‘By 27 I promised myself I would have my first album, which ended up not happening. But I’m realising now that your prime is as long as you are getting better, and at 30 I’m still getting better.’

Nick Donnelly, a music video director from the UK who has worked in New York City with Hip-Hop legends such as Method Man and Ruff Ryders, spoke to BAKKO, for Generation W as we discuss the first live music show in New York City for the British platform GW on 3rd October at Rockwood Music Hall. The upcoming show is a coming of age event for Bakko, a Brooklyn based musician born in Georgia in Europe who went viral with millions of people seeing a freestyle she made at 18, and now 30 she has been working two jobs in the city of New York while preparing her debut album. The record connects her upbringing in Georgia and her development with an underground jazz scene in New York City, all thanks to stumbling across a night in the city put together by Grammy nominated musician Ray Angry from The Roots.

GW: Working in a coffee shop in New York City, do you meet a lot of famous people?
I meet lots of creative people. One time a photographer came in (called Parsons) and asked me if I was an artist because I looked creative, and he then offered to take photos of me. He’s photographed Jay-Z, Kendrick Lamar, J Cole and so many people.You never know who you are going to meet in a coffee shop in New York. I met Action Bronson as a barista, I never told him that I was supposed to work with him when I was 18.
When I was 18 Dante Ross called me, he had seen a video I had made in Pittsburgh that had gone viral and he was really bigging me up. He said I reminded him of Alicia Keys; that was a huge compliment. I did meet him, in his office in Warner Bros. with my mother. At the time I had really bad anxiety and I think that’s why things might not have worked out, I was dealing with a lot in my personal life. They booked a hotel for us, I remember this really cool office, I think Fallout Boy was in the building that day too. I just remember though I didn’t prepare for it, at all. I don’t think I even sang a full song, and I don’t think I sung it well but he did say he still wanted to send me over paperwork. Later that week he text me a picture of Action Bronson, who I had never heard of at the time, and said he wanted for us to collaborate. Nothing ended up happening, I think I was too scared to reach out to him so I never followed up and that was that.

GW: It was a rap freestyle you did? Your ambitions were to be a rapper?
Bakko: No, it was like rap, and then singing. At the time that’s what everyone was looking for. It was cringey looking back, the video that went viral was taglined saying a famous white female rapper had competition. It was this era where people were signing white female rappers, and I think that helped the video get viral. It was natural for me, I was in a Hip-Hop phase, I would freestyle with my friends, we would sing, smoke, and I would just always get into rapping.

GW: The video you recorded was at high school?
Bakko: Yeah, the same high school that Wiz Khalifa and Mac Miller went to. The kid who recorded it, I think he was from Brooklyn but lived in Pittsburgh, he always had a camera on him. I was just out there chilling with friends, and he came up to me and asked me if I could rap or sing, and so I did, someone backed me up using his hands to drum a beat on the table. He posted that video on the internet, I didn’t find out until later when someone else told me it was on the internet.
I had just come back from Georgia at the time, I did not want to go back to school. I was held back a year,and I didn’t want to go back to school and repeat a year so I ended up going to an online school. It worked out because my father decided to move us from Pittsburgh to New Jersey. I stayed a week longer in Pittsburgh when my parents left, I was not doing good, hanging out with the wrong crowd. Moving to Atlantic City really grounded me.
When I got to Atlantic City I went to community college, that’s when Dante Ross reached out, it’s when other people reached out too. Someone who had credits with Andre 3000… And then lots of producers around New Jersey and I would travel around New Jersey making songs because I was independent and could.

GW: What were the moments that grounded you the most in your 20s after that brief brush with what could have been fame at an early age?
Bakko: At 23 I would travel every Tuesday from Atlantic City into New York and then be in the studio from 12pm until 9pm and then travel back to Atlantic City. When I was younger I thought it was so easy for things to just happen and it didn’t go how I planned. In 2018, my grandmother passed away and so I went back to Georgia to see my family and while there I did some underground shows, and then I spent 14 days in Amsterdam making music with some jazz musicians and that inspired me to make music again. That time in the US we were making pop music that I had to make every Tuesday without fail, and in Georgia and Europe I was just kicking it with underground musicians and it was such a different energy.

GW: Do you feel that creative vibe still now while being independent in New York?
Bakko: I really started being active in New York in my twenties, I moved to the city to start working a retail job selling phones and now I work in two coffee shops. New York has been really active for me since 2018 and getting back from Georgia. I was invited to a club in New York and I fell in love with it straight away. They have music jam sessions every Monday, it’s called Producer Mondays. I wasn’t actually there on a Monday but the first time I went to that club I met a manager there and she asked me what I did, and when I told her I sing, she told me I needed to check out the Mondays. I never forgot that so I went and checked it out. I sung there, and I clicked with everyone, I found my place, my community. That was where my journey began. I did a song with someone from there, the song is called ‘At Least I’ve Got My Song’ – during the pandemic the producer moved to Canada and signed to T-Minus who is Drake’s producer.
I met so many people through that club, then when the pandemic happened I moved out of New York and back with my family and with the stimulus money I bought Logic and a laptop and a microphone and I taught myself how to record and that’s when I started recording my own demos. Originally I was supposed to do the album with my friend Steve but he moved to Canada so I ended up doing the album with my friend who was the audio engineer at that club, Caio who is the producer on this new work.
When I was a young girl in Georgia, I first wanted to be a fashion designer but then I started to learn to play music, and one of the first songs I ever learnt to play on guitar was Joss Stone ‘Right To Be Wrong’. Ray Angry who put together Producer Monday’s also worked with Joss Stone and I got to meet her during the recording of the Producer Mondays album recordings at Pinch Recording and tell her that. Ray also took me to The Roots picnic, it was just amazing to be around these big artists. I was losing hope in 2017, but 2018 I regained it again when I discovered this live Jazz scene in New York. Ray plays the keys on my record ‘Come and Go’.

GW: Was it loneliness and mortality that got you searching for a new community
Bakko: Absolutely, I was 26, and by 27 I promised myself I would have my first album, which ended up not happening. But I’m realising now that your prime is as long as you are getting better, and at 30 I’m still getting better. I was just so inspired by the club, it’s called Nublu and it’s owned by a Turkish Jazz musician called Ilhan Ersahin. Ray obviously plays Hip-Hop and Jazz because of his background with The Roots but he also has a classical background, and that inspired me too. In 2020 I started getting into my own roots and I started getting into Georgian folk again. It’s embraced there, I performed Georgian music there. My 27th birthday was my first show there, it was right before the pandemic, February 4th.
What used to feed me was the promise of making it, now I just enjoy playing music and getting better as an artist. I think I like performing maybe even more than recording, I love the energy from the crowd.

GW: What kind of music are you going to be performing at our event together at Rockwood Music Hall?
I really relate to Joni Mitchell, the jazz community didn’t perhaps get her, the folk community perhaps didn’t fully understand her, she was just a multitude of things. That’s kind of how I am, folk is a big part of my influence but Hip-Hop is very much there too, jazz is there too.

GW: Do you consider yourself European or American?
I was born in Georgia, but my Dad got a job in the US, in Virginia and so at 6 years old we moved to the USA. I was happy at first in the US but I soon didn’t feel like I fitted in, everyone was blonde hair and blue eyes and I didn’t really look like everyone else and I started to realise that and I started to rebel and my mum sent me back to Georgia.

GW: Did you rebel because you wanted to go back to Georgia?
Bakko: I think so, I remember every time as a kid we would be back in Georgia, I didn’t want to leave. My parents moved from Virginia to Pittsburgh while I was back living in Georgia and when I came back it was different, the school was not in a great area but I liked it. People looked different there and I finally felt unique, the kids called me ‘Georgia’. Eventually I started to really like it in the US. Now I’m a lot more sure of myself now, and settled in Brooklyn, New York and I’m not comparing myself to others. I’m enjoying it, I think that’s the most important thing right?