FOR MY BROTHERS: Ko-Jo Cue takes on the tough questions [review]

As far as adulting goes, Ko-Jo Cue’s For My Brothers the ultimate soundtrack. The work, his debut album, arrives as his eighth collection, following a deluge of mixtapes since...
Ko-Jo Cue/ INSTAGRAM

As far as adulting goes, Ko-Jo Cue’s For My Brothers the ultimate soundtrack. The work, his debut album, arrives as his eighth collection, following a deluge of mixtapes since 2010, as well as Pen & Paper, a 2017 collaborative album with Shaker, his BBNZ label mate.

For My Brothers was released to instant and widespread praise, and has remained social media fodder several weeks on. It’s not difficult to see why: it’s honest, courageous, accurate, heart-wrenching, and yet, possesses a redemptive quality about it by the time it plays fully. Indeed, hardly any other album released this year—and fewer in recent years—capture the mental realities of the young Ghanaian man (and woman) as tangibly and expertly as Cue has. The language deployed on the work, on which he taps Adomaa, A.I, Nigeria’s Show Dem Camp, Worlasi, and J. Derobie as guest vocalists, and Kris D, Fortune Dane, Shaker, Juls, IPappi, and The Gentleman as producers, is both distinguished and relatable, the anecdotes deeply personal and alive with extraordinary phrasing and picture.

Every subject is fair game–even taboo topics for the ordinary Ghanaian; parenting (the toxic brand that employs fear as foundational technique), the masculinity dynamic, religion, depression, anxiety, entrepreneurship and the concept of money, love, and legacy. Containing powerful psychological questions. For My Brothers sets its author apart as the voice of the youth, and de facto ambassador for mental health issues. The album stops one in his tracks. It makes him shudder. It makes him dance. It makes him sigh interior tears. And then, it makes him hope.

Cue, born Linford Kennedy Amankwaa, is a startling observer of social behaviour, an attribute that reveals itself in majestic steps on each song. Such a writer makes the listener feel present and special. And ultimately, it is a writer thus we label as “gem.” The rapper has often cited Obrafour’s “Aden” as the song that set him on his musical journey. Even a cursory consumption of For My Brothers, and it all adds up. A versatile storytelling machine, Ko-Jo Cue is at his most effective melancholic. Joints like “Rich Dad, Poor Dad,” “Dua,” “Muddy Story,” “Never Mind,” and “You Alone” are particularly haunting in their diaristic sincerity, and how they navigate the existential crisis both the persona and listener are beset with. Here are lines from verse five of “Survivor’s Guilt,” which, like many other offerings on the CD, aches with distress about being the one who made it alive, and yet, not being alive enough to be helpful enough:

The trauma of being the only one who made it/ And still not making enough to help everybody out/ To put food in everybody mouth/ And when you say it sef everybody doubts/ They look at you like you the wickedest bro/ Cos you know that they’ve been through and so/ Even though you worked hard for things and your wealth/ You feel bad for doing good for yourself

Elsewhere, on “Rich Dad, Poor Dad,” he ponders: “Feel like my father doubled the sins of his father, uh/ And I’m the one here shouldering all the karma, uh/ Yɛ count wo out a it does a lot to your spirit.”

All through the work, the rapper delivers as many objective lessons as there are questions. Ultimately, though, Cue points out that it’s okay to admit to depression, to cry, to fail, to have self-doubt, to talk about things. Why? “Everybody sucks at life, nobody gets it right the first time,” he says on “Shii The Song, Pt. 2.”

The project also supplies varied sonic pickings for the Ghanaian music listener’s ear, albeit rooted in hip-hop. For one to excel at hiplife, for instance, he must know his highlife. Cue does know his highlife, and honours that genre creditably, overlaying most of the album with the nostalgic Ghanaian groove. See “Dzo,” the A.I–assisted “Wo Nsa Be Ka,” and “Agoro,” which is sublime homage to “Anadwo Yɛ Dɛ,” the beloved KK Fosu classic. There are also elements of dancehall, pop, soul and alternative R&B at various points of the CD.

For My Brothers is both a starting point and a destination, sprawling with urgent and unfiltered scenes from the Ghanaian youth’s mind. On the album, Cue tackles mental health, hence summons mental wealth. Little wonder, therefore, that it offers the listener a rare sense of community to unpack adulting problems. And the feeling of community is often the best form of therapy.

And so, to the politician looking to truly understand the Ghanaian youth, the girlfriend battling “mixed messages” from her lover, the college graduate assailed with the weight of ambition, unsure whether to be angry at life or to be grateful for it, juggling between the desired future and the not-so-desirable present, silenced by depression and depressed about breaking that silence, For My Brothers is a rallying point, an authentic journal.

Obviously, for much of the album, Cue deep-dives into the more serious questions, but For My Brothers also allows for the prurience that attends fresh romance. Case in point, “Best Paddy,” featuring EmPawa’s J. Derobie.

Cue’s album was preceded with the internationally charting “You Alone,” and “Dzo” (featuring Worlasi). A prominent name in contemporary Ghanaian hip-hop conversations, the Kumasi native has been associated with everybody from E.L, Sarkodie, M3nsa, M.anifest, to Mr. Eazi.

Get For My Brothers here

Pop writer from Accra.

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