a staple theme of the field.
Grow Bad, as well as My Friendz’ In, depict Shatta Wale’s real motive with the project: to blur any lines that exist between genres, and question the insatiable obsession to label/ categorize art in the first place. “I be different guy. Music, that be what I dey do”, he says as Grow Bad comes to a close. It is neither fair nor healthy to pin artists to a specific genre as it is widely known to stifle creativity, and he will not be pinned to one thing.
Also dispatched with playful elegance and expertise, Shit is Lit is what Trap sounds like, proving that while his music is dominated by Jamaican slang, he’s also proficient in hip-hop lingua and culture in general. Instrumentation on this song, as with the other joints on Cloud 9, is first-rate and infectious: infused with peculiar nuances that identify a sound as hip-hop. Shatta Wale’s versatility isn’t only exhibited in how he operates his husky voice, but also with how he comes up with rhythm and melody.
Shatta Wale’s performance on Feel So Stupid is one of his most vulnerable till date. He’s a musical genius, and his celebrity makes him something like a superhero to many. But away from what we see on TV, he’s just a man. He goes through daily human challenges too, including feeling unappreciated in a relationship. To hear the mighty Shatta admit to experiencing low points in a relationship provides new perspective to what makes a superhero: admitting to fears and weaknesses doesn’t make you less of a man. Every superhero is first of all, a man.
“God’s plan isn’t man’s plan” is how Shatta Wale begins Track 6: We Never Plan for This. Uttered in Ga with something that sounds like the the voice of God himself, the words resonate heavily with the listening ear. Shatta Wale possesses a work culture that is unmatched. He’s always publishing new music. Success rewards a good plan and hard work. Still, when it finally arrives, you’re both surprised and overwhelmed. If you’ve followed Shatta Wale’s story, the following words are especially inspiring. Before singing the chorus one last time on the record, he confesses:
“You know, every man dey come in life to make am. Me and my dogs [comrades] always dey make sure say we go make am. Yeah, we mean am. But we no know say den ego happen this soon. We no plan for this time kraa…”
Listen to Cloud 9 below: