Exclusives Interviews 15 August 2022

GRM Exclusive Interview: Black Sherif Is The Hypnotic Voice Of Freedom

15 August 2022

New York. Geneva. London. Lagos. Accra. 

Distant cities on different continents that share a single characteristic; the action-packed music of Black Sherif.  

Anytime “Second Sermon” comes on, the crowd goes crazy. Be it at the Madison Square Garden in New York to a sold-out crowd on one of the most historic nights in African music, or on a rainy night at Lagos’ culturally significant Homecoming event, or ringing across the euphoric streets of Accra, the spirited vocals of Black Sherif will get you moving, and more often than not, incite mosh-pits and frenzy.

Kwaku Frimpong de asɛm bɛba’oo. Killa man de asɛm bɛba’oo” Black Sherif choruses on the emotion-winding anthem that dished him into the limelight. 

“Kwaku Frimpong will bring trouble if we do not take care.” Ansah, a culture curator and member of indie Ghanaian collective, Superjazzclub, loosely translates to me over a voice note. In these lyrics, Black Sherif, born Mohammed Ismail Sharif, assumes the alias of Kwaku Frimpong.

Born and raised in the trenches of Konongo, a suburb three hours away from the capital Accra, the foreboding of Black Sherif’s explosion had been heralded since the release of his “First Sermon” freestyle in May 2021. “Coming like a raging storm, fasten up your belt.” Black Sherif bellows on the song that was initially intended as lead-up promotional material for his debut EP. Two months later, Black Sherif released “Second Sermon”, underpinning him as an artist to look out for. 

Decked by a drill bassline, the twenty-year-old artist narrates a ghetto gospel on “Second Sermon”. Black Sherif mirrors the dauntless travails of a young gangster trying to make a life in the streets of Accra. At some point, he begs for heavenly guidance, and at another juncture, he buries himself in escape mechanisms.

 “I feel like I am touching on spots that people used to not touch and I am being as raw and real as I can be,” The Konongo-native says about the anthem that has enveloped Accra and arenas around the world, “I am being the voice of that boy outside because I am from there, I am from the Zongo (ghetto)”. In December 2021, a Burna-Boy-assisted remix of “Second Sermon” graced streaming platforms, cementing Black Sherif as one of the hottest African break-out talents of the year.

Not relenting on his laurels, Black Sherif, oft-referred to as Blacko, started the year 2022 with resounding ascendance. In March, he released his most successful single yet, “Kwaku The Traveler”. “Kwaku The Traveler was a state of mind. We made it in January. I felt like the sound was fresh, and we made the song in twenty minutes. ” Black Sherif explains.

Within weeks, Kwaku The Traveler rose to become the most shazamed song in the world, amassing well over a million unique videos on TikTok and peaking at the number two spot on the UK Afrobeats Singles Chart. The lyrics, “Of course I fucked up. Who never fuck up? Hands in the air, no hands?” was an incessant feature across social media. “The first eight lines, I knew this song was going to go off. Like a month before the song was going to come out, I was telling Joker, my producer, that this song will go hard.” Black Sherif speaks with an assurance that is hard to doubt.

On “Kwaku The Traveler”, Blacko details the misadventurous journey of a relentless youth who owns up to his imperfections over a hauntingly intense instrumental. He credits a shift in his mentality for the darker sonic palette. “I think my mindset got deeper. When the mindset changes, the sound changes. “

Since the success of “Kwaku The Traveler”, Black Sherif has collaborated with Arrdee, Tory Lanez, Smallgod, and he has earned endorsements from heavyweights such as Timbaland, DJ Khaled, and Popcaan “I think it’s the truth and rawness in the music.” He says of his cross-cultural appeal. 

Despite swathing his lyrics in Twi and English, Black Sherif’s music still strikes a piercing chord amongst fans of different ages and across different nationalities “There is one universal language, love.” He explains introspectively “Anything you do with love, people everywhere will connect to it. I put my life into my music and the people connect to the love and pain in it” 

With over two hundred million streams across digital streaming platforms and a plethora of co-signs, a lot is expected of Black Sherif’s forthcoming debut album scheduled for release sometime this year. “I have mixed feelings about the album because I am trying to figure out the whole thing. I have been recording so much and I want the album to come naturally out of me.” When he speaks about the album, his tone is invigorated with passion but shrouded with the blankness of honesty “I know what I am trying to preach and when it gets to the right time, we will put the pieces together.”

For many youths across Accra, Lagos, and London, Black Sherif is a flagbearer of anomaly; a voice of non-conformity in a world that forces you to conform. He is the rebel with a cause. “You have questions in your head that you want to ask but they are stuck in your head. I put those questions in my songs. ” He explains when I ask about the preeminence of his music.

Through Black Sherif’s words, many find an armour of liberation, and although he is a long way off from Konongo, Black Sherif is the mouthpiece of freedom for many. “I want to represent freedom, in creativity, in thinking, just limitlessness for the next generation of people making it out of the Zongo(ghetto)”.