For a long time now, US hip hop music has found fertile breeding ground in Africa, especially among the continent’s youth. And, it was not uncommon for African youth to know more about Jay Z than the local artist around the corner ingeniously amalgamating the staccato beats of hip hop and the pulsating sounds of Africa into a succulent urban African-flavored musical brew.
But that seems to be changing. Over the last decade or so, urban African music has been steadily gaining popularity across the African continent, especially among young Africans. Now, while young Africans will still bust a move to “In Da Club” by 50 Cents, they’ll also gyrate their bodies into even crazier contortions when “Oleku” by Ice Prince, a Nigerian-born hip hop artist, blares over the speakers.
And, with a population of over a billion people, of which about 65% are under the age of 35, the world seems to be taking notice. Major US record labels and artists are now scouring the continent and the Diaspora for talented African musicians to sign them to record deals, something which was almost inconceivable only a few years ago.
Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music has signed D’banj and Don Jazzy, both from Nigeria, while Akon’s Konvict Muzik inked a deal with P-Square, Nigeria’s twin record producers, and more recently, Nicki Minaj reportedly signed Parker Ighile, a London-based Nigerian artist, as the first artist on her record label.
With Liberian artists like Mr. Smith, Takun J, David Mell, Cypha D’King…could it only be a matter of time before Liberia’s urban artists begin to shine brighter on the global music scene?
Liberia’s Urban Music Artists Are Missing The Cut
But as the world finally starts paying long overdue attention to the rich diversity of musical talent overflowing in the African urban music stratosphere, what is all too clear – and depressingly so – is that Liberian urban musicians are not making the cut. They seem to have fallen under the global music radar in a rather not too stealthy way as they lag conspicuously behind their counterparts in other African countries who are gaining increasing recognition around the world.
A case in point, at the just-ended Channel O Music Video Awards, not a single Liberian artist was nominated for any of the awards, which was dominated by artists from Nigeria. And, only to deliberately belabor this unacceptable point, based on my admittedly cursory research, it seems that no Liberian artist has ever received an award in the 9-year or so history of this pan-African music awards extravaganza.
Yes, everyone knows that Liberia was sucked out of the milky way of peaceful progressing nations into the black hole of a devastating 14-year civil war, and with it, the country’s budding pre-war music industry. But the war ended in 2003 and Liberia’s urban musicians have been doing what they can to resuscitate the industry.
With Liberian artists like Mr. Smith, Takun J, David Mell, Cypha D’King and others returning home from the USA, Nigeria, Ghana and other countries to spruce up the local urban music scene, could it only be a matter of time before Liberia’s urban artists begin to shine brighter on the global music scene?
In my humble judgment, it would probably be foolhardy not to believe that the answer is an affirmative, especially with the eclectic mix of Liberian urban music talent emerging in Liberia and the Diaspora.
Meet Joe Prince
And one young Liberian artist, who has been honing his craft way out in the Land Down Under, seems to be upping the ante with his evident precocious talent. Joe Prince Doegolia, a.k.a “P-Zonic,” born on October 27, 1996 when the embers of war were still smoldering in his war-ravaged country of Liberia, moved with his family to Australia in 2007 to seek opportunities for a better life.
On entering school after the family had settled down in Australia, Joe Prince said he began to feel more inspired by music. And during lunch breaks, he said he enjoyed listening to the blaring sound of music coming from one of the classrooms. He became more and more inquisitive about what was going on there, so after some time, he said he decided to go check it out.
“When I entered the classroom, I saw some of my classmates freestyling and they were pretty good. So I asked the music teacher if I could also join in to freestyle. He agreed so I took the mic and started freestyling. Everyone was like ‘damn he’s good’ and the teacher was also surprise because I used to always play it cool at school,” Joe Prince said.
Well, call it serendipity if you will, but Joe Prince’s music teacher also happened to be an Australian music producer named Nickola Culum, who has worked with some big named Australian artists. And, Joe Prince says that Culum, who he refers to as “Mr. C”, has helped him to sharpen his skills.
And now, even though he performs with his schoolmates in a band called Skool Kids, Joe Prince wants to take his talent to a larger stage and also serve notice to people in his war-torn nation of Liberia that he too is trying to elevate Liberia on the world stage of urban music.
Joe Prince may be young, but if anything, that seems to be to his advantage. At only 16, it is not hard to see that he is a precocious talent. And even if you consider him to be a diamond in the rough, it would be hard to deny that he is a valuable gemstone with stellar qualities.
But you be the judge. Watch his video.
Personally, as someone who’s rooting for the rise of urban Liberian musicians on the global stage, it is heartening to know that there’s a Joe Prince out there, along with Mr. Smith, Takun J, David Mell, Cypha D’King and all the other emerging urban Liberian artists working to make the world aware of Liberia’s undiscovered urban music gems.