East London’s Hak Baker is the artist redefining what it means to be a folk singer in the capital. His sound, which he calls “G-Folk”, is a blend of grime and folk combining gritty lyrics and acoustic guitar playing. It’s a combination inspired by his past grime career and emotional outtake on life.
In Conundrum he sings about growing up in East London where it was “forty pence for a bus/ Still the lads jump in the back with no fuss.” It’s these tales about the minutiae of London life that mean listeners find it easy to connect with Hak, and, with a tour coming up in March 2020 he’s set to bring G-Folk to the UK in a big way.
I ask Hak if he's proud to be from East London and he nods vigorously. He tells me that people from the East are “the only ones really keeping it old school.” Born and raised in the Isle of Dogs, in the heart of London’s docklands, Hak’s musical trajectory reflects his backstory.
He started his career as a grime MC in grime collective Bomb Squad. But after a short period in prison he picked up a guitar and reinvented himself as a G-Folk singer. He credits his ability to keep going and work hard to where he’s from. He tells me that growing up amongst working class people has “rubbed off, we’ve always just got up and done stuff ourselves.”
East London is still the area where Hak feels most comfortable and calls home. He takes us to The George, his local in the Isle of Dogs and says “I feel like you need to have a place where you can come back and be naughty, especially for me. I’m going all these places and it’s nice to come back and see everyone.”
Off the back of a UK tour with Slowthai, and with another tour coming up, it’s no surprise that Hak needs time at home to recharge and relax. He tells us “when I’m at home I don’t wanna talk about work, I wanna have a beer and a laugh, you can do that here”.
At The George everyone seems to know Hak, he explains that a lot of the people drinking here are his school friends. He still knows everyone in this corner of East London and he doesn’t want that to change.
Gentrification in East London is something he worries about and something he wants to combat. He doesn’t want to talk about a project he’s working on with his community, not wanting to jinx it, but he does mention his night at Basing House in Shoreditch. He wants to encourage local musicians and creative talent saying, “if anyone wants to perform, they can come and perform and if anyone wants to DJ, they can come and DJ.”
He explains that “no-one else is gonna look after the community so we’ve got to do it ourselves to make sure we can stay here and keep our roots like old trees.”
Hak feels it’s his responsibility to encourage young people in East London to express themselves through music instead of turning to crime. As this was something he struggled with himself, the night feels personal.
He stresses the importance of letting out emotions through music instead of keeping them in and breaking down and says that songwriting for him is a release.
He tells me he wants to be “a beacon for people, coming from a working-class place and doing something decent with my life. That’s the image that we push, don’t always go for the fast lane and the money that you can see because ultimately it won’t last.”
It’s not just the influence of East London that Hak feels shapes him. He credits his “rebellious and riotous side” to his Caribbean heritage. He says, “runaway slaves are in my blood, especially being from Jamaica.”
Hak’s mother hails from Jamaica and when I ask about her Hak beams and explains it was his mum who pushed him and made sure he prioritised his education. He says, “she made sure I was proud to be who I was. When people say that I sound white because I’m cockney I say you’re fucking crazy. I’m just a product of my environment.”
He tells me that he would like to get out of the big city one day and buy a farm in Jamaica. His vision is an idyllic one, raising animals and plants and riding around on a horse. It’s the pace of life in Jamaica that he craves saying “it’s just slow there. That’s the most important thing. You wake up early and chill.”
But before he gets the chance to relocate to the Caribbean, Hak’s got a lot more fast living to do. His Babylon tour kicks off on 14 March next year and he says, “I can’t wait, I wish it was next week.”