At the end of the album spin, one thing is clear: AKA gave his fans, as well as the African music community, the finest departing sonic gift. In the course of presenting them this piece of artwork, he paid tribute to the genre that formed him…
By Emmanuel Daraloye
Weeks before I resumed my first-degree programme at a college of education in Nigeria, I listened to the remix of “N Word,” a song by Nigerian rapper, Ice Prince, where he featured AKA. At the end of the song, I was convinced that AKA understood the song better than Ice Prince. The year was 2014, in the month of August. That was my introduction to Kiernan Jarryd Forbes, and my admiration for his craft continued ever since.
To others, I came late into the knowledge of the Cape Town-born rapper. He started in 2002 in a Hip-Hop group called Entity. Soon, they went their separate ways, with AKA moving to study Sound Engineering later on. At the end of his study, he set up I.V League Production alongside two of his friends, Vice Versa and Greyhound. They produced tracks for artistes like Prokid, JR, Khuli Chana, and more. His love for production didn’t stop him from dabbling into recording some rap songs while at this. Songs like, “In My Walk,” “I Do,” and “Mistakes,” were released in 2009.
The expected break came in 2011 through “Victory Lap.” The song topped most radio stations in South Africa. Finally, the world opened its ears and heart to his sound. His life changed for the better. This continued until he was shot dead on February 10th, 2023.
Weeks before his death, he already released the saved-up links for his new album, Mass Country. After his death, his family decided to release it as a way of immortalising him. The project secures, for, perhaps, the final time, his legacy in the African music space. The fourteen-track, fifty-four minutes, and the twenty-nine-second long album features an army of collaborators.
The soulful, guitar-centric, baseline-enhanced “Last Time” begins Mass Country. The lyrics find him looking inward, admitting mistakes, and giving God all the praise. In the first verse, he refers to Siphiwe Tshabalala’s iconic goal against Mexico at the opening ceremony of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. He also refers to his secondary school: “Transnet, school of excellence/All black uniform, that’s that Nike tech.” The doubters are not left out. When AKA lost his fiancee, Nelli Tembe, in 2021, some people wrote him off. He addressed these views with lines like, “Mega, it’s a miracle, you came back from the dead/This journey is spiritual but don’t forget the bread.”
On the second verse, he embarks on a journey of restitution. He indicts himself, returning to reading the Bible, and at the same time celebrating all his triumphs.
Some people have pointed out that he knew this would be his last album. A riveting track like “Last Time” lends credence to this claim. The song sounds like a parting epistle to friends and family. It would have been impactful still as the album closer.
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“Mbuzi,” a rap freestyle, is chaotic. The song digs into Bopbap rap. The cadence is lovely. His flowing verses get punctuated by the high-tempo production. Emtee, his long-time friend’s verse on “Crown,” is impressive. It shows Emtee as an artiste who has refined himself and is well-grounded in delivery.
“Lemons” has all elements of Afrobeats. From the boisterous production: longhorn, sunny keys, rattling drums, and more, the track gives off a party mood. He sings about how he has been able to turn his lemons into lemonade, changing his life with more hard work and good decisions made. The featured South African rapper, Nasty C, delivers a beautiful complement to AKA’s verse. “Lemons” celebrates life.
“It seems women prefer Prada to flowers,” is what AKA and Khuli Chana sing on “Prada.” On this song, both artistes detail their time and moments with their girlfriends, and how their attempts to be romantic by buying flowers instead of Prada gets them turned down.
“Sponono” is hinged on Ghana Highlife and R&B. He sings about his lover, and how she made him feel. Sjava, 031Choppa, and Baby S.O.N. featured on the song. When AKA finishes his verse, they all come on, further broadening the track.
Five years ago, Nigerian producers, Kiddominant, now known as KDDO, and AKA scored a continental hit with the Fela Kuti’s tribute track, “Fela in Versace.” They attempt to replicate that success on “Company.” It is an uptempo track just like “Fela in Versace,” and even though the hard-hitting baseline is similar, this time around, they sing about their time out with women, and how they want it all. That’s the power of being a star.
Gyakie, the “Forever,” singer, and Musa Keys chaperones AKA on the Jazz-inflected track, “Paradise.” The song is chaotic with the percussion sometimes overshadowing the vocals. The lapses almost obliterate what AKA and his collaborators attempt to achieve on this track. If the mixing was better done, it would have made the track sound better than it currently is. The mixing of Gyakie’s vocals undermines her delivery.
On “Ease,” AKA, Blxckie and Yanga Chief lament about a broken relationship. Amapiano, the South African Deep House sub genre gets explored in “Amapiano.” It’s Jazzy, and gives off a Disco feel. Nadia Nakai, his girlfriend delivers a beautiful verse on “Dangerous.” The track sounds like an epistle a guy writes to his once-beloved girlfriend. He gushes about her, and how she makes him feel. Not even the world matters.
One dominant trait of Mass Country remains the Country music samples (as seen in “Last Time,” and “Diary”). He must have grown on this music genre for him to give it this overt attention. “Everest” is Country music that meets Jazz. On the track, he sings about his tribulations.
“I can’t open up to anybody, they don’t know how loud the silence is,” AKA laments on “Diary.” Rather than tell people his worries, he finds solace in penning everything in his diary. It’s therapeutic for him. The album closer, “Army,” is a Trap-enhanced track. He sings about his success while reserving words for the naysayers.
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The topics on most of the tracks are emotional. He was retrospective, too, in most. In the course of speaking his truth, he seeks forgiveness from those he might have hurt. According to Nakai, AKA gave his life to Christ toward the end of his life. This might have accounted for his reflections. Still, while I consider Mass Country one of his best projects in recent times, the success almost gets thwarted by the number of collaborators. They sometimes don’t allow him to shine, and in a way, it stifles his impact on some tracks.
In an interview before his death with South African Hip-Hop artiste, Slikour, he reveals that the title, “Mass Country,” was inspired by Maskandi, a popular Zulu folk music. At the end of the album spin, one thing is clear: He gave his fans, as well as the African music community, the finest departing sonic gift. In the course of presenting them this piece of artwork, AKA paid tribute to the genre that formed him.
AKA tells Slikour, “I’m taking more time with the sound and just trying to come up with something new. I call it Mass Country because I wanted to touch on Mass Country like Maskandi. That’s kind of like the play on it.”
Lyricism – 1
Tracklisting – 1
Sound Engineering – 1
Vocalisation – 2
Listening Experience – 1
Emmanuel Daraloye is Africa’s Most Prolific Freelance Music Critic. He has over 500 album reviews in his archive.