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The Grass is Greener Near Kobi Onyame

The Grass is Greener Near Kobi Onyame

By Halley Bondy
November 19, 2012

With a #29 spot on the iTunes UK Hip-Hop chart, collaborations with Emeli Sande and Sway, and a tour opener streak featuring Nas, Kanye West, Jessie J and Wiley, you could say Kobi Onyame is sitting pretty. He’s sitting in Scotland, to be precise, after moving from Ghana to London, and with his new hip-hop, gospel-tinged album Green Green Grasses (a Maya Angelou reference). But he’s working hard and keeping it humble, despite having recently won MTV Iggy’s Artist of the Week in a landslide victory.

We spoke to him about everything from Kriss Kross to azonto to church music, which are only a few influences that make up the eclectic Kobi Onyame.

So, you were born in Ghana, then moved to London, and you’re now based in Scotland. Tell us about your journey…

I’ve definitely had a multicultural experience growing up. I was born in Ghana and moved to England at a very young age, and then to Scotland. I’ve grown up living between the UK and Ghana and come full circle to be based in Glasgow again. It’s been an interesting journey to say the least but I’ve benefited from a multicultural experience from all countries. Different people, different cultures makes for a different kind of music.

How did each country influence the music that you make?

I grew up hearing a lot of high life artists like Daddy Lumba from my father, and gospel music in the church from my mother. The heavy percussive sounds in African music definitely influenced my production. In the UK, I guess the main influence was the use of live instruments like guitars and synth in my music and of course the cultural difference. Ultimately I make hip-hop music but I’m influenced by the gospel, high-life and hip-life rhythms from Ghana to the hip-hop, indie and pop rhymes in the UK and elsewhere. It’s a lovely thing being able to express myself with a diverse pool of genres.

And how does the hip-hop scene in each country differ?

There’s a growing scene in Glasgow at present. A lot of great music and artists have come out of the scene in the last 18 months! There’s not much difference in the scenes except that in London, I would say the scene is more established being the hub of the music industry in the UK. The scene in Ghana is growing with a hip-hop sound that is mixed with the traditional hip-life and high life sounds. You’ve heard of Azonto right? Exactly!

We know that you have a very eclectic taste in music, but which specific artists did you look up to as an aspiring rapper?

One of my earliest favorite rap groups were Kris Kross believe it or not. I absolutely loved them! I grew up listening to a lot of Naughty by Nature and Lords of the Underground at a young age, and then from about 12 or 13 years old I got into the Notorious BIG, Ma$e, Jay-Z and Lost Boyz. I love Tracy Chapman and Nina Simone. My biggest musical influences have been artists like Kanye West,  Common and Talib Kweli.

At what point did you look at rapping as a potential career?

You know what? I started making beats when I was 14 or 15 years old, and writing and recording raps with friends, but I guess I didn’t actually think it a potential career until I got my first radio spin on 1Xtra by Ras Kwame in 2005 with a song called “Travelling Man”. Education was always the forefront in my family, so after University and my Masters, degree I decided to give it a good shot and it’s been great so far! I love performing my music live and feel at home on the stage. My first ever live was the point I thought, yes I’d love to do this!

Out of all your releases, what’s your favourite, and why?

My album “Green Green Grasses” is definitely my favorite release. It showed a diverse side of me with up tempo songs, high life influenced songs and soulful sounds. Every song on the album means a lot to me. My favorite song on the album is the current single “Heartbeat” featuring Danay Mariney. I love playing it live with my band.

What does the future hold for Mr Onyame, then?

New single off Green Green Grasses is “Heartbeat”. The video was shot out in South Africa by Drew John Barnes and it comes out on iTunes on December 2nd. I have an EP in the works which will be coming out early 2013.

At what point did you look at rapping as a potential career?

You know what? I started making beats when I was 14 or 15 years old and writing and recording raps with friends but I guess I didn’t actually think it a potential career until I got my first radio spin on 1Xtra by Ras Kwame in 2005 with a song called “Travelling Man”. Education was always the forefront in my family so after University and my Masters degree I decided to give it a good shot and it’s been great so far! I love performing my music live and feel at home on the stage. My first ever live was the point i thought, yes I’d love to do this!

What does the future hold for Mr Onyame, then?

New single off Green Green Grasses is “Heartbeat”. The video was shot out in South Africa by Drew John Barnes and it comes out on iTunes on December 2nd. I have an EP in the works which will be coming out early 2013.

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