On July 23rd 2010, Drake and his crew were out at dinner in Saskatoon, Canada. Deep into the rappers first ever headline tour, Away From Home, his first studio album, ‘Thank Me Later ‘was certified platinum that day. Baka, long-time confidant and security detail received a call before returning and relaying the news to Drake and long-time OVO fixture, Niko, that his son was just born. The boy’s response was one of jubilation, before telling Baka he should name his son Milli, after a million records sold. Little did we know that 8 years later, Milli would be the inspiration behind OVO artist Baka Not Nice’s debut project, ‘4Milli’, hosting one of the most jarring rap-hits this year has heard, ‘Live Up To My Name’.
Whilst tact may be seemingly forgone in the smash single, energy is most certainly not. Such could be said for the project as a whole, although remnants of sentimental storytelling and piercingly stirring vocals remain throughout. The project, as Baka later explained to me, is one of intent. It’s an introduction, a documentation of his first step into the ever sought after real estate of hip hop. Yes his artistry maybe still in it’s adolescence, but his story, his persona, his name, is not.
We take our seats in the end suite of the 4thfloor at Nobu Hotel, Shoreditch. Baka is wearing a silky navy blue OVO tracksuit, with two thick golden chains around his neck, a B for Baka, and the iconic OVO owl. I receive a warm welcome, as he places down his Hennessey and puts out the blunt, sun glasses still in place. “I come from a music background, my father plays guitar, he’s a musician and also sings. Music has always been in my household” he begins. “Did I know I’d be an artist, did I know I was going to rap? No. Was it the plan? No. I knew that I wanted to do something with music, I wish I could sing, I think it’s amazing, because you can touch so many people with it, not saying that rap can’t do so either. I don’t know, but it’s just a different vibe. I never knew what I was going to do. I thought maybe I was going to open up a label one time, I didn’t know what, I just knew something was going to happen.”
Baka made his own musical debut on Drake’s 2013 ‘Nothing Was The Same’, appearing on the outro of ‘From Time’, as well as making further appearances on 2017’s ‘More Life’, with the ‘Free Smoke’ outro and adlibs on ‘Gyalchester’. With mention to the iconic “I might declare it a holiday as soon as Baka get back on the road” drop on ‘IYRTITL’s ‘Know Yourself’ in addition to countless other shouts in between, it’s clear to hear, Baka’s presence is one of stature in the OVO camp. “I got that little, you know, bug from back then, but even then I didn’t know…” he emphasises speaking on his journey towards becoming a fully fledged artist. “I was definitely in the environment because I was always with him [Drake], but when things like that happened; it was basically just a phone call like ‘yo I need you to do something for me’. Cus maybe he was just somewhere and like ‘Baka would sound crazy doing…you know.’ And then it just worked, every time we did something together it just worked, and it sounds crazy.”
I enquire as to whether his lack of defined direction in music at this point in his life affected his comfort in such an environment, he removes his glasses momentarily, “for some weird reason man…” thoughtfully, “I’ve always been comfortable. I’m not gonna’ lie to you, obviously before you hit any stage you’re going to have a bit of butterflies, but you’re supposed to…if you don’t, I think something’s wrong [chuckles].”
Baka’s official singing to OVO as an artist in June 2017 marked the culmination of several years of hardship and grit. The infamous video of the contract signing between Baka and Drake occurred at a night club in New York City. “It was a very defining moment in my life, my career,” he calmly explains. I continue to ask if he had expected the moment to ever arrive. “There were speculations… and I’m gonna say it like that because you know, things don’t happen right away all the time. Things don’t happen as fast as you might want it to happen all the time. So you know, I was a little sceptical, not towards my brother or anything like that, just sceptical towards the business. I was told something…” his pitch heightens, “…and I was waiting for it to come to fruition.”
Just three days after singing to OVO, ‘Live Up To My Name’ was released. The track, which was the first of three to precede ‘4Milli’, landed Baka his first hit, infiltrating the Canadian Hot 100 chart whilst amassing over 70 million collective streams. “We were in London and I was at the studio, Giggs was there as well…” he says, setting down his glass as he begins to tell the story of how the track came about. “Beats were just being played, and the ‘Live Up To My name’ beat, that beat was played. I had listened to maybe like 15 before that, just vibing you know, trying something here and there, I was all over the place. Then I heard that beat, I was like ‘Yo, stop it! Wind that up, put it on the thing right now, and let’s go. Then I left London and we went back to Canada, and I was in the studio one night, at 40’s studio, Drake was as well, in the other room. At one point he came in there and was like ‘What is this?’. I was like ‘Yeah listen to this,’ he energetically recalls. “He was like ‘Yo this is crazy’.
I’m a student to Drake. He’s my teacher…and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Whilst there was speculation later that year of the song being co-written by Drake amongst others, this is not something Baka shied away from as he later explains. “Basically in a nutshell, there’s always gonna be a teacher, and there’s always a student. I’m a student to Drake. He’s my teacher…and there’s nothing wrong with that. So, we basically sat down in the studio that night, and he showed me, helped me, to create and build this song. We made that song together. I’m putting that on record, now. And why wouldn’t I want to learn from my teacher how to create such a powerful song that’s going to touch so many people. I learnt so much from that.”
I commend him on his honesty, before asking if his expectations for the track were exceeded. “I knew within myself that the song was a really crazy powerful song, you know. But for me to sit here in front of you and say ‘oh yeah I knew it was gonna’ do these numbers and…no I didn’t know’. I’m new to… even accepting the fact that people are calling me an artist. It’s new to me.”
It is clear Baka’s focus is to document his journey and progression as an artist. The fact that his first project as an OVO artist, has no features also speaks volumes. Whilst he affirms there is undoubtedly opportunity for them, the temptation never surpasses the humility of those around him. “I want people to like my music for me. Yeah, I was tempted, but then I was brought back to earth by people around me, people in my camp. Every song I make, I always go to them, and if they don’t approve, you guys will never hear it,” his boys sit at the back table nodding silently.
I ask where the energy in his records comes from, the silence in the room is penetrating. His tone lowers, ‘”You’re the first person that’s asked me that question and I’m gonna give you an honest answer. I have a lot of built up aggression hmm…like you know, I don’t hide the fact that I did time. I’m not… mad anymore, at any one person or any one individual, I just have an anger inside of me, like a fire… that I had to deal with for all those years, as an innocent man, and now I have an outlet. That’s why I guess it comes across like that.”
Progression is an amazing thing if you can watch it and see it grow. That’s what I want with my music.
Animatedly he explains, “I’ve managed to channel it, because I can control it now, before I couldn’t control it… I was just sporadic, I was all over the place. That’s why I would end up in and out of prison, because there was no control. Now I have a grip on it.”
Our conversation draws to a close shortly before Baka and his crew head out to link up with UK Rap legend Giggs in the studio, a place where Baka is now all too familiar with. His parting words are somewhat not only of fundamental importance to his journey so far, but also of his yet to be trodden path. “The energy on stage is priceless, but… if I don’t be in the studio, I can’t get on that stage. A lot of people do it. They hit the stage, and forget about the studio. You gotta’ stay here. That’s what I learnt from the big dog, Drake. You gotta’ stay there. You gotta’.”
Listen to 4Milli (OVO Sound) here