During Grungecake’s chat with Sarkodie last month, Tema’s shooting star shared the laughable origin about where his distinctive name comes from, the upcoming ‘JAMZ’ world tour that will take him to one of my favourite places Australia for the first, reshaping his record label, the moments he’s most proud of, and more.
If you are just coming across Sarkodie or his music for the first time, he is the first African artist to accomplish many things like being the first winner of BET’s Best International Flow award in 2019 and being the first rapper to win Artist of the Year at the Vodafone Ghana Music Awards (VGMAs) in 2010.
On January 20, Sarkodie’s collaboration with the late great Reggae legend Bob Marley—’Stir It Up’—was released with an official music video that he directed. The star artist has also linked to American rappers Vic Mensa and Chance the Rapper of Ghanaian descent, to whom he has a song with called ‘Vibration’ out on Sarkcess/Eagle Records, which I had a blast promoting in North America in 2021.
More than a week ago, the multi-award winning artist released the official video for his song ‘Country Side’ with fellow Ghanaian star Black Sherif from his latest album ‘JAMZ’.
GRUNGECAKE: Okay. Oh, that’s soon. Yeah. Okay. Okay. All right. So, I have a few questions for you here.
Sarkodie: First of all, I want to take the opportunity to say thank you. I really do appreciate you so much for all the support.
GRUNGECAKE: Of course.
Sarkodie: Thank you so much.
GRUNGECAKE: Well, you make it easy because your music is fantastic.
Sarkodie: Appreciate it. Appreciate it.
GRUNGECAKE: So, thank you. Appreciate it. Appreciate it. GRUNGECAKE has covered your music for over nine years, starting with ‘Illuminati’. That’s a year shy of a decade. How would you, Sarkodie, the man and the brand, say that you’ve evolved since then?
Sarkodie: I can say in every aspect: As a a person, musically, technically. My mindset [is] 360, like every aspect of Sarkodie, of Michael, whether it be music or me as a person. I think there’s been a big evolution. That time, til now.
GRUNGECAKE: You are a multiple award winning artist. What was the first award that you received that made you think: Damn, I’m really good at what I do?
Sarkodie: The first award… I will say Ghana Music Awards when I won the first Artist of the Year. I probably [won’t have the dates] but I know that was like my first time on that platform. And I remember the previous year, I had a verse out so they wanted to… I had a verse out Edem, my colleague, he had a single and the verse was on there. And I was making buzz because I had an underground presence, so they wanted to nominate me that year. But then I had the nerve to say no, because I believed in myself that I was going to work harder the next year.
Sarkodie: Which you’re not always sure, because you never know. Maybe that was that was the last chance. But then I took took the challenge and then, came back the next year, got loads of nominations, and I took five of them. And then, the top the top of all was the Artist of the Year. So, definitely that night. I remember it was like it was it was crazy. You know, I think my mom was on stage with me or something.
GRUNGECAKE: Oh, wow!
Sarkodie: And came back. I was still with my mom at that time. [I] came back home… whole community was like, you know, the whole of Tema was like… there were horns on the streets, taxi drivers were like super happy. It was really a moment, you know? So yes, definitely, it would be that night.
GRUNGECAKE: Wow! Yes, that’s amazing! What was the achievement that impressed you the most? Was that that the achievement or was there another one?
Sarkodie: The achievement that impressed me the most, I’ll say the Best International Flow BET because when I stand for, I made a decision to myself that I think we all know that when you’re rapping English is best, you have an advantage of having a lot of people understanding what you’re saying to be able to even fall in love with your music. But then, I wanted to do something that people thought it was not possible—to rap your native tongue but didn’t have a way to deliberate that people find it sonically pleasing to the ear to want to even listen to it. So, it was deliberate. I wanted to have cadence that people love even if you don’t understand it. I want you to go like “That’s dope! I don’t get it. But I like it.” So, it was very deliberate and to win an award for a decision that I made, it put a stamp on the fact that… You know, and then lucky enough, I was the first person—the first time that they bought that category and then, I won that, you know? So, it was it was like tailor made for for me and so, I can say I was really impressed that I stood for something and I got an award for that same thing.
GRUNGECAKE: Wow, still congrats! I feel like saying congrats even though these things have passed already. Okay, I don’t think I’ve thought about your name at length before. But today’s interview gave me the opportunity to ask. Was your name given to you and what does it mean and what does it mean, and what’s the proper way to say it?
Sarkodie: So, my name is my real name is Michael Owusu Addo. But I picked up Sarkodie for some funny, silly reason because when I was coming up, my dad had a friend called… because it’s actually a surname.
Sarkodie: Like, whatever surname that anyone has is it’s actually a family name in Ashanti. So, I saw one Sarkodie who was a friend of my dad who was very wealthy had money. And then, I bumped into a couple of Sarkodies who also had money. So as a child, I thought it was the name that gave them the money. So that was the first reason why I chose it. And then also, my favourite animal of all time is the eagel. An eagle in Twi, when you’re saying the eagle, it’s “ɔkɔdeɛ”. Sounds like, like you’re saying “Sarkodie”. And if you want to say like, I’m like the eagel, you say, “Sarkodie”. So now, it sounds like Sarkodie. They actually said I loved the name and I love the eagle. So, just the wordplay there made me just fall in love with it.
GRUNGECAKE: I see. Okay, you see? So, it’s a good thing that I asked. That’s very nice. It’s a nice story. I don’t know if I’ve seen that out there before. But that’s why I asked.
Sarkodie: Yeah, but you know what the funny story is, right?After I came out calling myself Sarkodie, I started seeing some broke Sarkodies.
Sarkodie: I should’ve taken my time.
GRUNGECAKE: *Laughing* Oh, my God. No, but you’re not amongst those. So?
Sarkodie: No, no, no, definitely. I think that’s the good part.
GRUNGECAKE: Exactly. Besides your latest milestone, which includes making a record with the late Bob Marley, what career defining moment are you most proud of?
Sarkodie: I’ve had a lot of beautiful highlights, I really have to think of… It’s a couple of them. I think that that night, I wasn’t there to receive it. It was an award. But I didn’t think of myself because what I do in my career is I just keep going. I don’t like to look at where I’m going and sit down and go like, “Okay, I’ve been doing this for two years or three years.” I just keep going. I just feel like until I get to where I’m going to I’m not looking back. So, sometimes when people pull me back and go like, “Do you know you’ve been doing this for over 10 years?” I was like, crazy. So, when I won the Artist of the Decade, I think a couple years ago, which there was some incident there. So, I wasn’t able to go on stage to grab that award for myself to speak to the people. But I’m gonna use this opportunity to say how thankful and grateful I am to God and the fans for… it’s really hard to keep people’s ears for this long. So, I don’t know what has happened or what I’ve been able to do. But I think that moment made me realise how long I’ve been doing this and how consistent I’ve been. So, definitely that. I will put that on top of the list amongst others.
GRUNGECAKE: Soon, you will hit the road for your world tour. Are there any countries you haven’t toured or performed in before on the list? And can you share which cities or countries?
Sarkodie: Yes, I’m looking forward to performing in Australia for the first time. I’ve always had this urge to go but I always felt like this… This is the seedy side of me. I felt like it was too far of a place to go not to get enough money. So, it’s always been about the money when it has to do with Australia. But definitely, I’m really looking at going there. So far, they keep updating the dates and the places, but I think we’re coming to UK. We’re doing The States: New York, DC. I heard Ohio. I think there’s like two more, but I have to confirm it. And we’re going to Europe. We’re doing Germany, Paris, Holland…
Sarkodie: And a few more. Yes, and I come back to Ghana to do like a few regions, here, in Ghana too.
GRUNGECAKE: Oh, that’s gonna be sweet! I look forward to seeing you when you come to the States. And definitely seeing the coverage, like the wrap-up, like when you’re all done. Seeing the videos… that’s gonna be crazy!
GRUNGECAKE: Yes, nice. There are talented young people emerging or breaking out from Ghana. How have you helped to spotlight the artists? Are you directly involved in any of their careers?
Sarkodie: So, when I was coming up as a young artist, I always knew what crew signing could do for me. And I’ve always wished that I had people—if not even giving me a verse—just telling people to listen to me. So, I knew… until days, I still feel like that. So when I listened to people, and I liked them, I don’t know why should keep that to myself. That’s why I like to post them or push them out there for people to see. So I’ve signed two artists before. We worked, but I think here in Africa, our structure has to be a bit solid for an artist to be able to take on an artist and go like fully invested in them. Because sometimes, you know, young artists, I’ve been there, so it’s kind of like crazy when I’m speaking about artists because I understand it at the same time because they feel certain things has to happen. And then if it doesn’t, and now they have somebody to blame, that can also dent your image. So, it was great. But then, we have some ups and downs. It was a start, but now I’m restructuring it. So, I don’t have anybody on my label. But what I’ve been doing even prior to the label, and even now is, I like to put spotlight on people when I when I notice they are dope. You know, I post you on my page, or I do a verse, or I’ll put you on my song, or we do something. Just something to put you out there.
GRUNGECAKE: That’s nice!
Sarkodie: And they just take it from there. So, that has been a thing for me. Even this year, there will be a writing camp going on that I will be introduced to a lot of new artists. So yeah, hopefully we can get some out. But I think I played a little part in almost all this new generation artists out there. If not by a verse, its probably me recommending them to whoever, so yeah.
GRUNGECAKE: Absolutely. I think also with you being able to be bilingual, I think that them seeing you do that also gave him the confidence. That’s what I think personally.
Sarkodie: Exactly. That’s true.
GRUNGECAKE: Absolutely. Okay, so you answered some of this a little bit. And I have two more after this. Have you ever thought about launching your own musical imprint to sign and develop talent? And you’ve kind of answered that, if you can sign anyone as a music executive from any time period and not including yourself, who would it be and why?
Sarkodie: Music exec, that’s so that’s not a talent?
GRUNGECAKE: No, no, you as a music exec…
GRUNGECAKE: Yeah, like who would sign? Yeah, and but you can’t sign yourself.
Sarkodie: To be very honest, I can’t point somebody out. But I know that I like to invest in people that can give me long term careers.
Sarkodie: So that I can still be proud of myself when I see them. So the artists that assigned, which is Akwaboah, was a songwriter. He’s been behind a lot of big records in Ghana. He writes for Efyah, a lot of gospel artists. His father was a legend. His grandfather was a legend at their time. So, I can see the potential of him becoming a legend and having longevity. And his sound is like, timeless. So that is what I’m drawn to. I don’t know. I’m not really interested in in-the-moment type of artists who are just like a song that’s sizzling. That’s it. I like to build. I want you to flaw; drop a song and it doesn’t do well, but we build it. So, because that’s how I built myself. So, I want to see… artists that I want to sign, I want to see the longevity of you building people that really mess with your music. So, that will definitely be the box to tick if I have to choose someone, but so far, I don’t think I have a name of somebody that I can see… Most of them are already gone.
GRUNGECAKE: I see what you mean. Yeah, okay. Okay. I think about and research African artists a lot. I spend significant time studying what makes certain records and its owners breakout of the local scenes and get on a global radar. When you are in question, I believe it’s your ability to implement both languages effortlessly, dominate the beat, maintain rhythmic and breath control. Would you agree? And is it intelligent for multilingual artists to learn how to communicate to each respective target audience? And I don’t mean like, just speaking like, you and I are. I mean, like, on the marketing side. Like, do you think it’s important for them to know? Like, if I’m going to tour in Spain, then you know, I need to conduct myself this way, you know, because it might not be the same as when you’re in Ghana.
Sarkodie: True. Technical bit… Yes, we can. We can tick some boxes that will take you there because I think even in Africa… Okay, let me take it from Ghana. So what I did was I’m an Ashanti. I don’t speak other languages in Ghana. There’s a lot of languages here.
Sarkodie: But Twi is the most dominant, and that happens to be my tongue. So lucky for me, Ghana wasn’t a problem. But guess what, even in Ghana had limitations because people in the Volta Region, the North, the West, they had a difficult time understanding what I was saying. But then, the Ashanties was so into my music, so Kumasi is like my strongest base because that’s… that’s my place. So what I deliberately did to be able to appeal to everybody was what I worked on with my delivery, so I can just say whatever that you don’t understand, but then it sounds so good that you love it.
Sarkodie: So, I think those boxes, yes, definitely has to be ticked, but what I think about you moving your music beyond your immediate circles. I think it’s a bit spiritual, as much as it can be marketing or whatever. You can market, whatever. But you might think somebody ticks all the boxes, you still market it, it’s not going to go because the person, the person himself doesn’t see something. You know, every superstar, when you speak to them, they have this belief that they have in them as a person, and they see stuff that even… even when you feel like it’s not… because I was rapping in Twi, like nobody could believe that you could go to the BET and win.
Sarkodie: Right, but then I had a feeling that nobody else could feel, that I could see stuff that people don’t… even my team don’t even see, you know? I did ‘Andonai’ [with Castro] and none of my team loved it. And then, the night, I played throughout the night, and I felt something about the music. I tweeted it. I was actually scared. So, I never tweeted it twice and that is my biggest song.
Sarkodie: So, that is what that is what I mean, by you know, there’s this thing that there’s this energy that you go in with the struggle is I hope you don’t snap out of it. Because as soon as you snap out and you’re coming to reality with the lies, and you start to focus on your limitations and all these things. Then, you’re gonna throw yourself back, but when you don’t see limitations that you keep going… because, guess what? We have countries like, you know, you go to India… I don’t think they really know what we’re talking about in Afrobeat. It’s just this energy that’s coming.
Sarkodie: They’re just loving it. You know, so we have to be very out and there very sure, and not try to seek approval before we believe in what we’re doing. And to me, that is the most important thing. I see… I look at Rema. And I see that. I look at Black Sherif, and I see that. These guys are not saying because I feel like “They don’t get me… What do you think?” No.
When I used to go to the BET, and then, I do this… They have this this thing… I don’t know… what’s the museum, something… I did a freestyle with AKA—rest his soul…
Sarkodie: And I was on a mic and I was rapping and everybody there was like, Americans who don’t understand what you’re saying. But I could see how they were zoning to it because of how I felt and how I was delivering it.
Sarkodie: So, I will go with energy. And also, you have to tick the boxes. You can’t be wack. You can’t be that wack. You have to be a big goat and have a great energy. I think that’s going to work.
GRUNGECAKE: Okay, okay. And our last question is, what haven’t you done yet in the music business that you think would complete your destiny?
Sarkodie: I haven’t given back to the industry that made me. I think all the problems that I’ve had, or I’ve faced, in the music industry, that kinda like I wish I had, I wouldn’t be able to give that to the next generation coming. I think having a big song in Ghana or in Africa, it’s not a high for me at this point. It’s a great feeling… I’m not… I appreciate that.
You know, a couple years back, it was different. But now, it’s more of “what you can do for the industry”. So, I think that’s the next box to tick. It could be anything—even what you just said about bringing a new crop of artists or building a system that helps them easily. Or being a bridge between them and them trying to go, wherever they’re going to catapult their steps. So yes, giving back to the industry definitely is the next box to tick.