When I was in Accra, my boss Kelvin let me work pretty much on my own schedule. One of my weeks was umm…more focused on hip life culture than on the JAC, you might say.
Hip life, which I mentioned in my last post, is a popular type of music in Ghana that combines traditional African high life and contemporary hip-hop. Artists rap in their local languages over African melodies mixed with hip-hop beats. If you hear a song by a Ghanaian artist on the radio, it’s probably hip life. Haverford prof Jesse Shipley is well known for his documentary Living the Hip Life, which I watched in Ruti Talmor’s African Masculinities class.
I was actually a little disappointed by hip life when I got to Ghana. What I read about it by Jesse and learned in my African Masculinities class was that the artists were forging a space for themselves, reclaiming their voices against the older generation. They generated a new form of expression and had real political influence. They swayed elections and were hired for important ad campaigns. From what I saw of hip life though, it was pretty much like American rap. It focused on money, cars, and girls, just with some Ghanaian words and beats. Don’t get me wrong, I love (love) Ghanaian music. When a car would go by blasting music, people in the street would spontaneously start dancing because the rhythms are so wonderful. It’s just that, most of the music was as ordinary as everything else. I think perhaps earlier hip life lyrics were more political, but as the style got more mainstream, so did the words.
Anyway, Jesse knows a lot of big hip life artists. One of his best friends is Reggie Rockstone, the “Godfather of hip life,” who started it all back in the 90s. Reggie is a legend in Ghana. He’s as famous as it gets. And of course, my friend Saskia who worked with Jesse knew him too, and Reggie thought she was just the greatest. He would text her at all hours of the night, but it was always an adventure to meet up with him. Read on…