After more than a year of teasing, rising Ghanaian rapper/singer-songwriter Kwesi Arthur released his highly awaited debut album ‘Son of Jacob.’ Late in 2017, he burst onto the West African music scene with the mega single ‘Grind Day,‘ which won the Ghana Music Award for ‘Hip Hop Song of the Year’ for its remix. Kwesi has continually energised the Ghanaian music scene, most notably with a stunning performance on Yaw Tog‘s “Sore” Remix featuring Stormzy, one of last year’s most viral global tunes.
The album ‘Son of Jacob’ is a 15-track project that blends catchy Afropop tunes with profound social critique and feel-good energy over a patchwork of audio textures. The music takes listeners on a journey through his life whilst touching on various subjects from his youth and culture. He delivered an intricately interwoven project showcasing his ability as a world-class rapper/singer-songwriter to incorporate impeccable story-telling skills into his music.
With regards to the album’s title, Kwesi believes that as a part of the Akan meta-ethnicity in regions of Ghana, West Africa, he has a peculiar connection with the Biblical Israelites. The album’s title was inspired by their shared cultural customs.
“Jacob, according to the Bible, birthed the tribes of Israel – apparently 12 tribes – and although we come from that, I feel like we are the 13th son that the world has ignored for so long. I am the representation of the 13th son, hence the title ‘Son Of JACOB’”
Kwesi is meticulous in every part of his work, so it’s no surprise that Koby Martin, a renowned Ghanaian artist, oversaw the project’s art direction. Koby is a proud Ghanaian-born UK-based artist who has been in charge of numerous creative content for musicians such as Krept & Konan, J Hus, Wretch 32 and others globally. Nike, Adidas, Native Magazine, 0207/DefJam, and Disturbing London, to name a few, have all collaborated with Koby on various projects. Koby’s artwork was also featured on a limited-edition fleet of Mercedes Smart Cars and a limited-edition watch partnership with Singaporean luxury watch company LyttLabs.
What made you decide to work with Kwesi Arthur?
It was not a ‘decision’ but rather an organic relationship between myself and Kwesi Arthur, with whom I worked seamlessly. I had always wanted to work on Kwesi’s debut album, and his manager is an old friend of mine who told me six years ago that he discovered an extraordinarily talented kid in Ghana. His manager also founded Kwesi’s record label (Ground Up Chale) and began working with him about 2014/15, and I’ve been a fan ever since. Both Kwesi and his manager visited my studio in East London in 2018, where we had a proper conversation about the album, and that’s it. I have always loved his music and considered him a friend, so I suppose it was written in the stars, I could say.
What was the overarching idea for the ‘Son of Jacob’ artwork? Could you give us a brief breakdown?
The concept uses the title ‘Son of Jacob’ to capture Kwesi’s essence in reference to the Bible. His humble beginnings as a ghetto kid with tremendous talent and ambition laid the foundations.
To begin with, the mother braiding the young ladies’ hair represents culture, as this is something you would find in African homes. Other crucial characters, such as the young female leaning over his shoulder, the small boy around his knee, the couples dancing in the background, and the married couple, depict the daily lives of Kwesi’s audience. It also reflects different stages of life as his music appeals to listeners of various ages and backgrounds.
Kwesi remains the centre of attention, sat in the middle, as ‘Joseph,’ with his brightly coloured trousers symbolising his multicoloured cloak. Twelve subjects on the album cover represent Jacob’s twelve sons, while the Bible represents God’s presence in Kwesi’s life. The Hebrew inscription on the bible reads, “Son of Jacob.” Birds in the skies signify that Kwesi is spreading his wings and on the move, while a fire in the bushes implies Kwesi is turning up the heat with this album.
The beauty of art is that it can be subjective; my perception may differ from yours, but that’s the point. I’d like to believe the lotto kiosk is symbolic, implying that life is a gamble because Kwesi risked everything for his music. The essential thing to me is that art should speak for the music, so my thought process was to use colours and composition to express the narrative.
Quote me on this: “The album is a legendary classic that will win a GRAMMY!”
What was the process of creating the artwork for ‘Son of Jacob’?
Interacting with Kwesi sparked the process. I met him in 2018/19 and thought his album was about to be released. I got to know Kwesi personally while he was in the UK. I appreciate his humility and lack of concern about materialistic things. He is overflowing with ambition, optimism, determination and discipline.
His manager sent me the album unmixed and mastered a while back to capture the project’s raw sound and emotions. I listened to his music and became a true fan of his. As someone who grew up in Ghana, I connected with his vibe and saw myself in his music.
There is a synergy and continuation between the album art and previous single artworks like ‘Celebrate’. What’s the Story there?
What’s crazy is that when Kwesi came to visit my studio in East London in 2018, I gave him a tour of my studio, and one of the paintings I showed him became the cover art for ‘Celebrate‘ in 2022. Everything was effortless from the onset. For me, the element of fire is always there in my work because I believe that the desire to destroy is a creative force. Warmth, heat, and a new beginning can all be provided by fire, but it can also be destructive.
I saw comments criticising the artwork for “Celebrate,” but the concept was to create art that shows people have hope regardless of what they’ve lost. They celebrate life, but I suppose that’s the beauty of art: subjective and powerful.
As a Ghanaian, working with homegrown talent like Kwesi Arthur on his debut must be a special moment. Could you tell us how that felt?
One of my favourite lines from his song “Winning ft. Vic Mensa” is “They say I move like I am nameless, ’cause I only come for the money bags, and I don’t really wanna be famous.” It shows you the type of person Kwesi is and where his head at.
Kwesi Arthur is driven by a desire to change people’s lives through his music. I’ve been looking forward to this moment for a long time; I’m a big fan and want to see him win. It was my chance to contribute to his journey and the values he represents. I hope that my work opens possibilities for me to collaborate with other Ghanaian artists, such as the Asakaa Boys (Jay Bahd, O’Kenneth, Kwaku DMC and others.)
Do you think song artworks affect how music is received in your opinion?
I believe the art cover for a song should reflect the soul of the music. However, it is not always necessary to appear mysterious or outlandish. Musicians should invest in the artwork for their songs because if the art is uninspiring, it is more likely no one will be interested in listening to the music unless it’s by a big artiste.
The audience should be able to experience the artwork; therefore, quality is crucial! Along with its message, Kwesi’s debut album will endure the test of time. We were able to capture his personality and sound with it.
Discover KOBY MARTIN
Listen to ‘Son of Jacob’ out now.