Bakar is quite simply one of the most exciting artists in Britain right now. Resisting categorisation during his steady growth into the spotlight, he offers all the lyrical power of a rapper, the virtuosic poise of a producer and the pop craft of a singer-songwriter. Following two show-stopping mixtapes, cosigns from several members of music royalty, modelling campaigns with Louis Vuitton and Prada, and a single that topped a Billboard chart in the US, he’s now preparing to send shockwaves around the world with the followup to his 2022 debut album Nobody’s Home.
With a mum from Tanzania and a dad from Yemen, Bakar — full name Abubakar Baker Shariff-Farr — grew up in Camden, north London. His father was largely absent, leaving his mum to raise him and his younger brother on Choice FM, R&B CDs and the Quran. During trips back to Tanzania, Bakar first stepped foot a music studio thanks to his uncle, who ran a local record label. He describes those trips as deeply humbling, renewing his appreciation for the life he had in London.
He started studying at state school, but his mum was concerned about his progress. “I wasn’t like wiling out to the point where it was like ‘He has to go’, but I think you could see my trajectory wasn’t amazing where I was,” he says. “And I think my mum just wanted me to get away from distraction, cos I was an easily distracted kind of human.”
So she sent him to boarding school, where he made new friends and broadened his horizons. From the age of about 13 he’d been into Madlib’s Quasimoto projects, J Dilla, Dipset and the early rumblings of London’s nascent grime scene, but his new schoolmates introduced him to bands like the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and British indie acts like the Maccabees. Soon he was making music of his own, cutting up samples of King Krule and Bombay Bicycle Club records on Garage Band and posting the results on Soundcloud anonymously.
He announced himself to the UK music scene in 2017, self-releasing his official debut single ‘Big Dreams’ — a fast, catchy work of post-punk that sounded like nothing else around. A string of singles followed, before the 2018 mixtape BADKID, made with producer Zach Nahome in what was to become a fruitful partnership. In 2019 Bakar dropped ‘Hell N Back’, an infectious, utterly irresistible single that eventually reached #1 on Billboard’s Adult Alternative chart. The Will You Be My Yellow? EP came soon after, showing off a more varied, experimental sound and featuring a collaboration with Dominic Fike.
Famous voices — Elton John, Virgil Abloh, Skepta — started expressing their fondness for Bakar’s music. But it did little to phase him. “People act like those are the only three people that fuck with me!” he says. “It’s nice to have artists you respect who like your shit, but it’s never the making of you as an artist.”
The fashion industry came calling too. Having worked as a model when he was growing up, Bakar was a natural fit when Virgil Abloh asked him to walk at his debut Louis Vuitton runway show in 2018, and again in 2019 — alongside Kid Cudi, Playboi Carti and A$AP Nast. He also modelled for Prada’s A Gift to Give campaign in late 2019, but once again remains grounded, explaining that he’s always felt “more into style than fashion”.
2022 brought the debut album Nobody’s Home, a collection of darker meditations on Bakar’s constantly evolving sound. Combining acoustic guitar licks and swinging rhythms with lyrics about identity, politics and mental health, the album saw Bakar exploring subject matter close to his heart. But he never saw it as a conscious decision. “I might reflect something to do with life that’s intrinsically tied to politics, but I never wanted to be a political artist,” he says. “I think the only responsibility I have is to be honest about what’s going on, within me and around me. I get
messages from people about how certain songs helped them and got them through tough times or even in the most extreme cases walked them off a ledge, so I’m really glad to be able to offer that service.”
In 2023 he’s planning the release of his next album Halo, the work of a grown man who’s no longer a bad kid. Bakar’s confidence is sky-high and his ambitions are even higher. “I just wanna be a great,” he says. “When it’s all said and done, I want them to put me in that conversation.”