Ghanaian artist Ko-Jo Cue has carved a place for himself as a creative rapper for the people. An icon in his own right, he has become a role model to many since his emergence in 2014. Before his break in 2021, Ko-Jo had established himself as a versatile rapper who sheds light on life’s issues. To him, every societal concern is significant and only when addressed can a better society be achieved. Cue’s album For My Brothers (2019) and EP 21 Memory Lane (2021) are dedicated to such topics. Songs such as Wo Nsa Be Ka, Rich Dad, Poor Dad and Survivor’s Guilt received critical acclaim for their raw portrayals of societal problems.
Comeback and Inspiration
Ko-Jo Cue had the chance to reevaluate and rediscover his love for music while on break. “I’ve been gone for a bit and I started feeling a lot of the energy that made me fall in love with hip-hop,” said Ko-Jo Cue. “So before I get back to regularly scheduled programming, I felt like putting the glasses down and stepping into the booth again.”
Cue did not completely detach himself from music during his hiatus, participating in features and collaborations alike. To signify his return, he collaborated with WhoIsDrumxBeat on the freestyle track 001. It was dedicated to haters parading as critics. In addition, Cue had the honour of participating in a cypher for the 2023 Black Entertainment (BET) Hip-Hop Awards. Even with a tight deadline, Cue showed off his lyrical and musical prowess. His verse was written, recorded and shot within a 24-hour window.
Ko-Jo Cue returned to music with a seven-track project titled I’m Back. Released on November 16, it draws inspiration from sports and past experiences. I’m Back also encompasses multiple moving themes revolving around Cue’s life principles and music style. Most notably, the EP’s title is a callback to the legendary words of Michael Jordan when he returned to basketball in 1995. “My manager, David-Clay, saw the parallels between my hiatus and Jordan’s first retirement. The album title I’m Back was drawn from the iconic comeback of the basketball superstar.” To emphasize this and elevate the creativity of the songs, Cue incorporates samples that revolve around the legendary baller into some of the pieces.
The Sports References
The first track Mac Tontoh starts and ends with snippets of an interview with Jordan after his return to basketball in 1995. Featuring Big Homie Flee, the song launches straight into a rap by Cue and is dedicated to those who lent him a hand over the years. The title also pays respect to the renowned trumpeter from Osibisa. With lyrics that paint a picture of the artiste’s rap journey, the song is unapologetic about Ko-Jo Cue’s past and present triumphs.
Borrowing another concept from basketball, the piece Free Throw is a go-hard song that speaks about winning against the odds. The iconic 1998 NBA Game 6 finals which features Jordan’s last shot for the Chicago Bulls is sampled at the beginning and end of the track. Produced by Fortune Dane and featuring Joey B, this piece was pre-released to usher in the new Ko-Jo Cue era.
Even if life seems to be going sideways, 32 is a drill song to remind us that we should live to the fullest. The song’s title references a Ghanaian metaphor implying to smile widely. Lyrics like ‘No one knows tomorrow’ encourage the listener to live freely to prevent regrets at death’s door. Kweku Smoke and Kwaku DMC echo these sentiments in their respective verses. The song also adds a Jordan game sample at the end.
The sixth track, Cedi Kasa touches on the societal divide faced in Ghana, Cue’s home country. The track serves as a social commentary on the financial and social struggles people face. With this song as a platform, Cue and Kay-Ara dish on street life, personal ambition and the pursuit of success. The song also uses sports terms to explain the rapper’s struggle for success and also samples a Jordan game at the end of the piece.
The Sportless Harmonies
Though the three remaining songs are not sports-centred, they are by no means inferior. The only track on the ensemble without a feature, Someway lays out how malicious people can be. Accompanied by a groovy beat, Cue takes a swipe at people who only lick the feet of those they consider important.
The fifth song, Okay Okay is a mantra that life will get better. Centring on topics such as ambition, determination to succeed and hard work, Cue is joined by Strongman and YPee as he emphasises the importance of self-belief and resilience in the pursuit of success. The final song on the EP, Happy Ending serves as a befitting closure. Featuring Ghanaian-Burkinabe singer Ria Boss, Ko-Jo Cue uses irony to discuss the unpredictability of life and death, personal tragedy, and the futility of chasing fairytales. It’s a sobering reminder that life is far from a fairytale, but that doesn’t mean we can’t write our own stories.
Out of all the songs on the EP, Cue thinks fondly of Cedi Kasa and Happy Ending. “Everything I write is top level but I like the bag I was in for the last two songs. They are also the most recently recorded songs,” the artiste remarks.
Though the rapper poured his heart into this project, he muses that his hiatus affected his worldview and as such greatly influenced the songs. He leaves it up to the audience to judge if that is a good or bad thing. Indeed, the audience seems appreciative of Cue’s new project, with the EP hitting number one on the Ghana Apple Music album chart 24 hours after release.
Having established himself as the ‘Michael Jordan’ of rap in Ghana, Cue is still looking to the future and promises there will be more to come. In the words of Cue himself “My next album will be my best.”