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10 American Musicians  of Ghanaian Descent

American Musicians Originally From Ghana

With a population of just over 30 million people, Ghana is by no means a large nation. Yet, the West African country’s global cultural influence is more far-reaching than you may ever imagine!

Recognized as the home of highlife music, Ghana’s impact on the contemporary Afrobeats scene has been nothing short of legendary! Previously, we have looked at “10 UK Musicians Originally from Ghana”. 

Today, we look at 10 American musicians originally from Ghana.

1. Nana (Nana Is King)

Deemed “Los Angeles’ next great storyteller” by DJ Booth, Nana is an American rapper from the Crenshaw neighborhood of Los Angeles.

He was born Nana Opong in 1989 to Ghanaian immigrants. His mother was a business owner and his father, a pastor and a bishop founded one of the first African churches in Los Angeles.

Active since the year 2012 Nana used to go by the stage moniker Blaison Maven, in 2018 however he dropped the adopted stage name and began going by his real name Nana, which means “king” in the Akan language, the language native to his parents’ home country Ghana. With a slew of projects under his belt, along with recent appearances on the COLORS SHOW, and MajorStage, Nana is definitely one to watch.

2. Blackway

Blackway, real name Yaw Sintim-Misa, is a Ghanaian rapper signed with Republic Records. 

Son of famous Ghanaian actor and satirist Kweku Sintim Misa (KSM), Blackway was born in Brooklyn – New York, USA. He moved to Ghana and stayed till he was 13 years of age then he moved to Long Island in New York, to stay with his mother in the year 2006.

Blackway began music professionally in the year 2013 with his debut project “Radiant Child”. He however got his big break in 2018, when his collaborative effort with DJ duo Black Caviar titled “What’s Up Danger,” was featured on the official soundtrack for Spider-Man: Into The Spiderverse, a film that grossed more than $375 million dollars and won the 2018 Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. 

What’s Up Danger” went on to become RIAA Gold Certified with the soundtrack album being nominated for “Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media” at the 62nd Grammy Awards.

Blackway has gone on to collaborate with the legendary Busta Rhymes, and has had his music featured in Beyonce’s “Hall of Ivy” Ivy Park x Adidas collaboration; EA Sports’ Madden NFL, Fortnite, the UFC; The NBA on TNT, and his track “Heavyweight” being named as an official NFL “Song of the Season”.

3. Moses Sumney

Moses Sumney is a Ghanaian American Singer, instrumentalist and a songwriter who makes Alternative/Indie and Folk music.

Born on 19th May 1992 in California, Sumney was brought up by his Ghanaian pastor parents. He and his family moved to Ghana at the age of 10. He described his childhood as “Americanized” by this age and had difficulty adjusting to the culture of Ghana, especially the rural nature of his new environment. There he grew up on a goat farm in Accra and commuted by public bus to school. His family returned to Southern California when Sumney was 16, settling in Riverside.

Having studied creative writing and poetry at UCLA, Sumney in the year 2014 broke into the Los Angeles music scene with his self-recorded debut EP Mid-City Island. Sumney has since gone on to release four more EPs, 2 studio albums, and a live album between 2016 and 2021, all receiving wide critical acclaim.

Sumney has also collaborated with musicians including Bon Iver and James Blake and toured with Solange and Sufjan Stevens. His latest project is Blackalachia, a self-directed concert film.

4. Amaarae

Ama Serwaa Genfi known by the stage name Amaarae, is a Ghanaian American singer, producer, and sound engineer. 

She was born on 4th July 1994 in the Bronx – New York to Ghanaian parents Ama Bawuah and Kwadwo Boateng Genfi and was raised between Atlanta, New Jersey and Accra. She is the elder of two children. During high school, she started making mixtapes and by 17, she took up an internship at a music studio.

In our 2018 interview with her, Amaarae revealed: “I wrote my first song when I was about 13 and it was a reimagining of R. Kelly and Usher’s “Same Girl”. Returning to Ghana in June 2017, Amaarae quickly built a reputation on Ghana’s burgeoning Alté scene, releasing her debut EP “Passionfruit Summers” in November that very year, which announced her introduction into the music industry.

Three years down the line, Amaarae delivered her debut studio album, “The Angel You Don’t Know,” which was released on 12th November 2020. The Moliy-assisted “Sad Girlz Luv Money” was one of the standout songs off the album. A remix of the song featuring Colombian diva Khali Uchis made a big buzz on US radio, peaking at #1 on the global Spotify Viral chart, #1 on TikTok U.S. Top Tracks chart, and #1 on the Shazam US chart. 

The song eventually broke into the Billboard Hot 100 Charts, debuting at #80, making her and Moliy the first Ghanaian female acts to attain this feat.

5. Coptic

Ghanaian-born, New York-based Eric Kwabena Matlock popular known as Coptic is the production genius behind the chart-topping hip-hop classic “I Need A Girl” for P.Diddy and his Bad Boy Entertainment label. 

He has worked with other big names in hip hop such as the Notorious B.I.G, G-Dep, Jermaine Dupri, KRS-One, Mase, Memphis Bleek, Ice Cube, and the late Black Rob. Coptic was born in Kumasi but grew up in Accra and Awukugua mostly.

In January 1983 he left Ghana for the US at age 13 and that marked the beginning of his stellar career. Coptic started “The Black Star Line” — his own record label and has worked closely with some of Ghana’s finest lyricists including Kwaw Kese, Edem, Sarkodie, M.anifest, E.L and D-Black through his “Rising Stars of GH” compilation series.

6. V.I.C

Born on 20th July 1987, Victor Grimmy Owusu better known by his stage name V.I.C, is an American rapper from Atlanta, Georgia.

He was however born in Queens – New York to a native New Yorker mom and an African immigrant dad from Ghana. At age ten he wrote his first song, a drug awareness rap for his elementary school. Later that year he moved with his family to College Park, Georgia, an Atlanta suburb.  After high school, he continued to develop his craft by becoming a regular in local open mic competitions. 

VIC got his big break when he was signed to Michael “Mr. Collipark” Crooms newly formed Young Mogul Entertainment label. His debut album Beast was released on August 26, 2008. The rapper made his mark with the Soulja Boy-produced club-jumping lead single “Get Silly”, and the infectious party jam “Wobble Wobble”. Unfortunately, the rapper seemed to drop off the musical landscape after the success of his debut album, with all attempted comebacks proving futile.

7. YahZarah

YarZarah, known in real life as Dana Nicole Amma Williams, is a Ghanaian American singer, songwriter, and music producer. She was born on 24th June 1978, to Ghanaian activist Thomas Kojo Oduro Kwarten and Beverly Brown; and then adopted by her stepfather Clarence Williams. She was raised between Germany and Washington D.C.

Williams started singing at the age of seven in her church choir. Her love for music began after winning a local youth talent search at the age of ten. She adopted the name “YahZarah“, which is a tribute to her grandmothers named Yaa Asantewaa and Sarah respectively. In 2000, YahZarah received her break into the recording industry by singing backup vocals for Erykah Badu. YahZarah appeared in Badu’s Bag Lady music video, and also toured with Erykah Badu as the opening act for Badu’s “Mama’s Gun Tour”.

Later that same year YahZarah signed with Keo Music Records and began recording her first album. In 2001, YahZarah released her debut album, Hear Me. The album spawned the singles “Feel Me”,  “Love Is You” and “Natural”. Between the years 2003 and 2010, YahZarah released three additional solo album projects including “Black Star”, “The Prelude” and, “The Ballad of Purple St. James”; with the latter being considered for a Grammy in 6 different categories.

On 21st February 2021, YahZarah returned from an 11-year hiatus with a 12-track album “The Ceremony”, featuring Ghanaian rapper M.anifest on the track “Nsorma”. Nsorma translates to “Star” in the native Ghanaian language “Twi”.

8. Nana Kwabena

Born on 25th March 1986, Nana Kwabena Tuffuor better known simply as Nana Kwabena, is an American record producer, rapper, singer, songwriter, and sound engineer.

Nana Kwabena was born in Cleveland, Ohio to Ghanaian immigrants, Dinah Akosua Tuffuor and Eugene Baffoe-Bonnie. His mother is an accountant and founder of an elementary school in Ghana and his father is a computer engineer and entrepreneur. As a music producer, Nana Kwabena has collaborated with Jidenna, Janelle Monáe, John Legend, Kanye West, Rick Ross, Kimbra, Kendrick Lamar, Seun Kuti, Mr Eazi, Goldlink and Quavo.

He is however most noted for co-producing Jidenna’s certified platinum single, Classic Man which was nominated for a Grammy at the 58th annual Grammy Awards in 2015 for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration.

Other songs he has production credits on include: John Legend’s “Made To Love” and “Yoga,” by Janelle Monáe featuring Jidenna.

9. Nabeyin

Edgar ‘Nabeyin’ Panford is an American-born Ghanaian music producer. The son of Ghanaian immigrants Mr. Ernest Panford and Madam Felicia Ennin, Nabeyin grew up in the North end of San Bernardino, California with two brothers and two sisters. His older brother KGee, a rap artist, and one half of KGPM a Ghanaian hiplife duo of the late 90s and early 2000s, was a major influence in Nabeyin’s early interest in music.

In an interview with TV3’s New Day NaBeyin revealed: 

“My brother KGee used to be part of this group called KgPM. He moved to the states in 2001. So around that time, he didn’t have his producer, who was Hammer. So he was trying to teach himself how to make beats. Through that, I picked it up. He was teaching me to make this and that.”

After about 14 years in the industry, Nabeyin has worked with the likes of Kanye West, Drake, Nas, Rocky Dawuni, The Game, Miguel, Reason, Isaiah Rashad, Wale and Dave East; bagging two nominations for “Album of the Year” and “Best Rap Album” at the 64th Grammys for his work on Kanye West’s critically acclaimed “Donda” album.

10. Vic Mensa

Victor Kwesi Mensah known professionally as Vic Mensa, is an American rapper, singer, record producer, and activist. Mensa was born on June 6, 1993, in the Hyde Park district of Chicago, to a Ghanaian father and a white American mother. He attended Whitney M. Young Magnet High School and while a freshman, met Chancelor Bennett in passing (Bennett would later be known as Chance the Rapper), the duo have been usual collaborators since. 

Vic Mensa established himself first as a member of the teenage band Kids These Days in 2009. The group will disband in May 2013 after releasing two projects — an EP titled “Hard Times” and a mixtape titled “Traphouse Rock”.

Vic will go on to found the hip-hop collective Savemoney with Chance The Rapper, and a host of other Chicago-based rappers. He debuted as a solo artist in 2013 on Chance the Rapper’s high-profile mixtape ‘Acid Rap,’ and released his first song “Down on My Luck” in June 2014.  Roc Nation signed Mensa and released his album debut, “The Autobiography,” in 2017. Over the next several years, Vic released a slew of EPs and singles, including collaborations with Ghanaian A-list acts Sarkodie, Stonebwoy, King Promise, M.anifest, Small God, Black Sherif and more.

In an interview with  Essence, Mensa said:

“I’ve had the immense privilege of growing up with a knowledge of my ancestry and my culture that has been stolen from most of the people I hold most dear in this life……In recent years, I began spending much more time in Ghana. Although I started going home when I was 11, it wasn’t until, perhaps, 2020 that I really began going alone and cultivating my own relationships.”

Mensa’s latest project is “The Black Star Line Festival” which he ideated with his childhood friend and long-time collaborator Chance The Rapper. Through this festival, the Chicago-bred rappers seek to use art and music to engage black people in cultural conversations across the globe. The first edition of the Black Star Line Festival is earmarked to be staged in Accra in January 2023.

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