Here at Chordblossom, we are committed to covering the latest and best in Northern Irish music. This week, we are dedicating our coverage to the growing grass-roots Hip Hop and Rap movement occurring in NI. From groups such as Mabfield and Nexgen, to solo performers and producers, these underground creatives have quickly established themselves as essential components of NI’s creative lifeblood. Through a series of interviews, reviews and recommendations we hope to tell the story behind some of the artists who are pushing this exciting new scene and shed some light on the NI take on the fastest growing genre in the world.
In the past couple of months, as I’ve delved deeper into the Irish Hip Hop scene, stumbling upon acts from both North and South, a name that kept popping up was cbakl. The first time I saw this name it featured on tracks from Jack Bashful’s ‘Obsidian’, who described the beat he had sent him as ’crackin’ on ‘Draw Out’. And more recently, a beat of his featured on ‘Gypsy King Interlude’ from Leo Miyagee’s latest effort ‘Ffdlc’, its subtle but intricate quality impressed me. But cbakl isn’t just a feature, he has his own projects, and songs garnering millions of listens on Spotify. I met the man to get the scoop.
It was a typically melancholic grey day in Belfast as I waited outside Laverys in Belfast looking both left and right to see if he was near. As I noticed he was approaching my social anxiety kicked in and in the space of 60 seconds I scrutinised over my approach, ‘Do I call him by his real name? ‘Do I call him cbakl?’ ‘Handshake? Luckily, a seamless handshake followed.
As we headed upstairs, ordered drinks and out to the smoking area to begin the conversation, he spoke of his early interactions with music growing up in Portrush. As his parents were young when they had him, their tastes aligned, especially with his Dad who used to DJ. He speaks fondly of the house and rap music he was essentially brought up on, stating “Even from an early age, I was always around music”. cbakl’s first notion to create music came when a friend of his Dad (who was also DJ) visited from London, and give him the rather blunt but clearly effective advice of “Just fucking do it”.
“I downloaded FL studio, some crappy version and made some shite beat and uploaded it, that was the beginning” he cooly added, underplaying what has been quite the impact at only 22 years old. But this self-critical attitude is integral to the discipline that it has taken for cbakl to continue to grow as an artist. ‘There were times where I wouldn’t make stuff for ages, I’d just open FL studio and go ‘this is shite’ and close it… but I think I’m at the place where I can open it and know what I’m doing”. However, cbakl is also focused on the full picture as he describes how he is aware of the importance of self-promotion as he details spending a day emailing his album to publications as he states how “that will go further than making two beats.”
With the release of his first project “Summerdaze” EP on Spotify, he started to attract quite a bit of attention. “I was in uni…and it went from like a few hundred (streams) to then like ten thousand (streams)”. However, he went on to say, “People get very disenfranchised from what’s really important…you can have millions and millions of streams on your song but no one knows who you are”. The benefits have not escaped him though – “It definitely helps for reaching out to people if they see you have numbers behind you”. He speaks on how he has found it more rewarding engaging with the Irish scene. “Especially, in this past year or so working with more Irish artists, making a lot more of an effort to be apart of the Irish scene”. He also credits Irish Hip Hop podcast Mabfield with playing a key part in establishing a community. “I think Mabfield helped a lot…makes it a lot easier to see the scene”.
As the discussion veered back to music cbakl discussed his influences, which are mainly Hip Hop, and he cited posthumous producer Capital Steez from the Pro Era movement. Although due to house music being a big part of his early engagement with music, it is also a key influence on his sound, and an area he looks to explore further in the not so distant future. This amalgamation of sounds work their way into the lead single for his latest project “Wisdom is Misery” and its combination of the two sounds. “I think it captures that well, definitely a house sound to it but still quite like the stuff I’d made before.
I wanted to talk about the album as I felt it was a new direction for him with an obvious influence from soul music throughout. He spoke of the ‘crate digging’ process which involved spending hours listening to samples on a separate YouTube account. “That’s why that album took quite a while…I wanted a really specific sound for it”. For instance, an unexpected influence was air travel as he recalls making the beat for “Hurt and Misery” on his commute home from university in Leicester. “It didn’t sound anywhere near as good when I’d landed and listened to it…I originally want ginghams to put it on the album then I released that snippet on Twitter and it got quite a good response so I thought fuck it”.
The future for cbakl is very much looking busy but fruitful. While he is known for his beat-making, he also hasn’t written off any potential vocal appearances on a track. “Definitely always been something I’ve wanted to do” he responds keenly, however, he seems reluctant to jump into something before he is fully satisfied with it, once again highlighting his discipline as a musician. “I want to do it but you sit down and you’re shit at it”, he goes on to paraphrase a quote, “You need to wait until your taste and your skill are on the same level.” While he is aware of how this contradicts the “just fucking do it” mindset which got him to where he is now with production, his collective Class Craic Records are working on an album where a vocal appearance may occur on a track, as he gently hints, “We’ll see what happens with that”. Class Craic Records is an collective of Irish artists and for cbakl it is a collaborative space where they are “learning from each other”. He references the book “How to Think and Grow Rich” and one of its ideas of a “Mastermind Group”. “If you’ve a great team behind you, that’s like a mastermind principle”.
There is a real desire in cbakl to soak up as much information as possible, to facilitate him and others through Class Craic Records as self sustaining artists which is a theme currently in the local music scene which is less looking abroad for validation, and instead validating each other through support and collaboration. Long may it continue.
“Wisdom Is Misery” was released on August 2nd.
You can read the rest of our coverage of the Northern Ireland Hip Hop and Rap scene on our dedicated Momentum page.