How Mr Drew leveraged Tiktok to build his brand and set the stage for global dominance

Ghanaian superstar Mr Drew interview for Spark Magazine

In an industry like the Ghanaian music industry, where artists struggle to break out, artists who actually do have exceptional skills in their craft earn themselves a spot. One such superstar who, over the years, has crafted a niche for himself-solely through selling memorable experiences to music fans – is Mr. Drew. But that’s not all; the entertainer has a huge social following, with over a million followers on TikTok, as well as his constant ability to engage his fans through exciting social content and good music.

Entertainment enthusiasts often opine about the different stages of artistry an artist should have. Some believe that, even though the main goal of every artist’s work is to entertain, there are a few whose stagecraft, and even sheer aura, leave people with unforgettable memories and experiences. Such entertainers embody skills that their contemporaries don’t have—skills like dance, humour and attitude,  or the exceptional combination of all of these.

At first glance, this Gen Z Artist comes off as an unassuming young man, full of life, with a deep gait and mystery. But, on stage, he shows a different personality, fit for some of the best performers globally. Gracing us with his presence on the cover of the 16th edition of our magazine, we met with Mr. Drew to fully understand his journey in the music industry, how he has managed to remain visible to fans, and how he has survived a slew of industry controversies that would have brought other artists down.

Born Andrew Nii Commey Otoo, Mr. Drew grew up mostly in Mallam, a peri-urban town in the Weija-Gbawe Municipality of the Greater Accra Region of Ghana. In his early childhood, he recounts living with different family members in different communities in Accra, Dansoman, and Kaneshie, before, finally, Mallam.

In Dansoman, I was staying with my father’s family and then Kaneshie, where I lived with my father’s other family, before moving in with my mum, to Mallam

Mr. Drew’s relocations to different communities, in the formative years of his young life, seem to have been the building blocks of his later life as an entertainer. In Ghana, the saying “it takes a village to raise a child” is very evident in society, and even more so in the communities he grew up in. Growing up in communities like that means early exposure to different personalities, lifestyles, and deep life lessons from people who may not be from one’s own nuclear family. For Mr. Drew, it was exposure to the entertainment world.

“During my childhood, I was exposed to a whole lot of entertainment, whether it was gaming, movies, or music, and these things have stuck with me, till now. I love playing games, I love dancing, and all those things have still stuck with me

While staying in Dansoman, the young Mr. Drew lived next door to a successful musician at the time, called Nana King. Nana King happened to be one of the eccentric artists in Ghana at the time, during the highlife/hiplife era in Ghanaian music. Nana King, going against the norms of that time, championed a hip-life sound with heavy hip-hop influences, and even dressed like an American rapper straight outta the hood. Soon enough, he became a godfather figure in the music industry. This status would benefit Mr. Drew, who recollects seeing a lot of artists at the time coming to visit Nana King—artists like Samini, Obour, and other great Ghanaian artists who would visit Nana King—for several parties and cookout events, which he often organised. Their status, lifestyle, and the attention they received when they appeared in the community, at the time, inspired a young Mr. Drew to pursue a career in entertainment. 

“My grandmother used to sell kenkey, so they would come pick up the kids and take us to the artist’s house, and we would be exposed to their music and lifestyle. So, I think that’s where my love for music grew. Also, anytime there was a show in the neighbourhood, they would call us to sing; you know people love to see kids perform.” 

Ghanaian superstar Mr Drew interview for Spark Magazine
Ghanaian superstar Mr Drew interview for Spark Magazine
Ghanaian superstar Mr Drew interview for Spark Magazine
Ghanaian superstar Mr Drew interview for Spark Magazine

With such exposure at an early age, the stage was set for the young Mr. Drew, who became known to most music lovers in Ghana with the music reality show MTN Hitmaker, which Mr. Drew appeared on as a contestant, in 2017. After a couple of entertaining performances, he earned the 1st Runner-Up position. After the show, he released lesser-known songs like Sima Jorley, Gimme Love, and Agbelemi (with the latter featuring Dopenation). His first smash hit, Dwe, with fellow label member KRYMI, launched his career and announced him as one of Ghana’s budding music talents.

But the younger Tiktok generation would remember Mr. Drew years before the reality show; Drew’s first stint with entertainment wasn’t with music. He started out as a dancer, at a time when TikTok wasn’t yet a thing. Back at Achimota School, where he completed his senior high school education, he joined a student dance group called Gbeketheory. After exiting this group, he and two other friends, Mr. Showtime and Gbeke, started another group, which they called ‘The Gentlemen Dancegroup’. After a while, popular Ghanaian dancer Dancegodlloyd joined, and Zigi also joined the group. It’s important to note that the founders of this group went on to each become dance stars and influencers in Ghana.  At the time, the group started dance classes in different dance genres, such as salsa and Afrobeats, and groomed some of the best dancers in the entertainment space in Ghana and beyond.

But, to him, dance was just a phase, because he felt something bigger was just beyond the horizon. Growing up, people had always complimented him on his voice, which suggested to him that he could also have a career in music. But he needed a way in, and, being a fan of music reality shows, he knew that if he got on a music reality show—as a singer with dancing abilities—he would get the visibility that he needed to launch his career. This drove him to jump onto the MTN Hitmaker reality show. 

MTN Hitmaker was a first for Mr. Drew in a number of ways; he had to learn how to write his own music, perform in front of an audience, and receive criticism for his music. But he admits that it was a good training ground, since the competition requires that you perform, at least, every other week. The intensity and competitiveness of the competition helped him  find himself, both as an artist and a performer.

At the end of the reality show, the CEO of Highly Spiritual, who is a legendary Ghanaian music producer, as well as a judge on the show, offered to sign Mr. Drew to his label. After the  big achievement of being signed by one of Ghana’s major labels, the young star was ready to take over Ghana. But controversy was beckoning, just around the corner…

In 2020, Mr. Drew came under backlash from the media in Ghana, and music pundits, after his  release of the single ‘Eat’. The song was a hit on arrival, featuring one of Ghana’s internationally-recognized artists, Stonebwoy. The song, despite being a cover of American artist Rotimi’s Love Riddim, was not received as such. The backlash instead revolved around the fact that Mr. Drew and his label, before covering Rotimi’s song, had not sought sufficient permission from the American artist. This cover song was subsequently taken off all platforms, a few days after its release. This controversy, however, ended up being the slingshot that Mr. Drew’s career needed. Feeding off that, he released two hit songs in the same year, and by the end of that year, he had established himself as a mainstream artist and entertainer in Ghana.

Through all that noise, my team took advantage of it, and then released a song that did well, and then another song that did well. I think it’s all about how you use all that buzz

Asked how he is able to turn such negative publicity in his favour, he had a very profound response:

“I think it’s just how I have been brought up. I just don’t give up, and I understand the country I am coming from. I understand the whole terrain, so I have started something. It’s doing well, and someone has something to say. Do I just stop? No! Once I have come this far, there is no stopping.”

At the 2021 VGMAs (Vodafone Ghana Music Awards, Ghana’s official music awards show), Ghanaians were stunned by an electrifying performance from  Mr. Drew. The performance featured a video of him dancing on a street with zombies, and then concluded with him appearing on stage to perform to his fan favourites. This performance earned him a lot of conversation on social media platforms, and established him as one of Ghana’s most talented entertainers. He would go on to win ‘Best New Artist’ the same night. He narrated the thinking behind that performance;   to him, just like any performance, he wanted something special, and, after talking with the organizers, they settled on this concept, which involved them having to pre-record parts of the performance. This collaborative work involving him, the organisers  of the show, his band, and the choreographer, the incredible Zigi, led to what is, arguably,  one of the best performances ever seen on the VGMA stage.

“Even in Africa, I don’t see any artist who sings and dances like me. So, I spoke to the organisers of the show and told them that I wanted to do something crazy, and one of the directors of the show brought up this idea. As for the dance, I had my friend, incredible Zigi ,work on the choreography.”

Even though many agree that Mr. Drew has had no bad songs, and that he manages to drop a hit song every year, he still believes that he has not been recognized by award schemes and entertainment pundits as much as he deserves. One key moment was in 2021, when he knew he deserved to win Artist of the Year at the VGMA Awards, but was snubbed by the music award scheme. However, his goal is to keep working, and let his music speak for itself.

With the resurgence of Afrobeats on the global stage, Mr. Drew is the true embodiment of the sound, which, intrinsically, has dance as a major element. However, a cursory look at the superstars from Africa on the global stage shows that only a few are dancers, and that’s where he fits in, incorporating dance with his music to sell the Afrobeats and unique African sound to a global audience. This entertainer believes in his mission so much that it’s written in his bio: “I am African music and dance.”

As is common in most emerging African countries, the continent’s music market faces structural challenges for creatives and musicians, and Mr. Drew believes that a lot more has to be done. To him, there has to be a sustainable means for royalty collection, to pay artists for their music. Currently, Ghanaian artists make most of their revenue from outside Ghana. To him, the local market is equally important, because a strong local base influences fans in other countries to pay attention to your sound. He recounts having a big song that was used by a brand for advertising purposes, but the offender got away without paying him any royalties for using his music.

Even as an established artist, Mr. Drew still feels the brunt of a structureless industry, even more so now that he is an independent artist. Two years ago, Mr. Drew exited the label he was signed to after his contract elapsed. He felt that he wanted to pursue the next stage of his career alone, a risk that seems to have paid off. Unlike most artists, who struggle after leaving a label, Mr. Drew seems to have figured out how to manage his work process and brand.

His response to this was that he has always been aware of the actions the labels took for him, and he got to learn firsthand about the work process involved. So, even without a label, he is still able to run his business as an independent artist.

It also helps a lot that he is a Tiktok star. Currently, Mr. Drew holds the spot as Ghana’s most followed artist on TikTok, with 1.2m followers. This is largely due to his background as a dancer and his ability to use new media to connect with audiences. His understanding of the medium, as a promotion and marketing tool, seems to propel his career forward every time. In 2023, Mr. Drew released a song titled ‘Case’ and opted to adopt an open verse challenge on Tiktok, a promotional tactic where the artist leaves some space on the beat of the track, for this verse. During the submissions, one entry from an unknown talent at the time was so befitting that he released a remix of the song with this verse. This new version, featuring Mofty, an unknown talent at the time, went on to become one of the biggest songs of the year in Ghana, appearing at No. 16 on the Apple Music Top 100 Ghana Chart and on the Top 20 Most Shazamed Songs in Ghana in 2023. 

With such music and dance talents, as well as marketing skills, Mr. Drew is set to take on the global stage – a feat he believes he is the best-suited African artist currently to achieve. In an industry that thrives on co-signing, collaborations will play a huge role in achieving this dream.

We asked him which artists, from both inside and outside Ghana, he was keen on collaborating with. His top picks from Ghana were Dancehall King Shatta Wale and rapper Kwesi Arthur. Outside Ghana, international acts like Sauti Sol from Kenya, Chronixx from Jamaica, and Adekunle Gold from Nigeria are on his list. But his ultimate dream is to make music and perform with Chris Brown and Usher.

Ghanaian superstar Mr Drew interview for Spark Magazine
Ghanaian superstar Mr Drew interview for Spark Magazine

From where I stand, he is closer to achieving this dream now than ever, coming from a continent and a country that has gained massive global attention over the last five years for its vibrant culture, creative scene, and tourism, and with a lot more global platforms that were far-reaching for Ghanaian talents setting up in the Ghanaian market. One notable example was the globally recognised Global Citizen festival, which was held in Accra Independence Square in 2022. 

The show witnessed global and African stars like Usher Raymond, Stomrzy, Tems, Tiwa Savage, Sarkodie, Stonebwoy, and more perform to thousands of audiences to take action for a better world. Such occurrences breed hope for young talents like Mr. Drew that their dream to shine on the world stage is possible. For this young talent, with such a level of passion, craft, and confidence, I won’t be surprised to see Mr. Drew jump on stage with Usher at any of his tour locations or perform with his idol Chris Brown on a stage in London. For a child helping his grandma sell kenkey in Dansoman and watching his idols pass by just a few years ago, he has done well for himself,  and it doesn’t look like he is stopping any time soon.

Watch our podcast interview with Mr Drew on YouTube

Follow Mr Drew on social media to catch up with his releases

Article Written by: Yaw Twumasi Donkor

Article Edited by: Kwame Amoatin

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