Last year while working on The Versatile Show with Okyeame Kwame, I had a not-so-heated argument with him about taste. It started with us disagreeing on whether it was okay for African rappers to sound American. He thinks African rappers should sound authentically African, use African metaphors and tell African stories. He had strong points but I can get why some don’t. I used myself as an example to make my point.
When I woke up in the morning, I pray in tongues and read the Bible. I proceed to check my social media, I Google Kanye West, check out a hip hop blog or two before going out to pee. I wash my Dad’s Japanese-manufactured car, if I’m in his house and my kid bro isn’t around or go open my mom’s shop with Made in China keys if I’m at her place or just put on my Made in USA laptop if I’m at my place or anywhere else. Holding my penis and shaking it after urinating is the only thing African I do in the first two hours of my day.
Telling this story doesn’t sound authentically African but it is my story, 100%. Saying I go to the bush to chase rats will be, in the words of Kanye, “writing hooks about slaves in the 1800s while I still get called a nigger on twitter”. I’m an African who has been damaged by modernity.
Then the issue of my love for Kanye came up. Okyeame Kwame argued that, “if you weren’t exposed to him, you won’t have liked him”, which is true because I won’t love my girl if I didn’t meet her. On the other hand, I met several girls before connecting with her. I tried to explain that, I didn’t make him my favorite artist. The day I ‘fell in love’ with him, I listened to a lot of music from different artists, it was his that stuck with me. His worldview and musical taste is 84% similar to mine. The other 16% is only because his girl is white and mine is a Ghanaian. His girl buys him Lambo on his birthday, when my girl takes me out on my birthday, I have to pay. Kanye West and Okomfour Kwaadee are the greatest artists to ever walk the planet earth, period.
When Ghana lost to Ivory Coast at the AFCON, I wept like a baby. For weeks, anytime I remember the match or see our flag, I got teary. I’m not a football fan but I am passionate about being a Ghanaian. Our national flag is the most beautiful in the world. From the outside, our presidential palace is nicer than the White House (I haven’t been inside the White House yet so can’t compare the insides). BTW, I think the name of the palace should be called The Golden Stool. Flagstaff House is the name our colonial masters gave the place and we can’t claim to be out of colonial rule if the highest seat of the land still bears a name given by them. I thought that’s one of the reasons we moved the presidency out of the Castle. If our presidents can’t live in a house that has blood stains of slaves (covered with paint), why can our presidential palace have a name that anytime you hear, you hear shackles banging against each other? Stool and Skin in most Ghanaian culture is a symbol of power and Gold in the world over is a symbol of wealth. Ghana is a powerful and wealthy nation; everything of ours should reflect that. Until we change that name, you’ll be a nation of poor begging zombies forever, forever, forever ever, forever ever forever (Andre 3000 voice).
I didn’t choose to be a Ghanaian, I don’t know if I chose to be passionate about being one but I chose to own my nationality. No matter what happens, no matter how Mahama and Oko Vanderpuye fuck up the country, I will never wish to be anything but Ghanaian. I thank God every day for John Mensah-Sarbah and the Aborigines Rights Protection Society, Kwame Nkrumah and the Big Six and all our founding fathers that our country is not like Zimbabwe where they got in trouble when the leader decided to claim the lands for the people who own them, the Zimbabweans or like Australia where the British flag is in their national flag instead of the kangaroo. The British immigrants own and run everything while the natives live in poverty. They are still under the Crown.
For me, weeping in front of my family after the AFCON was liberating. No matter how I felt, happy or sad, I wore a straight face because it’s unethical to show heart as a Ghanaian man. Even when I’m recording my poems, my lyrics will sound very emotional but my recital will be dry because I don’t want to be ever seen or hear trying to show emotions. I have mastered the art of numbness to the extent that now I’m a natural. These days, I don’t even know how to feel when something happens.
When we were working on the No Explanation video, Kobi Rana, the director didn’t see the locations till the day of the shoot. I was supposed to take pictures for him but didn’t. When he saw the last location we used (we used 3 locations), he said, “You choose locations like you’re a woman.” I think he saw that uncomfortable look in my face and so explained that female producers were way better at choosing locations for movies than men. That was supposed to be a complement that I have good taste but it made me self-conscious. I don’t ever want to be associated with things that are not masculine. I always knew I liked fashion shows than football, romantic comedies than sci-fi and like colorful things. All those qualities don’t appeal to the man society have thought me to be. I feel bad for having the taste I have so I try to conceal what I really want. I had to kill the emotionally-vulnerable part of me to satisfy society’s expectation of me as a man – macho.
I’m most happy when I’m alone because I get to be myself. When I’m around other people, I have to play the macho role. I stay away from people more because their expectations of me made me unhappy. Satisfying society always left me unsatisfied. I think the desire to claim back that power is why most of my works are about being yourself and celebrating your individuality.
As a Christian, I know the Bible is a book of individuals and their individual interaction with God and how that influenced their relationships with other individuals. No two biblical characters were the same. Abraham’s walk with God was different from Moses who was different from David. Yes, the message is the same but the applications were different.
Esther is my favorite biblical character. She was a sexy girl who decided to use her sensuality for good. I believe my message as a prophet is to tell people to own who they are, like she did. Reading about her made me see my uniqueness as strength. I started understanding and accepting other people’s differentness too. God made every man look and sound different for a reason. If the Jews didn’t have a hot chick in the palace, what would have become of them? Individuality is God’s idea, groupthink is a devilish concept. I was homophobic until I had that epiphany.
Frank Ocean was my favorite singer. I loved his Nostalgia Ultra mixtape. He had this song, Songs for Women, which I could relate very much to. The song was about the fact that people assumed he sang to get women. My friends assume I write to get women too. The first time I knew poems could get you girls, the girl was already in my room. Frank’s song captures the emotions of an artist misunderstood very well.
Then came 2012 and he published this letter on his social media where he revealed he was gay. I was shocked because he wrote dope songs about girls. I didn’t listen to him for a while. My epiphany made me accept that his being gay didn’t change the fact that he was an amazing singer and writer. I started listening to him again. His sense of individuality was inspiring to me.
My job is to create a society where people can be free to express themselves and be who they are. I believe Dr. Ali Gariba had to join the anti-homosexual demo for the same reason politicians speak against corruption – he had to look good in the eyes of society. He may have used his wife and kids the way politicians use contracts when they steal – to hide from public scrutiny. I dream of a society both will be a thing of the past, a society where someone into guys will not pretend to be against that in public to fit in, a society where women will be truly equal to men, a society where disabled people will be given equal chances, a society where two people who disagree on issues (like me and Okyeame Kwame disagree on how African rappers should sound) can live together in harmony. I’m not talking about legalizing anything (because oral sex is illegal in Ghana but we do it without shame), I’m talking about a society where you can be okay to live any lifestyle, whether you were born that way or you acquired like the way I acquired emotionless personality without people giving you the eyeball.
I wrote No Explanation in 2012. It was one of the first poems I when I had the epiphany that individuality is God’s idea and groupthink is the Devil’s. As I share it with the world as the first single from my album, See Me Naked, I hope everybody who hears it is empowered to be who they are and whoever they want to be. I still deal with some insecurity about myself but I know even though I’m not perfect, I’m beautiful. Whoever you’re, whatever you do, don’t let the world steal you from you. Love you. I don’t mean I love you, I mean, love you. Life is life, no explanation.
*Nenebi is a poet, storyteller and songwriter. He released a mixtape, A B.I.B.LE of Things We Do on September 21st, 2014. His debut album, See Me Naked, is scheduled for a September 21st, 2015 release. The first single, No Explanation, drops on Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015 on YouTube.