New York-based Nick Hakim works out of a pleasantly cluttered loft studio in Ridgewood, and like so much of the city, it’s a neighbourhood of deep history that’s in flux; if you spend even a little time there you might start to wonder about what the future holds, and what it means to be someone’s neighbour. Hakim’s been wondering about it, and his new album Will This Make Me Good is something like a response.
In 2017, Hakim’s debut album, the critically acclaimed Green Twins, announced the singer-songwriter as an idiosyncratic talent, making music that resists genre classification. You could work a song of his into an HBO original series, as Insecure did; you could smoke to it and wonder about your ego; you could slow dance with the person you love—it’s not versatility, so much as a lack of boundaries and a strong sense of intuition. It drew on the music Hakim listened to growing up in Washington D.C. with his older brother and parents, who emigrated to the States from Peru: American soul music and political folk from South America; classic rock and hardcore.
The time since Green Twins has been complicated; you can hear it in the swirling sprawl of his sophomore release Will This Make Me Good. Hakim lost a notebook of new songs during a trip overseas not long after Green Twins came out. He tried to recall from memory those drafts and the fight to do so resulted in writer’s block. Musical ideas still came and he worked with his peers, including Anderson .Paak, Lianne La Havas, and Slingbaum—but when it came time to write his own songs, lyrics eluded him. Then a childhood friend passed away.
“He was a little younger than me, but we had a similar path,” Hakim says. “We both had trouble in school and switched schools a lot. He was the youngest in his family and his older sisters asked me to watch out for him.” Affected deeply by his passing, Hakim struggled to articulate his feelings in the wake of the tragedy.
He recalls advice from friends who told him during this difficult period, “Pretend there’s no audience. Don’t think about an outside perspective. Don’t think about what this means.” By turning inward, Hakim found a way to express himself and the first song that emerged addressed his departed friend. “Qadir” is the longest song in Hakim’s catalogue; it’s the heart of Will This Make Me Good, originally an 11-minute epic that builds to a shattering vocal performance accompanied by a ten-person chorus. “If I really sink into a recording, I don’t want it to end,” Hakim says. “It’s repetitive and hypnotising, like a trance—that’s intentional. The song is my ode to him. It’s my attempt to relate to how he must have been feeling before he died.”
He sings about how “there’s a complexity to being kind”—to yourself, to your space, to your community. “That’s a direct reflection of the neighbourhoods that I’ve experienced across the East Coast, from Washington D.C. to Baltimore to Philadelphia to New York to Boston—all places I have ties to,” he explains. “People move into a neighbourhood and are intimidated by the people who already live there.” Accepting everyone around you is a daily task; it’s also a reminder to keep close the people you love, because nothing is promised. “When Qadir died I hadn’t checked in on him in a while,” Hakim admits. “I say ‘we’ in ‘Qadir’ but I really feel like I’m talking to myself.”
Will This Make Me Good is a question Hakim has asked himself since he was young and struggling in school, when he was prescribed medication in an attempt to correct his wayward attention. It’s a question he still wonders about, and if the album sounds messy, it’s because there are no easy answers to its query. “I’m still trying to figure out what the record is about,” he says. One thing’s for certain though—it is a reflection of what’s happening in his head as he sorts through his life and the tumult around the globe that can’t help but seep in. Will This Make Me Good articulates a sense of confusion alongside a desire for hope and clarity.
‘QADIR’ is out today, listen here. Will This Make Me Good comes out on May 15th via ATO Records.
All photo credit to Marcel le Bachelet.