There’s no debate over what super-producer Hammer has done for the music industry in Ghana. He has produced tracks for almost every artiste in the country. The fact is, if you want your album to be successful, you need to have at least one track produced by Hammer. Back in the days, Hammer was the one to go see if you wanted to kick-start your career in music. He believed in the hiplife genre when many did not. He gave young artistes the platform to shine when nobody else would give them the time of day, and that led to an explosion of music that few people saw coming. It was a revolution, a movement. Today, Hammer is still making hits and managing artistes, doing what he does best. I had a chat with him last year to find out more.
What have you been up to lately?
Hammer: Still heavy in production and management. We’re currently working on Obrafour’s collaboration tour.
Nobody can really boast of featuring Obrafour in their music, so we decided that before his album drops, he’ll do a few collaborations. We’ll soon be releasing songs he’s done with Manifest, Kwaw Kesse, Sarkodie, Edem and some other new artistes. I’m managing Obrafour since he fired his manager a year ago. So I’m setting up things for him, restructuring his brand, etc. I’ve been pretty busy doing all that. Plus I’m also the hip life director of MUSIGA, so I’ve also been trying to squash the feud between Shatta Wale and Samini. We have a peace process, if you will, to stop the unhealthy beef that’s going on.
You’ve come a long way. Are you satisfied with the progress the music industry in Ghana has made?
Hammer: Very! The old school was made up of just artistes and creative people. The industry used to be steered by greedy, travel agent types, with no passion for the art. The executive producers were all about the money and no passion at all. All they wanted was to send people abroad and make profit. The videos were low quality and they were tight fisted with cash because it was just a business to them. Now, the new crop of stars are also businessmen. They have the passion, and the business sense. They even direct their own videos, and steer their own career, as opposed to relying on others who lock the passion. Artistes have become corporate, so the creative people are now running the business as well.
What are your thoughts on how the popularity of music genres in Ghana has shifted? It used to be hip life, then Azonto, now dancehall seems to be in demand.
Hammer: I don’t see it as other genres. I think it’s just hip life evolving. Hip life is made up of dance music, rap, Afrobeats, etc. Hip life is the universe. The Azontos and Al Qaidas are all eras that will eventually pass, but hip life is forever.
We’re just making it more appealing to the outside market. That is the real challenge. When we started this game, the BETs and Channel O’s were not within reach. The internet is helping. Social networks are allowing artistes to promote their own music without relying solely on DJs and radio stations.
Creativity should not be measured. It should be allowed to get loose. People should be allowed to do whatever genre they want to do without being judged because it’s not like what is trending at the moment. Many artistes stick to what is popular at the moment because they fear they might not get attention if they switch.
They believe they need to sound like a popular artiste, even when they might have something that the artiste doesn’t. They need to dare to be different. They must be allowed to do what they want to do and take chances.
As a producer, you’ve managed to stay relevant all throughout these years. What has been your secret?
Hammer: I keep doing what I hear in my head. I don’t do what Appietus or E.L is doing. I do what Hammer does. I’ve managed to remain consistent in terms of my signature. It all depends on being you, and producing what is in your head. Picasso will paint like Picasso and no one else. If you are listening to a mix CD in your car, you would want to hear a bit of everyone. Just be yourself, and don’t let it go to your head.
What would you say are the highlights of your career? What accomplishments are you most proud of?
Hammer: I’d say the fact that I’ve been a part of changing young men’s lives. I was a very bad boy when I was younger and the music saved me. It took me away from all the bad things I was part of. I managed to give a lot of underground acts the opportunity to be mainstream artistes.
You can be a very talented artiste but you will stay underground unless something happens. The role I played in these young men’s lives was to break that barrier between underground and mainstream. I was the guy with tro-tro mates in my camp. They would come to my studio to record after work. I was the people’s man. As far you were good, I would give you a shot. I enjoyed letting the artiste go and become successful. That was very fulfilling.
Are there any regrets that you have, or anything you would have done differently?
Hammer: I would have learnt how to play the guitar. Fourteen years ago, I thought I would have taken too long to learn, and I could have played in on the keyboard, but it’s not the same. I should have set up my facility a bit better. Back then, it was just a transit stop for artistes. They would come there get their skills and act together and then move on. We should have been able to monopolise the game. Artistes don’t want to struggle. They want to be comfortable and make music. You need to guarantee their pay so they have no worries.
What is the biggest challenge the industry has faced?
Hammer: I’d say it’s adapting to changing times. The eras have gone from that of the Reggies to the Buk Baks, to the Asems, to Jayso and the Skillions. You had to keep up. Now, the trap era is here. You need to be open-minded. If you’re not fast, you will lose the swag and the relevance.
What do you see yourself doing a few years from now?
Hammer: Film! I will get behind the camera. It’s going to be just like my music, different! I feel that when I enter film, my work will make a huge difference. I don’t follow what’s popular, I believe in trying new things, new approaches.
I know that when I do get into film, it’s going to be ground breaking. I will show them a movie according to Hammer. We have great actors, but most of our directors are crap. Producers are only about the money, not quality. People compromise their quality and creativity too much for financial reasons. It’s time for that to change!
A message to your fans?
Hammer: I know there are a lot of young people that want to be a part of our industry. That’s not a bad idea, but nobody should leave school to get into music. Never pick one over the other. The creative world is much better with an education.