Back in May, Bakar announced himself to the world with debut mixtape ‘Badkid’. It followed a steady drip-feed of singles that laid the groundwork for the Camden native, but if you’d missed them then his first collection would likely have proven a mind-bending listen. Bakar evidently has no regard for the traditional trappings of genre, instead following the lead of so many of his millennial contemporaries - The 1975, King Krule, his friend slowthai - in taking a magpie-like approach to his sound. If it’s shiny, he’ll swoop, and accordingly, ‘Badkid’ plays like a glorious mish-mash of all of his myriad of influences.
As a teenager, the singer loved Foals, James Blake and Bloc Party; indeed, his vocals frequently recall a young Kele Okereke. At the same time, he had a solid grounding in hip hop and noughties R&B, from the sleek production of Madlib and The Neptunes, to the pop crossover of Aaliyah and the like. His first forays into making his own music, which still date back to barely three years ago, saw him making loops out of Bombay Bicycle Club and King Krule tracks, chopping them up and uploading them anonymously to Soundcloud. Within months, he’d crafted his first single proper, the irresistible ‘Big Dreams’ - a boisterously optimistic mission statement that seemed to chronicle the process of Bakar carving out his own niche.
Ever since, he’s been immersed in a world that he appears to have almost stumbled into by accident; when we speak to discuss his plans for 2019, he’s in New York working on his next project - even if he isn’t entirely sure what that is yet. “All I was trying to do with ‘Badkid’ was to create a sort of scrapbook of sound,” he explains. “I could have carried on going down the singles route and put out a bunch more songs one by one, and I’m sure they would have carried on doing well, but I felt like I needed to let people know that I can create a solid body of work before I could move forward. I feel like I’ll always be an album artist, so I needed to come out with one.”
“I’ve put my flag in the sand now. People know who I am, and what I’m about.”
In creating such a diverse set of songs, Bakar has already succeeded in filling a gap that seemed glaring to him growing up. Then, he explains, there were no real role models, at least in terms of solo artists, when it came to the sheer breadth of ideas he was interested in incorporating into his own music. “I wish I could say there were,” he reflects, “but when I think about it, the only people I could maybe look towards were Gorillaz. That was the one group I could identify with, even before making ‘Badkid’. I loved the way those guys had those massive singles that really connected, but they were all taken from these hugely complex concept albums. I would maybe mention Red Hot Chili Peppers as well, because they were a rock band who were rapping the whole time as far as I was concerned. But apart from Gorillaz and Damon Albarn, it felt like there was nothing like that directly in front of me.”
Even if Bakar was never directly motivated by wanting to provide an example to a new generation of young musicians where there weren’t many for him, he is driven by a desire to present a genuinely new take on picking and choosing your influences. “I always said I wanted to act as an alternative to a bunch of different things, so if I can spark a kid’s imagination into thinking that mindset is an option, then great,” he says. “These days, though, I think it’s very rare that the casual fan of music gives a fuck about things like genre anyway. Maybe critics still do, and maybe journalists still do, but I think kids coming up now will just make what they want to make. If I can help push things forward, then that’s amazing.”
His creative process sounds every bit as fluid as you’d imagine; with the exception of “sometimes getting drunk and wanting to make something really rowdy,” he seldom thinks through his ideas before he sits down to write, instead letting all of them spill out and seeing what sticks. It’s less about wanting to write a certain type of song and more to do with playing off of whatever mood he finds himself in that day: “These things just happen, and a lot of the time, it really is magic.”
“A lot of people my age do feel as if the government’s hung them out to dry.”
The construction of his lyrical ideas works similarly. Although everything is coloured by his own experiences, he covers an awful lot of ground on ‘Badkid’, and where he recorded the tracks in a tiny London studio, the city hangs heavy over the record. “I always knew which topics I was going to talk about,” the singer recalls. “[But] beyond that, I just try to get out of the way of the song, because they often write themselves.”
Bakar’s debut is unquestionably a political mixtape, running the gamut from the politics of the streets (see the chaotic ‘Badlands’) to referencing his mental health (‘Unhealthy’) to the struggle to afford rent in his hometown. There’s an instantly memorable line on opener ‘One Way’: “You know,” he begins to explain, “when I said on that song, ‘If the government calls, put my dick in their mouth / ‘Cause I’m back at my Mum’s, I can’t even move out,’ that’s just me telling the truth. I didn’t even think it was particularly political at the time - it’s only when I look back on it that I see that side of it.
“I’ve never been a politician, and I never will be,” he continues. “Without wanting to sound cliched, I really am just talking about what’s going on around me, and a lot of people my age do feel as if the government’s hung them out to dry. I definitely feel a responsibility to speak my mind - everybody should.”
“I think kids coming up now will just make what they want to make.”
As Bakar looks ahead to what he wants from 2019, both in terms of his own music and that of his contemporaries, the word ‘unconventional’ crops up continually. He’s already put out a single since ‘Badkid’ - the wild, noisy punk of ‘Dracula’, which he describes as “an act of vandalism against this weird streaming matrix I’ve found myself in.”
But as for a full-length, he’s yet to make up his mind. “My plans are open-ended, and so they should be in this era,” he nods. “I’m here in New York chipping away at a body of work, and I want to hopefully put an album out in 2019, depending on whether I can get shit done. Will there be music in between? One hundred million percent. I’m going to continue to do my own thing. It’s working so far.”