Image credit: Album sleeve of ‘Ebe Ye Yie’ released in 1994
Unsung — Mahoney P and the Origins of Hiplife in Ghana
A few weeks ago, the death of Mahoney P was reported. Really, this was his second death. The first persists in the ghost treatment he receives when the history of Ghanaian hiplife is told.
As if to make a statement, his passing coincided with the 2020 edition of the long-running ‘Reggie Rockstone-Panji Anoff hiplife origins debate’. Maybe Mahoney P’s second death was to save himself from his first. He was calling out exactly when attention to the history of hiplife had peaked: ‘do not forget about me, do not forget about my contributions to hiplife music’. I doubt he succeeded but fortunately, there is still time and ink to save him from his first death.
According to Panji, while Reggie Rockstone deserves to be celebrated as a hiplife pioneer, the contributions of others must not be glossed over. Reggie agrees. Panji argues that even the name ‘hiplife’ existed before Reggie used it. Reggie disagrees and points to his song, ‘Tsooboi’ as the first time the word ‘hiplife’ was used in a song. While much can be said about the politics of naming, I find this bit of the debate less interesting. For me, the origins of a music genre should first be about the music; the invention of a new sound or at least, the defining reimagination of old sounds.
What then is the hiplife sound? For a long time, I had heard hiplife defined as the merging of hip hop and highlife rhythms. Another school sees hiplife as rapping in a ghanaian language on hip hop beats. On this score, Reggie Rockstone would point out that he was the first to rap in Twi; during a PANAFEST performance in 1994. And that, he was the first to come out with a hiplife EP in 1996, and an album, ‘Makaa Maka’ in 1997. Panji reminds us that on Reggie Rockstone’s first two albums, it is probably only the song, ‘Keep your eyes on the road’ that actually had any significant highlife rhythm. On this song — on the ‘Me na me kae’ album (1998) — Reggie Rockstone fully sampled Alhaji K. Frimpong’s timeless track, ‘Kyenkyen bi adi mawu’.
Reggie Rockstone has a stronger claim when the founding of hiplife is operationalized in terms of ‘naming’, ‘fronting’ and ‘rapping in Twi on hip hop beats’. These are very significant contributions. What about Mahoney P? The carpenters must know that the ‘founder’ stage should be big enough to include him, if not him first.
Born Patrick Kwabena Poku, Mahoney P was based in the Netherlands. He released his album, ‘Ebe Ye Yie’ in 1994. He rapped in Twi on the entire album. For emphasis, the album was released in 1994. Before this, he had released ‘Kofi Babone’, on which he rapped in Twi too. Thus, at the least, Mahoney P recorded and released the first Ghanaian track and album based on Twi rap.
The highlife legend, Gemann has recently spoken about how he (advised by the late singer, Michael Dwamena) worked on sound production and recording for Mahoney P from the late 1980s in the Netherlands. For what it is worth, Mahoney P’s songs such as ‘Kofi Babone’ and ‘Ebe Ye Yie’ were received well in Ghana. Those who liked his type of music in the early 1990s do remember him fondly, judging from scattered comments on social media.
The album sleeve for “Ebe Ye Yie” is particularly instructive. On the sleeve, he has notes like “Highlife in Gangsterdam” and “Explicit Rap”. To my mind, the two expressions capture the essence of what has become known as ‘hiplife’. Mahoney P exactly knew what his music was about, a blend of musical and linguistic cultures. He did not couch the term ‘hiplife’ but in terms of rapping in Twi and recording Twi rap albums, there should hardly be any questions about his pioneering role.
Asked about Mahoney P in an interview on Plus FM’s Hammer Time, Reggie acknowledges that they both came out around the same time, only that he stayed home and worked to popularize the genre. Reggie deserves his due for fronting the genre and making it what it is today. This should not undermine Mahoney P’s status as a pioneer. The origin of the ‘sound’ should not be confused with the ‘fronting’ and ‘popularizing’ of it. Mahoney released the first Twi rap track and album. History must be kind to him.
May we save Mahoney P from his first death by helping to archive him. Fortunately, his songs are available online, and he left behind skeletal Youtube and Facebook pages we can draw on. The unarchived is the forgotten. The forgotten is the uncelebrated.
May Mahoney P not be forgotten. His works deserve better.