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#BehindDaHits: JQ, Appietus, and the Hiplife archives

By taking to Instagram Live last night, in a highly-publicised music matchup, JQ and Appietus, preeminent Ghanaian producers and pop culture architects, were honouring an unspoken invitation by their mates elsewhere while serving up a hiplife masterclass.

In the US, some days back, as an answer to the COVID-19-prompted sequester, Swiss Beatz and Timbaland had squared up on the social media platform, putting their vast catalogues against each other.

In Nigeria, two days ago, Sarz and Shizzi had sparred in the same manner. Now, the Ghanaian troupers were up, dishing from their sterling collections, and regaling eager viewers with never-before-heard hiplife anecdotes.

Comprising two, hour-long rounds, the showdown, whose virtual audience included a long list of contemporary music stars starting with Sarkodie, M.anifest, Samini, Da’Hammer, and KiDi, was a reminder of the genius of both men, and their basal value to Afropop discourse.

The contest could have extended into a third round, and a fourth, and a fifth. Such was the density of the discographies at play.

(The ever-mutinous last born, Shatta Wale would have nothing to do with this iconic cultural moment, opting instead to host his own live chat with model and actress Efia Odo at the same time).

Both producers, during their prime, drank from an overlapping list of hiplife’s biggest stars, and the first few minutes saw them trade hits by Buk Bak, VIP (now VVIP), and Nkasei, as well as untold stories that accompanied their making.

Discussing the perceived rivalry between Buk Bak and VIP, JQ recalled a tale about how VIP stormed his location with a dozen men alleging a Buk Bak-backed sabotage attempt of one of their mixes.

In another, he divulged how the bass for “Komi Ke Kena,” among Buk Bak’s earlier hits, had to be played manually at the historic CHM studios. Appietus, introducing “Tuobodom,” remembered what a controversial social moment the Nkasei record sparked.

Their shared roster aside, one couldn’t help but notice unconscious bias to a particular set of artists by either producer — perhaps testament to a precise creative bond. This was apparent in which artists they fell on for their power moves.

JQ summoned, mainly, Buk Bak, VIP and Castro, with whom some of his best work was hatched. Appietus, who seemed to demonstrate more range, called on the lethal combination of Ofori Amponsah and Daddy Lumba, throwing in a Sarkodie, or a Rex Omar for good measure.

In the comment section, enjoyment flowed, adulation poured. This was a big night for the culture. “Guys, I for move from here. Too emotional,” said Sarkodie, who was evidently overwhelmed by this nostalgic tour (Don’t worry, he stayed for the whole show).

The hiplife pillars, too, were high — on their own supply, frequently playing songs longer than expected. This caught up with them toward the end of proceedings when they began rushing through their playlists.

The conspicuous absence of Reggie Rockstone and the near–exclusion of Obrafour (one is a founding father, the other, a shaper) from the playlist raises one or two questions, starting with this: what is hiplife combat without the above names?

Fair question. To purists, Rockstone and Obrafour are the primary shoulders on which the genre has thrived. Still, it is impossible to overlook the innovations of JQ and Appietus. Between the former’s Jama foundations and the latter’s highlife leanings, there exist some five-hundred rockets, over a decade of pop reign, and a foretaste of Afrobeats.

Wednesday’s exchange was advertised as a contest, and as is characteristic of all contests, it was difficult to abstain from comparisons. To prove their mettle, both men crisscrossed the country?—?the sub-region, even. For many, the Lumba and Ofori Amponsah folders gave Appietus a slight edge.

Once the affair kicked off, however, it proved one big laughter-filled celebration: two old men trading great stories from their youth during a family reunion.

As expected, post-mortems from the event have included calls for other producers to partake in a similar challenge. In typical Twitter style, banter has also erupted, with fans pitting legends and their cultural grandsons against one another in genuinely laughable mismatches.

If only Generation Z truly knew of the infinite power of the Hammer bassline.


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