10 of the best: Sarkodie

Sarkodie (born Michael Owusu Addo) is in the first rank of contemporary rappers in Africa.

Sarkodie
Sarkodie

His position is incontestable at this point. He has received a BET award from three nominations, he has appeared on the Forbes list, and he famously sold out at the Apollo Theatre and the 02 Arena. Sarkodie has attained the very heights of modern success.

For this list only songs on his albums were considered. Because this list is based exclusively on his albums, mixtape material, as well as songs like the brilliant and important 'Adonai' (ft. Castro), were not considered. Same goes for such popular songs as 'Hand to Mouth', and 'Original'. Sarkodie has excelled on songs by other artists as well but those songs do not make the list either.

The songs below are from the rapper's four studio albums: 2009's Makye, Rapperholic (2012), Sarkology (2014), and Mary (2015). In between these albums, Sarkodie has released several songs, some of these songs just as good as songs on his albums. For example 'Choices', his version of a song by American rapper E-40. As stated, these do not make the cut.

King Sark, as he is also called, turned 31 on Sunday 10 July. In celebration of his birthday, here are ten songs which capture one of the most enviable careers in Ghanaian music and the African pop scene.


10. Saa Okodie No (ft. Obrafour)

The above phrase is the etymology of the name Sarkodie. It means “ that eagle”. It is also a coronation by Ghanaian rap veteran Obrafour. It was produced by Da Hammer, who is generally credited with producing Ghana’s best rap album yet – Obrafour’s Pae Mu Ka (1999).

As expected, Sarkodie elucidates why the crown could not have been passed to anyone else, with a fiery that is unmatched. Instrumentation, which embodies reverberations of warfare, effectively sculpted the hip-hop tune to one of Sarkodie’s most fitting portrayals – like a national anthem would do for a newly independent people.


9. Illuminati

Since a sparkly career sprouted for him, Sarkodie has been keen on proving himself and debunking erroneous tales about himself –his mixtapes overflow with them.

Illuminati though, typifies this in a way that is stunning. In November 2012, when his meteoric rise has been attributed to Freemasonry enough, he releases Illuminati to straighten records. “When I first came out, I was nobody’s business, now I’m getting money, so they call me Illuminati”, he sets off on even-paced ominous kicks which are also lonesome for the first few bars, and then goes on to detail what got him where he is; his God and unrelenting hard work. The third verse stands out because of the pace it comes in – rapid blitz in masterful Twi, which is the delivery Sarkodie is known for anyway.


8. Babe (ft. Mugeez)

Having been undisputed underground for his excellent wit and macho persona, it was time to take the next step – to brave the mainstream. That meant, among other things, courting a female audience. So in 2009, he teams up with one half of Afro-pop duo R2Bees, whom we had begun to value in the manner you would treat a new gift. Mugeez transposes Sarkodie’s sentiment into a plain and appealing melody in a chorus and so on; “baby the things you dey do me dey make I dey go/ girl my heart don dey for you, my love na real/ I promise on my honour to dey by your side/ I go come tell your mama say you be my wife.” It worked! It became, for several months, the de-facto courting speech, and the ladies loved it, still do.


7. U Go Kill Me (ft. E.L)

Released five years ago, this is one of Sarkodie’s career-defining tunes. Nigeria's Wizkid and Iceprince were enlisted on a remix, and Jamaican dancehall star Busy Signal, sampled the instrumentation for freestyle. Unfortunately, as is the case of many songs, which explode out of imagined proportions, the accompanying video, released several months after, falls significantly short of the song’s status. Even so, 'U Go Kill Me' retains its flavour.

This song is why Sarkodie has been cited asazonto forerunner, for this song is among those that defined that peppy sound which complement frantic foot twitching and diverse hand gesticulation of the same name. The beat is light on bass, and piano governs the anthem, which is how Nshorna Muzik (who co-produced the song) likes his vibe.


6. Borga (ft. J Town)

On this slick funk of a hip-hop number, a lyrically ruthless Sarkodie satirises what degrading undertakings a borga, a local nickname for a pompous returnee from overseas, has had to deal with. The narrative, delivered in his native Twi, is hilarious, and mysteriously comforting to the layman going about his regular business. The song is from Sarkodie's debut album Makye.


5. Down on One (ft. Fuse ODG) 

'Down on One' is single number 5 off the 30-track Sarkology.  That album is perhaps, the project that solidified his reputation as an African powerhouse. An impressive blend of rap and afrobeats, the album automatically became a model for the contemporary commercial album upon release.

This song is about courting a woman, but producer KIllbeatz’s programming makes it feel very festive, so that it’s more for dancing than anything else–look out for the indigenous gong for timing. 'Down on One' is also a key song in the azonto conversation, because Ghanaian born UK singer Fuse ODG gained popularity with his song Azonto.


4. Mary

In the final analysis, our grandmothers are our first love. Mary (2015) is a tribute album dedicated to the memory of his grandmother, Mary Lokko, who had asked for an album like this. Recorded entirely live, the project is, without doubt, the most tasking thing Sarkodie has ventured creatively. It also ends up symbolizing what a well-rounded artiste he’s evolved into. Mary is such a joy to listen to, perhaps because it is filled with some of the most beautiful romance conversations associated with the rapper, more so because of the title track.

Performed entirely in Twi, and riding on nostalgic guitar strings, this gentle highlife song is pensive and gentle. The first verse is some of he best singing the rapper has ever done. In elegant austerity and poetic language, he reconstructs the imagery of the countryside love affair; picturesque and genuine —“Adutwumwaa, your nose captivates me, when you kiss me, my idiocy arrives”. 


3. Mewu (ft. Akwaboah)

Mewu is the first single off Mary, and sets up the album. Borne in traditional adowa rhythm which also counts as highlife, Mewu discusses the temperament of the one who misses his lover: “Flying bird, tell my lover that if she does not return, I will die a miserable death, and it will be on her” as sung by label mate Akwaboah croons in the hook. Mewu is one of the best off Mary, and one of the best songs from Sarkodie.


2. Edwom tesen

Because of the keyboard progression, it reminds you of U Go Kill Me, only this one is fuller. This is what a live band can create. This re-enactment of azonto era is exquisite. This lively record addresses idle gossip, which is a recurrent subject in Sarkodie’s creations. 'Edwom tesen' is Twi for "how are sales?", which is what you would ask the blabbermouth who peddles tittle-tattle about you. When Sarkodie ridicules detractors engaged in such business, it’s entertaining, because Sarkodie is both exceptionally observant and witty.


1. Bra (ft. Pat Thomas)

Also off the Mary album, which might not be the most commercially viable project he’s done (albeit the most arty), Bra features highlife great Pat Thomas, whose voice, a delightful silk, has hardly blemished over several decades. Bra could translate as “come”, or “ return”, depending on the circumstance. Sarkodie serenades his soul mate: “Your love has gotten me insane, your love has blinded me”, he confesses as soon as the song starts, and the song proceeds with similar  flattery: “I’m yours, do with me what you please”.

Over his career, Sarkodie has proven he is versatile, that he is capable of creating commercial masterpieces as much as he can make artful music. 


A version of this list appears on eNewsGH. To purchase music by Sarkodie, visit iTunes.

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