Coming back home is a journey for many Africans in the diaspora. Whether it’s a journey back to your homeland after studying abroad for a few years or coming back to your mother’s homeland to connect with family you do not know much of beyond random phone calls and a bloodline, its a journey that has become a defining moment in many a life. It’s the haunting decision of if you stay in a foreign land and seek greener pastures, or come home and make use of all you have learnt. In most recent years, for many Africans in the diaspora, it’s been a triggering decision to make. For Ghanaian rapper M.anifest that decision made years ago, is the catalyst for his most recent album ‘Madina to the Universe’.
“I used to live in the US but back home is my backbone”, a direct line on the boppy trap tune, Bob & Weave with M3nsa on the Madina To The Universe album that aptly represents the concept behind the project. From the time M.anifest moved to the USA to study, and for everything he found himself doing… every win and loss…he was and always will be Kwame Ametepee Tsikata from Madina, in Accra – Ghana.
Titling his latest project, ‘Madina To The Universe’ is not just a statement or a slogan. It’s the celebration of his journey and growth from when he started to where he’s at now. Projecting and saying “Universe” is just plain confidence and ambition on his part on what the future holds for him. The coincidence of the album title being abbreviated as MTTU, a now-defunct transport system in Ghana, is what he laughs and calls “dumb luck” but recognizes how it fits into the idea that the project is a godMC journey; a reintroduction of himself as one that’s undergone immense growth and wants you to grasp what he owes it all to his roots.
“The streets of Madina introduced me to a wide range of music,” the rapper reminisces, “The stuff you hear at home – they’re curated, but when you are walking around Rawlings Circle, Madina…you hear the untamed stuff. I remember music blaring from cassettes shops and bars as a child when I’d walk in the neighbourhood. There was this barbershop owned by a man called Osa, that had become our music spot. People will bring in tapes to trade or even dub songs over a blank tape from the tapes their aunties and uncles abroad got for them or from the radio. Osa’s barbershop was the spot.”
Of course, at that time, M.anifest had no idea he was going to be making music. He considered himself the vagabond friend who liked creative stuff but couldn’t commit – unlike Blitz The Ambassador, an award-winning filmmaker and visual artist whose friendship with M.anifest began at Osa’s.
“If my younger self could see me now, he would be smiling widely and be like ‘I never knew this was how it was going to go. Not necessarily, but wow, I never expected it’”
Madina To The Universe is a 15 track project spanning across different genres but maintaining that M.anifest style: the unusual blend of African sounds with Hip-Hop. A style fuelled by his need to attach his hometown and identity to the Hip-Hop sound. On Madina To The Universe, you’d notice that M.anifest has become more adept to these hybrid fusions. They are more fine-tuned, giving the project an expansive and entertaining feel while maintaining its originality. He calls his music “songs for road trips.”
Between his collaborators and himself, Madina To The Universe might just be his best project yet. With features from hot new acts like Moliy and burgeoning star Ladipoe; seasoned Nigerian and Ghanaian artistes like Patoranking, Adekunle Gold and M3nsa and International acts like Vic Mensa and Tiggs Da Author, MTTU prove once again that M.anifest knows his stuff when it comes to putting together a cohesive album. He likened the making of the album to a palm wine distillation process. For him, everything has to flow organically and contribute to the big picture in the end; No compromises.
When he switched from what he was working on initially to work on this project during the pandemic, he remembers thinking with his producers, “How do we act as master crafters on the songs?” This idea helped shape what songs made it to the project and what features had to stay or go. The process led to songs like Unicorn Flow and the title track MTTU, which were both complete songs, in the beginning, to be made into an interlude and intro, respectively.
“These are decisions you make based on the feeling on the threading for me. I really enjoy the process of stitching together an album, especially when I am stupidly confident about the album like this.”
For songs like Clean and Pure, he just knew it had to be Patoranking, and it worked. For Game Over, he recollected how effortless and organic the whole process was. He heard the beat from Yung D3mz months after he had thought his album was finished and just knew Adekunle Gold would be perfect on it. They worked on the song together while the Nigerian artiste was touring, and it made a perfect placement on the MTTU album.
Aside from believing and trusting the process in making his album, M.anifest expressed just how much all this means to him… making music people will connect with, understand, and enjoy. He is intentional about drawing from his experiences, his feelings and sharing a piece of himself in his music. Making the music gets him in a certain place that he wishes to share with anyone who listens. There’s La Vida which he says epitomizes his creative process sometimes when he’s just taking things slow on his porch, unexpectedly hears a beat and just hums some stuff out into his phone’s voice recorder only to realize days later that this is exactly what he wants on a song.
He finds Weeping Clouds meaningful for its content. He had to explore unchartered territories to attempt something he had never done before: go with the idea to let horns do his verses for him.
“It was very exciting, from hearing the beat to be like… this is what I’m gonna do. I used to play this song to people for four months straight before it was finished because it felt like a vibe already. I just had the hook on, and there were just beats. Every artiste that heard it wanted to jump on it, and every non-artiste was just jamming to it; then, one day, one of my guys said the song was on a JAMA level and… that’s how I got the idea for the horns.”
Unicorn Flow, where he talks about staying true to himself, is a nod to his consistency through the years. It’s undeniable how support from his family contributes to this. The voice recording from his mum attests to the affectionate relationship he has with her. He acknowledges how the support from her and his family has definitely contributed to where he’s at presently but, he also adds that he makes it easy to be supported in a family that likes to see more of ‘show’ than just telling and for M.anifest, that is something he’s had on lock ever since he was a child. His recipe for earning support from your family in everything you want to do is to do what you have to do well, so you can do what you like.
Pulling from his experiences and his reality makes it easy to make songs. From track 1, MTTU to track 15, Blessings, M.anifest takes us on a ride through his thoughts on navigating life, his experiences, dreams and ambition as well as his successes and failures.
“Making music is a relief for me. I do these songs, and they all have a level of meaning for me and because of the kind of place I can get into… if I can make music I will like, I do think fans would like it too.”
Stream Madina To The Universe below: