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Meet Africa’s Jay-Z, Smalls

With 10 mix tapes to his credit, US-based Ghanaian rapper Smalls certainly is perfecting his rapping skills for a gradual emergence on the hip-hop scene. Born Joseph ‘Nakwesi’ Andoh in Worcester, MA, Smalls has been rapping since age 15 when he did his first ‘show’ at an outdoor battle of the bands showcase. Although the […]

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With 10 mix tapes to his credit, US-based Ghanaian rapper Smalls certainly is perfecting his rapping skills for a gradual emergence on the hip-hop scene. Born Joseph ‘Nakwesi’ Andoh in Worcester, MA, Smalls has been rapping since age 15 when he did his first ‘show’ at an outdoor battle of the bands showcase.

Although the rapper doesn’t have an official album yet he’s been extremely prolific on his 10 mix tapes all with an average of 14 tracks. He has also participated on two underground albums with a group of unknown artists during his school days as well as two live radio CDs which was essentially him and a group of artists rapping live on air for 2 hours. His mix tapes include: Smalls & Stretch, Gyname, Throwback, Flocation, Justice, The Briefing I, The Briefing II—special report, A.D.D (Afrikan. Dun. Did-It), Watch Out, Smalls Reloaded (best of pt 1), and Radio Cypha part I & II. The other albums are Black Eyce and Black Eyce B.T.T.B (back to the beginning).

Already drawing comparisons to New York hip hop maestro Jay-Z, due to similarities in style, Smalls draws a lot of influences from Jay-Z himself and other hip hop royalties. His music, music videos, and several updates are available mainly on his Myspace page. There will soon be an official website which will provide more of Smalls’ sounds, pictures and videos.

Jamati Online caught up with the talented rapper to find out more about his music, influences, inspirations and aspirations.

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What kind of music do you do?

I do hip hop infused with a lot of other musical influences to make a genuine sound. So, I would say hip hop infused with rock and a mixture of soul and African hotness. I rap about whatever is on my mind and whatever the beat makes me feel like.

Which artists do you draw influences from?

The spectrum is too broad but [I will] name a few. My influences range from the melodious voices of Gladys Knight, Al Green, Luther Vandross and the Jackson 5 to Biggie Smalls, Beastie Boys, NWA, LL cool J, Jay-Z, Nas, Tupac, Lauryn Hill, Flip Mode Squad. Those are just the tip of the iceberg of artists that have made me evolve over time.

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One of your latest singles is ‘Jane’. What inspired it?

Jane in general is a song about addiction. Everyone has an addiction of some type whether it’s food, women, sex or drugs. I wouldn’t’ say that I am addicted to cannabis, though I am a user. However, I thought from my standpoint that I use cannabis as the subject because not only was it suitable from my standpoint, but for the theme of the song. I thought it would be a crazy idea to expose this type of addiction; this normal addiction disguised as if I was talking about a female. Since cannabis is also known as Jane or Mary Jane from a creative standpoint it was a hit to be so I did it.

Are you in touch with Ghanaian roots?

I have been in contact since childhood, with my family and cousins writing letters to my brother before he came to the US in 1987. And since I finished school and made a little cash, I have been going every two years since 2003. So, I have been there a total of 2 times and I am ready to go this coming February for the anniversary of my uncle’s death in Kumasi. I know Adum, Kumasi fairly well and they have my CDs there. I took a whole bunch there and when I go there I stick out. I guess I look too good; that is what I like to think (laughs out loud).

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What is your impression of Ghanaian/African music from U.S.?

I am very optimistic about any new sound that is not the norm. However, African music from the U.S. to me is a gift and a curse. A gift where it ‘s a new sound that can further open the genre of music but at the same time I tend to see a lot of African musicians based in U.S. catering to just one crowd, the Africans. How do you expect to expand when you are not making yourself expandable? The only way to do that is not to just cater to one group but to cater to all as much as possible to get people on a massive wave to enjoy the sound. That is what is lacking on both aspects of African music whether it’s from U.S or Africa.

Do you have any plans to promote your music in Ghana/Africa?

I have property in Kumasi so I figure that the best way for me to put my music out there is to establish a base. In my case, I have a overall plan of opening a studio to get work going on in Ghana but also to have an avenue of being able to make music in Africa with Africans.That to me is an important key for promotion at a foreign place.

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How do you think Africans would receive your music?

For the most part, the ones that understand music and are open minded, love it but there are some who just don’t get it and are quick to classify my sound as noise. It is one of those things where I just have to do my best to try and get as much ears open as much as possible. The more ears the more reception

What do you to achieve with your music?

Everyone wants to live doing what they want to do and enjoy. My enjoyment is music and if I can live comfortably doing that, then that is what I am looking for.

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What are you currently working on?

Right now I am working on the ‘smallsjustnice’ website and getting ready to make some more tracks and hopefully make noise to the right ears to really get my sound out to a massive crowd. Doing what I do best, talk on beats.

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Ameyaw Meets

Oprah Winfrey & Blitz Bazawule answer my questions about ‘The Color Purple’

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Oprah Winfrey & Blitz Bazawule answer my questions about ‘The Color Purple’

In April, I had the opportunity to join a Zoom Q&A session with Oprah Winfrey and Blitz Bazawule, courtesy FilmOne Distribution. The conversation was around the bold remake of ‘The Color Purple’ scheduled for release this Christmas!   (more…)

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Asari Music highlights new single ‘Like Dat’, balancing college with music and more

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Asari Music

Week-in week-out I get to interview one of the many faces in showbiz and this week on Ameyaw Meets, Asari Music is the one. She’s a young, upcoming and very talented Ghanaian-American singer – who in case you haven’t heard, is out with the hottest song you might hear all week. (more…)

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Ameyaw Meets

I single-handedly popularized Shea Butter in the United States – Margaret Andega

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According to Margaret Andega, a Kenyan entrepreneur in Atlanta, she was the driving force behind the commercialization of Shea Butter in the US during the late 90s. (more…)

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He went from cooking on Instagram to owning a food truck in Atlanta and more… the story of Quabena’s Kitchen

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story of Quabena’s Kitchen

The COVID-19 pandemic birthed many opportunities for people all over the globe. For one Ghanaian living in the US, the pandemic reconnected him with his passion which has now become a full-time job.

Quabena’s Kitchen shared with me his story about how he went from cooking for family and friends, to sharing content of his cooking on Instagram page at the height of the pandemic, which has now transformed into a thriving catering business in Atlanta, Georgia.

Quabena’s Kitchen services now include a food truck providing Ghanaian and West African delicacies to Africans and non-Africans alike, with ambitions of a restaurant on the cards!

Watch this exciting story on Ameyaw TV below:

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Read Also: The chef behind Fufu Pizza is about to open Afro-Fusion Cafe in Atlanta

 

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The chef behind Fufu Pizza is about to open Afro-Fusion Cafe in Atlanta

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US-based Liberian professional chef, Chauncy Yarngo caught the attention of the world with his amazing creations such as fufu pizza, fufu taco, plantain burgers and more. (more…)

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Why Ghanaian-American Jeffrey Ampratwum is the menswear expert to watch in fashion!

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At the start of the Victoria era, early 19th century – the English began to tone down the royal style dressing of the French army, namely those adorned in prestigious regalia and heavy embroidery. It was a sign of English nationalism and sparked a new wave of appearance in men. A few decades later, the suit was born and heavily influenced those in Italy and America. The British and the Americans have a rich revolutionary history, of course, and coincidentally the British colonized the African country – Gold Coast – until 1957 when they declared their independence and changed their name to Ghana. 

 

As part of an independent Ghana, a host of individuals began to exercise new freedoms and venture out of the country into new territories. Many Ghanaians set their eyes on American travel and a wave of trail blazers left the country and settled in the infamous New York City. For most, it was an opportunity to plant new seeds in the hopes that their children would be afforded even more opportunities for a prosperous life.

 

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One of these children of the diaspora is Bronx-born Jeffrey Ampratwum. The only child to Kate Bampoe and Eugene Asante-Ampratwum Mpere, who met in the Bronx after immigrating from Ghana. The dynamics of having African parents and being raised in a heavily eclectic environment gave rise to Jeffreys style and prose. More importantly, we can honestly say that there are only a handful of Ghanaian-Americans living in the states that can exhibit a special presentation that reflects both their African heritage married with the esthetic of their nationality. We recently caught up with Jeffrey to discuss how his early influences provided him with a framework to now become such a strong force in the menswear industry in fashion.

 

 

AD: Jeffrey, Ɛte sɛn?

 

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Jeff: Haha, Eye.

 

AD: I had to test your Twi really quick! You know most Ghanaians who are born in the states dont have a clue about the language unless its spoken fiercely in the home.

 

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Jeff: You are 100% correct with that. Ha. But for me, I was lucky in that my mother took me to Ghana before I even knew how to use words. So, in actuality, Twi was the first language and vocabulary I learned, and in essence, English is my second language. So, Im really decent when it comes to using Twi. Im a cheat code! But keep that quiet. Ha.

  

AD: How much of the remnants of the Ghanaian culture factored into your approach to your style and presentation?

 

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Jeff: When I was younger and in school, particularly in the Bronx – it wasnt always your proudest moment to be from Africa or to say your family was African. Part of the silly embarrassment was perhaps from the narratives that were spinning on television. Americans were being indoctrinated with visuals of feed the children” which only highlighted the extreme poverty in a few Africans countries. The images and broadcasts were all the same, for decades. So called philanthropist and humanitarians took camera crews into ravaged areas and televised starving children for us to see here in the states. I believe that had a profound effect on young boys and girls born from African parents.

However, as for me – I always looked at being dark skinned and being deeply rooted into my African culture as a super power. I liked the idea of being different, even though all the kids in all my classes were also children of immigrants. They just couldnt grasp the concept of it at that time. So, from there, it was showtime. My Uncle, Joseph Ken Mintah – was the pioneer as the first in the family to travel to the states – he had extreme style. My mother also is very detailed with her sense of jewelry and fragrances. I adsorbed it all. 

 

AD: Did you start dressing in traditional African attire? What do you mean exactly?

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Jeff: Not exactly! But, being an only child really allowed for me to sit deep in thought for long periods of time. Being left-handed allowed for me to be extremely dexterous and detailed. And being raised solely by my mother further allowed me to pay attention to the importance of clothing and accessories – as she dressed herself each morning. It was the ultimate cocktail and I was already drunk with creativity. I started customizing all the clothes I had. By no means were we wealthy, so I had to manage just a few outfits for school.

 

My styling began when I would turn 5 outfits into 15 – so essentially, a 5-day school week became New York Fashion Week for me. I would airbrush my sneakers, turn Old Navy sweaters inside out for a fleece appeal, and cuff my jeans in 4 different ways depending on my footwear. This soon became a bad habit and made me late for school many mornings.

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AD: You see, if you are late to school in Ghana back then – you might as well have sat by the road to hide from both your mother and headmaster! What was college like for you then?

 

Jeff: Right! Ha. It grew legs during my undergrad. Now all the pretty girls were around, I had more freedom to come and go, and more importantly – I had a stage to showcase my style. I joined a student club in the SEEK Program, and soon became the President and started hosting a string of events based around fashion. 4 years and a bachelors degree later, there were 6 fashion shows and 3 beauty pageants under my belt. Huge successes. I started to doubt my real educational reason for attending college, which was to become a dentist. Fashion was dancing on one shoulder and dentistry on the other. But somehow, I figured out how to still involve the two. My best buddy, Kenny – whom I met at the college on the road to become dentists – made it through. So, I live vicariously through him. And now, coincidentally – together we’ve developed a brand – a service of bespoke mens luxury shoes and women’s handbags, and ready to wear womenswear shoes as well. Named, Kenjeffreys. It is serendipitous because all of the products are sourced and handcrafted in Haiti and infused with Ghanaian culture. As Kenny is from Haiti, we properly employ artisans within the community and focus heavily on our social impact.

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Following undergrad, I then began at FIT as student, really just trying to test my styling hand – and to learn more about the industry. While there, I came across extremely talented and knowledgeable fashion professionals that have really guided me. Namely, Sadia Seymour and Joseph DeAcetis. Both wildly experienced, patient and embedded with a wealth of information. Respectfully in womenswear and menswear. You cannot beat that, and I am grateful for it.

 

AD: That is strangely unique and admirable. Talk to us about how all those experiences and inspirations give rise to the Jeffrey or Che we see today and ultimately, where that places you in your field of fashion and menswear.

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Jeff: Sure. Great point. I have been indoctrinated by the basic principles of creativity as an adolescent – with respect to clothing. That is extremely hard to shake. Innately, styling was my ultimate form of communication, seeing that I was a shy introvert. So now, I still revert back to those same feelings…. the feeling of home, warmth, memories, great food and innocent fun. My approach now is exactly the same in the sense that when I am dressing, styling or designing for someone – I am taking into account their entire repertoire and holding a mirror in front of them which reflects the items that they love most. It is a skill that perhaps only empaths are only able to exhibit.

 

Having the ability to read into thoughts and connecting with the motivating spirits that drives people – is a gift. I ran the New York City marathon three times, and the 2nd time I ran it in a tuxedo! It was my ultimate homage and pledging of allegiance to fashion. Ha.

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I also believe my extensive traveling experience has aided to the arsenal. Recent trips to Ghana always resets a creative instinct with me, as I look around and arrive back to a place of self-awareness. It feels right. My cousin Harry knows where to be to capture the real essence of the land. And, coincidentally enough, I am often back and forth to the UK as well. Savile row in London, England -as you know – is a menswear connoisseurs Disney Land. It is the traditional hub for the world’s best tailored-bespoke suits. Naples and Florence are a close second. However, sartorially, the British have etched their names in the fine-art making of the suit. I do though spend most of my time in Brighton, UK. Its where my love is and also like a second home for me. The culture there is infused with various styles and the community is inviting. The Duchess of Brighton-Hove, Lady Donna and her amazing friends will assure that you have a great time! 

 

AB: Finally, talk to us about your styling approach with respect to specific talent that you work with.

 

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Jeff: Definitely. This is perhaps an area you cannot teach. It is learned with years of experience and even reading the room wrong most times. I tell my fashion students often that they have to continue shooting airballs at the basket. Get out the miss shots, now – and properly learn your subjects. For example, if I am styling a celebrity for the red carpet – several nuances are to be considered before arriving at a dress or a tuxedo. Such as, what stages in life is your talent currently in, how body conscious are they and what are they most nostalgic about. These (and some of my other secrets that I cannot give away) are the pillars to nailing great style, image and presentation.

 

If I am shooting for a magazine in a studio – its party time. If you are not dancing as a model or grooving as a photographer, you are are in the wrong business, per say! Haha. With me, you are very liable to hear everyone from Bob Marley, James Brown, MJ, and Jay-Z to Queen, Lady Gaga, Biggie, Nas and Beyonce all on the same playlist. I say that to say: I enjoy what I do in fashion, and I will always represent the joys of that. I believe that is what makes me an enigma in this industry. Always professional however, but make it subjective and inject areas of your creativity wherever you can. Particularly in menswear – I keep a very intimate and close pulse on traditional, casual and street styles of these sub genres – and study them gravely like the science they are. That all still comes from sitting deep in thought as I did
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