M.anifest’s ‘Madina to the Universe’ Marks a Creative Shift
It’s the middle of a very hot midweek afternoon and Ghanaian rapper M.anifest welcomes me into his place of residence.
The rapper’s home is located in a busy suburb of Accra, Ghana’s bustling capital city. His front yard is full of green shrubbery and flowers, a picturesque and serene haven that’s a sharp contrast to the busy road it’s located on. As we enter he exudes a joyful and carefree demeanor, and I’m reminded that’s the only state I’ve ever seen the rapper in every time we’ve met. There’s a possibility that the momentary euphoria that precedes an album release could have a part to play in his mood, but regardless of whatever the source of his joy may be, you can just tell M.anifest is in a good place.
M.anifest is wearing his own merchandise, a black t-shirt adorned with custom artwork based on his upcoming album, Madina to the Universe, the self-promoting hallmark of his all-black getup. After some friendly discourse, the eccentric rapper proceeds to tell me the inspiration behind the album, the interesting stories behind some of its songs, and the inner details of his creative process.
Photo courtesy of M.anifest and this team.
Madina to the Universe was inspired by the pandemic. Prior to 2020, the rapper had been working on an album called GMT (Ghana Man Time), but the pandemic urged a recalibration of the rapper’s art direction and creative process. As a result, he scrapped GMT and began to put together an entirely new body of work. This process led to an entirely new concept which became Madina to the Universe (MTTU). “N-ggas ain’t doing shit, so you have time for reflection. And that’s where it came from. It came from the process,” M.anifest tells OkayAfrica. “I was working on this other album GMT before, the pandemic hit and then everything’s changing and I was just like fuck it, I wanna work on something new. I just started working on stuff, and that’s how MTTU came out.”
The new direction for his latest project was also the result of a push against what M.anifest calls “autopilot” creativity. “I think at some point, when you do this shit for a while you start moving on autopilot. It’s like you’re a creative so you know how to do what you’re doing right? But the thing about it is part of you ceases to have a vision for what you’re doing. That autopilot shit, I had to get off it. [I had to] just take a step back. Artists can easily fall into that. And that can lead to you being the last person to know you’ve fallen off. We see it all the time, it’s just like ‘yeah it’s not hitting anymore.’ This shit just doesn’t work on autopilot. It will not work out.” He stresses the importance of having a vision, and the fact that even if you are skilled at creation, you may not necessarily create the best version of your art or even yourself without one. For him, creating just for creating’s sake is a no. It has to fit within his vision.
Photo courtesy of M.anifest and this team.
Apart from the recalibration in his musical direction, there was also a recalibration in something else—his creative process. M.anifest began to work more spontaneously, attributing the developed skill to increased creative confidence. “I’ve been able to change my process, so that’s also dope. My process this whole album was literally piecing things together. I feel like all these singers started to influence me so I stopped writing [laughs]. Because when you’re working with people like that you’re always in the zone. So then you kind of adopt a bit of those things where it’s like things just come to you and you’re recording and piecing things together. And for me I realized that it’s actually the same thing for me, you cannot tell the difference. For example, if you’re listening to ‘Best For You’ you’re not going to be able to tell that I’m doing it two or four bars at a time. Because the creative well I pull from is still the same. It’s just that I allow myself to like [snaps fingers rapidly]. Creative confidence will allow you to just do it anyhow you want. Do it in the studio, do it in the house, do it wherever.” He candidly narrates, as the ashtray next to him fills up with smoldering cigarette butts.
M.anifest is content with where he’s at in his career right now. “I think I’m at that stage where it’s like somewhere between I want to be quiet but loud about what I do. I have that confidence which is not shaped by business decisions or all these things that are constant like ‘oh we need to do Manifestivities.’ You forget that no, you’re a creative, you have certain capabilities to think and envision stuff. I think I’m in a really good space. I don’t create as often, like every day or every other day. But when I record I record a lot [laughs].”
The rapper is excited. But with an album like Madina to the Universe, who wouldn’t be?