Ice Prince’s entrée is fierce and swift —like he’s executing the final part of an ambush. He’s beaming with smile, but the entourage that trails him —a collective of four men —is stone-faced.
But this is not an ambuscade; we’ve been expecting him — the famous Nigerian rapper who really, is in town for his close and personal friend, Oluwatobi Sanni-Daniels’ wedding with singer, Becca. It is why, at this Accra-based radio studio, music that facilitated his rise to African stardom, boom; Oleku, Superstar, Aboki et al. He hurriedly taps our palms in greeting, and heads straight to his weapon of choice — a microphone. He props it up to his face and, standing, dives into rabid freestyles of hooks and verses that constitute some of the most familiar in this city, and across the continent.
The contingent that arrived with him, take their positions around the room, which he knows all too well; “Bola Ray — na ihm get this place,” he remarks to one of his boys at a point, and gets an impressed nod in response. This is a city that sits deep in his heart —home. Home is where love, and heartbreak, and great friends, and Jollof are. Ice Prince is home when he’s in Accra. When the chorus of “Particula”, the Major Lazer/ DJ Maphorisa monster he contributes guest vocals on begins to play, he alters a single word in it, much to the delight of zealous listeners. “I love Accra in particular,” he bellows, flailing gun signs at, well, nobody in particular.
Author of 5 solo projects and The Indestructible Choc Boi Nation compilation album, Ice Prince (Panshak Zamani), 31, first accrued notice in Ghana via Oleku (Chocolate City, 2011). The record, featuring former label mate BrymO, and produced by creative sibling and regular collaborator, Jesse Jagz, remains his most influential offering —having been remixed multiple times, including by fellow rap great, Sarkodie—as well as frequently being cited among songs that contributed to the global reception of contemporary Afropop.
“So many songs contributed to the Afropop genre or the Afrobeats genre,” he explains to me when I pull him aside for a quick sit down — “that Oleku is one of those songs is an honour. That makes it a classic, right?” To me, the question is rhetorical, and I react with nothing beyond a smile. Surely regards the joint as a classic, and I call bs on anyone proffering otherwise —even if that person is Ice Prince.
Both Afropop and Afro-hip-hop name him influencer, because he has also dispatched over the years, superlative rap songs which have earned him international props [see Shots on Shots (ft. Sarkodie), N Word –remix (ft. AKA), Mutunmina, Me Versus Me etc]. The cartel that has succeeded at relevance with dance-ready rhythm as well as the inflammable 16-bar rap verse is close-knit: Sarkodie, Olamide, Cassper, AKA, Nasty C, MI and a few others —in other words, the top tier. Only dedicated labour and discipline grants you access into this group, asserts Prince; “staying relevant in Afropop and in Afro-hip-hop —it takes a lot of hard work and an artist truly sacrificing himself,” promptly emphasizing that he is not in that sect by chance —that he constantly and willingly puts in the hours — “…and I do sacrifice myself —I spend more time in the studio than on TV or in the club. Hard work always breeds results.”
The reason an Ice Prince record usually stands out, is that it’s never monolithic —it retains tempting melody as effectively as it springs out witty rap lines, party pulse over sobering church piano. On one joint, essence from reggae-dancehall, highlife, hip-hop, and Afropop all show themselves, but in a way that is interesting rather than confounding. The man responds to both “Captain Hook” and “rap maestro” in the same breath. Ice Prince began his socialization in music at the temple —singing tenor in the choir. The experience taught him so much about the dynamics of putting music together, and so, he’s one of a handful who effortlessly flit between a multiplicity of feels— the indigenous nostalgia of Baby, the Caribbean—suffused Magician, the Moombahton vibe of Particula — and consequently be able to proclaim as securely as Jay – Z yells “I’m not a businessman/ I’m a business, man” on Kanye West’s Sierra Leone (Remix) — “I’m not just a rapper that writes bars, I actually know how to make music.”
His creative effort also reveals itself in fashion, which is often an avenue for further expression by many a musician. Ice Prince’s most notable style contribution to African hip-hop culture, perhaps, his finesse at normalising drastic amalgamations — such as complementing his Agbada with sneakers, or throwing on a bam cap to even things out. Acknowledging the various stylists and “idea people” he’s partnered over the years, the rapper references left-of-center logic as often being his winning module: “sometimes, its just thinking outside the box— thinking weird a bit.”
For days now, Ice Prince has been in the trends, particularly for calling for the merger of Ghana and Nigeria as one nation. “Dear AU (aka African Union),” he tweeted on August 18, “Pls Take My Ad-Vice: Its time to make NIGeria and Ghana One Country Fa Real!!!!!! I suggest the ‘Federal Republic of NigGha.’” Maybe that tweet was published in jest, and with the severe awareness that this is impossible, but the underscoring desire for partnership between the West African countries, which are de-facto siblings anyway, cannot be lost on us. Collaboration is the way, and having curated some of the biggest musical alliances across Africa, Ice Prince knows a thing or two about their merits: “collaborations are important. Its very very important for us to come together as a continent. Africa is the future, but we just can only make that future actualize if we li-te-ra-lly come to-ge-ther.” Whatever the medium; movies, music, or sports, collaboration, he holds, opens mighty doors.
For the one percent that still questions his credentials as an African great, a BET Award, a Ghana Music Award, three laurels at The Headies, two Nigeria Entertainment Awards and multiple Channel O Music Video Awards should provide a good enough doorway into his continental status.
When we tell the Ice Prince story, it is impossible to overlook the Choc Boi era (circa 2010). As a solo act, Mr. Zamani has charted a solid legacy for himself. Still, his place as one third of Choc Boiz —the rap mafia which also has as founding members, Jesse Jagz and MI Abaga —is unshakable. At the time, especially in their native Nigeria, these Jos boys were often the three names in several top-three lists. Today, the collective which he helped establish, has morphed into a massive movement — the Choc Boi Nation, which now also counts DJ Lambo, Nosa, Koker, Dice Ailes, Loose Kaynon and a host of others as members.
Ice Prince regularly cites MI as a “big bro” and mentor, yet, as an outsider, one can’t help but notice the peculiar creative bond between him and Jesse Jagz —who produced majority of the songs on Everybody Loves Ice Prince (ELI), Zamani’s outstanding debut. Oleku, Juju, Superstar, Magician, Baby, and Wassup Wassup all serve as pivotal cuts to his career —and they were programmed by Jagz.
Ice Prince’s preamble to his telepathy with Jesse Jagz consists an uneasy pause, chuckle, and an admission of mild unease that MI would not take kindly with him citing Jesse Jagz as his tighter brother — “I don’t know if MI will take this personally) and ensures that the customary MI big up is not missing in his submission — “You see, me and Jagz are closer. MI is like our big bro —and you know how big bros do it —they just like to be big bros. Me and Jagz have spent more time in the studio than [I have] with MI.” So impactful has Jagz been to his artistry that, when he’s in the studio with another producer, Jesse is present, he admits, for he frequently finds himself pondering: “what would Jagz do?”
“A lot of times, when I’m working with other producers, I always think about how Jagz would have done it —because I actually first saw production from Jessy Jagz —so, subconsciously, when I’m working with artists, I always —he has a lot of shortcuts when he’s producing, you know what I mean and yeah— he’s steady influential in my life, generally.
As far as first albums go, Ice Prince dispatched a highly successful piece. Realistically, no other project of his has quite invoked as much rumble as, Everybody Loves Ice Prince, even if they’ve all arrived with an excellence—and for many of his fans stands tall among his other works. When I ask if he admits that he has yet to top ELI, or where it ranks among his pet submissions, he assumes the specific diplomacy that artists often assume when their various works are put side-by-side. I’m not exactly surprised. “I wouldn’t be able to answer that question myself —I’d rather let my people or my fans tell me the answer to that —because this is my music, and every album I do —or every record I do —I put so much in it that it’s hard for me to pick one as a favorite and leave the other one. I put as much effort to all of them and they all come from different places —they all come from different inspirations and different vibes. So it’s hard to put Everybody Loves Ice Prince over Jos to the World, or Fire of Zamani. They all come from different places and they represent different things.”
To truly conquer Africa, one has to be anointed by Ghana. I won’t go into the intricacies right now —if you know, you know— and Ice Prince surely knows this —he knew this at the very beginning of this career. Why else would he frequent the land so much so that he’s now basically, Kofi, or Kwame.
“Ghana is such a huge territory —it’s an important part of Africa. From the very beginning of my career —being the release of Oleku —Sarkodie happened to be one of the artists that blew that song up for me,” he says, snapping his fingers for effect. More praise singing follows, including Ghana babes: “all the Ghanaian girls I’ve hung out with are the best that I’ve ever had.” He caps this spree spiritually: “every time I’m in Ghana, I pray a different type of prayer —and it goes straight to God’s ears.”
His inroads and accolades aside, Ice Prince now also occupies a unique position —as a nexus between a D Banj or a 2Face generation and a Mayorkun or Kuami Eugene era. Everybody has something valuable to offer, he holds —and the trick is to constantly regard yourself as a student. “I learn from everybody, first of all —I learn from the old and the new. Now, I hate to use that word, ‘old’ —I don’t want to categorize anybody as ‘new’ or ‘old,’ — the young ones bring fresh ideas, the bring new sounds, they bring new vibes — the older guys, they teach you how to make money, they teach you how to bring up the younger ones, so you catch different inspirations and you learn different things from different groups.”
My parting question in this conversation— which has spanned 13 minutes, pertains to You Rappers Should Fix Up Your Lives, MI’s controversial 2017 piece, via which he calls out rappers for sleeping at post. “Fix Up Your Lives was a statement that I think was necessary to be said —-somebody needed to say that to our side of the hip-hop genre —and who else to say that kind of statement than the boss himself. MI, I think was the perfect person to say that statement. It woke a lot of people up—including me. That record definitely sparked a fire in me and I’m sure it sparked fire in a lot of hip-hop artists and rappers back home and around the world.”
Our interview over, Ice Prince settles properly in the couch, and throws up more hip-hop hand signs as cameras click one final time —on iPhones and on Nikons.
Ice Prince announces a new album under his independent imprint, Super Cool Cats, and is scheduled to release a new book, The Nigerian Dream, this November. His latest album, C.O.L.D, is available on iTunes.