Sunday, April 02, 2006
Hammer Makes Serious Beats
This is Hammer. He is known for beats that, on the surface, borrow more from Western-style hip-hop than they do from Ghanaian dance rhythms and folk songs. But, if you listen closely, you can hear local sensibilities.He is conscious of Akan tradition rhythms such as Adowa when he composes his beats. This contrasts with J-Que’s (see previous post) sound in many ways, not least because J-Que’s jama is a Ga rhythm. Like Wulomei in the '70s, J-Que has sparked a Ga cultural revival through his consistent use of a rhythm they consider to be their own. Actually a number of other groups in Ghana lay claim to jama, but we won't get into that here.
Tympani, orchestra chimes, and minor keys feature strongly in Hammer's productions, while most beat programmers stick to your usual synthesized trumpet and organ timbres. Hammer acknowledges his penchant for a driving pulse that usually hangs somwhere around 112 BPM. This is faster than States-side hip-hop tends to be. Don’t forget, we’re still in Ghana, where music generally needs to be danceable if anyone’s going to buy it or spin it.
With a sound that has influenced a significant number of beat programmers in Ghana, Hammer still somehow feels like a cult phenonmenon almost. Since he refuses to work with artists who can't rap hard over a beat or freestyle acapella, he is not quite as prolific as some of the other top engineers in Accra. You don't hear his beats for five songs in a row on the radio (this can happen with a couple other engineers/producers). His work is instantly recognizable and the rappers who bless his tracks are some of the most hardcore in Ghana, though not necessarily the most rich and famous.
Hammer works almost exclusively with local-language rappers. Known for his work initially with Twi rapper Obrafuor, and later with Tinny, Hammer encourages virtuosic skills. He is credited with pushing Tinny, one of Ghana's biggest rappers, to begin rapping in what was then considered an unconventional language, Ga. Tinny's Ga rhymes blow people away with their clever twists and pointed remarks. Ga is the language spoken by the original inhabits of what is now Accra, Ghana's capital. But, the vast majority of Ghanaians cannot understand speak Ga, even many of those who live in Accra. Only now, with the popularity of Tinny, and more recently, Castro, I found people rocking Ga hiplife songs all over Ghana, even in the Twi stronghold of Kumasi and all the way in the Upper East Region. Ga language has gained a sort of hip cachet amongst young people in the smaller urban centers of Ghana, being that it has become associated with big city life and several huge hiplife songs whose lyrics reflect fast and fun times. This all comes (indirectly) thanks to the support and collaboration of Hammer.
Ground breaking work with Obrafuor, along with a series of compilations, have laid the foundations for a counter-movement of hiplife artists who don't care much for the bubblegum arrangements and lovey-dovey lyrics found in many mainstream jams. Rather, Hammer and his camp of young rappers bring the only hint of locally produced edginess that can be found on most local radio stations. Nevertheless, innumerable English-language emcees sporting hard beats and conscious rhymes continue to languish in almost complete obscurity...
Nurturing underground rappers is the new trend among the hiplifers who have already reached a certain level of success in the industry. Hammer oringinated this trned with his series of Compilations, which drawn on the talent of underground cats who've made their way into Hammer's camp. It is though these comps that underground rappers likeKwaw Kesse and Okra Tom became well-known over the last couple years.
Hammer was one of the first people I contacted when I reached Ghana, and he became a sort of touchstone for me throughout my year of research. He was the first person to invite me to Hush Hush to observe a recording session. Hammer also introduced me to a number of players in the industry. Much respect to Hammer, a very humble, down-to-earth, and talented individual.
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I SWEAR I WAS EXCITED CUZ I WAS PROMOTED TO PRIMARY 2............ A DREAM