In Conversation with: AKS
AKS has always wanted to be a father; “you know when people would ask teenagers what they wanted to be when they were older, I would say I want to be a great father. It’s something I actively prayed for.” For the last two years, the South London based lyricist has been living his dream. He speaks fondly of the time he has had with his son as he playfully mentions that he is “two and a half going on twenty.” “Having people celebrating with me has been a beautiful thing,” he adds. His new role as dad partly fuelled his decision to prolong his musical hiatus, not only so he could be fully present, but also so he could prioritise materially providing for his family. Like for many independent artists, out of pocket expenses were not at all uncommon, he explains; “having to reconcile with putting down money for something and not having money was something relatively easy for me, but now I’ve got a son and wife people dependent on him beyond those two.”
But while he was living one dream, another was at an all time low. “The shift in focus put me in a position where I wasn’t being creative. I had lost passion for music and would have nagging feelings about my purpose, you know.” AKS details how the hiatus sometimes felt like the crash a creative might experience after long periods of highs- which aptly characterises his career pre hiatus. The rapper boasted two successful projects, The Bus Stop and Train of Thought, the latter earning him two nominations at the Unsigned Music Awards as well as plaudits from musical pundits.
Among the things he is lauded, AKS’ lyricism is undoubtedly high up on the list. Considering lyricism is the cornerstone of his music, and words are a huge part of his creative process, I wonder how he coped with no longer being able to write. “Writing is 100% cathartic for me. I actually started going to therapy on the back end of last year.” As his music often feels like a reflection of his lived experiences, he laments no longer having his music to spill (albeit meticulously) his inner thoughts onto, “I didn’t have that outlet anymore, I had to go to therapy out of the fact that I wasn’t writing.” He confesses that no longer being able to create felt like “rock bottom,” but then optimistically adds, “and then you know, you look at the world and say the only way from here is up.”
That optimism is the bedrock of his newly released single, Up&Up (Heaven’s Above) as well as his upcoming EP, AKS reveals, “they’re a testament to going through that period, and then returning to claim my position an artist.” Dubbed a motivational rallying cry with soul infusion, Up&Up (Heaven’s Above) explores themes of resolve and responsibility as AKS vulnerably pens his frustrations, triumphs and anxieties about his comeback and new found responsibility. The accompanying lyrical visual takes us back to some of his first releases, which were also lyric visuals. In this way the release feels like a full circle moment, a re-introduction.
“No man is an island,” the South London lyricist quotes the adage, as he expresses his gratitude for those that had a hand on his single as well as his upcoming project. When writing and creating is as personal as it is to AKS, it is only fitting that he is also intentional with the community, musical or otherwise, that he keeps around him. “People just being around me, or having an interaction with me, similar to what we are doing now, rubs off on me and whatever emotion that makes me feel will likely rub off on the studio sessions.” This sense of empathy translates into his appreciation for teamwork in his creative process, “I’m heavy on collaboration,” he declares, “it's seldom that a beat from a producer will come and stay the same, my input will definitely take it somewhere else.”
A kind of signature input clear in his music is the infusion of soul and jazz in his music. You would be hard pressed not to hear a saxophone solo or the hearty sound of a bass in the beats he raps to. AKS owes his love for this sound to his musician dad who often woke the rapper up to “playing scales on his saxophone or playing Miles Davis, the sounds in my household were always jazz centric.” He continues reminiscing, “we had a stand up piano in our living room and for as long as I can remember, my dad would sit us down and teach us theory of music and all of that kind of stuff, you know.” AKS admits that although he did not enjoy spending his free time learning music as a child, it has had a massive impact on the way he consumes music in his adulthood.
But his musical sensibilities are not the only thing the South London rapper inherited from his father. “My dad is a stout Nigerian man and one of the people that he loves, from a musical perspective, is Fela Anikulapo Kuti. So having those kinds of political themes and you know, rebellious kinds of attitudes are part and parcel of what I listened to growing up.” The attitude that embraces the idea that his music should strive for something bigger than him, the way Fela’s consistently did, are not only mirrored in the soul sounds that influence his music but also his lyrics about family and generational inheritance. You can trace the influence from his father to him, and the hope that it will carry on to his son.
"Planted my seed, I hope he reaps off the legacy / There’s music in my blood and I heard it’s often hereditary!” [from Up& Up (Heaven's Above]
AKS cleverly used transportation imagery as the titles of his projects and overarching themes in his music to share the growth is musical journey. He first released The Bust Stop, and then Train of Thought and he is now in the midst of creating As Plane as Day: Departures and Arrivals. In addition to exploring his progress, AKS upcoming project will aptly focus on the fluidity of life; the natural gains and losses; “I’m living through moments where there are great arrivals like the birth of my son as well as departures. I've said goodbye to my mother in the past, and more recently I've lost a friend in the legendary rapper Ty.”
On what future success would look like to him AKS simply responds, “I just want to be a staple in this scene, and somebody that’s considered for doing the lyrical thing and sharing his emotions.”