I first became aware of Sankofa, aka Stephen Bryden, in late 2000 through a friend of mine who had heard about him through some orphic Internet website. I can’t remember how or when I first actually heard any of his music, but I remember initially feeling intrigued by his rare ability to embrace the classic hip-hop sound without feeling like he was blatantly ripping someone off. The rumor was that Sankofa was on a hike out west (listening to Dolly Parton) at the time his name first began to make the serious rounds in the underground hip-hop circles (you’ll have to ask him about that). One day. out of nowhere, I received an e-mail from someone who apparently knew Bryden, informing me that he was on his way to Fort Wayne to visit his mother and would settle here for the time being. That’s right, Fort Wayne, Indiana.
His ears were bleeding, possibly because he’d been reading at least a book each day and not eating a thing. He liked the fan in my car, his ice cream was accidentally frozen yogurt and his beard had more fat mass than the rest of his weathered body. There’s a whole story there, and with Stephen you know there’s always a better one around the corner. On his official debut album, The Rosetta Stone, Sankofa’s storytelling nature guides him through the year’s most complete hip-hop album.
“Dues” works as The Rosetta Stone’s works cited page, running through Sankofa’s mostly decade-old assortment of influences. Of course, if you were to try to talk to Stephen today about his current listening, he’d likely name off his friends and play you a few beats that he’s writing, too. He might even hum a country tune or mention his metal-head phase that I’m not so sure he’s conscious of. Stephen’s focus on his own sound is key on Rosetta; not once does he try to mimic current abstract underground trends. (Try to find two other current artists this side of MF Doom that you can say that about.) The results are a mixture of clean, 90s-style beats and rapid-fire rhymes with topics ranging from battle-rap theories to personal memoirs of loss and growth. Most importantly, Rosetta is authentic stuff.
Much of Rosetta employs non-intrusive drum-chopped beats that work as subtle backdrops for Sankofa’s gingerly penned songs and masterfully planned delivery. The Fangface-produced “Deep Fried” is a guitar-driven funk banger that sounds as archetypal as any of Sankofa’s influences’ best material. Again, the Manic Depressive-produced “Rockfish” is truly the stuff of legends. Anyone who has heard Sanfoka’s work on SA-2, White Collar Criminals or Obese America knows that he has the ability to do great things. “Rockfish” and Rosetta in general are it. The El-Keter-produced “All of Heaven’s Angels” gives Stephen’s all-too-true impressions of Fort Wayne, while the excellent closer, “Cause I Said So,” was recorded here in town at Temple Recording Studio.
Over the years I’ve come across quite a few hip-hop artists with big plans for albums that very rarely materialize. During the summer of 2001 Stephen began mentioning his plans for The Rosetta Stone. After four months of playing the album in my apartment, it’s safe to say that Stephen is a man of his word in 2004. Upon hearing Rosetta‘s highlight, the startling tear jerker “RDB,” I understood how Stephen could be so sure that he was onto something special. On his seventh release, Sankofa has unquestionably arrived with the album of his lifetime.
There’s no sugar coating The Rosetta Stone. While Sankofa’s latest fables may be taking place in Fort Wayne, he’s no local artist. The Rosetta Stone has already been released around the world to well deserved acclaim. After heading over to www.undergroundhiphop.com to buy the album, make sure to check out Stephen’s television show on Access Fort Wayne and his web site at www.obeseamerica.com. Bonsai.
Copyright 2004 Ad Media Inc.