By Kristopher Tondre
Label: XL Recordings
Release: June 21, 2016
Thank you Wiki. No, not the online encyclopedia that teachers discouraged students from using for research in grade school, but the young rapper who got Hak into making music. From my understanding, Hak was never interested in being a rapper or pursuing anything to do with music. That was until Wiki, with whom he formed the group Ratking along with producer Sporting Life, encouraged him to become a rapper when Wiki himself became more serious about making music and wanted his best friend to take part with him. Without that initial push by his once close friend, there might not be a Hak to craft such a beautiful composition of summer infused songs that make up his solo debut, June.
With the release of June, Hak, born Hakeem Lewis, announced his departure from the group Ratking. The contrast in styles between the two emcees Wiki and Hak always made for an interesting pairing played out over Sporting Life’s production. Where Wiki was a snarly rapper bursting with energy, Hak played it cool, calm and collected adding laid back bars and melodies to the songs they released as Ratking, who overall had a dense, gritty sound that truly captured the place they call home in New York City. But if Ratking’s sound was a packed subway car bustling through the underground tunnels of the city, then Hak’s debut is like a woozy stroll through Time’s Square late at night watching all the twinkling lights sparkle in the city that never sleeps.
When first pressing play on Hak’s debut project I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d never listened to Ratking’s discography too intensely, but I was familiar with their sound as it captured the experience of growing up in The Big Apple without clinging to a nostalgic sound of the late 90’s that becomes a niche of sorts for some artists. However, what I heard as soon as the project began took me by surprise. Pouring out of my speakers were these hard hitting beats that came stomping out, commanding your attention with electronic-like pulses and rips, and a voice that I found to be both haunting and hypnotic that just swayed over the production so seamlessly it felt like a twisted lullaby depicting the Harlem environment Hak calls home. From track-to-track, Hak effortlessly swaggers his way over the production with his sun burnt rhymes, often switching between a wistful melody driven flow and a subdued rapping style that comes across as if he’s talking directly to the listener. Interestingly enough, each track on June was inspired by a photograph. As he stated in a profile interview, Hak will at times start with a visual before crafting a song, and so he asked a friend of his to submit some of his work to Hak as a source of inspiration for the project. Each song seems to convey a different message, a different vibe, yet they all work impeccably together to convey the overall sounds of June. “No Days Off” is an incredible song about enjoying the moment and also supporting your friends if you see them going through trials of their own; “Solitude” shows Hak’s awareness of how he’s perceived by others and how he felt a sense of solitude while pursuing this music dream of his; “432 Hz” displays his Harlem environment and serves as a minor ode to the work he and those around him had to put in to even make it as far as they are now in life. Again, each song implies something different about Hak and his journey so far, but together they form a breath-taking collage of hazy productions and revealing lyrics that communicate who he is as a musician, but also as a person.
These are the sounds of summer, these are the sun drenched melodies soaring over like a cool breeze, and these are the beats crashing like waves on a beach along the coast on a sunny day. Although I’m sorry to see an end of what I’ve known to be Ratking, though reports say that Wiki and Sporting Life will continue on with the group, I’m excited to see what comes of Hak on his own. If June is any indication of what to expect from the young man himself, then I’m glad he decided to pick up that microphone and start crafting music all those years ago.