Exclusive Q&A: New Jersey's AK Is Going Viral
Hailing from the Garden State, emerging artist AK has been building a formidable catalog for the past few years. The 20-year-old initially saw viral success for his remixes of tracks like "Panda" and "Bodak Yellow," which amassed millions of views since their release. Now, AK is making major waves through blending Hip-Hop and R&B genres that pack the perfect punch of his versatility as an artist in terms of tone, lyrics, and vocal range. His 2019 efforts "Closed Off" and "Like I Got It" poised the rapper to make major waves within the Tri-State area. Now, he's gearing up for the release of his new EP, On Me, next month.
With AK's new "Uncomfortably High" out now on streaming services, the New Jersey-native is ready to take the industry by storm in the coming months. We recently spoke with AK to talk about finding his purpose, releasing music, and his legacy amongst a list of other topics.
Take me back to your childhood, how would you describe your years as an adolescent?
I’d describe my childhood as a massive roller coaster. There were real highs and real lows. All of which built me into who I am now, so I’m thankful for it.
Were there any moments that defined your character or who you are today?
I was born with really bad hearing problems, so I was at a doctor’s appointments often and was being taught sign language to help me communicate. Long story short, I was incredibly blessed and eventually, my hearing issues were fixed by the time I was 3 or 4. Even though I was so young, that experience set the tone for my life and taught me what it's like to overcome obstacles. When I was in 3rd grade my parents split and that was a huge and unexpected change for my whole family. That is definitely something else that I feel added to the fire in me. I just didn't have an outlet to express myself because music hadn't found me yet. It wasn’t until my Freshman year of Highschool that music started to become a very powerful force in my life.
School was another thing that contributed to who I am today. I was never a great student and my experiences with my teachers weren't always great. I was aware of it. I knew how my teachers were talking about me to my parents and other teachers, saying that they had no idea which direction my life was going. It felt like the odds were against me and no one believed in me. I felt a lot of pressure to find something I loved because I knew for sure it wasn’t college. Junior year is when the flip switched for me. That’s when I really fell in love with music. I took whatever effort I would've given school, and put it towards learning how to record songs in my room.
How did you initially gravitate to music and are there any artists that paved the way for you?
I started writing poetry to express how I was feeling about everything starting in 7th grade. My intro to making music started in 8/9th grade with my older brother Todd and his friends. They used to make songs for fun and I always thought the idea of that was dope, but I was never allowed to join them when they did their thing. There was one weekend when my brother left to go visit his friend at college, so I stole the laptop and mic out of his room and took it to mine to record. When he came back from his trip, I played him the song I made and he was shocked.
At the same time, he and his friends were starting to slow down on making music, so it was perfect for me. The mic and laptop were more available, so I continued to make music. I found it was an escape for me. I really loved doing it and learning more about it. I only started really listening to rap when middle school started because I finally got an iPod to listen to songs without my parents knowing [laughs]. I was listening to Hopsin, Big Sean, T-Pain, Akon, J. Cole, Lupe Fiasco, Wayne. Those are the guys I vividly remember listening to at the time.
At what moment did you come to grips that there was no looking back and you would put full effort into music?
After I saw J. Cole at the PNC Bank Center on his 2014 Forest Hills Drive Tour. He inspired me so much. From then on I knew I was meant to do this.
Sonically, what inspires your sound and what's your recording process like? Do you enjoy being alone or in the studio with several others?
I can work alone. Some of my favorite stuff I created alone. But, I do like changing the vibe every now and then. Sometimes it’s cool to have a big studio session with other people in the room vibing and creating together. Sonically, I try to let myself do whatever I think flows. There are times that I’ll walk out of a session with a straight Hip-Hop song or an R&B song, or a pop song. I try not to keep my creativity boxed in. I let loose and go with the flow and whatever happens, happens. Hip-hop is what I love.
How does it feel to finally release your EP On Me and what is one of the stories behind the project?
Exciting! I feel like there’s a lot of things said in all the songs that’ll resonate with people. This EP is all about taking responsibility. I’ve gotten to a point in my life where I’ve realized how impactful my decisions are and how they will directly affect everything that happens for me. Whether that’s my career, my health both mentally and physically, my family and everything that’s close to me. It’s on me to put in the work to progress creatively, it’s on me to get to the gym and journal every day to check in with myself, it’s on me to help my family to a better place. All that pressure is something I used to purposely hide from. Now, I’ve learned to embrace it and use it as fuel to continue stepping up in every aspect of my life. This EP is the direct product of that.
As far as legacy goes, how do you want to be remembered by your fans and peers?
I’m trying to leave a mark and show people that it’s cool to be yourself. It’s easy to get uncomfortable and try fitting in but when you learn to love, care for, and appreciate yourself for who you are, life hits differently. I’m just trying to make people feel good.