Exclusive Interview With E.L, Award-Winning Rapper & Record Producer
E.L has become an iconic name for music from Ghana and across the African continent. His signature “This is Crazy Chaleee!” before he dives into his songs has become an endearing term to many, especially within the Ghanaian circles. And once you hear that, you know you are in for some wonderful suprises of body-moving beats and soul-shattering melodies with heavy base. And you are going to hear that deep, clear voice rhythmically dropping Pidgin lyrics with such real content anyone can identify with. With each record and music video, E.L’s creativity and versatility show through more strongly and he continues to establish himself as an international performer in a league of his own. His rise as an international star is reflective of his skill and dedication and the strong management team he has behind him-BBnZ Live. Every project is meticulously done, each video a sensation for its wonderful choreography. In 2013, his 25-song album, Something Else, won the Vodafone Ghana Music Awards Album-Of-The-Year. It featured a broad spectrum of songs in the hiplife, azonto, highlife and rock music genres and, as E.L rightfully describes it, is an album for all ages. Some favorites from the album are Kaalu, One Ghana and Auntie Martha.
However, very few people know the side of E.L who is a genius behind the mic as well, producing for many renowned artistes whose tunes have become synonymous with the Azonto and Hiplife music of Ghana, namely Sarkodie’s U Go Kill Me and D-Black’s Get On The Dance Floor. This year, E.L is gearing up for the debut of his second album E.L.O.M., an acronym for his slogan Everyone Loves Original Music.
Lilian N. Blankson caught up with E.L during his recent trip to the United States to chat with him about his brand of music and style as an artiste and record producer.
“My passion for music actually impacts me daily – there is no event or tragedy that happened to make me the type of artist I am. If you love and appreciate great music overall, then I am the artist for you. Music began for me as a child,…I just made the decision to make good music and became very passionate about it.”
Design233: Welcome E.L What brings you to the US?
E.L: I came here to be part of a panel at the 2014 SXSW Conference. I am also doing some interviews and networking overall. I am not really doing any shows as that was not the purpose of my coming, but I will be making a few appearances in Atlanta before I head back to Ghana.
D233: I have had some discussions about international branding with you. How do you see your music fitting into the American space & what would your strategy be to break into the market?
E.L: I think identifying your market in a particular environment and catering to it enables you to grow in any given space. It’s really hard for an artist from Africa to break into an environment that has not been designed for them so starting at the grassroots level and gradually growing the music from there is the best strategy. Good music speaks for itself so I have great hopes for the best in that regard.
D233: You have two distinct sounds to me – more of a local hip-life sound and then you have your other more western oriented hip-hop sound. Are there two E.L’s? If not, what determines the type of music you release?
E.L: Lol. No, there’s just one E.L – I have been fortunate to be exposed to different types of music In my five year run, so as an artist, I think it best not to type-cast myself to any particular sound. When I was living in London, I listened to a lot of Rock & Roll and when I moved to Ghana, I was exposed to a lot of Afrobeat. Both genres have made me a very eclectic artist and by listening to a lot of different types of music, my sound as an artist has also been impacted.
D233: Is it fair to say that One Ghana (For Your Pocket) really brought you to the forefront? What do you think it was about that track that resonated with so many Ghanaians?
E.L: Yes, One Ghana was just one of the songs that brought me to the forefront, although my other tracks had already created a fan base for me. I think One Ghana definitely broke me into the market because Azonto music had just come on to the scene. I am happy to say that I was a pioneer of the Azonto sound and Ghanaians were excited to hear it because of the vibe and feeling they got from it.
D233: Tell me the story behind your signature “This is crazy chale!” I know why you say it, but how was the concept for it born?
E.L: As a producer, I needed something very unique to become my slogan and to become an indication of where the particular music that I was making was coming from. I had to create something very catchy that people would identify me with and connect me to. When I am in the studio with my boys, it’s a very crazy environment and Chale is a term of endearment. I put the two together to create it and ran with it. A friend of mine with a very electronic sounding voice went into the booth and I recorded him saying it – my signature was then born.
D233: What event has impacted you the most as an artist? How did it transform your thinking and approach to your work?
E.L: My passion for music actually impacts me daily – there is no event or tragedy that happened to make me the type of artist I am. If you love and appreciate great music overall, then I am the artist for you. Music began for me as a child, before I started with Skillions, or at Legon University or even started producing. I just made the decision to make good music and became very passionate about it.
D233: You won the 2013 Ghana Music Award for Album Of The Year. Did you expect that award?
E.L: My team and I had worked very, very hard on my first album and were so proud of it. I was excited about the win, but can’t say that I expected it. It felt gratifying to win for my very first album and I hope my next album will do equally as well.
D233: Let’s get into your videos which have been completely amazing yet different in every regard -from comedic concepts to cultural effects. Do you have some input in the story lines?
E.L: I definitely have some input in the concepts. I am part of my label which is BBnZ, and we all come together and think outside of the box for concepts that are original and creative, then we determine the best director to execute them. Each E.L video is very different. If you attempt to re-event what has already been done its considered plagiarism – I want to set the trend and create something different each and every time with my visuals.
D233: Which one of your videos do you love the most and why?
E.L: Hallelujah has great sentimental value to me. The song is a true story and came from the depths of me. The video is also very honest and unscripted, it was created naturally and turned out to be one of the best videos from a Ghanaian or an African artist overall. The process was very organic and creative and I was very pleased with the outcome. It remains one of my favorite videos ever.
D233: I happen to also love “Hallelujah” which features M.anifest as well as “See Me Suffer” which features your label mate Lil Shaker. There are very cultural elements artistically woven into the visual to complement the lyrics. I particularly thought it was dope to have a musical drummer at Elmina Castle with you and Shaker dressed up and performing on mics. It took away the sadness and gloom associated with the castle. What made you want to shoot your video there?
E.L: Well, the song is a representation of being able to arise and conquer suffering and oppression. We thought Elmina would be an excellent venue because of the visual representation of the castle and how it relates to the stigma of racism and slavery. It was perfect. The drummer was also a great fit because of the rock & roll elements of the song although it is a hip-life track in a sense. The castle was a perfect back drop for what we wanted to achieve visually with a song that serves to inspire people to overcome their pain and suffering.
D233: So a lot of people don’t really know your other passion which is producing – you are a really magnificent producer. Which is your true passion/calling – rapping or producing?
E.L: My passion is just being a creative – whether it’s rapping or producing. The creative process keeps me going. As an artist, there is no line or distinction between rapping and producing. My biggest high is hearing a tune or beat in my head and then going into the studio to create and translate it onto an actual track. When the track is completed, I get a great high listening to it on my headphones or even the studio speakers. That is the creative process – bringing a thought or tune to life.
D233: If you could pick any three artists from anywhere in the world to produce, who would they be and why?
E.L: Wow! I’d have to start with Kanye West – I think he is struggling to find a new sound. I wasn’t too fond of his last album. I think I could open a new door for him creatively. Eminem would be second – he used to be my favorite rapper but no longer is because I also think he is struggling to recreate himself. I love how he puts his lyrics together and how he expresses himself through verse – it blows my mind every time. Kendrick Lamar would be the final pick. He is fresh and new and has his own sound and I think it would be something nice to experiment with. He would be an incredible experience in the studio. His sound has gone global so that would be an amazing opportunity to produce music for him.
D233: When you are alone and not working on music, what do you dream about?
E.L: I always dream about my music. Specifically about it going international – music is always on my mind. I think about how to get heard by as many people as possible. I dream about furthering African music and getting our music as a staple on platforms such as BET and even getting us on the Grammys – walking on the Red Carpet and things like that. It’s not just about me; it’s also about helping other artists as well.
D233: What is one project that you would like to work on if you had the time and opportunity to do so?
E.L: I would love to do a joint album with an artist like Drake. Looking at where he came from – Canada, before coming to America where he made a huge name for himself. That is every artist’s dream. I would love to have a week anywhere in the world and be in a creative process with an artist who has a creative mind like mine working to record an album together – that would be an amazing experience.
D233: What do you think of the direction of the music industry in Ghana and how do you intend to impact it?
E.L: I think the industry has really good intentions. We just need to establish the structures to build our dream and our direction. The world is evolving so quickly, we need to catch up in order to get the kind of exposure we deserve. It’s up to all of us to work together to fight in order to make our industry more successful and more effective.
D233: Thank you E.L for spending time with me and talking so candidly. Design 233 is honored to feature you and we will be watching the progress of your career with great excitement! Best wishes always!
E.L: Thank you so much Lilian. I greatly appreciate the support. Look out for my album E.L.O.M. (Everybody Loves Original Music) dropping in June, and follow me on twitter@ELrepGH to keep up with me!