Kao Denero’s Legacy of All Time Greatness and the Evolution of Hip Hop in Sierra Leone

When it comes to the “King of Freetown,” the majority of his fans recognize him as someone more than a musician. For many Salone Hiphoppas, Kao Denero is the redeemer who unlocked the Sierra Leone Hip Hop community from stagnation. Thousands of Sierra Leoneans have also named Kao Denero as the best rapper of all time. Although today, the Afrobeat sound dominates Sierra Leone’s Hip Hop, the fans do not claim just this era or subgenre. Is Kao Denero the arbitrary and eternal King of Hip Hop in Sierra Leone? That’s the question that many people who are not a part of his fan base want to answer. Of course, if you are in the Black Leo fan base, this question comes as a sign of disloyalty.

In this blog, I will answer the big question, not as a fan but as a neutral person with an objective perspective. We all agree that the “King of Freetown” leaves a significant impression on his fans and well-wishers. Their support is steadfast. Kao Denero’s followers should never have to wonder if Sierra Leoneans hate him or if they are jealous of his reign. Even in the wake of constructive criticism, I can speak with confidence when I say we are proud of him. For me, those predilections became evident when I began to write this series of blogs documenting the evolution of Hip Hop in Sierra Leone. The majority of Sierra Leoneans considers Kao as one of the very best musicians in the music history of Sierra Leone.

I want every Black Leo fan or soldier to know that they make us all proud. Deserving of that respect, I honor Kao Denero as the best Sierra Leonean rapper of the 2010s.”

I have dubbed him, the most influential rapper Sierra Leone has ever seen thus far. He was the first EMCEE to connect with the ever so unyielding masses of Sierra Leone. He is the only musician who has filled the National Stadium with beholders, and he has done it over and again for a decade or more. I want every Black Leo fan or soldier to know that they make us all proud. Deserving of that respect, I honor Kao Denero as the best Sierra Leonean rapper of the 2010s. Denero also has some impressive accolades from the 2000s. He came in the game back when the youth of Sierra Leone had undergone the most upheaval. The civil war had ended, and the people’s morale was extremely low.

The luckiest emcees from the 1990 to 2000 era left Sierra Leone to pursue dreams abroad. Kao returned to Sierra Leone while still maintaining his status abroad. That was a brave sacrifice on his part, a signal of his devotion to Sierra Leone Hip Hop. One of the most initial discussions I had with Kao when we first met was to applaud him for what he does musically in Sierra Leone. In my day, our elders confined Hip Hop to backyards, street corners, and abandoned buildings. Except, Kao broke through and made it an acceptable art form, which is recognized by corporations and government officials. In addition to that, with the active support of Black Leo fans, he has given Sierra Leone Hip Hop a face.

Every time he records a new album and releases it at the National Stadium, he draws enthusiasm to the Kulture. Companies of all varieties, from culinary and transportation to security services, generate traffic. He delivers over fifteen good songs on each album and performs them on stage. That is a lot of work. I explained to Kao, that, as much as I live and die for Hip Hop, I could not do what he does. I do not have the strength or confinement required to make it happen. With that said, I am bound to promote any Sierra Leonean musician who is serious about their art. I tipped my hat and extended Kao my solidarity. He has dug into the trenches and given many young Sierra Leoneans something to appreciate.

He is a very talented songwriter who has developed his style of rap. He has given us many DOPE hit songs. His profound understanding of Sierra Leonean’s comprehension propels his message to resonate with the people. I also prize the fact that Kao has brought our African origins into his music. He immersed himself in traditional cadences. Although he is capable of speaking with a clear American accent, he has combined the national languages within his lyrics. That in itself is another indication that the “King of Freetown,” breathes with a Sierra Leonean essence. Kao Denero is an unexceptional personality. Yes, some of us (musicians and rappers from the earliest epoch) may have achieved more accolades.

However, Kao Denero could release a hot new album and fill the National Stadium with fans who are undoubtedly excited to celebrate his latest hits. He can visit anywhere in the global diaspora and pack a town or city hall with Sierra Leonean music fans. Those are citizens who would not come out to see Grammy-nominated Freddy Will or two times Grammy-nominated Neneh Cherry or even show out for Jimmy B, the legendary Godfather. By saying that, I do not mean that the other famous musicians like Boss LA, Princess P, Yok 7, Emerson, K-Man, and others are insignificant. Many Sierra Leone musicians have garnered the respect of music fans and registered a high turnout at their concerts.

Everyone knows that Denero took Sierra Leone Hip Hop to the next level.”

Truth be told, Kao Denero is an extraordinary artist with an “it” factor. Still, in my introductory blog, I named Shadow Boxxer as one of the early pioneers and the Dopest Emcee in Hip Hop in Sierra Leone. That is true! These blogs are a part of a series of seven books entitled, “The Sandman’s Journal.” I’ve been writing and publishing them since 2008. Black Leo fans should understand that by upholding Shadow Boxxer as the dopest emcee, I considered parts of his legacy of which they are unaware. Shadow Boxxer comes from my era of Hip Hop in Sierra Leone. I know what he did in 1992. He broke ground by performing all over the city. He was the first rapper to do a show at the National Stadium.

Kao Denero has a stellar legacy which is not under attack when praise goes to other rappers or musicians from Sierra Leone. Trust me, Kao should consider himself the best. Any rapper who is in this business should think of themselves as the best emcee to touch the microphone. It is also perfectly normal for any fan to interrupt conversations about other musicians to brag about their favorite artists. Everyone knows that Denero took Sierra Leone Hip Hop to the next level. In the Shadow blog, I had already stated that in our day, Hip Hop was essentially unaccepted. Our era introduced and pioneered it in Sierra Leone. It was not an easy task. We have guys like Say Say Moody, who died over Salone Hip Hop.

In Sierra Leone, Hip Hop started in the late 80s. Since then, there have been various eras in the evolution of Hip Hop in Sierra Leone. Shadow Boxxer was hot in the early 90s, and he is getting hot again in this 2019 era. He’s making a comeback. Jimmy B was at his most heated in the mid-90s when he dominated the airwaves. The legendary and most accomplished Neneh Cherry was hot throughout the 90s. And yes, Neneh Cherry did a bit of rapping. Back then, a group called Snap was among the hottest rappers. Qing Que, a retired rapper formerly known as Da Qing, also had a moment when he was famous as an artist. I had my time when I was hot. It was between 2008 and 2013.

By outlining who was hot and when it does not mean all these artists are not on right now. Everyone has a remarkable legacy, but Kao Denero has maintained the most prolonged hot streak in Salone. Speaking from just my point of view, the guy has been burning hot since we met in 2013. Any musician with such a profile should be precious to Hiphoppas. Even more impressive is the fact that I have not denounced Kao Denero. I have not yet compared our rappers except for those instances where I matched their popularity. In this in-depth blog, I now analyze Kao’s fame with his abilities or his performance. I also have to remind everyone that I keep my platform open to all artists, regardless of their beef or disagreements.

There must have been a borderline when Sierra Leonean Hiphoppas walked away from Hip Hop in the United States.”

I narrate everyone’s side of the story from an impartial position. Although Kao is a dope emcee, he has concentrated his sound to Afrobeat and that of the new Hip Hop in Sierra Leone. Some dope heads would be Slick Rick, Kendrick Lamar, J Cole, Tupac, Biggie, Mos Def, Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube, Andre 300, Treach of Naughty by Nature, Dr. Dre, etc. I’m talking about Jazz, Funk, Soul, and R&B. Hip Hop is different from Afrobeat or Africana music. When we distinguish pure Hip Hop from crossovers or subgenres, then we come to the discussion about the legacy of Shadow Boxxer. The point I am making here is that we can say Kao is the all-time King of Salone Hip Hop, except for when we speak of Hip Hop, Hip Hop. 

Making a giant proclamation that Kao is the dopest emcee would be at the detriment of the rest of the other rappers who have made significant contributions to the evolution of Hip Hop in Sierra Leone. That is especially for those who rap in English or French and produce traditional Hip Hop rhythms in their songs. There must have been a borderline when Sierra Leonean Hiphoppas walked away from Hip Hop in the United States. They seem to have created their brand of the genre. I suspect that this time came in the early to mid-2000s. In the beginning, rappers in Sierra Leone used to spit in American or British English and follow the cadence of the original Hip Hop sounds from the global Hip Hop community.

At one point, Sierra Leonean Hip Hop must have changed from English to Krio. I am guessing that the era of rappers who switched from English to Krio did not know about most of the guys who came before them, which includes Shadow Boxxer, Qing Que, or Say Say Moody. They must have disconnected from the English Salone rappers who pursue their careers overseas. They switched to Krio and established a Sierra Leone based industry. That is a pivotal moment in the evolution of the Sierra Leonean Hip Hop. As a writer, I have to document that. The guys who stayed in Salone formed a growing national Hip Hop movement and then blocked their overseas counterparts from returning to join them.

Abdulai Kabba wrote: “I was a Rapper too back in the days, I used to do head to head rap battles (commonly known by then as OG contests) with Kao Denero and Yok 7 and few others. I brought Sulaiman Bulls and Ayouiba Sidibay into the game. My stage name was Kobozino, I never heard of Shadow Boxxer until 2 years ago. The foundation was laid by Jimmy B, Kao Denero, Yok 7 and later Bager. …these people are legends in Salone Hip Hop. Don’t get me wrong Shadow is lyrically good I can’t deny that but he has to bring so many hit songs and classic albums to crown him the best, you have to put in work to maintain a legendary status. Give respect where respect is due.” How come all these guys never knew Shadow? That’s the question. 

In his comment, you can see that Abdulai was speaking of a time long after Shadow left Sierra Leone. He left Sierra Leone before me, and the time Abdulai is speaking of was long after I was gone. They forgot about us. And so, I set out on a quest to find out what caused that disconnect. When I looked through the data, I found it. Kao brought joy. He gave them hope. Kao Denero gave the young women and men of Sierra Leone, their own Hip Hop industry so that they don’t have to chase the one overseas. Because of him, they have something precious that belongs to them. The remedy for that is in the music that he continues to release. His hits are benchmarks in the Sierra Leone Music industry.

The Hiphoppas who came after us did not check if anyone existed in the game before they came along. They established their lanes and claimed the titles. They also ignore the accomplishment that Salone rappers receive overseas. Therefore my Grammy award nomination means nothing, and Neneh Cherry’s various Grammy and MTV award nominations mean nothing. As long as an artist did not grind in Salone, that artist does not exist. Therefore with that notion set in place, the industry is practically divided. Will I be wrong if I said Kao is in the Top 5 Greatest Of All Time Emcees from Salone? Does that leave room for him to grow from a great emcee to the Greatest of all time? Why don’t I let you tell it?*

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