Evolution Of A Badkid
“I know he’s on Wi-Fi if the message goes green,” says Bakar’s manager, while sitting in a swanky Australian restaurant in London’s proto-hipster enclave, Shoreditch. She’s on and off her iPhone, helplessly trying to figure out where her artist could be after he texted her an hour ago saying he was leaving, only to be incognito since. The issue is Bakar doesn’t have a phone, so when he isn’t connected to the Internet, he’s off the grid.
“It shouldn’t be taking him this long,” she keeps saying. “I’m trying to convince him to get a phone. A burner might have to do for days like today,” she continues, now looking up from her phone, still befuddled as to where in London Bakar could be.
When he finally does arrive, he walks in with an all black ‘fit: black hoodie, black Nike Off-White blazers, and a black beanie. He takes a seat, puts down his cracked red iPod, and orders a tea. Someone recognizes him at a table behind us. It’s hard to tell if the recognition is mutual, but Bakar nods to him.
“Sorry for keeping you waiting,” he says as he adjusts his chair and explains his absence. He was in Paris until late the night before wrapping up a shoot for “Sober,” his new track with French producer Sebastian. He couldn't find the cafe after he took the public transport here instead of an Uber. “I gotta remain underground,” he says. “It’s where everything happens for me.”
Before he drifts back away into the London abyss, office had the opportunity to have some coffee with Bakar and chat about his balancing act.
It can be hard to find time for yourself in such a fast city like London. What are some things you do besides making music to really focus on yourself?
Maaan, that’s a really good question. Sometimes I don't. It’s that simple, but I always have an understanding that I need to.
Sometimes, you might never be alone in this city. It’s good to find time for yourself, find shit to do, but what do I do? I go to football games. I use Arsenal as almost like a therapy tank. I go to all the games for the most part, and just that ritual of going there and being with normal ass people—that’s one of my ways. And also just sitting at home or like the Tube, just being one—it sounds so Zenny. I’m on public transport, and it’s one of the last things I can hold onto and just be on there on my own.
People are always using their phones on the Tube. You don't have one so what do you do?
I just got this iPod. I’ll just listen to audiobooks and shit, or maybe I won't and just listen to myself.
What are some audiobooks you like?
Yo, I'm listening to one right now—it’s game changing: When Things Fall Apart by this lady Pema Chödrön. She’s a Buddhist and has the craziest story, and she gives these chapter teachings on mindfulness and being aware. I love all that, you know what I mean? Some of it goes over my head, but a lot of it really sticks with me.
I’ve been digging your new project, Will You Be My Yellow? It’s definitely more mellow than your first project Badkid. How are you feeling about it, and what’s the reception been like?
Oh yeah, it’s more mellow than Badkid for sure, but there are those parts on Badkid too. It’s just a different time of my life. I might have been a bit more angry, but I think Yellow is just as angsty. It’s just channeled in different ways.
But yeah, the reception has been great. In 2019, it's especially hard to gauge. I feel like people are afraid to say if they don’t like it, so you get a bunch of praise which you're grateful for, but it's just water off a duck's back. I have a core group of people whose opinions matter to me, not to say my fans’ opinions don’t matter. I just can't really read into it that much. I always want more, and it's a Catch-22.
It’s different than the kind of energy on some of your older tracks off Badkid like “4am,” that kind of coming down energy that can suddenly change by a person or a moment that makes you like your coming up again.
Well, it’s funny because “Badlands” and “4am” are like brother and sister—they’re basically meant to be set in the same club called The Box. It’s a place we would always go. The introspective part of “Badlands” is like the same world as “4am.”
It’s just that feeling of like, I’m at a party or whatever, and I’ve hit that stage of being fucked up, and I’m just like looking at it from a bird’s eye view. I don’t want to get as dramatic as saying out of body, but you have that moment when you’re just so fucked up and everyone’s having fun or whatever, or maybe not, but you just get that freeze frame moment when you’re looking at everything. You’re either like, “Fuck this is fire” or you’re like, “This is shit, what’s going on?” It’s that kind of moment, and then a flick of a switch later, it can just go crazy.
You captured that feeling well in the “Badlands” video.
I honestly thought I could’ve done that video better, but you live and you learn.
Why do you say that?
I just think I could’ve articulated that feeling a bit better.
Well, whenever I show friends your music, I show them that video...
You show ‘em that one? That track was almost the title track of the whole project. The first four bars of that song to me sum up the whole of Badkid…
“It's grim all day, we're down in the dungeons
Livin' in a town of hard times called London
Looking for a job cause your job's redundant
Fuck it all off and go to the function”
That sums up the project, and in four bars, I really think I summed up me and my friends’ reality, maybe even my generation in London: Reality is grim, it’s hard, it’s cold, you lost a job, because it’s fucked up. But you know what? Who cares? Let's go party, and forget about it.
“Hell N Back” was a new evolution for you. It felt a lot more full than some of your older music that’s more loose and raw. It felt like something a lot of people would get down to, you know?
I felt like that about songs on Badkid though. I felt like that about “All In,” about “Big Dreams.” I’ve been trying to do this, having songs that have a big message and sound big at the same time. Big song, big message—that’s always been my intention, and not much has changed. “Hell N Back” is in the same vain: a song when you first hear it, you're like, “Oh my god, this sounds like everyone can like it” type of thing.
And that’s not a bad thing.
No, that’s the best thing! Like what. I’m never that dude who’s like, “Nah, I don't want anyone to hear my music.” That’s never been my mission. My mission has been to get as many people to hear this as possible, so if I can make it sound great, that’s really the mission…but yeah, same formula really.
How you got here is inspiring. It seems like you just decided to start fucking around with looping one day. You just did it off the cuff and then threw your stuff on Soundcloud. What would you say to people who feel held back from creating, because they might feel like they don't know enough about music or art or whatever they’re trying to put out?
That’s bullshit—that’s what I would say, number one. People prove that all the time. In rap, that gets proven wrong every single day. You don’t need to have anything. There’s no right way, you know what I'm saying? The easiest, most successful way for you to channel whatever you’re trying to channel... that’s the way.
For me, it was like, okay, I have a laptop. It has GarageBand on it; I know how to rip music; I know how to count bars, so let me try.
Can you play guitar?
I can’t play, but I can find my way. Same with keyboard, I can write a song. This week I've been writing songs on piano. I’ve had piano lessons and stuff, but I can’t play for shit, but I can find my way. I’ll write a song, and I’ll take it to my producer Zach. It’s however you find your way man.
For me, I picked up guitar, and I was like, “I can find a chord that I like. I can find a key that I like to sing in, and I can run with it.” That’s why I looped guitar loops that weren’t mine. I tried playing, and it wasn't coming naturally. What did come naturally was being a fucking music stealer, being a vandal. Looping shit up the same way Dilla looped shit, you know what I mean? It’s the same cycle, the same way Madlib steals shit. I was like, these are all my heroes. I know Madlib can’t play guitar, but he can fucking chop up a sample… that’s how I looked at it.
You’re about to head to the states for a couple shows. What’s your live show like?
The live show is a rollercoaster, an emotional rollercoaster. It gets chaotic, because some songs are like that, but you might be crying during "Small Town Girl” or “Cntrl Alt Del,” moments that are way more intimate.
I’ve just gotten to the point where I can probably play like an hour set, and up until now, we’ve always played in quite a punk way. We just like tear the songs apart and just fucking have a lack of regard for perfection. It’s more just about the feeling of it, and we get that across real well. Now, it’s not about moving from the punk aesthetic of how we play our shows, but rather developing and broadening it. We’re just better as a band, better with our instruments. I’m better at singing, and it should be a little bit tighter. I don't want to say the word polished, because that's not the right word.
A little more planned out maybe?
Yeah, you know what I mean. I kind of have to now. I’m playing for like 1,600 people in London.
I mean, I don’t know if you have to. One of the things fans like about your music is that it feels really raw.
Yeah, and it should remain like that. That’s us as humans. I'm never going to lose that, but it should develop. I don't want to keep on playing the same show forever, you know? Like I said, things are out of our control. My two guitarists are better guitarists than they were a year ago. I can’t control that; they just are better now. Even with Badkid… my keyboard player is an incredible musician that I've been limiting to play basically primary colors, because that’s how I designed it. Now I want to give him the lead to do more. There’s space for more color.
How would you describe the color yellow?
Bro, I have this amazing explanation somewhere… because someone sent me this thing, I’m paraphrasing, so let me see if I can find it. [He scrolls through his iPod touch.]
It changed my perception of the color yellow. That’s what I love about making stuff and just putting it out; people help you along the way with your own perceptions of what you’re making. Sometimes you’re so inside it that it’s hard to see outside and around it. Someone sent me this thing that said, “Yellow is a truly joyous and radiant color. It exudes warmth, radiance and vitality. It is the happiest of colors, yellow signifies communication, enlightenment, sunlight and spirituality. If your treasured color is yellow, you look forward to the future. You are intellectual, highly imaginative and idealistic. You have a cheerful spirit and an expectation of greater happiness.” I just found that really interesting. Sorry I just went off on a tangent.
So you connect with yellow a lot… do you wear it a lot? I find it hard to wear yellow.
Yeah, yeah. Yes and no. I do wear yellow.
What are some of your favorite spots to shop in London?
It’s becoming harder and harder nowadays. We had a dull two years, but it’s getting better now. My three favorite spots are Good Hood, Dover Street Market, and Machine. I like Good Hood more than anything actually. Those are the ones, because I have friends that work there, and it suits my taste. But then also, I’m in Uniqlo and Gap. I’d say I'm in vintage stores, but it’s quiet for all the vintage stores in London. They’ve all realized that thrifting is a trendy thing, and they’ve taken advantage of that as they probably should’ve in a business sense…
Yeah, all you gotta do is walk down Brick Lane to see that.
Yeah exactly, it’s not vintage. It might as well be on the High Street, because they’re selling jackets for High Street prices. That’s a bit annoying, but yeah, there’s cool places. One of a Kind is actually a genuine vintage store on Portobello Road. They sell really old Vivienne Westwood from when she had her shop on Kings Road back in the day, like all rare punk pieces and stuff.
How’d the logo for Badkid come about?
One of my good friends just drew it one day, and I was like, “Oh my god, that’s my logo. Done. Thank you very much.”
Do you want to start designing your own stuff?
Uhhh no, but I want to be involved. I want to make Badkid into its own thing. I did Badkid the project, and Badkid will always be my nickname, but I want Badkid to be its own brand—but I’m hesitant to say brand.
We always find a way to do cool products, and I don't want it to necessarily be a merch thing. I want it to have more space than that, like a really cool old school streetwear brand when there were actually cool streetwear brands. You have luxury streetwear and all this other shit which is fire, but I feel like you don't have like raw streetwear brands. Like you remember A New York Thing and stuff like that? Yeah man, I just want to see a really cool streetwear brand, and I want Badkid to be that.