This week’s review is all about FlowKing’s Number 1 featuring M.anifest from the camp of Gabriel Myers Hansen. Enjoy …
Stone understands rap, but then again, he comes from a family which understands rap:
‘Them dey wonder how/ we no go allow/ three of the best rappers, one mother. How?’ he raps in the first verse of his song “Number 1”, which features M.anifest and Dampo. Okyeame Kwame is hiplife royalty, and Kunta has not been as active since his prolonged wrestle with a stroke a few years back, but his promise cannot be ignored.
He started off in the duo Bradez, the other half being Kunta. Back then, he simply went by the name Stone. Their most successful songs are ‘One Gallon’, produced by Appietus and ‘Simple’, produced by Richie Mensah. But he seems to have weaned himself from the group, and completely redefined himself. So today, he responds to FlowKing Stone, obviously to make a statement. I concur, but as is characteristic with learning new names, I still keep going back to calling him just Stone.
Stone’s song is a deeply personal anthem about what our belief should be by default –that God has made us all number one. Stone himself lives this belief, for he has always maintained that he’s number one in lyricism, in spite of his brothers, in spite of Sarkodie, with whom he has constantly been compared:
‘On the mic I be beast/ your best be ma least’
Stone is obedient to rhythm in a way that is exemplary, he’s not complacent…his siblings too. He will rap, then ‘rap-sing’, then rap again. But to the same beat, he can be abusive too. Maybe four bars to the end of the first verse, he does something amazing and worrisome; with his mouth, with words, he becomes a drummer and explores pun, metaphor, symbolism and rhyme excellently. The way he achieves this might make you lose your breath, much like the dizzying hihat pattern in the song, or the guitar offering toward the end. It’s ridiculous in the way it is impressive, and then he concludes a caution detractors momentarily thus:
‘I go make you bow down your head –Blackberry chat.’
The song is instantly arresting, because it sets out in a rhythm and tempo our bones are conversant with: the tips of drumsticks are felt on the face of a snare, gentle guitar strumming which could only have been recorded live, elastic piano for backdrop, and horns which complete a marching band sound.
As a listener of music, I respect and am bias toward the trumpet, because it is the sound of the warrior. A trumpet’s sound is audacious. It doesn’t request your attention like, say, the flute would…it demands it, with the confidence of an owner.
The trumpet has become the ‘weapon of choice’, for Da Hammer of The Last Two, for instance. Together with vivid drum kicks, he has accomplished repeatedly, the vibe of warfare, most prominently with Obrafour…Blitz The Ambassador too; the trumpets in his sound are especially emotional.
Magnom Beatz, whose most notable work might be on ‘ Koene’ or ‘Illuminati ‘, depending on what mood you’re in, produced the song. On this one, he employs the trumpet as initiating apparatus into the song, and it’s gorgeous. It’s still a trumpet, it’s still the war tool, the voice of courage, still the axe which announces impending hostility and invokes fear, but check this out:
The horn here is mildly hurried and delicate. It still communicates smooth confidence and caution…its civil. This trumpet, together with the other instruments, condenses gracefully and just fits, like round pegs in a round holes.
Number One, which was released online back in March but is not nearly as popular as I would have liked it to be, features contributions from Dampo, who rendered a flawless hook, whom I know too little about so might have misspelled his name, but am already impressed by…and Manifest (stylised as M.anifest), whom I’ll come to in a few seconds. Dampo’s words translate thus:
The hater hates in vain
The one in whose protection I am is no human
Seek profitability with your own time
The Lord has blessed me so the enemy’s effort won’t amount to a thing.
Dampo’s voice is adorable silk, and is frighteningly identical to Qwabena Maphia. It’s harmless, level and nearly playful.
Verse two: enter M.anifest, soft spoken and intelligent. We all know he comes from a family of intellectuals and students of music…but M.anifest has always held his own. He’s contributed to the Guardian and is a fashion icon. M.anifest’s rap style appears easy. He’s not so bothered about dexterity, but he can’t help it.. it just pours. He just exudes bars and you have to hear them. Like Stone, he transitions between English, pidgin and Twi. Among other quotables, he goes:
‘…ridee me den insomnia, besties/ my ambitions bola, how can I rest these/ my heart turn stone-cold, I’m left with just these/ just these proverbs and narratives/ I was slept on, they all took sedatives/ victory got so many damn relatives/ defeat is a bastard, that’s how it is…’
Rap is a braggadocious genre: it’s impossible, even when an artist is rapping about love, to not sprinkle rhyme about expensive clothes and cars and girls and vacations, whether true or not, and so it’s resented by many, but the way FlowKing Stone tackles rap in this is classy…it’s realistic and laudable.
You would think that after such a brilliant performance on seemingly endless bars, FlowKing Stone would be spent. But you are wrong. He returns with nearly two minutes to the end of the song, which slightly exceeds the five minute mark in an age where a five minute song is either too long or scarce. He returns with one more verse, never mind that he’s done enough in the first verse. This time, as an old sage; giving necessary pointers to the up and coming, advising on an array of issues from sacrifice to handling fame. In doing so, he dissects the word ‘manifest’ in as many ways as are possible, and then puts it all back together like nothing has happened. Meanwhile, listen :
‘ Just about the time you dey feel sick and tired o / that’s about the time you’re about to win your big title/ you want shine? You go shine, but you watch your back though/ Cuz where there is a light, there’s gonna be a shadow. ‘
There’s something writer Teju Cole opines about lyric and rhythm: ‘The meaning of a good poem, like that of a good song, is not settled: a song, a meeting place for the experience of the musician and that of the listener, makes you wonder, “How did you know what was in my mind?”. ‘
Everybody has a soundtrack to their life and story. This is Stone’s, and has been mine on many a night when I have been broke and lonely, and so I have had to seek refuge in a cool night and a large moon. I reckon I’ll be broke and lonely for a while longer, so I’ll maintain my grip on this song…
By Gabriel Myers Hansen
The writer can be reached @myershansen on twitter and at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also on www.myershansen.wordpress.com.