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Hak Baker on the Passage of Time

The East London Artist talks us through his latest EP Misled, and in the process reveals the follies of his younger years.

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Hak Baker, both in music and conversation, reflects an honest reality. He doesn’t follow trends, nor does he conform, instead he takes the world around him, and with a certain finesse and intuitiveness, constructs delicate lines of songs that oft-times portray weighty and real subjects. He’s the master of this, and in recent times, perhaps the only one that’s mastered it the way he has. 

When we jump on a call I get the impression that it’s a skill he’s picked up from his childhood.

Hailing from the Isle of Dogs in East London, Baker describes his upbringing in a way that makes it sound like a coming-of-age film; a group of lads up to no good, jumping on trains not knowing where they’re going or where they’ll end up, lost in the years that felt like they’d last forever. Bomb Squad was the name for their grime group, and sometimes they were in trouble with the law.

‘Misled’, a 6-track EP released just over a month ago, combines both his uncanny ability to reflect the world through song but also provides eyes into these younger years, sometimes with a rose-coloured tint. While ‘Young Again’ asks what you’d do to revisit those childhood moments, ‘Cool Kid’ documents Baker’s move from a child to a young lad, “Who are ya?” he asks of himself. 

In celebration and to unravel his unmatched storytelling ability, we sat down with Hak Baker to talk childhood memories, musical beginnings and the inevitable passage of time.

One thing that I’ve noticed in your music is that you talk a lot about the passing of time – going from being a kid to an adult – and kind of reminiscing on the movement of those years. I feel like Misled focuses on that. What was your mindset behind writing the EP?
You’re right, basically because we were in lockdown and you didn’t really feel like you were going anywhere — my tour got cancelled and I was just indoors drinking and smoking and whatnot — a lot of my thought patterns would go back towards a kind of reminiscent state but really truly addressing it, not just glancing through it.

So I was really just going there and I think that was in order to finally move on from that man, because I feel that with me and my friends we concentrate on that a lot. Those were the times of our lives and we did it together and we did it in a really special way. And it’s hard for some of us to get over it and just move on, because we were under the illusion that it would last forever. So I feel that whilst in lockdown, I was doing a lot of thinking back to those times, and thinking I actually needed to move on with my life or I’m just not gonna get anywhere. So I just thought that let me just tie it up, put a red ribbon and move on.

So this EP for you was about moving on?
Yeah, so it’s exactly where I am right now in my life with my friends and situations, and then doing what I want to do is that I want to actually give everything a good ol’ go and just move on a bit, you know? Try and bring my mates with me, of course, but if not try not to feel guilty about all that stuff. Like actually push and get what you actually want out of life.

One of my favourite songs that probably talks the most to what you’re saying is ‘Young Again’. Was there a specific memory that helped you write that song? Or just an overall feeling?
Just overall feeling that one. That was again just because of what I was saying before, that it was such a great time you know, if there was any possibility of being able to go back there and do it again, I’d do it an instant, because it was literally — I think it’s even making me feel weird now thinking about it being that free. And especially with the kids and that, how they are now, they don’t actually do much outside and you know, they don’t fucking get on trains and don’t know where you’re going to end up and just feeling completely alive and young, man, like it makes me sad. I just want to try and recreate that now in my life. I want to go travelling and shit because I yearn for that freedom, that kind of nomad business. And it was great. It was great.

You always stick to this level of genuineness. Now that you’re gaining more recognition, how do you balance your love of music for the spectacle of fame?
You’ve got to listen to people, never feel that you’re too big to listen and to be told or hear things. You’re never too old to stare at someone’s feet, you know. So just listen, when people are giving advice that have been there, have seen people act like idiots and ruin, ruin what they’ve made. And classic, and even bigger than that, just where I’m from we were never really into that shit anyway. I don’t understand why people would think that they’re bigger, better than people. You don’t have to get along with everyone but we’re all the same. Even people that make music would be nowhere without the people that listen to their music. So how can you think or move like you’re somewhere better placed than them. That doesn’t make no sense. And as I’ve said I’ve got good ol’ school friends. And we’re just old school. We don’t really need that shit.

Are they still all the friends that you used to be in Bomb Squad With?
(laughs) Yeah, yeah. We have a couple of more additions, but yeah. I’m lucky to have friends that I’ve known for 20 years.

Do you think how you make music now feels different than how you were doing it back in the day with Bomb Squad?
Nah, man, it’s all the same. It’s just all expression. That was just expression back then as well, just a bit more sensationalised. This is just the same thing really, but now I do it with a guitar and I guess I tend to express myself differently. There’s not that much aggression with the lyrics. So I’m just doing the same thing now but I’m able to express myself more articulately.

In your videos there’s this recurring character that I’ve noticed. A red-haired kid that’s always smoking cigs. I was wondering who that is?
Oh yeah, Hector. Top boy, yeah. I like Hector, he’s from West London. His dad was quite influential in rave culture and things like that back in the day. And Hector’s got a mind beyond his youth. He’s very young. I think he’s just like 18 or something. He’s an actor. He’s a go-getter. I like him so I like to re-use him a lot. I think I’m gonna use him forever. Not use him, but feature him in my stuff as long as possible. He understands.

Ah, I thought he might have been a childhood friend that you’re recreating in the videos?
Oh yeah. That’s basically what I wanted to do. I like continuity, innit. So I’d rather keep writing more songs that relay stories, and the stories are just reflections of me and my friend. Like he’s not someone in particular, he’s probably one person that just has a lot of attributes from my past, if that makes sense.

There’s a friend of yours, Allie, that I’ve read plays a massive influence in your writing and music. How did you two meet and how do you connect over music?
I’ve known him since I was about 13. And he’s always been just doing stuff, even in Bomb Squad, he used to engineer and record. When I decided I wanted to play guitar, he’s like the only person I could go to with my guitars and my words, because he used to be in a band. So I went to him with my guitar, and he wasn’t in the best places as well, so I guess we kind of needed each other. He was the lead singer in his band, and one of his greatest friends just passed away from cancer. So I needed him and he kind of, you know, just wanted to play music again. 

So we just got in the studio together for two, three years and just came up, just made this weird little sound basically. He just messaged me earlier, actually. I didn’t really work on that new project with him much, maybe ‘Young Again’, and ‘Elephant’ a little bit. He taught me a lot of stuff, man. He was like a teacher for me. When we had no one helping us it was just him teaching me what he knew. And gave me these contacts to get me through the first stages of releasing music.

When did you actually become interested in music?
I’ve always been interested in music. I’ve always been doing something in music. I was a choir boy before, and then I was in Bomb Squad, and then I always wrote lyrics, always used to sing in my house. And then things happened. You know, you just get sidetracked all the time. But I’d always just make little things that I’ve seen, or rap over old beats. A few years back my mate was just like, “Look, I’ve booked you a studio, you need to go to the studio”. And then I guess that kind of inspired me to buy the guitar that I kept talking about.

I’ve always loved music, and I always knew that it was gonna get me out of the gutter, cause I ain’t gonna work for no one. Never do that. 

Your lyricism is like nothing I’ve ever really heard before. Is there anyone that inspires you lyrically? Or where do these words come from?
I like words. If I didn’t know what a word was, my mum would tell me to go to the dictionary. And then she would say go to the Thesaurus now and find words that are similar, so I have to thank my mum really cause she helped me know words and the meaning of words. Lyrically people like Damien Marley, Busta Rhymes, there was a guy called DVS from South London. He was really good with words. I like complexity. Why just say you can walk to the shops when you can say it in a much nicer way. 

Before you were saying that ‘Misled’ ties your past up in a bow. What do you think you’ll be writing about next?
This next chapter is about the next stage of life and that doesn’t mean that you still don’t have the connection to the past, and you still can’t go there every now and again, because it’s important and you have to learn from the past and make reference to the past. But there’s a lot more life to be lived and I’m just realising that a lot more every day.

Follow Hak Baker here for more and stream the new EP ‘Misled’ here.

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