Trivia: The title of Ghanaian rapper M.anifest's new album is borrowed from a piece by author, poet and academic Ama Ata Aidoo.
Question: why would M.anifest declare at the very start of Nowhere Cool that “If this album don’t make me happy and rich, I’ll gladly hang up the mic”?
Perhaps it speaks to what creative investment has gone into the project. It clearly cannot only be about the marvellous cover art by top Zimbabwean artist and activist Kudzanai Chiurai, who was named by Forbes among “Thirteen Africans To Watch In 2013”, and whose piece 'Fried Chicken' sold for as much as $9,447.
M.anifest himself has admitted that this is the most tasking artistic enterprise he has ventured into thus far—and it shows in the collaborations, the quality of production, and the feel of the music. Every one of the 14 tracks can stand on their own as singles. Still, it’s not entirely surprising: songs the rapper released two years ago enjoy airplay like they were released days ago.
Regarding collaborations, Nigerian singer Brymo’s appearance on the album is definitely a highlight, never mind that Nowhere Cool is full of highlights. On both 'Sugar', and 'Goodbye', a spirited voice and plain sentiments make his presence felt: “Cut me the paycheck, make we fuck."
South Africa's Nomisupasta brings character to the album as well. The soul in her adlibs is distinctive. “There’s something special about you,” she sings on 'Cupid’s Crooked Arrow.' We could say the same about her, for she’s got such a sparkling attitude and delightful melodies.
Dex Kwasi’s place on Nowhere Cool also further augments the basic goal of experimentation here, as the sound he brings unto the project is not something completely familiar as of yet. With afro-trap, as he calls his genre of music, he intends to “bridge the gap” between American and Ghanaian listeners. He believes this is possible especially as he has been nurtured by both cultures—being born in Texas in the US to Ghanaian parents, and moving back and forth since. With his Serious Jollof debut, his recent single 'Bass', and now his contribution on Nowhere Cool, that “bridge” is taking shape.
I expect that in the end, the idea of contemplating retirement is meant lightly, for we can all agree that M.anifest brings so much to the table musically. In some quarters, he’s thought to be the model Ghanaian rapper: creative, clever, soft-spoken, original in melody and dressing, usually scandal-free, respectful, possessing lyrical substance, and mindful of musical heritage—the total package.
Like all things M.anifest, it’s a disaster to walk into Nowhere Cool with specific pre-judgments you want validated. It’s hip-hop but it’s agbadza/adowa too, it's highlife but with extra-deviant youthful spice. The polyrhythmic feature, which defines the record, catches you unprepared, and is thrilling all at once, the endless winding of varying melodies requires active listening.
What labels are accurate enough? What tags will suffice? When old understanding conflates with a new age, what is that called? Nowhere Cool isn’t straightforward—neither in lyricism nor in flow. It is not for everybody. Nothing is.
'Hand Dey Go, Hand Dey Come' (featuring Worlasi and produced by Drvmroll) may be afro-house or not. But the idea therein is plainspoken—we all have to eat, we all have to live. Nowhere cool, chale.
Until now, I have solely associated hip-hop to Drvmroll, and that might be the issue. Whereas part of his rapid acclaim has been due to his appetite to try new things, 'Hand Dey Go, Hand Dey Come' is something extra. Same for producer Jayso too—his work on 'Sugar' won’t strike you immediately as something he would do, but then again, it is in the nature of all greats to thrive outside comfort. Nowhere Cool certainly makes several arguments for the question of M.anifest's greatness. This album is special.
The other Worlasi feature, 'Time No Dey,' demands attention. It is the one song in which an exceptionally gentle groove inspires a graceful sway from the listener, handkerchief in hand.
Nowhere Cool is M.anifest’s most collaborative effort, also the most altruistic, especially in how he engages young talent on this album: Drvmroll, Yung Fly, the graceful Cina Soul of Julor fame. To be truly great is to be accessible (in influence) to both old and young. On this record, M.anifest achieves just that.
Buy Nowhere Cool by M.anifest on iTunes