Hak Baker has spoken to NME about his single ‘Windrush Baby’, sound system culture and why he thinks pirate radio won’t be returning.
The East Londoner has been championed for his introspective take on music, culminating in the release of his debut album ‘Worlds Ends FM’ back in June. The album followed Baker’s highly acclaimed 2017 debut EP ‘Misfits’, the 2021 EP ‘Misled’ and his recent ‘Babylon’ mixtape.
This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Windrush Generation, a group of Afro-Caribbeans who migrated to Britain in the ‘40s in the hope of better opportunities. Baker has been open about his mother and grandmother being a part of the historic group. Back in March, he shared ‘Windrush Baby’ as an ode to them.
The musician credited the song’s chords and their “ska-esque” sound as an inspiration. “I just thought, ‘I’m a Windrush baby, ain’t I?’” he said. “There wasn’t massive thought [behind the song,] it was just how I felt at the moment, probably just talking to my mum or something. The one thing I don’t overthink is music – that’s probably why I’m so good at it.”
He continued: “With ‘Windrush Baby’, I wanted to switch the trials and tribulations of the past, especially the past 100 years, as empowerment and show the tenacity that we use to survive and continue.
“Even though we’ve been through such atrocities, I just wanted to celebrate and say that we’re now in a position – we’re not giving balanced plates to serve off but – where we can turn lives around and be who we always dreamt of.”
The lyrics for ‘Windrush Baby’ touch on Baker’s mother migrating to London: “17, mummy came over from the Caribbean, what a being? / Went university, faced with adversity.”
Speaking to NME, the 32-year-old opened up about how Rastafarianism influenced his mother’s parenting and why it is the reason he is “highly educated in the systems of Windrush and Black history.”
“I salute my mum for that,” he continued. “Every Sunday, she put books in front of me of Black inventors, Black creators, Black kingdoms as well as my timetables, to make sure that I was clued up about who I am and my history. Rastafarian culture is most synonymous with education and knowing who one’s self is, so I’ve always had that in me.”
He went on: “I’m not one of the Black kids who are confused about who they are because they see a lot of entertainment where [their people] are being sensationalised as criminals.”
Baker explained how the need push back against stereotypes was in his “genealogy” as he’s “always ran his own course” and never followed others.
“I have to survive because I haven’t chosen the synonymous route for black artists, which probably like more hip-hop or grime or drill or pop or R&B based,” Baker said, describing how his distinct sound that he calls G-folk came about. “I started playing guitar and that’s the style that I adopted. I like to see and narrate about what problems that I see and I guess that’s what a folk artist does.”
NME described G-folk as “acoustic folk guitar with elements of sunny reggae, punk and ska.” Baker said that he was also influenced by grime and hip-hop, because he’s “always been into lyrics” with these genres having “always been about lyrics and storytelling.
“Well,” he continues, “the old school was anyway.”
The title of his debut album is a homage to ‘00s pirate radio culture, which cultivated influential British genres such as UK garage, grime, jungle and more.
“I used to run home from school to make sure I caught the set I wanted to on pirate radio,” Baker said. “I’d record tapes and listened to it over and over again in my walkman in class, listened to it in the choir. I don’t think it can come back though because everything’s so accessible now. The only way you’ve ever to bring that back is if it was on the dark web. You had to be there to get it.”
This year, hip-hop celebrates its 50th anniversary. Baker cited US rappers such as Tupac, Busta Rhymes and DMX as well as grime frontrunners DBS, Young Spray and Skinnyman as some of the MCs that inspired him.
“Especially in the old school hip-hop, if we go back and listen to real MCs, they would talk about everything; how they would cry and their mums being poor and things like that. I’m very empathetic so I always want to try and make people feel.”
Hak Baker feels that modern hip-hop, R&B and other predominantly Black genres are sometimes used to “promote not the most positive things, but I know people are just talking about their lives and what they’ve been through things like that.”
He explained: “I don’t want to just narrate times and I just want to talk about normal people. I think normal people don’t really get to talk about the most glamorous of things all the time. So I just wanted to talk about normal things and [music] gives me a platform to do so.”
In August, London’s Notting Hill Carnival celebrated 50 years of sound systems at the prestigious event. When asked how sound system culture has affected his life, Baker reminisced on the times his dad – who used to run sound systems — would take him “to Luton Carnival, which was great.”
His mother meanwhile would “take him to [Notting Hill] carnival all the time” and “used to have a big sound system in the kitchen.”
“Sound system culture has always been in my family and it’s important for us,” Baker explained. “When you watch films like [the 1980 British drama] Babylon, you see how important sound system culture was from back in the day. It was us trying to find our position.”
He added: “Then police kept trying to shut it down and shit, and now we have freedom, I guess, such as carnival to run our sound systems and express ourselves, you know. Sound system has always just been an act of expression snd I stand with that shit. I love to have my own sound system when I’m older, definitely, and run that.”
When asked what’s next, Baker expressed that he is already “working on another project.”
“I’m probably going to write two projects,” he continued. “I’m going to write a live project [where] I want to record all new tunes with my guitar, just really live and sincere, and then go to write another album, which I don’t know what that’s going to be about.”
His overall goal is “to stay alongside people” and “never leave my affinity for people”.
“People call me ‘the People’s Champ’, and I love that and I don’t want to be anyone else’s champ,” he said. “I don’t want to be the biggest champ, I don’t want to be the Tory champ, I don’t want to be the bling-bling champ. I just want be the People’s Champ. The more I can do that, the happier I will be really.”
‘Worlds End FM’ was awarded four stars as Will Richards wrote, “While ‘World’s End FM’ itself falls an inch short of its lofty conceptual goals, it does successfully introduce Hak Baker as a 21st Century troubadour speaking to modern problems with empathy and requisite anger.”
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