African music has long influenced genres worldwide, starting with the blues in the 19th century which has its roots in the music carried to America’s Mississippi Delta by African people forced into the slave trade. It has also helped shape merengue, jazz, and, of course, rock, but on the western cusp of the African continent artists have adopted their own take on a popularized American sound.
Hip-hop first made its mark on Ghanaian music in the 1970s when Gyedu Blay Ambolley—an artist who took an innovative approach to highlife, a densely rhythmic, guitar-based style—released one of the country’s first semi-rap songs, titled “Simigwado.” On the record, Ambolley spoke in both English and Fante, one of the traditional languages of the local Akan people. Over the following two decades, highlife artists continued to experiment with incorporating other styles into their recordings—from reggae to gospel music—but it wasn’t until the 1990s when a new sound called “hiplife” emerged.
A unique hybrid of highlife and hip-hop, hiplife served as an expressive platform for younger artists. During its early days, Ghanaian rapper Reggie Rockstone's tireless grind earned him the title "the godfather of hiplife," while Ghana’s first rap group Chief G and The Tribe and other artists including Native Funk Lords and Talking Drums also served as key contributors. As time progressed, hiplife continued to evolve with a plethora of eager new artists and unique production elements. To unify all the different dynamics and give name to the innovative sounds that were now branching off from hiplife, in 2011 UK DJ Abrantee called the popular music “Afrobeats.”
The term is not to be confused with Afrobeat, without the “s," the largely instrumental style of music popularized in the 1970s by Fela Kuti. Although it is influenced by the older genre, Afrobeats is now the umbrella term for the multitude of styles that hiplife gave birth to; some still use the names Afrobeats and hiplife interchangeably. Drawing on a variety of languages and a global dance music palette, Afrobeats has carved out a new lane in music. While its long transcended it's Ghanaian roots, the local lineage of contributors to the culture is extensive. Here are 10 Afrobeats artists from Ghana, new and old, that you should know.