“Surely there can never be any moderately priced thoughts. Since our thoughts are so useless they aren’t worth anyone else’s time, or they are so precious we wouldn’t want to sell them for anything at all” reads an excerpt from Professor Ama Ata Aidoo’s short story Nowhere Cool. The title and premise of the tale inspired the direction of M.anifest’s latest album of the same name, an album that he boldly declares to be his best offering yet in an interview that granted some weeks back.
In the story by Professor Aidoo, the protagonist finds herself leaving her family and home in Ghana to pursue a fellowship in the USA. In a tale possible heavily influenced by the professor’s own experiences, the lead character shares her sporadic thoughts as she realises that Ghana could not offer all that she needed, yet neither can America, not while all she holds dear is back home.
The story almost runs parallel to that of M.anifest. Born into a family with a strong music pedigree, M.anifest left his home in Madina for the cold of Minneapolis where he released his debut effort, only to realise that he too needed to return home.
The album title and its contents represent the journey, conflicts and realisations of an artist who has come to terms with being the product of two worlds, two worlds where he may not completely feel absolutely comfortable or appreciated in either. In his own words, M.anifest has realised that there is Nowhere Cool for him and he is absolutely fine with that realisation.
“I am of different worlds. I have lived here [Ghana]; I have lived outside of here. My taste buds are of different worlds “he confidently quips during an interview he granted.
During an interviewed M.anifest granted two years ago while he was in Zimbabwe for HIFA, he discussed the commercial appeal of his music and his decision to shy away from appealing to the “club” circuit. At the time he almost seemed offended at the notion of being boxed into the “backpack lyrical rapper” category. On Nowhere Cool it, Mdot accepts his position in music, and he celebrates it, even if that position does not fit into the clearly defined boxes we often force on creatives. On Damn You Rafiki he raps “So what if most of my songs don’t belong in the club? I’m talking upper echelon, I belong in that club”. Despite the confidence in the artists identity he has built since the release of Manifestations in 2007 this new album displays a progression in M.anifest’s sound. An evolution and inspiration he attributes to working with younger artists and producers who he says are not afraid to experiment with new sounds.
On B.E.A.R, a song infused with electro, trap influences, up-tempo high-life horns, and African Drums the influence of working with younger artists is in full view as Mdot spits confident and well thought out lyrics over a song that still represents who he is as an artist at its core while still managing to reflect current trends in Hip Hop.
“Only 2 rappers in Africa, me and nobody in particular” You don’t have to be making what everybody is making to be loved by the people. Actually you have to do what the people love, that is what is different, what they consider original. It goes further than anything “says Manifest when in an interview when he spoke about B.E.A.R and its creation.
At its core Nowhere Cool signifies the evolution of one of Africa’s most skilled rap artists. Throughout the project the direction is clear. Every song on the project is anchored by African percussion, high-life, guitars, or melodies that all point clearly to M.anifest’s sound and his overall brand. These traditional elements are accentuated and repackaged with trap sounds, hard knocking 808 kicks & synths, house music and acoustic guitars to create an incredibly diverse and engaging soundscape. A result of a collaborative effort between JaySo, M.anifest, and his brother Fui Tsikata for Singitdammit Productions this is by far the best production on any M.anifest album to date.
With songs like B.E.A.R, Palm Wine and Whiskey, Hand Dey Go, Hand Dey Come and Time No Dey Manifest displays his ability to deliver up-tempo and catchy songs that will appeal as radio singles while fitting seamlessly into the narrative of the album. The rapper also seems to have incredible chemistry with Worlasi. The melodic and gravely vocals from Worlasi fit perfectly on the two songs he features on Nowhere Cool. He has also appeared on 100% with Mani earlier in the year.
Along with self-realisation, confidence and introspection the album also dedicates a fair amount of time to love and relationships. From the social commentary on the dynamics of male-female relationships on Sugar to the “dating a rapper” confessions ” on Cupids Crooked Bow to the “I need a lover” ode on Simple Love and the emotional, acoustic Goodbye, we get a fully rounded view of the full cycle of love and heartbreak.
The meticulous nature in which manifest plans out his work is also evident on Ozymandias, a song named after a poem by French writer Percy Bysshe Shelley. Following the theme of the poem M.anifest declares “You cannot cement your legacy with cement blocks” as he speaks openly about the ills of politics and the politicians who have violated their own mandates.
At 14 tracks Nowhere Cool is a great listen. There are no songs worth skipping; there are no features that take away from the songs. It is unquestionably Manifests best album to date. But it is not the best he could do. Even while he experiments with new sounds and it feels as if M.anifest never leaves his comfort zone as an artist. In the end M.anifest is let down by his own incredible talents. We have become so spoilt by his brilliance that great is no longer enough. We expect exceptionalism.
Much like the overall theme of the project, Nowhere Cool is an offering that is stuck in a musical no man’s land. Failing to find its true home between being a great album an African Hip Hop classic, it just sits there replaying in your head. Reminding you of how great M.anifest is while displaying how great he could be.