The emergence of African drill music is one of the stories of the decade so far, with the sound ballooning into a full-blown movement that has taken over the continent. 19-year-old Yaw Tog stands out as one of its most important pioneers.
When his debut single ‘Sore’ steamrolled through the streets of Ghana in 2020, the Ashanti native quickly earned his reputation as the West African nation's breakout star, receiving worldwide recognition. The track broke several records and was remixed by two rap heavyweights, Stormzy & Kwesi Arthur, which further elevated its status.
For Yaw Tog, music is about honesty, and each track contains a piece of himself. His veracious lyrics and powerful flow detail stories of pain, ambition, and love, and his fans sing along as if the stories were their own. He makes a point of never taking his supporters for granted, and since his emergence as Ghana’s answer to Pop Smoke, he’s built a fanatical following.
Born Thorsten Owusu Gyimah in Kumasi, Ghana's second largest city where a style of drill that locals call asakaa has taken root, the young rapper has played an indispensable role in cementing his city as Africa’s drill capital. As part of Asakaa Boys, a constellation of nine artists whose cold instrumentals and flows in a mixture of English and the Akan language Twi and smart use of social media have fuelled Ghana's drill moment, Yaw Tog has laid the foundations for a thriving music scene and taken the rap subgenre from the streets of Kumasi to the world.
Almost three years since his unveiling, Yaw Tog continues to make more noise than ever before. With a solid debut project ‘Time’, and a brand new single ‘Aso)den’ which is due to be part of a wider project soon, Yaw Tog is now a polished, professional artist, while still showing plenty of potential for growth.
During our Zoom interview, he exhibits a friendly, personable persona. We discussed his virality, being at the forefront of drill music in Africa, and much more.
Did you expect ‘Sore’ to blow as it did?
I didn't really expect it to blow as it did. I was like, let me just release this song and the next thing, it was everywhere. Everyone was going crazy about it. I knew that the song could be a hit song but I just didn't know the way to make it go viral. Then it went viral like that and it felt just like magic.
The fact that you started blowing up just a few months after the pandemic is quite interesting. Was the pandemic helpful for you in gaining a different perspective on life?
The pandemic messed up things [on a global scale], but it helped us. Through the pandemic, all our songs went viral. It's a two-way thing, like good and bad. Let's just give thanks to God for whatever happened because He knows why it happened that way.
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And then you went on to collaborate with Stormzy and Kwesi Arthur for the remix of ‘Sore’. How was it for you to work with these artists?
These two artists really changed my life, especially Stormzy. The first day I heard Stormzy wanted to jump on my song, I didn't believe it, for real. I told my team to stop playing with me because, yeah, I know who Stormzy is. I didn't really believe it until meeting him, and he said he was ready for the song. Stormzy and Kwesi Arthur changed my life. I appreciate them anytime I see them.
As someone who grew up in Kumasi, Ghana, can you recall the first drill song you heard?
I'd say I got inspired by Pop Smoke. I heard Pop Smoke’s ‘Dior’ and then I heard one of my brothers in Kumasi, Kawabanga, they released a song ‘Akatafoc’ with Asakaa Boys, and that song convinced me to actually do drill music. I just knew I had to join the culture, so I went to the studio and recorded ‘Sore’, and the rest has been history.
And now, how does it feel to be in the centre of the Ghanaian drill movement?
It is a big achievement because it’s not easy to be like someone leading a whole army. You get all the pressure, all the pains and shots that you are taking in for the army. I am proud of myself though, because I used to be a nobody. But now it's like everyone is looking up to me. I just appreciate the people supporting me.
Do you feel Ghanaian drill artists don’t get the credit they deserve?
It is like some people do not really want to understand that drill is here to stay forever. And it's we Ghanaians doing it in Africa. They don't want to understand but they'll understand it soon. We don't have so many people doing drill here in Africa so they need to give us the credit, because we are doing it differently.
Drill music is the street, and in the street, we have good boys with bad attitudes and bad boys with good attitudes. Basically, we have different people on the street. That's what makes people think that drill is all about violence. You can just rap about something different, but sometimes, you can just go all out. Drill is the street, you can just do whatever you want in it. I'd say it's just drill for us because it's the culture, and we can't do anything about it. Let's just enjoy it.
Tell us about your flows because you got a pretty heavy reputation for some of the tightest flows in the Drill scene right now.
First, my sounds are very catchy. I try to do something simple but something you can vibe to. But when it comes to my flow, it's like I'm coming for you. You can't be soft on a drill beat. Sometimes we would be in the studio going all out, giving the energy back to back. It's like when you have a passion for something, you don't care whatever happens. You just keep doing it; that's how it goes. It's the passion controlling the energy. Anytime I'm in the studio for a song, people say I'm coming for them, but that's all I need to do for what I love. I need to hit out and scream. It is like being aggressive on the beat. That's how I do my flow.
What made 2021 the year to release your debut EP ‘Time’?
After the remix of ‘Sore’, I had plenty of songs because I was just in the studio recording. My team brought up the idea that I should just release an EP for the people, because at that time I was in school. It made sense because it would help people to get more songs from me while I'm in school. We worked on plenty of songs because of shows and all that. The main reason behind ‘Time’ was for the people to know that it is my time, because some people were not believing it. I just wanted them to know that it is my time.
When you transitioned from school to full-time music, what was your experience like?
It was a headache because I was in school and at the same time, I was a celebrity. That’s something I'd never try again [Laughs]. I'd be going for shows on Saturdays and Sundays, then I'd have to rush back to school on Monday. I had to sign a bond with my Headmaster to be at school on Mondays. But in the end, I just chose it and I had to sacrifice myself for it. It was an all-boys school so whenever you pulled up, they would just give you respect.
Is college something you plan to pursue?
Of course, I'll be going to college soon. But for now, I just want to make more money before going to college. College is not an easy place, and you need to get one or two things to be ok there. And one thing I have learned is never to rush; it's all about timing.
You know life is a whole lot. You either get some real friends or fake friends around you. If I was not in the position I am today, I would not have seen the real attitude of some people. So right now, I have people around me and that's how it goes. I need to find out the real ones, the snakes, the ones coming for me, and the ones I'm going for. Whenever you have real friends, they're always staying forever. That's how it goes. I have people that I’m no longer friends with because I found out that they are snakes. It's how life is and you cannot change it.
Your latest single ‘Aso)den’ seamlessly reflects your young yet mature mindset. Does this single set the tone for your forthcoming project?
Of course, I named the song ‘Aso)den’ because it means stubbornness. It's just like proving a lot of people wrong. As you said, people don't want to give drill artists credit. That's the reason behind that song; to let people know that no matter how long it takes, we are still coming. It's on the album too, and the album is titled ‘Young and Matured’.
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When can fans expect it?
‘Young and Matured’ was supposed to drop this month, but I took it way ahead to February next year. So in February, I'll be bringing a lot of drill songs, bangers, and different songs to you all.
Is there anything coming up before the year ends that people should look out for?
I am doing different projects, dropping music, and headlining my shows in Kumasi, the UK, and the United States. After the album, it's going to be a road tour together.
‘Aso)den’ by Yaw Tog is out now
Robert Solomon is a freelance writer based in Lagos Nigeria, follow him on Twitter