The origins of Ghanaian hip life goes back to the 1980s, when performers such as K.K. Kabobo and Gyedu Blay Ambolley as early as 1973 with Ambolley’s release of his first record, The SIMIGWADO …a “semi-rap in [fante language] style hi-life” to a small audience which showed him performing highlife variations with fast spoken, poetic lyrics. Ambolley would go on to be held the “father of rap” not only in Ghana but in the world. With time, Ghanaians became influenced by American hip hop, reggae, dance hall. There was an emerging underground hip hop culture in the capital Accra
Hiplife’s history dates back to the early 1990s Jeff Tennyson Quaye better known around the world as Jay Q is one of the pioneers of Hiplife (in the mid 90s) and back bone of Ghana music as a whole and his own variation and introduction of Jama/kpanlogo to hiplife, makes writers refer to him as KING OF JAMA. Reggie Rockstone also began to craft this art form with producers Mike Cooke, Rab Bakari, Zapp Mallet and Coal house. Chief G and the Tribe was one of the first rap groups in Ghana consisting of Chief G (now known as Jay Ghatey), Abeeku and Kwaku T. After they broke up before Reggie’s foray into what is now termed hiplife, Talking Drums, consisting of Kwaku-T and Bayku, experimented with choruses and hooks in local languages. In Twi, Reggie would flow over hip-hop beats a style that had been used previously in Mahoney P’s debut album Kofi Babone. That same era Native Funk Lords group (NFL) came out with the pidgin rap; the originators of the genre, from the Kay’s Frequency camp: Tinniequaye, Cil, Jake & Eddy Blay; this group also took inspirations from bands like the osibisa and Ghanaba of Ghana. Rapper and producer Cavell was also part of the original NFL collective and is now known to many as The Mantis. Reggie rockstone has been described as the “Godfather of Hiplife” since he spawned a new music genre in the country, After his debut album Makaa Maka, with the hit single Choo boi, several hip life acts followed. Oddly enough, in several radio interviews in 2004, Reggie Rockstone stated that he does not perform hiplife this could be mainly attributed to the fact that he now prefers to rap in English. A new era was born late 1998 when a young producer hammer of last two emerged with original beats plus precision rap artistes. Hammer, born Edward Nana Poku Osei managed to fuse hip hop grooves with local tempo and sweet melody which caught up with both the elite and masses instantly. Known for his heavy drums and lead trumpets, Hammer’s originality elevated hiplife to greater heights and inspired and influenced a whole generation of producers like Richie, Kill Beats, Jayso,EL, etc. Hammer of last two groomed artiste line up also eventually became some of the biggest artiste in hiplife today.e.g. Kwaw Kesse, Ayibge Edem,odeshi, Obrafour, Tinny, sarkodie, Koo Wiase Other Ghanaian rappers like Lord Kenya, Obour, V.I.P, The Native Funk Lords (Rapping mainly in pidgin English), Castro Destroyer and MzBel continued the trend of hiplife music which is now one of the most popular forms of music in West Africa.
The most popular Hiplife musicians include Tic Tac, Sakodie, vision in progress, Asem, Obrafour, Ayigbe Edem,odeshi, D-Black, Koo Wiase and samini who won a Mobo awards for his contribution to hiplife in 2006. Since the rise of these popular musicians, hiplife has grown in popularity abroad.It must be said though artists like Ayibge Edem, Kwaw Kesse, D-plan, Richie, ASEM, Koo Wiase, Sarkodie, Yaa pono, Keps, Lil Pope, Dirgen, Bra Kevin Beats, Greenfield,Iscream.
In 2009 Ghanaian filmmaker, Mantse Aryeequaye, released a documentary focusing on the political history of the hip life movement in Ghana as well as hip-hop music amidst various political climates in the nation. In his film, Rhythm Rising, Aryeequaye also examines many famed Ghanaian artists such as Kwakese, Kwaku Tutu and Obrafour through their experiences within hip life or hip-hop movement. The film works to explore and expose the culture of the hip life movement against the backdrop of Ghana’s political environment.
Hip life in Ghana is sticking to a new trend of rhythm and this is mainly being influenced by great music engineers like Kill Beatz, Dj Dijoe Pie-Sie, Jay So looney, Richie Kaywa and Hammer of last. There is this confusion with classifying hip pop made in Ghana and Hip life but in all they bare the same qualities and share common rhythms.
Hiplife can cover a broad range of musical styles fused together. Artists such as Samini combine reggae/dancehall/ragga scat and patois-tinged sounds of Jamaica with Akan-language lyrics over reggae rhythms fused with Ghanaian melodies. His music is branded by the general populace as hiplife. Then there are artists such as K.K. Fosu, Ofori Amponsah and Richie who do not rap or ‘DJ’ per se; but sing with a heavy R&B influence. Verses; bridges and choruses may be in Twi, but the structure and the rhythm fusion is suspiciously based on American R&B.But he and other artiste like himself fall under contemporary highlife.
The majority of hiplife is recorded in a studio environment with heavy emphasis on computer-aided composition, arrangements and production. At this moment, hiplife artist are not known to use live instruments in their performances in front of audiences. Most performances are based on voicing over instrumentals and dubs on Compact Disc. This may be a leading reason why the latest incarnation of Ghanaian music has not reached the ears of World Music promoters or bridged the frontiers of countries across Africa such as Congolese music has done.
Famous hiplife artists include Reggie Rockstone, Kwaw Kese, , VIP, jaaklan, Okomfour Kwadee, Sarkodie,Ayigbe Edem, Okyeame Kwame, Bradez, Lord Kenya, Castro (D’Destroyer) Sydney, and J. Farrakhan. Producers include Jay So, Appietus, Ro-Q, Richie, Kaywa. MiD 9ite Rekordz, Hammer of last, Roro, Zapp Mallet, Nana Quame, Hitz Factory, Big Dave, Kwam1, Panji, Beatmenace, K-Rock, Kevin Beats, Lordy and Seven and Pie-Sie.
Also to be noticed is the emergence of Gh Rap which is mainly underground hip hop made in Ghana the artists in this genre mainly rap in English or pidgin English. Most notable of the Ghanaian rappers and producers are: Tinniequaye, keps (6side records), F.F.E (D-Plan, Dirgen, K-gee) The Skillions (Jayso, E.L.,Ball J, Jinx, Therapy, Midnight, J-Town), Ecxtreme, Nash, Nova. Evil Twin, Loonee, Pie-Sie, Kwam1, Nash Kevin beats,Greenfield (Ali & Jo Willy) Gemini, Kwaku-T, Kryptic, Illa Shaz,IsCream,Mic Wreckers (Lil Shaker, Joey, Killmatic), J town, Ko-Jo Cue, N-Dex, Keps, Peer Pressure crew, Ronny O, Scientific, Big Money Records (Big Money SL, Lil’ Pope) Tight Squeeze Family, Trigmatic, Wanlov, 24Seven (Lethal Lyrix and Kay-Ara), Lousika and more. Much of Ghanaian rappers emerged after moving from hiplife to specializing in just hip hop.