Mensa Ansah, the Ghanaian-British MC and beatmaker known as M3NSA, has been an active player in the music industry since he was 15. His production style is the result of classical piano training as a child, messing around on FL Studio, and immersing himself in sounds from different regions around the world. He equates it to flying J Dilla and James Blake to a Ghanaian village, then sticking them in the studio with Ebo Taylor and Pat Thomas for production and writing guidance. It’s a style that’s seen him produce for hiplife legends like Obrafuor and Reggie Rockstone, among others.
Rhyme-wise, he’s a distinction-grade rap student whose scholarship draws from the finest MCs of the past three decades. Attendant metaphors and punchlines drive home his thoughtful lyrics, which are couched in comedic brilliance to maximise the listener’s experience.
He also forms one half of long-running duo FOKN Bois alongside Wanlov the Kubolor. The pair met as teenagers growing up in Accra, a time when M3NSA learnt how to produce on his home computer. They stand alongside the likes of Dex Kwasi, M.anifest, Sarkodie and others, who helped further build up the Ghanaian music industry, laying the groundwork that’s allowed artists like Kwesi Arthur, Black Sherif and Amaarae to flourish.
While the world ground to a halt during the pandemic, M3NSA remained busy throughout multiple lockdowns. It all started with a post on his Facebook page expressing exhaustion at it all: the constant touring, the overbearing expectations often placed on artists by various arms of the music industry, the endless frustrations of life as an independent musician. In that moment, the mounting effects from an illustrious, two-decade-long music career dawned on him. We speak over Google Hangouts about the internal admin nearly two years of downtime enabled him to do.
“I’ve really had a great opportunity to just keep my head down, and just finish things and fix things and tidy up a lot of the mess,” he says. “Everybody was trying to behave like what was happening was not happening. You’d go online, [and it was] just noise; everybody coming with their own shit. With the FOKN Bois situation, we were just moving as if there wasn’t a pandemic, there wasn’t a shutdown, there wasn’t all the emotional shit that man had to really digest, and really understand what the hell was going on,” he divulges.
M3NSA wanted to figure himself out before going back to giving his energy to everything else. Eventually he shifted his focus back to finishing off some music projects — remixes for Nigerian artists Nneka and Ade Bantu, completing a new FOKN Bois album, and shopping around his own album ‘Bondzie’, a follow-up from the critically acclaimed ‘No.1 Mango Street’ (2011).
‘Bondzie’ showcases an artist confident in his abilities, while aiming for greater reach. Sonically, it’s the type of head-nod hip-hop he grew up listening to, with elements of punk and gospel (‘Take My Losses’, ‘Healing Powers’), as well as highlife (‘Format’).
One motif that has informed his artistic output for the better part of the last decade is legacy. To this end, he’s produced and acted in two editions of ‘Coz Ov Moni’, films-cum-albums that have endeared him and Wanlov to a global underground of appreciators. Both films follow the mischief of two friends who live in the moment. At the centre is a clever approach to appreciating West African culinary arts; the pair bounce around from one chop bar (restaurant) to another and indulge in various delicacies, while spitting comically outlandish bars.
“It’s important that our stories are told accurately, told by ourselves, [that] we have representation and stop getting treated like financial minorities,” he tells us. “I’m allowed to see the world from a very different perspective because of my identity.”