Gabon is directly on top of the equator, along the Atlantic coast of Africa. As you can imagine, it gets some heat. Looking for a way to eat his lunch in air conditioning instead of outside in the burning heat, high schooler Emmanuel Minko started to sit in on a spoken word group that met at lunch. In the beginning, it was an excuse for him and his friends to eat somewhere comfortable, but after he tried his hand at spoken word, it became much more.
That spoken word kick-started Minko’s interest in music. His pieces were heavy in rhythm, so he started looking into hip-hop. Now known as “Ya Minko,” the singer recorded his first song in a “janky” studio in a rundown part of Gabon. He hasn’t stopped writing and recording since.
Minko left his home country after high school to move to Virginia and now resides in Washington, D.C. While his music is genre-bending, it reminded me of poetry as soon as I heard it. Each song has a different sound, but it’s clear his lyrics comes from the heart.
“I’d go to school, and on the same day, I’d hear [Jay-Z’s] ‘Hard Knock Life’ and then some folk Gabonese music and then some country artists and then some Afro beats. My music happens very much like that,” Minko said.
At the beginning of the year, the 26-year-old released his EP, WINDOWS — ranging in hip-hop songs like “Asshole” to melodic songs with groovy beats like “There’s More.” There are many competing sounds in Minko’s catalog of music, but the common thread is emotion. The DMV artist writes what’s on his mind — and those strong emotions create his best songs.
In June, Apple invited him to a songwriting showcase to perform his most recent single “TIRED” in its Carnegie Library store in D.C. While composing “TIRED” — a song rooted in spoken word — Ya Minko said he was feeling genuinely exhausted, especially with the way society treats other human beings.
“I was looking at things having to do with immigration, I’m an immigrant … and the more I looked into it the more I realize we are really [messing] up with how we treat people who are not us,” Minko said. “There is a lack of compassion in everything we do.”
When asked about the message behind his writing, Minko emphasized that there is a dark side to hip-hop. While hip-hop and rap have been a source of freedom for some, they can also enable abuse, misogyny and aggression to people who are different, Minko said.
“We have to work to make it not so comfortable for abusers to perpetrate what they’re doing in hip-hop, whether it is putting down women, or putting down someone for their sexual orientation,” he added.
Minko’s photographer and partner, Maeve Fagelson, accompanies him to his shows and takes footage for his social media. Minko is the type of person who ignites passion in everyone around him, Fagelson said, and there is no doubt in her mind that he will succeed.
“I have a comprehensive list of all his music, and I plug it everywhere I go… I never feel inhibited in sharing his work, because I have such confidence in his talent and skill,” Fagelson said.
Confident in his abilities, Minko has no doubt in his mind that he will be a successful artist. As a musician, one who will likely have a platform, Minko said he has a responsibility to spark dialogue and point out what’s wrong with the current state of hip-hop.
“I want my music to be a friend and a companion to most people, but I want it to be the friend that’s going to call you out on your shit,” Minko said.
You can catch Ya Minko on Spotify, Soundcloud and performing around the DMV area. Independent artists should be supported, especially those trying to make a difference through music. America needs positivity, inclusion and sincere music now more than ever.
This story has been updated.