Ghana’s Kwesi Arthur deals in authenticity. Exploding on the music scene in 2016 with his single “Grind Day,” the 25-year-old artist has a decorated hip-hop history. Per OkayAfrica, Kwesi is “the youngest Ghanaian to have a BET [Awards] nomination—in the viewer’s choice category for Best New International Act in 2018.” Since “Grind Day,” Kwesi has gone on to amass a massive following, expanding beyond Ghana to include the US and UK markets.
Kwesi fancies himself a “rapper, singer, and poet,” and his music reflects as much. Though he focused his earlier material on pure spitting, his latest crop of songs skew towards melody, with his syrupy singing taking center stage. His 2019 project, Live From Nkrumah Krom Vol II: Home Run, builds up the first volume, released in 2017 as a five-track EP. From the beginning, guttural notes of Home Run’s “Pray For Me,” we sink into Kwesi’s swaying world. On “Walk,” featuring South Africa’s Nasty C, we get those trappy flows and attractive staccatos, which helped break Kwesi Arthur in the first place.
“I grew up in Tema, Ghana,” Kwesi tells me over the phone. “Tema is a hub for artists in Ghana. Most of the prominent artists in Ghana come from Tema. I was already influenced by music and culture. In 2010, a friend introduced [me] to Drake’s Thank Me Later, and upon listening to it, I was like: ‘Yo! I can do this, too. Let me just talk about where we’re from.’ That’s how it happened.”
From there, Kwesi fell in love with music when he wrote his first verse. After rapping for his friends and getting positive feedback, he realized he loved making music more than most things. “I thought: This is what I should be doing,” Kwesi affirms.
At the moment, Kwesi Arthur, along with artists like Rema and Nasty C, among many others, stands at the forefront of the burgeoning hip-hop culture in Africa. Speaking of Ghana specifically, Kwesi explains it’s only a matter of time until hip-hop takes over Ghana and the whole of Africa.
“We’re still growing our hip-hop scene in Ghana,” Kwesi says. “It hasn’t completely been accepted. Though the youth gravitate towards it, Africa still hasn’t accepted it. It’s still growing. In the US, that’s one of the biggest genres. Here, we’re growing the landscape more. People like myself, Rema, Nasty C… In five, ten years, hip-hop will be the biggest genre here.”
As hip-hop grows in Ghana—and Kwesi Arthur makes his mark on the US market—there is the question of pressure and representation. When American fans stumble upon Kwesi’s work, there is the impulse to assume Kwesi Arthur speaks for all of Ghana. There is the impulse to see his music, and the hip-hop scene of Ghana, as a monolith. To American fans discovering Kwesi, fight this diminutive urge. There is a history of flattening Africa, which should not transfer over into how Western fans consume Kwesi’s music.
That said, Kwesi Arthur does not feel any pressure to represent Ghana to a Western audience. He assures me he is comfortable expressing himself and expanding to a global audience. “I don’t feel any pressure at all,” he says. “I’m just doing what I want, and expressing myself, trying to inspire the next man.” A focus on self-expression and inspiration will help ensure Kwesi Arthur continues making pure and irresistible music for years to come.
Also helping Kwesi Arthur’s career is distribution platform TuneCore, who has assisted Kwesi in reaching the masses without barriers. “TuneCore has been impactful,” Kwesi explains. “It has access to Apple Music, Spotify, and all the DSPs in the world. Putting my music on there, being from Ghana, [allows] people from other countries [to] have access to my music. The DSPs have the people and the numbers. TuneCore has done me good. Checking my numbers from Apple Music and Spotify, I see people from Albania, I don’t know people from Albania… But they are listening to my music right now!”
As the world gets smaller, TuneCore allows Kwesi Arthur to reach fans across the globe. Looking at his Spotify page, Kwesi has a dedicated fanbase in London, Amsterdam, France, Toronto, and New York. Beyond expanding his reach, too, TuneCore offers Kwesi something invaluable: Control.
“It gives me freedom and independence,” Kwesi concludes. “I can decide when to put out music and do my shows and not wait for someone else to tell us what to do because they’re giving us money.”
Only beholden to himself, may Kwesi Arthur’s TuneCore success story continue for many moons.