A lot of people were up in arms about Sarkcess Music refusing to renew it’s relationship with rapper, Strongman after the two-year contract elapsed. These reactions have exposed something very interesting about the collective psyche of music lovers and the nation at large; not many people consider music deals much of a business arrangement. That is a conversation for another day. In this article, I want to dive into the reasons why I believe the separation between the rapper and the record label was a good thing.
Wrong From Start
I was opposed to the deal the first timeI heard about it. To be fair, I am also not a big fan of Akwaboah’s deal with the label either. Music business is just that, a business. Setting up a record label has for far too long been considered a rite of passage for successful artistes. Kanye West has G.O.O.D music and Wizkid has Starboy Records. Although artistes branching out on their own have had mixed results, it is understandable that after sometime artistes want to control their own destiny. The more problematic issue has been a result of artistes deciding so sign on other artistes to these labels. While the act of helping new artistes in itself is not a problem, the approach and reasons behind it usually lead to a lot of failed careers.
Sarkodie’s approach to signing artistes to his Sarkcess Music label has been dependent on one thing (I think); musicians he personally likes. It is his money and he gets to decide what he does with it so I’m not about to chastise in on that. However, there is a reason why in spite of his immense influence and the talent of the artistes he has taken on, neither of them has been able to reach the level of success expected. Talent is a good ingredient for success in our music industry but from history and the many talented underground artistes everyone knows, it is usually not enough. It is easier to make a star out of an otherwise talentless act with the right approach than it is to make a star out of a talented musician if the strategy isn’t sound. Sarkodie himself is an example of this.
When he was first introduced to the broader Ghanaian public through Dr. Duncan’s Kasahare Level on Adom FM in the early 2000s, there was no doubt that the rapper who beat every single contender in the radio rap battle show was going to be a star. It seemed like a no brainer at the time. His talent was unmatched and from what we had been raised to believe, talent led to success. But nothing would happen for the artiste in terms of mainstream acclaim until he got that initial push from Last 2 on Edem‘s You Dey Craze in 2018. The real breakthrough then came from his collaboration with Mugeez on Baby after Dr. Duncan made a decision to push him through his Duncwillz Entertainment imprint. I still believe we would have missed out on what is possibly the greatest musical talent of our generation if Dr. Duncan had not made that decision. Sarkodie always had the talent but it took a powerhouse behind him and a strategy that included consistent attachment to artistes at the top of their game to make that talent into the mainstream success we came to love.
Sarkcess Is Not Fully Qualified
The question now will be, Why then is it not working for these artistes who have a powerhouse in the form of people who have been in the business for more than a decade and attachment to artistes at the top of their game? (Strongman’s collaboration with Kuami Eugene is coincidentally his biggest hit yet). My answer to that is, the powerhouse must be built from a specifiic kind of experience. Sarkodie and the Sarkcess team have experience in the music industry but it is not the kind of experience needed for this particular job.
The team behind Sarkodie have been beneficiaries of the fact that they had an artiste so talented, dedicated and visionary that they didn’t have to go through the grind of fighting the regular battles it takes to make a relatively unknown artiste mainstream. I’m not trying to undermine their efforts, I’m sure they did plenty on the journey to get Sarkodie here. What I’m saying is, the work they had to do will not work for an artiste who is maybe not as talented, likeable, personally driven or a visionary like Sarkodie was and has always been. There are maybe three people in the industry who have proven they have the capacity to achieve that; Richie Mensah, Bullet and possibly Killbeatz. Those guys have an understanding of the industry and the required combination of ingredients to create success for an artiste who would otherwise fall through the cracks.
There is a reason why every artiste who left Lynx Entertainment saw their careers plummet in spite of being at the top of their game at the time they left. There is a reason why Bullet has been able to recreate success with two different artistes in less than five years when a label like Zylofon with all the resources they had at their disposal were unable to create that level of success for any of their artistes. Musicians have a belief they know what leads to their success and usually they think it is their talent, because artistes are by their very nature narcissistic. But the unseen background work required to align all the elements needed for success are even more important. Very often, labels ran by a successful artistes overestimate the power of talent and underestimate the grunt work that needs to be done to make things happen.
With all that said I come to the reason why I think the separation is a good thing. In my own optimistic view, I see it as an opportunity for Sarkcess Music to have a moment of self-reflection and assess why something that should be so easy for them has become so difficult. What did the Richies and Bullets do with unrefined acts like Eazzy and Ebony that they can’t seem to achieve with objectively talented ones like Strongman & Akwaboah? Maybe they should stop picking artistes who are creating music they love and look at those who have a potential to breakthrough in the current music scene. If Sarkcess was to find their own Kuami Eugene or King Promise, maybe that would be an easier success upon which they could funnel less mainstream talents they like. In the meantime they can find a way to learn from the guys doing things right. Brands and trends matter. If Sarkcess Music creates a star from scratch, the next artiste will have it easier coming up in the label. If they give the fans what they have currently made clear they love, they will be able to convince the fans to pay attention to an artiste who is a little on the fringes.
And for Strongman, I believe the grind is necessary. Without the cover and/or launchpad that is Sarkodie, or Sarkodie trying to mold him in his image, he can find his own way and eventually make something of the talent we all know he has.
First published on covebeat.co