“A good big boxer usually defeats a good small one.”
The above rule, basic to the combat sport, is also factual of yesterday’s matchup between influential Ghanaian producers Richie and Killbeatz, held to thousands of viewers on Instagram Live. True, around here, both men are certified rhythm sorcerers. Still, in a hit contest, the camp presenting Sarkodie, R2Bees, and Fuse ODG enjoys added height.
The battle, the second installment of the Sarkodie-arranged #BehindDaHitz series (inspired by similar fixtures in the US and Nigeria), highlighted the players who took over from hiplife titans like JQ and Appietus, who had gone at it in the maiden edition. It also pointed to the forces behind the sweeping sounds of Azonto, and the sensational hip-hop/ R&B enmeshments of the 2010s.
During preparations, somebody failed to alert the internet gods. They were not amused. Twice, due to connection troubles, a Richie protégé — first, KiDi, and then Kuami Eugene — had to rush to their master’s rescue, volunteering their phone for the video correspondence. The battle happened alright, except, inhabitants of the Richie household were reduced to blotched images on screen; a low-grade version of their true images.
Was it a sign of things to come?
The Richie/ Killbeatz duel — or, perhaps, more appropriately, the Richie requiem — unfolded as entertainment gold, complete with hype men, backup choreography, celebrity invasions, and light teasing. Already aware of his upper hand coming in, Killbeatz was the sanguine of the two, affording live piano freestyles, and showing off his dance moves just because…
As manifested in the Appietus/ JQ exchange, a mutual respect is also implicit in Richie and Killbeatz agreeing to the duel. Very much in their thirties, the producers are already reference points for contemporary Ghanaian pop. Richie, under his Lynx entertainment imprint, has masterminded two era-defining waves. The first happened with the class of Asem, Eazzy, OJ Blaq, and Zigi at the turn of the decade; the second, MzVee, KiDi, and Kuami Eugene. Killbeatz was central to the Tema renaissance which has brought us Sarkodie, R2Bees, Nana Boroo, Criss Waddle, Yaw Siki, and a host of others. Collaborations with Itz Tiffany and Fuse ODG gave Azonto a solid footing, and likely supplied foundational blocks for Afrobeats as we know it today. His efforts at reviving highlife can also not go unnoticed (cue the R2Bees anthems).
Shared admiration aside, a contest is a contest. On the night, once the lines were drawn, it was about who had the heftier portfolio and little else.
A good beat may be important to pop success, but the presence of a big star on that track is its best shot. The careers of Sarkodie, R2Bees, Fuse ODG, and Ed Sheeran, whom Killbeatz didn’t even need to call up, seeing that he was already miles ahead, or signee King Promise, for the aforementioned reason, because of their rapid upward trajectories, have ensured that Killbeatz has had the more triumphant run of the two.
One gets the sense, though, that in KiDi, Kuami Eugene, and twin duo, Dope Nation, all Richie mentees, the Lynx boss not only has a sturdy grasp on sounds of the present, but also, a firm one on those that the future will comprise of.
But that was not the focus of the night’s hostilities. Hit songs were. Killbeatz had them. Tonnes more than his opponent.
In the end, the ailing internet connection isn’t the only thing that reflected poorly on Richie. As exclamation point of his presentation, Killbeatz chose to go with “Angela,” a record he produced for Kuami Eugene, a signee of his rival on the night, and one he announced in a half-mocking declaration as “the biggest song from [Richie’s] label.”
It is hard to believe that Richie had an answer of equal strength. If he did, we didn’t get to hear it.