Interview: Ghana's Ko-Jo Cue tells us about his debut album, For My Brothers, and the many compelling stories behind it.
Ko-Jo Cue isn't a new name in the Ghana music space. Having consistently released music from as way back as 2010 until now, he has proved his skill and dexterity as a rapper several times over. However something had been lacking, especially from a rapper of his caliber: a project. This month Ko-Jo Cue set out to resolve that, with the release of his much anticipated debut album, For My Brothers, a 15-track offering from the BBnz Live signee. For My Brothers is more than just an album, though. It's an unreservedly honest and heartfelt letter to all young men, addressing what it means to be a man and the struggles young African males face today.
Previously, the Ko-Jo Cue we're used to would shuffle between lyrical rap and afrobeats-influenced party rap versions of himself, at his convenience. This time around we get a new version of the spectacled rapper: the conscious Ko-Jo Cue. For My Brothers is deep, honest, and touching. Addressing everything from the need to cut people off, to the death of a dear loved one, the experiences detailed within are sure to resonate with any young male adult.
In these afrobeats times, the primary aim of most African musicians is to make their listener's dance, or make a "vibe" or "banger" for the clubs and dance floors, rappers included. An artist setting out to dedicate an entire project to speak to the group of people who can relate with him the most, and who can learn from his stories and experiences and realize that they aren't alone in what they're facing, is impressive. It shows a level of care for his art that surpasses commercialism and all the trappings of today's music industry, and the desire to leave a lasting impact.
Ko-Jo Cue. Image provided by the artist.
Starting with track one "Rich Dad, Poor Dad", inspired by the popular novel by Robert Kiyosaki and by his relationship with his own dad, Cue lays out the advantages of being born rich, and urges his brothers to strive in order to afford their own kids those same advantages. On the second track "Dua" (which translates to "curse" in English), he raps explores how our words, and how we say them, affect the psyche of our kids.
"Muddy Stories," featuring emerging soul singer Maayaa is a story that paints a vivid picture of an unexpected child and the drama surrounding the baby's arrival—financial pressures, family pressures, and relational tension between father and mother. "Survivors Guilt" was inspired by the death of Ko-Jo Cue's friend Francis, who was murdered about 4 years ago shortly after getting married.
Each song on the album contains a compelling story as Ko-Jo Cue presents a masterclass on life for the young African man, filled with a wealth of knowledge and experience, an attempt to forge an emotional connection with his audience.
We spoke to Ko-Jo Cue on the album, the idea behind it, and the experiences that fueled its creation. Read the interview below.
Ko-Jo Cue - Dzo [ft. Worlasi] (Official Music Video) www.youtube.com
In a time where majority of West African artists are making party or feel-good music, why did you decide to release a socially conscious album?
I made this album the way I made it because, number one, I don't really let the trends dictate my art. I do what I feel. I make albums the way my heart tells me to. But also because I think it's important that there's balance, at a time like this when all the world has their eyes on us [Africans], that they don't think that all we do is just party and dance and jump around, that our narrative is not that narrow. That we have so much more to talk about, if they're willing to listen. That's the reason why I had the courage to make an album like that.
How long did you work on the album?
With the exception of "Survivor's Guilt" and "Dua," which were songs that I already had, I recorded everything within the space of like 3 months, and spent like 3 to 4 more months mixing.
You could have addressed any demographic of people. Why young African men specifically?
Because I'm a young African man myself, and the stuff that I talk about on the album, that's the stage that I'm in myself. And you know, in writing it's always better to write what you know. Even if you're going to embellish it or make it fictional and expand it, it's always better to build from the stuff that you know. So at least all the emotions, all the right emotions are there.
Ko-Jo Cue. Image provided by the artist.
What's your favorite song on the album?
I believe I like all the songs to an equal measure, I cannot pick. 'Cause "Rich Dad" and "Dua", the first two songs, are super powerful to me. So is "Survivor's Guilt", which is super personal. "Never Mind" is a conversation that needs to be had. So all the songs. I might have an easier time picking a song that may not be my favorite than picking a favorite.
Who are the producers who worked with you on the album?
A whole host of them. Kris D has the most productions on the album. I also have Fortune Dane. Juls is on it as well. Shaker is on it as well. There's Juiczxxx, iPappi, Anae, Dusha Billions, Alberto, and Reynolds The Gentleman.
How did you go about choosing the features for the album, as in which artist goes on which song?
Most of the feature decisions were made by myself and my creative director Evans Offori, and most of the time it's who best fits what song in terms of what they're bringing to the song to enhance it. So for me it's never really about how big the person is or not even how talented the person is. It's just how much the person fits the song and can enhance the song. I think the only feature that was like a gift is the Lady Donli feature, 'cause Juls already gave me the beat with Lady Donli on it, and it was amazing. But as soon as I heard it I knew I had to have Show Dem Camp on it. That's the first name that came to mind. So for most of it we just consider who will fit it best.
Ko-Jo Cue - You Alone (Official Music Video) youtu.be
Tell us about "Survivor's Guilt."
There's this Jay Z line from "Nickels And Dimes" from his Magna Carta album that I was stuck with, which is "Sometimes I feel survivor's guilt", where he talks about being a guy who survived and how that makes him feel. And it's something I always played in my head because I also feel like I'm the guy who survived, or the guy who made it out of the environment I was raised in. And based on conversations and interactions with people who are still in that environment and how they look at me sometimes, you're bound to feel guilty that you made it, especially when you see that you can't really help them out too much. So that Jay Z line sort of always played in my head. And then in 2015 my friend died, and it hit me even harder. And that drove me to write that song because then it became worse than just, you know, making it out of that environment, but just even being the one that's still alive, that's still here when other people are no longer here. And that's just what it is. It made me reflect on other people, other friends who I sort of lost, and just have an opportunity to still be here and feeling a ways about it, like why does it have to be me. So I wrote "Survivor's Guilt" from that place.
Tell us about "Loser."
"Loser" is about cutting people off to grow, or association and how it affects your growth. And knowing when not to hold on to certain people or situations just because of loyalty or whatever, especially when they're getting in the way of you growing. The first verse is based on an actual conversation that I had with a fan, and the second verse is like a combination of a bunch of conversations I've had with friends from my past. And the last verse is about a relationship that I was in that I had to leave. So everything over there is true, and it's just me saying even if I have to lose out on people just to find me, then I'm comfortable with being a loser in those situations.
What do you hope to achieve with this album?
First of all I hope to appease my core fans who've stuck with me through all these years, and thank them for sticking with me even though I've been running in circles instead of like keeping to my path.... But most of all what I hope to do is to reach people who are going through that phase in their life that the album speaks about, young African men as you rightly put it, and help them see above all else, help them know that they're not alone, and give them some clarity on some of the issues that they're going through at the moment. Hopefully help make their path clearer and help reduce some of the guilt that they may feel in cutting people off or in being the people who made it. Help them know especially how not to repeat the mistakes of the past, the mistakes of their fathers and their fathers before them, you know. And help them know how to cater to the next generation, whether it's their brothers or their children or even their sisters. So for me that's what I hope to achieve above all else. Of course, if it comes with money and whatever else, even better. But that's the main focus, those are the main goals when it came to creating the sound.
'For My Brothers' is available now.
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