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Powerhouse Rapper AK Shares His Inspirations Behind ‘Family Tree’ and EP ‘On Me’ | Interview

Last month, South Brunswick rapper and producer AK released his much anticipated single ‘Family Tree,’ a rapid-fire homage to hip-hop legends like Eminem, Nas and J Cole. From hitting 40 million views with his 2016 Pandas Remix to millions of streams on Spotify, GIGSoup was excited to discuss with the talented young artist on his inspirations, recent songs, and the importance of unity and respecting those before you.

What first you to got you into music, particularly with hip-hop?

I was in either eighth or seventh grade, and I was driving to my dad’s house with my brother, who was a bit older than me. So he was driving us and played ‘Ill Mind of Hopsin 5’. That was the first song in general, where when I heard the words, I was able to actually relate it to what was going on in my life. That’s because at the time, when I was getting ready to go to high school, there were a lot of people that I knew personally who were experimenting with different things that teenagers do, and ‘Ill Mind of Hopsin 5’ was basically a whole song about drugs, and how hip-hop can sometimes influence bad things. It was just one of those songs that, when I heard it, I instantly connected to it on a personal level. That’s when I realized like, ‘I got a lot I could say’, so maybe I can connect with people who had connected with that. So that’s kind of what started everything.

What I’ve noticed too is some rap songs we hear today talk about drugs and money. You’re more nuanced and talk about your personal experiences that you’ve had and you’ve went through. Can you elaborate more on your style and approach to the songs that you write?

When I go into writing a song, I keep myself very open. I don’t like to box myself in and chase after a specific sound. I kind of just go with whatever comes to me in the moment. Whether that be an R&B song, whether that be bars, whether that be pop, like whatever comes to me is what I write. For the most part, recently, I’ve been doing my own stuff. I just started this camp for songwriting, and it kind of gives me the opportunity to dabble in different genres and express myself differently. Even though the songs may not particularly be for me, we can pitch those songs to other artists in different genres. It gives artists or songwriters like me the opportunity to experiment and try new things. So, I definitely like doing things like that.

So you said you’re part of a camp where you write songs for other artists?

Yeah, the songwriting camp is over Zoom in Discord. It’s a different kind of experience writing because you’re talking, writing and sharing ideas through a computer screen rather than being in the room together. So it’s definitely different, but it’s a fun time.

I hear in your music a combination of R&B and hip-hop. So relating to that, what first inspired you to write your single ‘Family Tree’?

So, what inspired me to write the song was a conversation I had with my manager Brian. He was trying to show me songs and artists that he grew up listening to, and a lot of it, I had never even heard before. He was over here telling me like, ‘bro, how do you not know these songs?’ He was showing me old songs that he would grow up listening to, like different songs from Tupac, or Biggie, or any of those guys like Snoop. I just wasn’t aware of any of it. Obviously, I knew them as artists, but I never fell deep into their catalogs. It wasn’t until that moment when I was like, “damn, if I’m gonna be doing this, I should definitely see where my inspiration comes from, out of these artists.” The artist I listen to were inspired by those artists that I don’t even know about. So, that basically sparked the idea for the song for me.

I think a lot of the times now in our in our age group, there’s a lot of artists coming out now and doing their own thing, but they don’t realize whatever music they listen to was inspired by somebody else, and inspired by somebody else.

Right, it’s like a trickled down effect.

What was the inspiration behind the ‘Family Tree’ music video, and out of the people you showed in your video, who is your biggest inspiration?

 J Cole. He’s like number one for me. When I was a sophomore in high school, I went to see him in Holmdel at the PNC Bank Center. It was part of his Forest Hills Drive tour. He sold out the show, and I’m pretty sure it was my first hip-hop concert. While I watched his performance, and his songs resonate with people who literally were crying around us, it was basically the moment where I realized this music thing, like I need that sh*t. I was just blown away by the impact he had just being on the stage, and that became the turning point for me. So that’s a huge reason why he’s such a big part of who I am has an artist.

 

As far as the inspiration for the video goes, what happened was, I believe it was an SNL skit. We saw somebody imitating and impersonating Donald Trump with his voice, but his face deep fake like Donald Trump. So it really did look like Donald Trump speaking, talking and moving around. He was saying crazy, reckless things about other countries, but it was a real negative vibe that you got from the video. So me, my manager and his assistant at the time, Jason Yang came up with the idea of using that in a positive way, and emulating the faces of me being artists that inspired me directly. But then, after talking with the director, who was going to be doing all of it, he brought up the idea of maybe, not do artists that are completely just who inspired only you. Maybe talk about the artists, or show the artists who you might not even know all of their songs, know all of their albums or all their biggest hits, but you know the impact they had. So, that’s what brought the idea of having artists like Rakim and Missy. I never grew up listening to them, but I’ve done research and I’ve watched the Netflix documentaries on everything. I realized there is so much more, and so much influence that you don’t even know where it comes from. When you finally realize where it comes from, it’s just like an a-ha moment.

I’m also surprised sometimes like with hip-hop or rock, when you go back in the lineage, it’s like, “Wow, you know, this is actually kind of a little bit more interesting then what I heard from this artist now.”

Exactly. There’s always layers to it.

I think this song and video very fitting at this time, especially when there’s all this notorious beef in the industry like with Nikki, Cardi and Meek Mill. How do you feel this song is important, and contrasts to what else is going on now?

This song is all about unity. Honestly, I feel like hip hop misses that aspect of working together, in a sense. There’s a lot of artists who build upon each other, and build with each other, and aren’t afraid to work with each other. But then there’s those artists who are like, “I don’t wanna look like the lesser artists, if I worked with this person.” It’s almost like pride gets in the way of something that could potentially change the game. This song, the whole message, is just about unity and respecting those who came before you. Whether you are the biggest fans of them or not, you just acknowledge the influence they had, and the reason why they are who they are to a lot of other people. Even if may not be to you specifically, I feel like just the acknowledgment is important, and just making sure that, if you’re in this, you understand the roots of it. I’m not saying I know the ins and outs, the O.G O.Gs, and the beginning stages of hip hop, but I am actually doing my research. I’m doing what I can to get us much as I can, knowledge-wise, and I feel like that’s what’s important.

You came out with your EP recently ‘On Me’. What were the inspirations behind those songs, and the videos for each one of them?

That whole project was a huge journey I must say. So basically, we had all the songs done, and I knew in order to give every song the opportunity it deserves, I wanted to do music videos for each one. I knew that was gonna cost a lot and I knew it was gonna take a lot of work to get done, but shout out to the homies Thad and Jacob Clark. Thaddeus Swift and Jacob Clark together are Swift productions, but they did the videos for all the songs that I put out. They helped bring the whole vision and visual side of every song to life. I think we did a pretty good job of that, especially being that we filmed all six videos in, I think it was like a two and half, three weeks span.

Wow.

Yeah, it was a crazy, like I said, a crazy journey [laughs]. It was so much work that went into that [project]. As far as the songs’ inspiration, it was very open. I didn’t want it to be taken too, like I say, too seriously. As in like, I wanted to have fun with it. I didn’t wanna focus so hard on like a specific idea. I wanted to wait for a bigger opportunity for that. I wanted to put together a bigger project, which is being worked on now. As far as that EP, I wanted to keep it fun. I wanted it to be enjoyable and easy on the ear. So I did my best to execute what I saw in my head.

When you look back and compare you first works, even when you came out with a popular Panda remix to your most recent single, how do you feel you’ve grown as an artist?

It’s been hell of a journey, I must say. It’s been a lot of trial and error. At this point, I’m producing my own songs now, which is something I’ve always dreamt of doing, especially during the Panda remix days. I was still in high school at the time, but I think back on those days, and I’m just thankful that I did what I did, and I was on top of what I was on top of. Staying level headed-through it all. That was probably one of the most important things that I did during that time. It was just all patience. Letting things fall into place the way they should, and just working with the opportunities that came my way rather than forcing them. I’m definitely thankful for the growth that I’ve had just artistically and just as a human.

So, based on the recent events, such as the protests, or the election, or other things happening in the world. How does that kind of affect you as a songwriter in your music overall?

Well, as far as the protests and the whole Black Lives Matter movement, I feel it is important to speak up. I think what’s being shown is absolutely wrong. I think what’s happening is completely wrong. I think it’s up to people like me with an audience with reach to speak up and spread awareness as much as they can. As an artist, it definitely affects you, because artists, they write what they feel, based off what they experience or what they’re seeing other people experience. As an artist, that makes you want to speak up. For me, what I do best is expressing my feelings through lyrics. With everything that’s going on, it’s almost like some of the songs that I’ve been writing recently or just writing themselves, because it’s just so insane with what’s going on. You feel like such a responsibility to be a voice for it. It’s been just crazy because I don’t know. I’ve never experienced anything like what I’m seeing. I’ve never seen the things I’ve been seeing. It’s crazy for me especially, I guess being my age, and like I said, having this voice. Being able to express how I feel about it in my own way is really just a blessing.

It’s kind of crazy because the same events that we’re seeing now have actually been happening for many years.

Just now, we have Twitter and phones, and people could take their phones out recording a moment that, somebody may not want to be recorded, but it happened anyway. Now you’re sh*t out of luck because bad sh*t you’re doing is not being captured and shown to millions of people.

What would be your advice for young artists starting in music right now?

Do it however you want. Do it your way. There’s nobody that’s able to tell you what’s right or what’s wrong. Music is a very open and expressive thing. If it sounds good to you, then it sounds good to you and that’s all it should. That’s all that should matter. Just stay on top of it. Stay focused. Keep doing your thing.

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