Sankofa is the Fort Wayne, Indiana-based member of Society of NIMH who bought a micro cassette recorder before he could afford a studio. Sankofa's role model is pre-Disney Winnie the Pooh, sketchily drawn and living a simple life. With eight releases under his belt, he keeps it moving with his latest album Still Means Something. You might have heard him on various projects spanning the globe-CunninLynguists in the US, Offbeaters in Germany, Kashal-Tee and Bucc in Sweden, Mark One in Australia, Cris Cardiak in Switzerland and many more. He was recently commisioned to make a song for ESOPUS 5-a non-profit, multimedia bi-annual publication based out of New York. Born and raised in Australia, local Lego champion Sankofa (back then not known to himself by said name) moved to Minnesota in just enough time to coincide with the advent of YO! MTV Raps, longing for a pair of leather Adidas instead of his myriad pairs of clearance rack Vans that saw him through many days of skateboarding.
Skateboarding gave way to basketball, but a love for rap that was born somewhere between hearing Morris Minor and The Major's 'Stutter Rap' and DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince's 'Parents Just Don't Understand' remained. What started as a chance to front his high school buddies' garage band back in '95 or so got him on the path to writing rhymes. The next step was plugging into the web to work on rhymes with like-minded individuals. It wasn't until around '97 that it was decided songs needed to be made. Still Means Something includes 14 songs of hellfire and Hester Prine brimstone, with touches of storytelling levity and a love of words thrown in the mix. FANGFACE retired, but not before making 13 out of the 14 beats for this 45 minute beast. In honor of the DOC's 'Grand Finale,' Sankofa called upon some of his friends to help close out the album. "Barnburner" does so with a bang, featuring verses from JON?DOE, AthenA and Bice Corve's own Kashal-Tee.
The tortoise hustle continues...
Now seemingly committed to inhabiting Fort Wayne for the foreseeable future, one-time drifter Stephen Bryden, better known to us all as Sankofa, has released his second official solo album of cryptic musings and masterful storytelling to a scene that has seen much development since his Rosetta Stone album. Already an accomplished artist, Sankofa has had a release of some sort every year for some time now, all of which have played their part to set the stage for one of the most universally celebrated local releases in recent memory with his wonderfully titled Still Means Something release.
While working at the Wooden Nickel location on Anthony in early 2004 I ran into a “truckstop mustache-clad” Sankofa, whom I hadn’t seen since the 2003 Whammy Award Show where he gave me a copy of the aforementioned The Rosetta Stone album. Where in the past he had always seemed to speak of Fort Wayne as little more than a stopping ground, Bryden seemed excited about the local hip-hop scene, as well as his current project with Indianapolis producer Fangface. As Fangface browsed the LPs looking for loops, Sankofa filled me in on a scene that, at the time, I was nearly oblivious to. As the months passed, I received updates about his upcoming album until one day he sadly wrote to inform me that Fangface had “quit rap” in order to focus on his family and professional life.
Luckily, Bryden was able to finish the 13 Fangface-produced tracks, going on to add one outside beat via Actuel, scratches from longtime collaborator Ognihs and guest verses by JON?DOE, AthenA and Kashal-Tee. Despite the loss of Fangface, Sankofa maintained his enthusiasm, going on to self-release the album to an ever-growing amount of local attention. Full of crossover potential due to his feral live show and the inclusion of “99 Goggles” on the Essentials compilation, Still Means Something has surprisingly received just as much support from the local rock scene as it has from the local rap scene, and Sankofa has been spending his fair share of time opening for rock and punk bands around town in the months since the albums release.
Hearing Fangface’s beats, you can’t help but feel disappointed at his decision to move on from the rap world - most notably on pitch-perfect beats like “A Handful of Words,” “Emily Plus 2,” “The Perpetual Motion Machine” and “Barnburner.” A master of drum breaks, Fangface’s pristine sample selection should leave any producer, local or otherwise, feeling a bit lazy. Where The Rosetta Stone felt uneven at times due to it’s use of numerous producers, SMS plays through wonderfully, only dropping off slightly on the instrumental “Vicoden Popsicles,” uncharacteristic “Stacks of Loot” and lackluster (by comparison) “Lovesick.”
The album’s anchors, “Velcro Sneakers” and “Barnburner,” work as SMS‘s two most crucial moments, most significantly the closer, “Barnburner,” which features four longtime Sankofa collaborators over the album’s most interesting beat. Easily the most impressive rap song I’ve personally heard come out of the Fortress, “Barnburner” is a classic posse cut, seeing all four emcees at the top of their game, predominantly the best emcee you’ve never heard of, JON?DOE.
The real focus on any Sankofa release is his writing and vocal performance. For those unfamiliar with Bryden’s past work, beware, he often speaks his own puzzling, delicate language. Complete with his customary slew of obscure references, inside jokes, lateral thoughts, and individual slang, Sankofa has never done his listeners any favors. (If you are to really appreciate a Sankofa track, you’re going to have to work at it; head over to www.obeseamerica.com for help with the lyrics.) While nothing on SMS is as well penned or personal as The Rosetta Stone‘s “RDB,” his writing overall, has improved along with his now-flawless delivery. Not just a student of rap’s history, Bryden’s success can be accredited to his impressive work ethic, genuine artistic drive and. most of all, his perpetual youthful spirit. And did I mention his rare gift with words? Not to discredit rap music or songwriters in general, but Bryden has more word power than your average (published) author, a gift that doesn’t come around everyday.
In my 2004 whatzup review for Rosetta Stone, I claimed that “Sankofa has unquestionably arrived with the album of his lifetime.” I take it back, as Fort Wayne’s one-time need-to-know wonder has become the current it-boy of the local music scene with his best work yet. More than just the flavor of the month, Sankofa’s passion, energy and positive attitude have played a big part in pushing our local “Fortress” rap scene to the next level. Already working on his next release, The Tortoise Hustle, Sankofa seems to be just getting started. Not only the best hip-hop album I’ve heard to date out of Fort Wayne, Still Means Something is probably my favorite - and easily my most listened-to - album from a local artist. (G. Locke)
Still Means Something
When we first spun this CD at the office, we were immediately thinking of whom his voice sounds like? Wulf heard Saafir with a cold, Englebert was thinking of a cousin of Celph Titled's who's more interested in reading books and watching movies instead of playing with guns, while I heard comparisons with Sage Francis after he spent a whole day waiting tables. Sankofa's raw, deep voice timbre is unique that's for sure, but there's more!
This born and raised Australian moved to Minnesota, then California, spent a year teaching in China and now resides in Fort Wayne, Indiana, which only feeds a man's view on the world and life in general. Sankofa's songs deal with anecdotes, experiences, and opinions wrapped in metaphors and subtle irony. His rhyming is playful and speedy; he runs with words, jumps over the drums, stumbles and gets himself up again. There's a constant interaction between the pace of the rhymes and the beats, which makes it interesting and challenging for the listener. Sankofa has a feeling for language; a good pick of words, alliteration, metaphors, irony or just plain humour. Hell! It even occurs that, right in the middle of a song, Sankofa suddenly switches over to some singin, or an occasional lullaby, like at the end of 'Dumptrucks and Dummers'. The audacity! But that's what makes Sankofa's style so unique; he does his thing. In 'Emily Plus 2' the chorus goes 'It's Fangface with the kicks and hats, and ya man Sankofa with the gift of gab', lines that keep hangin in ya head and make you go mumbling it the next morning.
Fangface's beats are up-tempo and various, goin from Oriental ('Night At The Casba') to Country 'n Western influences (the bar fly anthem '99 Goggles' - 'My mouth only opens for beer and Pretzels') and even productions who would become party anthems if the world was perfect ('People Mover'). But life is far from perfect, like love is; 'Lovesick' is a relaxed track (in contrast with the other songs) dealing with the draftee emptiness that is left after a flirt gone by 'But I was wondering roaches have vaginas too, pardon the tongue hun, I didn't mean it like that, la cucarachaaaa, the only Spanish I know'. One thing's sure: that girl wasn't the world's most famous heiress; 'Back in the days listening to Paris, when Hilton was the name of a hotel and not a whore', Sankofa raps in 'A Handful Of Words', a song black like a berry plucked on a rainy day, partly because of the vicious piano loop used over the pounding drums.
And there you have it, 13 songs which pass by like a train. The CD lasts 45 minutes and the more you listen to it, the shorter it seems to be. Not really surprising considering the quirky pace of the beats and Sankofa's high tempo of dropping words, but when 13 songs seem short is that a bad sign? Me thinks not, that's merely a result of the music being good, music that entertains but needs your attention too, because after listening to it a few times you still discover words or rhymes that you didn't catch earlier on, so our advise is that you go buy this, word goes that you'll get a free goodie when you order it from his website And now let me fetch myself a Dr Pepper while I put the CD-player on repeat...
posted by: cpf | 11-19-2005 | rated: phat
A Handful of Words Fit a Pattern Of-Sorts
'Still Means Something'
Well, Fort Wayne, Indiana isn't really known as a hip-hop epicenter - well neither is where I'm from - but I don't think I've ever even heard of a rapper from Fort Wayne before. Hell, I've never heard of ANYONE from Fort Wayne before. How good could it be if the Pistons fled from it?
Personally, I don't care what the hell it's like - it's in a red state. And you know how I feel about those - but since Society of Nimh rapper Sankofa hails from General "Mad" Anthony Wayne's little-fort-town, nobody can ever say nothing good ever came from Fort Wayne.
'Still Means Something' is a collaborative effort between the Australian-born Sankofa and apparently-now-retired producer FANGFACE. The result is a spirited and verbose 45-minute, 14-track head-nodding rap adventure. Sankofa has a uniquely deep and soulful voice, which is complimented by FANGFACE's top-notch traditional-sounding beats.
"Burn Unit" features an agressive, buoyant piano riff with some fierce drums. Sankofa rhymes hard and fast - "Stepping to us - you're going to burn - when (when) will (will) these fools learn?" Another hard-hitting track is "People Mover" which features a slick, bouncy drum line and a repititious-yet-spry bass-stab which gives way to a lively-jazz bass riff during the chorus. FANGFACE and Sankofa are at their best when providing us with the boom-bap. Sankofa sounds ferocious over the rolling beats of Mr. Face.
On "Lovesick," we find Sankofa showing off his pipes by doing a little more than merely rapping over a smooth, bassy track. He croons: "Pardon the tongue hun - I didn't mean it like that - la cuca racha - the only Spanish I know...You got me love sick...so sick of lo-oove." While "Perpetual Motion Machine" kicks off with Sankofa softly singing "I can't seem to stop this ride and I can't slow it down..." only to give way to a hypnotic hi-hat-intensive drum pattern and an eerie echoey guitar sample.
Two stand-out tracks are "99 Goggles," and "Handful of Words." "99 Goggles" features an almost-country guitar riff over some crash-heavy drums with Sankofa rapping/half-singing about the scene at a local dive with that Irish Whiskey flowing. "Handful of Words" is a menacing piano-joint with hyperactive drums - "And if you hear this song, It's all I got..."
'Still Means Something' is a solid underground rap album. Sankofa sounds hungry and his wordy style sounds fresh and real over the seemless production of FANGFACE. The album is almost startlingly consistent - it does not suffer from weak tracks like many other real-real-underground joints.
The sound is driving and energetic, the production often powerful and moving, and the vocals sincere and intricate. The album is an impressive effort from a veritable up-and-coming rapper in the underground game.
Posted by CEREFFUSION at 10:44 PM on 12/27/05
Born over the span of a few months, Still Means Something was a collaborative effort between producer/DJ FANGFACE and myself. Many beats were crafted and suitable words were written. Some songs strange, but all reflecting facets of life. What were intended to be beat sketches turned into final drafts. This is the one and only project where FANGFACE will be handling production duties. He's moved on.
Velcro Sneakers-originally entitled 10:34, this is the only song not produced by FANGFACE. Actuel (who went with FANG and I to Scribble '04) made a beat CD to hand out. After I was done with all vocals for the album, I wanted to keep writing and found actuel's beats. This was my favorite and I messed around with more than my usual dose of word-wandering. It wasn't even a consideration that this would go on the album until Kashal-Tee heard it and flipped out. The outro is a nod to Les (Velcro Rod Lavers) Worth.
The Humdinger-FANGFACE had the sample of the hook as the main song component, but I liked the bass line piece making up the verses. The Humdinger's an example of my perspective seeping into the song. It was by no means deliberate, but I'm glad it worked out. Though the changeup to a happier hook sample was good, I felt it needed something else and couldn't resist adding vocal multitracking. I think the hook vocals provide a good counterbalance to the sample. Credit where credit is due: AJ Cameron was first to call Wynona Judd a "shovel-jawed pork chop" (this being in one of his 411mania.com columns). The outro (where the song title is repeated and fades out with the beat) was inspired by an old Juice song.
99 Goggles-FANG had a dope guitar lick and drum set up and thought it'd be kosher to have a song where the verses were only split up by one bar instead of the traditional 4-8 bars. Once I heard the beat, I knew I had a story song that would fit the style. This song was written as 4 verses of 16 bars, but having just the first 3 verses worked well. Throw in a GI Joe moral to the "I've got to quit drinking" story and a song about truck stop bars is born. I enjoyed how Muggs would randomly throw extra instrumentals at the beginning or end of songs and thought the outro beat gave a good sense of waking up hungover. Each time I hear it, I can't help but picture being about 10 feet under water and seeing the sun and the surface about 10 feet away..
Emily Plus 2-this was one of the first songs completed that gave me an impression of where the album was headed. The beat was notably more upbeat than my previous material and I did what I could to match its mood. My first take ended up being the final take, even with the mistakes I felt I couldn't aptly recapture the mood of the song. The beat was called Emily and the Plus 2 is in reference to the generation of the song (various hooks and outros were tried). The outro was something I messed up on and figured to keep, a look behind the curtain which wouldn't necessitate a skit.
Dumptrucks & Hummers-I don't know how, but this hook is a trickle-down effect from the Fugees. I like this hook, though I couldn't tell you what it means. From a lyrical standpoint, it's a pretty random song. It's no wonder I lean towards storytelling-it's easy to draw in disparate elements when there's a journey afoot. The acapella outro came about because I can't resist singing. I'd tell you the band whose records my Mom used to play that inspired the outro, but my memory serves mush.
A Handful of Words-the first verse and first half of the hook for this song were originally recorded for a song with Cashmere (Surly Polar Bear Inc.). I knew what words would aptly start this song. I got in touch with Cashmere and asked if he was cool with me using the verse for something I was working on. The upright bass work reminded me of Prong's "Beg to Differ." Random tidbit-'Tuberculosis host' is in reference to my Dad and 'appears in rivulets' is my crying. "With all due respect, you get nothing" was born from a frustrating job I took on and was trying to figure out how to tell the person I quit.
Vicoden Popsicles-This song is for the b-boys and b-girls. I ran it by Glide, who then played it for Revver (Clever) and they both gave it the thumbs up. you can thank RhymeWise37 that this song didn't have a much wacker title. I thought it provided an apt transition between the intensity of A Handful of Words and the story of Stacks of Loot and allowed me to tip my hat to the coordinated cats.
Stacks of Loot-A case in point of one line starting an absolutely random story with plenty bizarre elements. I started with "Playing a game of jai alai with lil Kim's fake nails" and turned it into an epic tale of betrayal. This is the untold and unauthorized story told from the perspective of one of the jai alai players seen in the intro to Miami Vice. Characters include a one-eyed cop, Don Johnson, Melanie Griffith's hippie sister, Melanie Griffith's niece, Michael Mann, and a disgruntled beach bum. Brian Singer likes this song but can't figure out why.
Lovesick-finally, a Sankofa love song. On the Still Means Something sampler, I left out the last section of the first verse, giving the impression I was getting soft in the head. This is a love song which tells three tales about relationships gone wrong. The first verse was originally intended for a NIMH concept song. The remaining verses were crafted to the beat. As to the details of those relationships...
People Mover-named after those conveyor belts which confound my feet. This track was constructed in FANGFACE's since gone MPC3000 at 112 BPM and then upped to 118. I had a whole set of lyrics for it and ended up using a set I'd originally intended for another FANGFACE beat. Though the track was fast, I didn't feel the need to rap angrily on it. I opted for a more subdued tone which was reflected in the hook. Kashal-Tee heard the song and declared it my first club hit.
Burn Unit-I wrote about 10 verses to this beat and chopped them down to three. One of my discarded verses contained what would become the hook. When the hook was being recorded, I stretched my voice more than usual. I was concerned the hook work would be over the top, but it turned out well. Burn Unit song was by far the most labor-intensive song, from both a writing and recording standpoint. There were many generations of this track. I wanted to make sure this was more than a case of "insert angry voice/rap fast here". FANGFACE made this beat at Kashal-Tee's request, but Kash was looking for something different and the track became fodder for Still Means Something.
The Perpetual Motion Machine-This is a track about my need to keep writing. I kept the hook blank to leave the impression of nothing but the beat sitting there, calling me. Second Carnie Wilson reference is found here-I guess that gastric bypass failure stuck in my head. The outro was written back in the Silversmiths LA sessions where I was fooling around. It was right about the same time I wrote and recorded Chubby Rain.
A Night At the Casba-One of FANGFACE's earliest beats over which I recall a night I spent down at the Casba (a Tuesday night club now overseen by DJ K-Tel in Indianapolis) a summer ago. It struck me as a night I had to put in song. Man, was FANGFACE furious when Rusty bogarted the turntables. "Del's little bro...from the skate shop" turned out to be Zeal from Nearest Nova.
Barnburner-another FANGFACE idea, different beats for each rapper. This was a chance for me to close the album with talented people I consider friends. JON?DOE and Kashal-Tee being the Society of NIMH holdovers and AthenA just being plain sick. I start it off and ended up rerecording my verse so it could have more heart. JON?DOE gives a nod to Puffy's ad libbing before going for some "classical JON?DOE" sound effects (you guys should have heard the acapella backing tracks). The harpsichord seemed a perfect sample for J?D to weave words. AthenA's beat was done and mailed off before Edan's album featuring the same sample dropped. Unfortunately, by then, FANGFACE had quit so it was that beat or nothing and-when there's a chance for an AthenA guest verse-it's that beat. I always pictured Kashal-Tee closing out my album with a certifiable kick in the ass.