Hak!m is your average 16 year old. He’s looking forward to a summer off from school, hanging with his friends, and catching up on all the things he didn’t get to do during the school year. He is also my nephew and an aspiring songwriter. Unlike your average 16 year old looking forward to a summer of leisure, Hak!m plans to put in work and that work all focuses on elevating his music and artistry to new heights. While he has been honing his skills songwriting, composing and writing rhymes and lyrics, year round, this summer, Hak!m has his sights on performing.
Hak!m began entering summer showcases a few months ago performing in his first this month. As a young child, Hak!m performed and participated in shows and recitals where he was able to demonstrate his talents and what he learned through lessons and practice, but he never felt ready to enter competitions and perform his original music until recently. Hak!m decided it was time to get into the performance arena when he saw an advertisement on Instagram for a summer showcase in his home state of Connecticut. He took a chance and was accepted as one of the youngest to compete.
“I instantly knew that I wanted to enter. It was a platform where I could finally perform for a big crowd and express myself and showcase my music. I’m performing a song called ‘What Would You Do?’ It’s about my life, asking the listener to be in my shoes. I’m a 16 year old black male; it’s rough sometimes. I’m not homeless, but I go through stuff. For example, I’m big dude for my age. I’m 6’ 4” 1/2, people mistake me for being grown--- 19, college age--- but I’m a kid. I don’t even have a driver’s permit. But I know what people see. So, I put how I feel about those perceptions in my music.”
It was easy for Hak!m to turn to music as a form of expression because he always knew he wanted to make music. It was something that he came by naturally as his family had been actively involved in the arts, specifically music. “I always wanted to make music, I was always making music. My [paternal] grandmother was an actress and artist, on my maternal side my grandfather was a DJ here in the early 1980’s and my grandmother has directed musicals for public school children since long before I was born, like since when my mom was a kid, so I guess it came naturally.”
Hak!m recorded his first song less than a year ago. “The first song I recorded, I went to a studio called Ivy League Studios. There was basically just myself, I met the engineer and we just got to work. I put in the beat I made, he liked it. He didn’t believe that I wrote it at first; I was 15 at the time, I’m 16 now. The song is called ‘Run,’ it took me a few takes to get it right, he was a nice dude but warned me that engineers can be demanding. So I kept that in mind while recording.” The experience inspired Hak!m to build his own home recording studio so he can record his music, but also to learn the principles of engineering so he can one day produce other artists who will record his compositions.
While this summer marks Ha!km’s performing debut, he has been writing and composing songs for quite some time. “The first song I wrote, I was about 7. I can’t remember the title, but I was living at my [maternal] grandmother’s house and my mom was going back and forth between home in Connecticut and New York for work. I wrote how I felt about that in song. My mom didn’t want me to be concerned about her traveling so much all to take care of me and give me a good life. She didn’t know how much I knew about it, but I expressed it in this song.” Shortly after writing that first song, Hak!m began learning to play instruments. began playing instruments after that. “I started lessons, piano and guitar at first, I played trombone and violin in school, but didn’t stick with violin much. Piano, guitar and drums are what I stuck with and still play.”
When asked about his writing style, Hak!m calls it “versatile, mainly hip-hop, but there are R&B elements and I make a few instrumentals, too. I always loved hip-hop--- it’s my first choice in making music--- and old school R&B, but I also came to like other styles, alternative music like Nirvana, Imagine Dragons, and Fall Out Boy.” While he is learning to enjoy performing, Hak!m says his overall goals are to “write and produce” for himself and others. It is that goal that pushes him to write as much as he does--- almost daily--- and it’s that desire to write that makes Hak!m such a wonder.
“Some people make music and write music they like. No shade toward some, but if you grew up listening to Guwap all your life and you are like, ‘I want to be like Gucci Mane,’ you will make music like it, but when you never lived like that it never sounds real. There’s a rapper named Logic who straight up told about his life; it was authentic. He was telling you a story from his past. It’s counterproductive when you are making music and making money and still talking about how you are running the streets when you know you aren’t. There’s no ending in that. When you are sharing a story about your history and trying to come up from that, then it’s a whole different scenario.
“The song ‘Run’ was inspired by me wanting to run away at one point from life. Being a teenager is hard, it is. Some people diminish the trials of being a kid, but there are things we go through and things we grow through. Some have it better than others but the stresses are all the same. Trying to fit in, certain pressures of being a teen. So I write about those things, things I go through. I wrote other songs, like songs about how we, as men, treat women. It wasn’t too deep. I wasn’t trying to be deep, but I wanted to put that out in the open because being in a family of women, I’m the only boy in my immediate family, I respect the women in my family, my mom, my grandmother, my aunts, my cousins. I’ve also written some danceable, fun songs, but I really prefer to write about life and what people go through; just every day life.”
Although he is just starting out as a performer, Hak!m has definite thoughts about his longevity as a performer and writer that is steeped in his aforementioned love for the old school: “Being honest with myself, I don’t want to be put in a creative box, where people say, ‘okay, you did that one song’ and expect you to keep doing the same song over and over again. I want to reaction where people say, ‘you’re going to be a legend because of all the songs you write,’ and that’s what I want to be. It’s not for the accolades, I want people to say I’m a legend because I made an impact in my community and that I gave voice to people who don’t have one from my area. The Springfield, Hartford, New Haven, Bloomfield, Connecticut areas. Even people struggling in D.C., where I spent my early years. I want to give back to people. I want to help people. If I make money from this, I will put things in our communities to help us like building affordable health clinics where people pay little to nothing, $2.00 for a visit or medication, a community health clinic, something in our communities that we build and we sustain. That’s what I mean. Build and invest in grocery stores. In these areas, you will see a convenience store on every corner, but not a grocery store and the ones that are close enough by several miles, people can’t get there because lack of transportation. How are people supposed to be healthy, happy and take care of their families if they don’t have access and opportunity? That’s what I want to use my artistic platform to do, to express myself, make good music, expand into different areas as a designer, businessman, educator, etc., but also help my community and those like mine. That’s legendary to me.”
It’s legendary to me, too, Hak!m.
Other quotes from Hak!m about his life and music:
- “In the 90s you had Lil’ Bow Wow, Romeo, and Kris Kross There are some young rappers, now, and they’re popular like Lil’ Pump, I respect him for being 16 and doing his thing.”
- “The transition from teens to adult in entertainment is difficult and not all artists are able to do that successfully like Beyonce. I think this is where my size helps me, people won’t see a 16 year old, they will see an older person. I carry myself like I’m older and I talk to adults who really help me analyze things on that level.”
- “Hak!m is my stage name, but it comes from my last name, Hakim. It wasn’t my original, I came up with a list, but I chose that one because it leaves me feeling like myself; I don’t have to create a persona to go along with it. That’s my name, that’s me. Like Nas, his name is Nasir, and he kept that. The wave of hip-hop artists using their given names like Kendrick [Lamar], came back around and that’s a new way of expressing oneself in hip hop. But you have artists who will use a stage names, Stevie Wonder is a stage name. His name is Steveland Judkins. I always thought it was Wonder, I have a friend whose last name is Wonder so I thought Stevie was using his real name. But that fits him, he is a “wonder.” I think using your name, especially when it was given or chosen for you specifically is bold, it means you aren’t pretending to be anyone else, you are yourself.”
- “I became sociopolitical in my music in trying to strike a balance. I have my political stuff, but I also talk about the things other artists talk about like life and girls, it’s not all about politics, but my politics are there.”
- “My favorite hip hop producers are the established ones like J Dilla, Swizz, Pete Rock, Timbaland, Pharell, Kanye. I like artist-producers. I also like the new ones Frank Duke, Wonder Girl, Vinylz, Boy Wonder, T-Minus (he makes good beats, solid melodies), Eastbound, and Metro Boomin’.”
- “As far as artists I like and want to aspire to be like are Kanye (because he does everything), Drake (he’s versatile; honestly, there’s nothing wrong with widening your horizons as an artist), I love Kendrick, he will go down as a legend in hip-hop, that is a fact. I also love J Cole, Big Sean, I’ve always been a Big Sean fan. G-Eazy. I was a B.O.B fan for a time, but no so much now. Then I study the classics like Pac, Big, Jay, KRS, Nas, Big Daddy Kane.”
- “I like the old school. From the old school, I think the main thing I draw from the artists is putting yourself, your personality in it, like Biggie, he opened up to put his emotions out there, Pac, too, they all did and that’s what I try to do.”
You can hear “Run” by Hak!m on Soundcloud at https://m.soundcloud.com/user-145294852/run-away-prod-hakim. Follow Hak!m on Twitter @YaBoiHakim.