Words By: Matthew Griffiths
AKS gives us in-depth insights into the narrative of the “Parity” video and deeper meanings behind 5 lyrical takes from the track.
“Every pro has a con” is a quote that has continual daily relevance in the nuances of life. Within the families of parents and grandparents who emigrated to the UK decades ago, similar pros and cons can be observed when the younger generations are faced with making decisions about their career and environment. The expectations of others can be difficult to live up to, and while the grass may seem greener on the other side, those who have made it to that other side have a different story to tell. Mentioning these few themes barely scratches the surface of the depth of British rapper and producer AKS’ new single, “Parity”, on which he intelligently discusses how multiple generations are both united and separated by the desire for a better life for their children.
Produced by AKS himself, under the veiled moniker #3Letters, with live instrumentation from guitarist Adrian Remedy, bass player Benjamin Muralt, and keyboardist Charlie Stacey, ‘Parity’ is slick, soulful and honest. With a video shot on the southern coast of England, both the sound and visuals provide a breath of fresh air, setting itself apart from what I’m used to seeing from UK rappers.
Naturally, I was curious about the unique concept of a dad shooting a UK rap video at the beach with his son. But his first answer cleared up my curiosity about the beach. Initially, I’d thought this was a music video about moving from the city to the coast, but AKS revealed its true story –
“Not at all! We’re still London natives, but I’ll be real in saying that the older I get the less attached I feel to London, especially in light of becoming a parent. You start to consider which environments will give your kids the best opportunities to thrive, and I think for all that’s a really complex balancing act. The video was shot on a family staycation out in Bournemouth, which has a completely different pace of life and dynamic than the capital. It was nice to get away albeit for a week or so, but beyond that it makes you wonder what hold the city has on us? Venture out of the inner city locations (especially London) and you’ll notice how things are cheaper, house prices go down and the quality of life from an economic standpoint seems better. At least for me, it doesn’t feel like the same level of intensity when it comes to the “rat-race”, and there’s both good and bad in that. This environment breeds a spirit of urgency, drive & hustle, but it also breeds pressure and sometimes unrealistic expectations. At the same time, as a black father, the further out from the melting pot of cultures that inner cities can be, the more I’m conscious of us being a visible minority in these areas, and what that has the potential to come with. There’s so much more to consider, and all decisions seem like double edged swords.”
5 Lyrical Breakdowns From AKS on ‘Parity’
“Let me kick it off from the intro/ They’re like “Whagwan, where you been though?”
AKS: To audiences, I’m sure I come across as one of those artists that has dipped in and dipped out of the scene. I’ve got this thing about going away and living life experiences which is both a help to my writing and a hindrance to being visible and having music out consistently. I’m conscious of that, and of peeps asking where I’ve been. On the one hand, it means having to retread ground as an artist, but it also means I’ve got real experiences that I can speak to. I’ve been contemplating the term “Keeping it real” and so many of us associate it with depicting our street credibility (or the rep we once had) rather than reflecting the full spectrum of who we are, and where we may be in life now. I’m in a different stage in my life than 5-10 years ago, I’m a husband now, I’m a father, my thought process and opinions about things differ and I’m eager to talk from that perspective, and keep doing so as I evolve as a person and as an artist.
“I’ve been out here flying family colours, never thought you’d paint me as a prodigal,”
I’m not sure if this is reflective of other cultures, but speaking to my peer group of other British born African & Caribbean friends and those who’ve emigrated – it seems like there are common themes of difficulty or discord with our parents’ generation (especially that Father & Son dynamic). It’s funny because for a lot of us we make and have made decisions based on the notion of “family”, so it’s poetic in a sense when family don’t always see or take to that. For a lot of us being first or second generation in this country, we’ve seen our parents work super hard and struggle to provide us with the opportunity for better prospects, and that struggle is something that we’ve inherited.
I think a universal desire for most parents is that the starting point for their kids is beyond their own, and I have to believe that desire was no different for our parents. At the same time, because that needle has moved there’s a level of expectation and the feeling of being indebted that’s difficult to navigate. With life’s pressures just making enough to get by and then having some level of enjoyment is difficult [enough] as it is. On top of that most of us are in that space of wanting to make enough to pay them [our parents] back in some way and alleviate their burdens. The economics of that, and keeping up with the growing cost of living isn’t always that simple though. Beyond that, when we speak about the prospect of generating “generational wealth” as a goal, is that to pay it forward or backwards and in what proportion? I think that’s a difficult space which leaves people wanting whichever way you slice it; and is the basis of a lot of conflict between the generation which is our parents, and us. I also wonder how much that conflict will still be a thing in the world that our kids inherit from us.
“My contributions essential/ But outgoings don’t match the inflow”
AKS: This is layered. I can speak about myself as an independent artist representing an alternative to the common narrative, with a reflection of my real life and whether that’s considered commercially viable or not. How important that balance is to “the culture”. I can speak to being a parent and how much my presence and input into my son’s life makes a difference alongside the competing narrative that he takes from other points of reference – friends, family, music, tv, film, society at large and the stereotypes for us that seem to be propagated. I can speak to the expectations to help the older generation whilst trying to build for the future generations and how economically challenging that is. It’s multi-faceted, and in many ways the system is set up for us to stay in debt. There are questions about how we break out of that.
“I’ve got friends who are shackled to the ends we were trying to escape from/ The words that we sing, do they put the offspring in a better situation, dawg?/ Still…there’s tough things that we’ve gotta ask/ Do you really want a white picket fence with a garden, when your son’s the only black kid in the class?”
AKS: Over the course of my life I’ve had so many friends who love the ends, hell…I’ve been one of them! Not to say we shouldn’t rep where we’re from, I definitely do. But what I mean by that is there are urban stereotypes that we tend to want to embody when we come from specific inner-city backgrounds. When I was growing up (and I’m sure there are a lot of peeps living this right now) my motivations were “How do I get off the estate?”. Every decision was an economic one and whether it was being a diligent student or going on a move we balanced the risk against what financial liberation something would give us in both the long and short term, and whether it could potentially put us in a “better” environment.
I’ve been blessed enough to be able to go the whole academic route, learn a high value skill, get a reasonably paying job etc, and some of the homies have been able to better their standing via various other means. Recently though, I’ve begun to have conversations about whether those same environments and experiences with which we grew up, are the ones we want for our kids and also what alternatives could look like. There’s this idyllic picture of a white picket fence and a garden that most of us born & raised on inner-city council estates have grown up with, and I guess the question is, as black people who’ve grown up in cultural melting pots like London, what does acquiring some of those things come with?
Moving off ends, to a place where we’re more evidently the minority, that perceived change in economic standing can come with increased exposure to prejudices and racism. Is that what we want for our kids? Which one of us would be ok with our kids constantly being racially abused because we’re able to have a garden? That doesn’t seem like an even trade to me. There’s a 2018 short entitled ‘Black Sheep’ which tells the story of Cornelius Walker in the immediate wake of the murder of Damilola Taylor. His family (who lived 5 minutes away from where he was killed) made the difficult decision to move from Peckham to outside London, inadvertently they end up living on a predominantly white estate run by racists, which had violent and harrowing consequences for Cornelius and his family. I hope people have the chance to check it out. That’s a singular documented story out of many but it makes you question what’s the right choice? Like I said before it seems like all decisions are double edged swords.
“There’s family factory settings we’re deading to spare our kids eventualities”
AKS: I think life is hard in general. The same decisions we’re faced with are probably the same decisions that our parents were faced with and there’ll be a level of commonality when our kids are in our seats too. What’s important though is that we find the space to be able to enjoy our lives whilst helping to move the needle so that they begin at a point that’s further along. I’m very conscious of the struggles that we pass down to our children. What we don’t want is for them to face exactly the same challenges and often that means, challenging and changing our attitudes/behaviours especially those we ourselves have struggled with and/or found to be negative.
Some of those things are ingrained in us by default. From the food we eat, and how that impacts our health to our financial literacy and how and where we choose to spend our money. There are things we’ve got to analyse, adapt for the better and most importantly teach our children. There are beautiful and celebratory things about culture that need preserving, but there’s also things that can be negative and there’s a level of honesty that we’ve got to be willing to have about that. I’m quite sure that I have and will make my own mistakes as a parent but I’m resolved to the idea that there are some things with which the buck is going to stop with me and so should it be.
You can stream AKS “Parity” here.