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Get To Know: Yaw Tog

Get acquainted with the Stormzy-backed teenage star of Ghana’s Asakaa drill scene, Yaw Tog

Drill is now a fully-fledged international sound, but it’s the scene emanating from the streets of Kumasi, Ghana — known as Asakaa — which has truly caught fire on a global scale. Yaw Tog is the scene’s teenage poster boy; his anthemic single ‘SORE’ showcased the movement’s talent and went viral in the process, launching his career up towards the stars.

Yaw Tog’s currently balancing fame with full-time education. When we speak on the phone he’s just finished class. “It’s kind of stressful but it needs to be done. I study geography, government, accounting and economics. I’ll be completing in September and then I’m done with it! I can focus on music, 100%.”

He first picked up the mic in 2018, still in his early teens, and full of the audacious self-belief that comes with youth. “I was still in junior-high school. I was going here, there, begging people for help. I’ve not relaxed since I started music. I’d go to school and I wouldn’t learn anything, my mind was just music, music, music! All that hard work paid off, tings started booming.”

There’s an easy fluidity to his delivery, which fuses English with Twi and Pidgin. His effortless glide over productions is the result of his process in the booth, which couples structured written verses with off-the-cuff, free flowing expressions.  “I write things down in English first, and then when I’m in the studio the Twi comes out naturally. I don’t have to think about it too much.”

Yaw Tog’s debut EP ‘TIME’ drops at the end of the month. It largely sheds the grittiness of ‘SORE’ in favour of Afro-licked, playful productions, showcasing impressive artistic range on cuts like ‘Gold Friend’ and ‘Mood’. It’s perfect for those warm-weather drink-ups, where an endless supply of beers chill in ice-buckets and everyone catches the vibe beneath a cloud of grill-smoke. “I’m very much an Asakaa boy, but I wanted people to know I can do every type of music, from drill to hip-hop and afrobeats. I want to build connections with this one, with people from every genre.”

The contrasts in Yaw Tog’s sound, between lick-off-your-head drill sonics and warmer, melodic tones are reflective of his neighbourhood. “It’s like our natural resource. Everything is real, there’s no faking here. We got gangsters. We got good boys. We got parents and children here. There’s plenty of things going on. If you get caught up in the bad stuff, something will drive you towards the good. For me, music is the good.”

It’s telling that the scene’s standout tracks ‘SORE’ and ‘Akatafoc’ are essentially posse cuts; Yaw Tog explains that Asakaa is built on brotherhood. “It’s very united here. We’re a gang, but it’s nothing to do with violence. We move together, we do everything together. Together we made this Asakaa ting pop off. Now it’s worldwide.”

The project features a Stormzy-assisted ‘SORE’ remix. This heavyweight co-sign from UK rap royalty is symbolic of both the Asakaa scene’s impact, and his own clout. He’s humble about the recognition though. “I didn’t even imagine I’d get someone like Stormzy on the remix. He’s a big one out there! What’s surprising is he came to my management, like ‘Yo, let’s get this done’. Wow. I think God is really working.”

Building on the love he’s getting from UK artists, there are more London-Kumasi link-ups in the pipeline this year. “More heat is coming from me and Stormzy, Abracadabra. I’m planning to reach out to OFB and get things done. Plenty is coming, trust me.”

Read about the new generation of MCs shaping African rap here

Robert Kazandijan is a freelance writer. You can follow him on Twitter here