In only five years, Lincoln rapper HAKIM has cultivated one of the area’s most prolific music catalogs. It spans boom-bap Jay-Z worship, DOOM-esque wordplay and a consistent focus on the come-up.
But until now, he has never been all that vulnerable.
HAKIM released his 17th project, “El Morado: The Movie By HAKIM,” on March 24, consisting of 13 tracks and appearances from New Jersey rapper Fatboy SSE and HAKIM’s labelmate, Vono. The album’s core revolves around trap rap, similar to some of HAKIM’s previous projects, but this time with dreamier instrumentals and a deeper message than most other trap.
By combining the ever-more-popular trap beat with a tie-in from cinema, HAKIM raps about the impactful events in his life, and he shows that he has something of his own to bring to the world of rap.
HAKIM stresses this project be treated as if it were a movie. He expects the listener to sit through the entirety of the album like they would in a theater for a film. While these tracks certainly have value as singles, they definitely have a specific story to tell. In these stories, the Lincoln artist raps about his life coming up in the rap scene, issues with his family and why he keeps grinding day in and day out.
“Opening Scene” begins the album with a short, minute-long monologue from HAKIM, prefacing the project. He refers to it as “a movie that is supposed to be listened to uninterrupted.” He invites the listener to indulge in the vice of their choice, and to sit back and take in the music.
“The Purple” is the only other minute-long track, also another monologue. However, this one is voiced by a woman reading a poem in Spanish. In English, the poem describes the color purple as having properties similar to duality. Some examples the woman gives is that it is hot and cold, pure and corrupt; it is of both worlds drifting in and out. This track foreshadows the events HAKIM will describe later in the album, some just as positive as the others are negative.
“Early Winter” featuring Fatboy SSE starts with Fatboy acknowledging HAKIM as the only hot rapper coming from Nebraska. He has a conversation with HAKIM about how you never know who is watching you grind and that he just has to keep working because someone out there is waiting to make him big.
In the track’s first verse, HAKIM describes working toward his dream of becoming a rapper and the amount of effort it requires to make any progress in the rap game. The second verse is HAKIM proving his dedication, saying he’s put his whole life into this dream. Ending the verse with hard bars, he talks about how even when he gets off track, he still finds his way back.
On “Nine,” the album’s sixth track, HAKIM talks about the nine members of his family and the relationships he has with them now. HAKIM mentions the impact his three older brothers had on him and how each one guided him in some way. But for some reason or another, he doesn’t currently speak to any of them.
He also claims he gets his work ethic from his father, who was always working. HAKIM then becomes apologetic toward his two younger brothers and sister, who he feels were all too young to comprehend his parents’ messy marriage. While he wishes he could go back to fix these things, he gives them a message that living in their past only inhibits their future.
Sitting at ninth in the track listing is the title track at a whopping 13 minutes long, putting Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” to shame. This song tells a story of a trip HAKIM took with one of his brothers and his sister to the Dominican Republic. It begins with the two brothers waiting for their sister to show up at the airport together, but they head to their bed-and-breakfast to wait since she was taking too long. This is when HAKIM begins to notice the cultural differences in the Dominican Republic compared to the United States, such as not having access to any hot water while showering. He says in that moment he had a greater sense of perspective.
The next day, the three of them take a tour into the capital of Santo Domingo with their guide Ramon. After a day of touring, they ask Ramon where they can find better Dominican weed, as they had not come across anything good yet. Once they get something good to smoke and want to head back to the B&B, the vibe changes. HAKIM and his sister notice a motorcycle with no lights had been following them. His sister, who may have just been paranoid, he says, demands to stop at a gas station. She starts yelling that they are in danger, so much so that police arrive. The police agree to escort them all to safety but notice the roach they had from earlier. This makes HAKIM think Ramon set them up, but he still pays him for driving them all around Santo Domingo back at the B&B. It leaves HAKIM questioning if he was just too faded or if there really was a reason to be suspicious. This left HAKIM unsure, no longer as confident as he was with his instincts about people anymore.
“Big Pimpin” with Vono is a nice energetic breath of fresh air after the previous track’s intense story and requires less of an attentive ear to capture the entirety of the song. This is when the album is most similar to modern trap rap, where the rhymes are all about how good their raps are: “Engine in my ear shifting/mind in motion like pistons/been had drive no ignition.” And, of course, lyrics about spending money and the ease of finding women when one is a rapper.
“Solidified” closes out this cinematic experience with HAKIM rapping the whole song in what appears to be a single take. He talks about why he’s staying in Nebraska instead of moving somewhere “with more clout” and all he has done to get where he is. His rhymes flow so clean and precise toward the end of the track, rapping about how he has successfully secured a spot for himself by working for what he gets and that he never had any advantages putting him ahead. “Was fitting Nike on the customers/was when I learned to keep them all in check that's a valuable lesson,” he rapped.
HAKIM took a huge leap creatively on “El Morado,” and it paid off. Providing some of the most clever bars I have heard yet in 2019 is impressive, and “El Morado” is just more evidence of HAKIM’s ever growing talent and music abilities.
While I wasn’t expecting a cinematic experience from a trap rap album, I have to say I quite enjoyed this one. HAKIM took what was special about himself, not the fact that he was from some flyover state, but that he had life experiences worth talking about. My hope is for more experimental rap like this to get the recognition it deserves, as long as hard beats with 808’s continue to dominate the airwaves.