Ghanaian artist Black Sherif’s rapid ascent has been impressive to say the least—snippets of his tracks have dominated viral charts across TikTok and IG over the last year, in part thanks to his unrivalled support from the West African youth he represents, as well as his relatable (and therefore meme-able) lyrics. Sherif, however, couldn’t be further from a typical ‘viral’ artist. At just 20 years old, Black Sherif, AKA Blacko, possesses an artistic depth that feels rare in today’s music climate.
Having grown up in one of the toughest areas of Ghana: the infamous Zongo settlements in Konongo, Ashanti—Black Sherif brings us into his world on his debut album, The Villain I Never Was. It’s a project that paints Sherif as a modern-day lone ranger, a wandering storyteller soul searching and self-dissecting. Blacko philosophises over a colourful backdrop of sounds, as he draws from some of the global genres which thrive in Ghana; a heady hybrid of Asakaa (Ghanaian drill), Afrobeats, Reggae, R&B and more. Observant and self-aware, Sherif details his struggles, wins, insecurities and reflections across the album with a stark vulnerability in his voice. His words carry an endearing quality that transcends culture and language, building emotion through his intonation whilst bouncing seamlessly between English, Pidgin, and his native tongue of Twi.
When you listen to Black Sherif, it’s almost hard to imagine that you’re hearing the voice and words of a 20-year-old. It’s the same kind of youthful wisdom that drew audiences to artists like J Hus and Dave in their early careers. He makes music that leaves you wondering; how can someone who sounds so grown be so young? He does cite the musings of Reggae greats like Bob Marley and Lucky Dube as some of his earliest influences, could that be it?
Any questions regarding his youthful spirit become clear as soon as we speak and it all makes sense—Blacko is a G. He’s soft-spoken and maybe even a touch reserved, but throughout our conversation, he’s rarely not smiling. There’s an apparent duality between the everyday Black Sherif and the ‘street preacher’ that enters the booth. He explains to me that he often surprises himself when he enters the studio, tapping into a different side of himself that only exists in those moments. Aware that his journey will take him to uncharted territory, his excitement at the prospect of it leaves us eager to watch it unfold. We caught up with Black Sherif to hear more about his journey so far, and how his music has managed to break down cultural barriers—capturing the attention of the world.
Black Sherif, congratulations on the release of your debut album The Villain I Never Was; how are you feeling with it out in the world? How is the reception so far?
I love it. You know, the favourite songs of people keep changing. Some people have favourites already, but some are still exploring and finding favourites. But I love it; I’m excited to see what else we can do, still.
Your music has already reached all corners of the world in the last year or so. Is it a shock for you to know you have fans in places like Australia?
Yeah man, it’s mad. It’s so mad how the music travels, but I love to hear things like this; it’s inspiring for real.
You strike me as someone who goes with the flow, but your work rate is pretty serious. How much of what you do is based on feeling versus what is planned out in advance?
See, I have this concept that I employ myself that’s like—everything that I want to do, everything that is involved in my work or anything—I make it part of my life. I don’t risk. So if I ain’t done it [myself] it feels like there’s something missing. I think that’s how I work it out.
In saying that, are there any parts of the music business that have been challenging for you to navigate?
Yeah, a few. You see—there are so many things to learn, you understand? New things keep happening so I won’t ever stop learning. That’s how I feel, cos the moment you feel like you have learned everything or you know everything—you are actually clueless no matter how much you’ve learned. There’s always more to learn.
Can you take us back to the early days of your musical journey? Did you always know you wanted to do music growing up?
Not really, but when I got to high school is when I started to get interested in music—or art in general. Before I looked at singing as a career I was always trying to be a DJ or play beats in class for mans to sing. But during that time, I realised could write music, so I just stuck to writing songs—in class. [Laughs]
When you started to record and write your own music, what kind of artists were you listening to? Who would you credit as your early influences?
My early influences would be La Même Gang, Kwesi Arthur, and Burna Boy. Earlier, when I was a kid, around 10 or 11, I was listening to Sarkodie and lots of reggae music; Bob Marley, Don Carlos, Lucky Dube and stuff like that.
Your track ‘Kwaku The Traveller’ seems to be capturing the attention of a lot of people. It’s got raw personal emotion behind it, but it’s also funny and relatable in a lot of ways. Did you realise you had something special when you wrote that song?
You know, I do get this feeling about certain songs. When I wrote it I was like, wow, this is cold; this is hard. But what happens after I put it out is out of my control. We just have to put it out and promote it, and do the necessary things.
One of my favourite tracks from the album is ‘45’, which was produced by JAE5—an iconic Ghanaian producer. Did you get time in the studio with him?
It was more online. I never got to link with him when I was in London, but we talk on the phone a lot. He sends beats over, and I do vocals and send them to him. We just be making music online; we have more [unreleased] songs together, too.
What does it mean to be able to collaborate with a producer like JAE5 who has paved the way in a sense?
It’s inspiring. To think that the respect and everything is mutual really inspires me and tells me I’m on a journey because it wasn’t always like this; I obviously started from somewhere, so I love it. It’s inspiring, and it’s challenging too, because you know the records he has already and the artists he’s worked with, so you have to give it your all. I love that energy too.
It feels like you are doing a lot of opening up and admitting to your imperfections as a person on a few of these tracks— can you tell us about the themes you wanted to explore with this project?
Yeah, so the themes I was thinking about with the album are: growth, accountability, distance, pain and I think love, actually. But it’s dark, you know? It does get dark at times.
It comes across as very natural when you lay it all out on the track. It’s sincere.
Yeah, it sounds natural you get me. I love that feeling of how the songs come out sometimes. Sometimes I get shocked when I get to the studio [because] everything changes; the way you walk, the way you hold the mic, the way you talk—and the song comes out sounding like that? It’s mad. It makes me curious about the art I do, and I really want to know more because I’m still exploring and seeing what I can do, and different things come out every single time I try to record. So the duty keeps calling man; that’s what keeps me excited.
On that note, do you think you’re naturally an open person or do you save it all for the track?
I think I save it all for the track because I really don’t love to talk, man. I really be outside quiet. But when I pick up the mic it’s beast mode you understand? [Laughs]
With your Sermon series — I heard you didn’t want to call them freestyles because they wouldn’t have the same impact on the audience. I’ve also heard people describe you as a ‘street preacher’. Do you feel like that at all?
In a way, yeah, man. But sometimes I don’t want them heavy titles, you get me? I feel like I didn’t come here for them titles; I just want people to see me as like; I’m part of the people; I’m not above them. I just have nice abilities, and I have a skill. I have a platform and all of that, and I’m trying for my people and for myself too. With the ‘street preachers’ and all that, I want people to make those titles themselves—I don’t want to say, ‘I am this’.
I get you. What if I say it for you? Black Sherif is the voice of the people, everybody.
[Laughs] See, you get me. I love you for that bro! Salute you man.
So you have the Burna Boy remix for ‘Second Sermon’ on the album, but besides that, there are no other feature artists. Was that because this journey was important for you to face on your own?
You know, when I was starting to make music, getting features was hard so I kind of closed my mind on features 2 or 3 years ago. I had like 9 songs going out for people to record verses for me, and I wasn’t getting them back. I don’t blame them; people are busy and all that, but that made me feel like I need to make this music on my own, and I’ve felt like that for time. But I knew that after this album, I would start doing more collaborations like that. I have some finished already, and most of them I produced, so you’ll have to wait and see for those to come out.
Who you would love to work in the future with, or some artists whose music you’re feeling at the moment?
I love SAINt JHN. I enjoy the music from SAINt JHN so much. And I love 070 Shake, Koffee and Ayra Starr. Oh and J Hus of course. I love Skepta. I won’t lie to you bro, there’s bare nice music coming out.
I saw on your IG that you are planning some US shows?
Yeah, I was supposed to do one show in New York this week, my first show there, but I had to postpone because I want to do a whole tour over there. So right now, I just be trying to scheme tings proper.
Now that this project is out in the world, where you go next is very intriguing to me. What do you want to give your fans with your next music?
Yeah man [laughs] same here, bro it’s intriguing to me too. For two weeks after the project, I wasn’t in the studio, but I just got back and I’ve just started writing. But I need everyone to really soak up this project, there will be visuals dropping too. Yeah, the feeling I never want to stop!
Thanks for your time Blacko; we hope to see you in Australia soon!
For sure! Hopefully, sometime sooner than later! Appreciate you bro; thank you so much. Love.