Indie-folk singer Hak Baker recently released his mixtape, Babylon. Simultaneously caustic yet soft, emotionally open yet enigmatic, the East London native balances a lot in the unique sound he calls "G-Folk". What that tends to mean in real terms is that he may be an unpretentious straight-talker, but he is by no means afraid to dig deep into his psyche. And no matter where you are in the country, the former grime MC's vivid tales of unemployment, existential boredom and the bizarre characters you meet at the pub are immediately recognisable.
Besides last year's Misfits (Unplugged)—which also featured "Thirsty Thursday"—the Babylon tape is essentially Baker's first full-length release. A master of off-hand one-liners, Baker has said of the tape that "there's no fairytales in East London," and that there's "beauty in the struggle." Evidently, Baker is a chronic realist, but certainly not a pessimist. Sure, we'd all love to live in the "Big Houses" of the mixtape's opener, but memories of getting smashed with your friends and running from police can't be bought. Things may be tight, but there's still joy to be found in the world.
Here, Hak Baker breaks down every track on the Babylon mixtape, explaining more about some of the themes and how they play into each track.
Take it in below and cop or stream it on Apple Music or Spotify now (Hak Baker also recently teamed up with Isle Of Dogs filmmaking duo Broken Antenna—with whom he's worked several times before—to create a short film for mixtape; watch that here).
"We were in Jamaica when we made this—in some fancy studio someone sorted for us—and we were just watching non-natives reap all the benefits of my homeland, in their big houses. Then we brought it home with puns around where I reside. It's just an overview of what it is, really."
"This song is for my crew and other crews like it who attack life, who believe that they're here for a reason, and who are gonna take their chance anywhere and everywhere. Sometimes you can be in a dark and aggressive place, hence the bassline, but you can also find that place wonderful, adventurous and magical. 'Lad' is time machine vibes for me. It's very personal, and I hope it reaches out to the people who's had it or are havin' it."
"'Broomstick' was written when I was in a dark place. Things seemed to be happening almost on a carousel—slipping into the ground, feeling helpless to depend on my dependencies. I think the only way out was digging deep into my imagination. I had to write myself out of it."
"I love women. My mate, Greg, once told me that you just have to be honest with women and he was right. It's bang on! But there's always one: that one there is ya mush. She knows ya, loves ya, cuddles ya, makes you feel top! But she'll eventually kick you to the curb if you keep messing around. One day I'll grow up."
"I'll leave you to decipher this one yourself, but 'Venny' is the feel-good track of the tape. Yeah, we've all had it hard, but let's celebrate, innit! It's gonna rain anyway."
"Too many times the old bill ransacked my gaff and tipped my bin on the floor, just to be cunts. Lovely surprise when I get home from the station! Lovely. I really can't stand them. This one will speak for itself."
"What's the point of getting somewhere and then forgetting where you come from? I wasn't born with no silver spoon, there weren't no leg-ups: I came up from the floor. I'm a normal fucking boy. I've got something to say, and I'm saying it. I try not to live with many regrets; what I done to get here is why I can be and do what I do now. I'd tell myself: believe it or not, pal, we'll do it in the end—like we always knew we would. There are no fairytales in East London, but I wouldn't change it for the world."
"People are too preoccupied with going around as though they're jubilant all the time, like everything's so fucking great, and they have to write that in every song. I feel so good! I've got so many girls! But you don't. You don't feel good all the time, and you don't know who to trust, and you don't really love that girl—she's just pretty, and really and truthfully, you're looking at that thing you just bought thinking, 'Why did I spend so much?'"
"An avalanche of pain and sadness torments my friends. There's a lot of pressure put on young men when growing up, and young boys aren't being taught how to be themselves so they have to make it up as they go along. Growing up where I'm from, there are a lot of forces at play, but as a community—black, white, man, woman—we all stuck together, and I'm proud of that. This is the culture I grew up around; love, pain, grief, heartbreak. It's all stuff we've felt together."
"All this anxiety and fake 'be nice' society these days; sometimes, you have to tell someone that they're being a cunt. So tell 'em! This one will tell you all about that. No corners cut."
"To end where we start, this one's a bit more aggressive than 'Big House'. This is a dig at the gentrification of our communities, and the biggots on their filthy high horse. They make me sick. This is the least I could say about how we feel in the manor—rich cunts think we don't matter. Fuck those pricks!"
"Thirsty Thursday, yeah... It's all in the title. Big up the single mum crew!"