At fifteen years young, rapper and production wizard M3nsa Ansah was spotted by Reggie Rockstone, who roped him in as a producer. Rockstone was a rapper fusing traditional highlife and hip-hop influences into a then-new mould known as hiplife.
That was the late-nineties and nowadays, Reggie Rockstone is a figurehead in the Ghanaian music industry; an emcee whose influence continues to permeate even though he may no longer be touring regularly and performing alongside respected names in the hip-hop world.
M3nsa recalls those early years via a Skype connection between Jozi and Budapest where he’s recently moved to (he was living in the UK before). ‘I was in a band called Lifeline Family. We had a single that was the biggest thing in the country,’ he says.
Rockstone, who was already an established artist, reached out to the band. M3nsa already knew about Reggie through their family connections which stretched all the way back to London before M3nsa was born. His eldest brother Mark would school Rockstone in martial arts. Rockstone and M3nsa’s fathers – fashion designer Ricky Ossei and one-time member of Osibisa, Tumi Ebo Ansah – were close friends. ‘I never brought that up until much, much later,’ says M3nsa.
Lifeline Family disbanded after one album. M3nsa, who’d started making beats, had two songs which found their way on Me Ka by Reggie Rockstone. ‘By the time I was 16, I was already producing an album for Reggie. And this is someone who’s a national hero!’ Last Show, Rockstone’s fourth album was produced entirely by him. Rockstone was impressed by a young M3nsa’s encyclopedic knowledge of rap. ‘I was rapping the life off of these albums and he was like ‘what.the.fuck is happening here?!’ So we just hit it off man. We instantly just hit it off.’
It’s close to 20 years since those days. M3nsa’s list of achievements has multiplied. One of his most notable accomplishments, in addition to the feats he pulled off early on, is the work he’s done with Wanlov. ‘M3nsa and I first met in high school in ’97, and as soon as we met, we just hit it off; we just started rapping together, freestyling and so on. And then after school, we took different directions geographically. He moved to London and I was in America,’ Wanlov told me.
Coz ov Moni, ‘the world’s first pidgin English musical’, is FOKN Bois brainchild.
Their duo FOKN Bois has eschewed traditional rap music formats in favour of pushing visceral, socially-engaging ideas. Coz ov Moni, ‘the world’s first pidgin English musical’, is their brainchild. Watching the first one (there’s a sequel), one feels that it was more an excuse for two friends who vibe well off of each other to invite others into their world than it was an attempt to make some definitive statement about art or filmmaking or Ghanaians’ love for chop bar delicacies such as fufu and tilapia.
The same applies to their music; from Thank god we’re not a Nigerians to Sexing Islamic girls, both songs from their album Fokn wit Ewe, consistently poke fun, at times risking heavy handedness, at the multiple inconsistencies in our paradox-ridden society. They also tour. A lot! They give talks at panels; they attend film festivals; they collaborate with other gifted musicians. And it’s exactly because of that multiplicity – because of the ‘can’t-be-put in-a-box’ element – that the FOKN Bois aren’t as acclaimed as they should be. It comes as no surprise to an industry engineered to produce one-dimensional individuals.
M3nsa spoke about RedRed, his latest collaboration with a member of Irie Mafia, Elo.
‘Elo has been doing a lot of work with us, at least for the last five to six years. FOKN Bois did Fokn Duna Quest in Budapest and that was produced predominantly by [him]. We did some kind of bootcamp sessions in Budapest,’ he says of their collaborative, dance music-heavy album released under Ghana’s Akwaba label. ‘And his wife Sena – Sena Dagadu, an outstanding Ghanaian-Hungarian emcee and vocalist – and that’s where the connection is made. I think I met Elo, obviously through Sena, but Sena [I met] through Reggie Rockstone,’ he continues.
M3nsa says that RedRed grew organically from the multiple exchanges they’ve had since meeting. He’s also discovered the secret for the perfect collaboration to happen; he says that similarities in outlook in everything else but music count a lot: ‘Little things like similar sense of humour, or views on things, lifestyle, things like that. If there’s a connection there, [then] creatively it’s always better.’
How long did it take from thinking ‘maybe we should do this’ to actually getting done with the project?
From the time we decided ‘okay, we’re gonna do this’, I would come to Budapest for five days, and we would record five songs.
Were you travelling between the UK and Budapest?
Yeah. And we’d do a couple of shows together, and so on and so forth. Within two months, we had pretty much done all the songs that we wanted to do. [After that] it was just a case of going back, updating things or taking things out or making things better, re-recording them. But we already knew which direction we were going. That’s the thing about Budapest anyway. Every time I’ve been here, it’s been my little safe haven for productivity. FOKN Bois recorded an album in four days in Budapest. In a space of four days, we were recording the album and doing live shows.
The album is pretty much done. Just fine-tuning a couple of things here and there.
[The recording took a month or two] just because we would take breaks. He was on tour, I was doing other things, FOKN Bois had to travel. We’ve already shot two videos, just kind of planning the third video. But the album is pretty much done. Just fine-tuning a couple of things here and there. But, for the most part, it’s ready. The idea is to just release songs slowly throughout the year and then release the whole album. There’s no gold rush to put the album out.
The sound is very different from what I would normally do. It’s like sometimes I have to catch myself like ‘oh, I’m an underground artist, I’m a purist.’ All these kinds of titles that we give ourselves. But it’s like, you know what, I enjoy making this kind of music. It’s fun. It’s easy. It’s danceable. But something that I don’t compromise on is the subject matter. I try and bring as much depth as possible, no matter how happy or how light it may sound.
Give the people something that they can enjoy but also something that they can be introspective on.
Even the first single with Sarkodie, I’m saying some really personal shit in there. We have a song on there; it’s a song where I’m talking to my daughters in the most raw and honest way about what’s going on in my life and their influence in my life and the relationship [between] myself and their mother and all the madness and craziness. It’s very politically-driven as well. For me, that’s the only way I can balance the two, you know?! Give the people something that they can enjoy but also something that they can be introspective on. I feel like I’m putting out some real substance. But it’s fun, it’s fun, it’s fun!
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