Yorkshire is known for a great many things but hip-hop probably isn’t one of them. And yet, hailing from Sheffield and making it known every change he gets, fast-spitting MC AK is trying to change the game alongside a dynamic collective of fellow Yorkshire artists under the name SCUMFAM.
When it comes to UK hip-hop, its difficult to deny grime’s grip on today’s scene, shaping international perceptions that are now dominated by the likes of Wiley, Stormzy and more. It’s the UK’s sound, but not only that, it’s typically the sound of London, dominated by MCs hailing from Hammersmith to Stratford. And yet, whilst London is undoubtedly putting out grime music of truly impressive quality and scale, talent lying elsewhere is falling to the wayside. But that’s all changing.
“With Sheffield, we’re pushing the Yorkshire movement and just rep’ing that. I see it in Leeds, I see it in Bradford, I see it in Huddersfield, so it’s definitely possible we can up the Yorkshire scene,” AK explains.
He was 14 when he first started rapping, coming up on garage and the likes of Dizzee Rascal and So Solid Crew. Since then, he’s built a reputation for spitting bars at lightning speed and that’s how he got the name AK… that and it also being his initials backwards.
“It stuck with me from a kid and, since then, I’ve just kinda kept with it.”
But along with his fast flow, AK brings an often-undervalued aspect to his music – his Yorkshire upbringing and all that comes with it.
“There’s loads of different elements: different accents, different lifestyles. Because it’s just a different lifestyle altogether.
“Where up north’s not really known for catchy hooks, it’s more lyricism and especially on grime. So it’s completely different.”
But it’s not just about being from Yorkshire; for AK, representing where he’s from in the music he produces is just as key.
“It brings in the attention to the city, county or whatever. It’s definitely important to let everyone know where you’re from, what you’re doing and why you’re doing it”.
But he’s not alone in elevating Sheffield and its growing grime scene. AK’s been a part of the Sheffield City Underground Movement for over seven years now which has been increasingly making waves on the national scene.
“That was the whole aim of SCUMFAM really. Put everyone’s eggs in one basket and see what we can do as a collective. If you need to do your thing off the side that’s fine, cool. But as a collective, we all have to go together and say that we’re part of this.”
But going alone isn’t easy. Making rap a career means devoting time to perfecting your art but all the while keeping the bills paid. Balancing work with music whilst trying to break out, AK says its about creating an audience that can support the transition to taking it full-time.
“It’s not really about getting big, it’s about getting your following up and that’s it. It’s about when you want to take it professional, having fans behind you that can make it work.
“I realised before it’s not about having hundreds of followers or a million plays, you need a good following that’s gonna buy into you. It looks good on paper, but unless you’ve got a record label behind you then you really haven’t got nothing, just an image.”
But AK does have an image – an upcoming spot on an undisclosed Netflix show and the MC’s online notoriety is building. Like grime itself, AK is constantly peaking.
“Grime will always be here for us, because it’s UK’s music, and I think it’s embedded now that much that it’ll never leave and it can only ever expand. It’s just an ever-growing thing.”
That said, there’s still room for criticism in the current hip-hop space. Whilst grime might be a modern development, that doesn’t mean it – along with every other modern sub-genre – is right to lose what made hip-hop special in the first place.
“There’s a lot of good MCs out there but I prefer what rap used to be, the lyricism and even how people would educate people through music back then but nowadays its not about educating, it’s more a hype now.
“Before music was educational as well as enjoyable. I definitely think rap’s lost its way in that sense. There’s not enough J Coles, too many 6ix9ines.”
For AK though, his focus is on continuing to make hip-hop that represents Sheffield, Yorkshire and the UK as a whole, challenging preconceptions of London’s grime dominance and rising up together alongside the entire SCUMFAM collective.
“I’m loving it at the minute and with everything I’ve been seeing, I’m looking forward to keeping this momentum going.”