The Villain I Never Was

The Villain I Never Was

On his debut album, Ghanaian rapper Black Sherif extends the raw delivery and the overcoming-self-sabotage philosophy he introduced on singles like “Kwaku The Traveller” and “Second Sermon” into a 14-track manifesto. Centred on making sense of a hard life, The Villain I Never Was plays like a collection of Sherif’s personal affirmations, ones he uses both to battle inner demons and fuel his ambitions. “I feel like inside myself, I am my own villain,” the artist born Mohammed Ismail Sherif tells Apple Music. “Even outside, with things that happen to me, and situations that I've been through—I’ve always been the villain in my own head. But when I sit down, and start to realise and explain things to myself, then I know I was never that villain. I've been trying to survive that. I am not actually that villain that they say I am, or that my mind tells me I am. So the album is actually inspired by pain, anger, perseverance, and self-actualisation—being aware and standing your ground. Most of the words in the album are commands to my spirit, and it tells my story.” He balances the realities of his upbringing in Konongo, Ghana, and the lessons he’s learned since, with a fresh take on the sounds that shaped him. “I don't want to box it, but the bedrock of my sound is highlife, reggae, and hip-hop,” he explains. “I do drill [also], but it's like I do highlife and reggae on [top of] drill. One thing from time I've learnt about the reggae sound is the consciousness, and when I started making art, that was the first thing in my head: be real and raw about whatever you do.” Here, he talks through key tracks from The Villain I Never Was. The Homeless Song “‘The Homeless Song’ is a real situation. I went homeless earlier [in 2022]. And me speaking about that song, I was just trying to explain to my notes on my phone. And inspire myself, because I had choices [that would have helped me avoid being] homeless, but I don't love being taken for a fool. [I’d rather be] homeless [than] be taken for a fool. I'll stand my ground, every word I say. I know it. I don't go soft, because where I come from, you don't go soft. ‘The Homeless Song’ is about standing my ground.” “Oil in my Head” “Literally like oil in our head—the chosen ones; that's how I feel every time I make art; any time I pull up in town. We know we are the chosen ones, so we don't talk some way. We don't spread negativity. We only spread positivity, because people look at us and [get] inspired. ‘Oil in My Head’ is a commanding song. We never want people to feel down, because that's our real responsibility. The good music is a bonus from God. Our real responsibility is the people we are here to inspire. Know us before you come to us, or before you try to touch us.” “45” “The [word] ‘45’ is actually not in the song. I drew that 45 from ‘fortified’, because that's the first line in the song. I’m talking about people that have positive [intentions] for me. People are saying ‘Easy Sherif; easy’. I understand them, but it's up to me to decide. I'm like, ‘No, broski; no easy. I go hard only’. I'm about survival. My people got to eat; we got to feed the streets. Things have to happen. There’s a revolution going on.’ Beat my back and let me go. ‘Tap tap beat, tap’ means ‘Sherif keeps going’. And still realising, this is divine. So me not going easy will not be in vain. Having that faith.” Soja “Everyone in this world is a soldier—we are all in different battles. It's a wake-up call. Stand and beat your chest; here they come. Your anxieties are coming. Your haters are coming. Your backstabbers are coming. Your own self is coming at you. So stand and let nothing pull you down. Don't let them catch you off guard, never. People think they are fighting external battles, but the internal ones are bigger than what they see outside.” Konongo Zongo “Konongo Zongo is my hood [in Ghana]. That's where my heart is. I love Konongo Zongo so much, man. So, ‘Konongo Zongo’ goes deeper into my story. How everyone I met thought I was going wayward, but I knew myself that, 'No, this is my way.' A lot of people told me, ‘Where you are from, we don't do this. Why are you doing this?' I say nothing. 'This is my way.' And I have to follow my way. I don't care being called stubborn or wayward, this is my way. Whatever that comes with it. Bad, good, I'm ready. I'm not the main character in no one [else’s] story—just mine. I need to follow what my mind and heart is telling me. That's it.” We Up “When you cry, you clear your soul. I cry a lot, because I believe crying clears your soul. And it works for me. Any time I'm done crying, I just feel okay, and then I know—we up. 100. [Here, I talk] about how I'm a solo hunter, how I'm a big cat, how I don't lose opportunities that I think will do something for me. People try to pull me down, but we up. Still, we up.” Toxic Love City “My experiences with love have been real rough. And I don't know if I am the problem sometimes, but every time I try to take the blame, I can’t. It's been like that with me from time—I don't blame people. I always blame myself first. And when I'm loving, I love with my all, because I love to love, I love to feel loved. I love to love with my all, so when I get broken, I break into pieces. I live right in the ‘Toxic Love City’ but I don't know where to go, even though you hurt me. I love it here. I'm used to it. I still take the blame because my heart is soft. I’ve got a hard mind, [but] I have a soft heart.” Oh Paradise “The direct inspiration is from my late girlfriend, who was my first girlfriend at high school. She died on 5 December 2017. I made this before all the other songs on the tape. Writing ‘ Oh Paradise’, I was very frustrated. I was empty. And when the beat came on, I was like, 'How I'm feeling right now, I think this is the time to make a song for this girl, Tina–tell her to be my angel.’ I love to turn [deceased] people in my life to angels. So, in the chorus, I’m telling her, 'Tell me how it is in paradise,' because I believe she's there. 'Tell me how it is in paradise, and when you are there, don't forget I'm home. Ask for blessings for me, because there's a lot going on in me right now. I'm going through things. Ask for blessings for me.’ Think about me, care about me, don't lose that care. All the plans I shared with you, don't forget them.” Kwaku The Traveller “I’m human. I still fall; not intentionally. I take accountability for everything. I still get up and keep going. You can't feel like sh*t always.. Sometimes you wake up, like, ‘Nah, nah nah, bro. Yeah, I did this. So what? It's in the past, man.’ You take accountability for that. I love to promise myself. I promise myself that I'm not going to do this, and that's how I try to be disciplined. Yeah, and promising myself, because being promised and failed, there's this feeling. It's very unique. There's a unique feeling to being promised and failing. People don't love to share that feeling, so that's how I keep my discipline. I don't want people to feel like that too. I don't want to feel like sh*t again. ‘Kwaku the Traveller’ is all about taking accountability for everything, realising you're human. You can't be perfect. But then again, it shouldn't beat you down, because your life has not ended. There's more to life, so keep going.” Second Sermon (Remix) [Black Sherif & Burna Boy] “‘Mede as3m aba o’ means ‘I'm bringing problems’. And ‘Second Sermon’ is about my life, in the streets of Accra. Real, raw things, things that happen. What I've seen. And me knowing I'm a big problem, with [people] against me. Because in most of the song I got my angels in there. In ‘Second Sermon’ I have my angel, my late cousin. The angels surround me—so don’t touch me, bro. [Burna and I] talk frequently. That's my senior brother. I discuss things with him, things outside music, so our relationship is more personal. We connect in different ways. Working with Burna on this remix was [inaudible real swift fast, man. He was on tour, but he made sure that he made sure this song came within 48 hours. I love Burna. It felt like I was working with my brother—it was fun.”

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