In the realm of rap, there are artists who simply captivate you with their authenticity, vulnerability, and sheer talent. Ghanaian rapper KooKusi is one such artist. Through a profound hour-long conversation, I had the privilege of delving deep into his life, his music, and his remarkable journey.
As our video call begins, it becomes evident that KooKusi values this opportunity as much as I do. Punctual and prepared, his voice flows through my speakers with clarity, thanks to his condenser microphone. Behind him, I can see a made up bed, in a tidy and neat room. I introduce myself, and with a smile, he does the same. His serious yet relaxed demeanour draws me in.
Growing up, the Texas-based artist didn’t always know what he wanted to do. “I always just made sure I had good grades, so that whenever I decided what it was I wanted to do, my grades would be able to get me there.” It wasn’t until the end of his six-year doctoral program that he realized he didn’t have a career plan. He explains that to him a career plan is somewhat like having a big picture goal to achieve by the time he leaves earth. “I had a life plan.” He adds that “For me, I just wanted to make a difference. I don’t care what the medium is. Whether I shoe-shine, or I have to be a tailor – I just want to make a difference”.
When the multi-dimensional being isn’t behind the mic, he is a pharmacist and a PhD student studying Neuroscience Research. When I ask him what his passion is between his three roles, he finds it hard to choose just one. He is passionate about the process of it all. He enjoys helping people through pharmacy, studying the human mind and putting his findings and everything he knows in a digestible format – music.
Looking at him through my 13-inch screen, with the sun shining into the room early at 8:30 AM Texas time, KooKusi has a God-like aura surrounding him. It’s not a mere coincidence; rather, it reflects his unwavering belief in the power of faith. One can sense that he draws strength and guidance from a higher power. Balancing three full-time careers is no small feat, and KooKusi acknowledges the challenges.
“If you ever hear me anywhere at any point say that it’s easy, call me a liar”, he laughs. Research is demanding, and completing a PhD is an arduous journey. Still, his determination and resilience shine through.
There is a burning sensation inside to express himself in his music, with little to no time in the world. That feeling he often experiences served as the catalyst for his song, which is personally my favorite, “Greatest Fear” from his most recent album “Greetings From Abroad”. It holds a special place as it was the first song he completed off the project. The inspiration behind it stemmed from the external expectations people placed upon him. “Wow, is he really a photographer? Is he really a PhD student? Does he really write his own songs? He must be a genius!”, the rapper vividly reenacts.
Despite juggling multiple roles, he confides in me that only he truly knows and understands the sacrifices he’s made to keep all the wheels on the vehicle of his life going. Like most people, KooKusi was afraid of being a disappointment — not only to his parents and those who showered him with praise, but also to himself.
He often hears other artists talk about their extensive catalog of songs, capable of releasing one after another throughout the year without creating new material, and a part of him wishes he could relate. “If SONY calls you today, can you step up to the occasion?”, he ponders aloud, reflecting on his own readiness.
Nonetheless, he is fair to himself and recognizes that everyone has their unique journey. Through it all, his family provides immense support. “I have the best parents in the world. I swear. No one ever opposes anything, and I do a lot of things”, he laughs. It’s evident that his mother and father trust that he knows what he’s doing.
“While I do wish to make it on the Billboard one day, the thing that truly leaves me feeling accomplished before I go to bed is the fact that people can relate to my music”, the rapper tells me. “I am not perfect.” He says this confidently when asked what he hopes people will learn about him when they listen to his latest project, “Greetings From Abroad”, a painfully relatable count of stories most kids born to immigrant parents or part of the Diaspora would relate to.
We all have secrets tucked away in the depths of our closets, and the mere thought of someone else unveiling fragments of our story we wish to keep hidden can leave us feeling utterly exposed. There are personal things about KooKusi that he shares through his music because he feels that “no one can expose me if I already expose myself”. And beyond that, even if he falls short, he knows he has God.
As time goes on, I find myself feeling incredibly grateful to have had the chance to sit down with him before he goes on to find mainstream success. In a world where many artists go with the flow, KooKusi is a calculated force. It’s inspiring to witness the passion and purpose that gleam in his eyes as we discuss his artistry.
To say he is intentional would be an understatement. Every aspect, from the cover art of “Greetings from Abroad” to every meticulously crafted lyric, holds profound significance. And it translates. When I listened to the project, the authenticity and rawness of his words resonated deeply with me. Every word felt very real and genuine. I could tell that he wasn’t just “spitting bars”.
KooKusi has mastered the craft of effortlessly combining his skills as a lyricist and storyteller. “That’s where I feel I’m different. That’s where I don’t see a lot of people do what I do”, he says with confident humility. The rapper doesn’t have to make up puns to get his messages across. He writes such that if a listener doesn’t know a reference, his words would still be appreciated. But, there is always a deeper meaning. One line that left my mind blown was “Before your twitter bed crows, you’ll be denied three times. Your vim will peter out.”
On the surface, it can be agreed that Twitter users are notoriously known to show no mercy, with many artists having been denied and ‘cancelled’ by the very people that once supported them. Looking beyond the surface however, as someone who reads scripture, the lyrics draw a parallel to Peter’s denial of Jesus three times before the rooster crowed. Believe it or not, this is what the skilled talent does on every line of the album.
Delving deeper into KooKusi’s musical journey, I was eager to explore his thoughts and insights through a candid Q&A session:
HR: You have a project called “5foot3” and on your latest project a song called “5foot3Creed”. In a world where now people can get mean when discussing men’s height, why was it important for you to let people know you’re 5’3?
KooKusi: It used to be the source of my insecurities. I now use my height as a representation of all my shortcomings in life. For someone else, they may not be 5”3 but they have their own version of it. I always say if I put my insecurities out there, no one can use them against me.
HR: What is the language you were speaking on Agya Amo Calling? What were you saying and how important is it for you to share that part of yourself with your audience?
KooKusi: I used to release music that was only in English. Now, however, I feel that if I sing in languages that people speak every day, then my music will be received more like a conversation. This is particularly true in my song “Agya Amo Calling,” where you hear my uncle in our local language, Twi.
HR: Who are three artists that you’d love to collaborate with?
KooKusi: J. Cole, Sampa the Great and INIKI are all artists that really inspire me. I’d love to work with Burna Boy one day as well.
HR: What was the first song you ever made and when was the last time you heard it?
KooKusi: Last week, actually. [laughter] I wrote the song in secondary school when I was 14 years old. It was embarrassing. I did a cover of an MMG song.
HR: Do you work with a producer for your beats or do you self-producer?
KooKusi: I work with a producer who’s based in Ghana. When we first started working together, it was great because on top of having the ease of going back and forth in real time, he was also helping me with recording as well. Now that we work remotely, I fear that things may be tougher on his end with the way I do my own recordings [laughter].
HR: Describe your sound in a car, time and location.
KooKusi: A durable solar car with the longest lifespan. It runs on light, and is able to be charged long enough for times when it’s dark. Time: 11pm. Location: a vast empty land with just grass.
My conversation with KooKusi left me feeling comforted, inspired, and uplifted. As a woman of the African diaspora striving to make a name for myself in the entertainment industry, I saw a reflection of my own journey in his story.