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An accurate account of Ghana’s now thriving Hip-hop scene would need to acknowledge one of its most revered shape-shifters Mensa Ansah. A start-up venture of his as part of a group in Accra called The Lifeline was brief but impactful enough to catch the ear of no less than Reggie Rockstone cited architect of Hip-life, the popular Ghanaian urban genre that blends Hip-hop and High Life. M3NSA as he is known simply, then barely out of his teens, was enlisted to produce Rockstone’s album Last Show.
Since then Hip-life has evolved, according to M3NSA: “It’s actually becoming a proper industry. It’s growing and it’s gonna be here a while longer. I still have a lot of love for it.” And so too has the MOBO-nominated MC/singer/producer M3NSA, now based in London over a decade on. “I'd been producing for a few artists back home but I felt like Ghana was just the tip of the iceberg,” he recalls his early ambition, “I felt like I wanted more and I could develop myself as an artist and there was bigger things out there for me to achieve.”
No. 1 Mango Street the first international release by M3NSA, is led by the inspirational single No One Knows – a song sampling Asa’s No One Knows Tomorrow whose pragmatically hopeful tone matches the vibrant hues of its accompanying video. The album has its anchor in Hip-hop sensibilities but also draws generously from Afro-beat, soul and Highlife music, speaking to this very growth. Mirrored in its content is M3NSA’s global footprint starting with his birthplace (for which the album is named) and all the influences he has accumulated living in Paris, Los Angeles and London. His experiences, typical of a young African male with a world-wise view, carry relatably through his rhymes written in Twi and Pidgen. There is the party-starter Adjuma, Dream’s introspection, the playful seduction of Kelewele Pimpin’, romance on Fanti Love Song, and the laugh out loud facetiousness of Yɛn Kɔ'oo (Let's Go!)
In fact M3NSA’s funny side will already be familiar to fans who will have watched Coz Ov Moni, the groundbreaking short film which he conceptualised and starred in with Wanlov the Kubolor , his former high school mate and now partner in rhyme in the transient concept duo FOKN Bois. The plot is a fictitious day-in-the-life tale that follows the wild adventures of the rapping twosome, weaving its funky way around a thumping and infectious soundtrack, most of which is M3NSA’s workmanship.
The film itself premiered in Ghana, the UK and the US to thunderous acclaim and has been accepted at the Rio International Film Festival (Brazil), and at the Pan African Film Festivals in Los Angeles and Cannes. It was screened at the Black August Festival in New York, followed by a performance by M3NSA with Hip-hop icons Dead Prez and Talib Kweli.
Kubolor appears on No. 1 Mango Street as do a host of other Ghanaian music royalty including MOBO Award winner Samini, M.anifest, Kwabena Jones, singer-songwriter Ndidi and guitarist Ryan Ansah.
Elsewhere M3NSA’s contribution can also be heard on legendary North London producer/DJ Richy Pitch’s Ghana-inspired Ye Fre Mi Richy Pitch LP on which he wrote 6 tracks and featured on.
And when he is not tweaking the knobs, crafting beats for himself and others, M3NSA can be found pouring his heart into his other passion – live performance. As the musical director for his own live band The Light Offs (a reference to the electrical power cuts common in Ghana) he makes it a point to achieve the same sonic excellence in analogue as he does in the booth. Sold-out shows recently with Nneka, collaborating with The Roots at London’s Royal Albert Hall, and playing alongside the Gorillaz, Tony Allen, Damon Albarn and Amadou and Mariam make it apparent that M3NSA’s reach extends beyond geographic barriers and genre limitations. No. 1 Mango Street is the hallmark of a musician ready to take on the world.