Funk for the Future

Funk for the Future

Nick Hakim’s bracing and politically urgent new album Will This Make Me Good is a different kind of love music.

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When Nick Hakim sings, it’s as if he’s talking to you and no one else. There’s a certain comfort to his music, and across two EPs and his first full-length album, his songs impart the feeling of an intimate, closed-door talk with a dear friend. In his earlier work, like the 2014 EP Where Will We Go, his sound was more traditional—veering toward straightforward R&B cuts about heartbreak, romance, and sensuality. Three years later, on the LP Green Twins, his music took on a psychedelic aura. “Roller Skates,” “Miss Chew,” and “Slowly” borrowed the sounds of ’70s soul, down to the analog cassette hiss. In the best way, Green Twins played like a warped vinyl record you’d find in a cardboard box in your parents’ house or evoked that forgotten classic you snagged from a stoop sale because the cover looked cool. It spoke to Hakim’s creative charm: While he conjured a bygone era of experimental soul music, he took from the past without leaning too heavily on it. His art salutes legends like Shuggie Otis and Milton Nascimento, but it’s still very much Nick Hakim.

For his new album, Will This Make Me Good, the D.C.-born Hakim treks deeper into his retro aesthetic, compiling an LP of dusty tape loops, meditative chants, and lo-fi beats that, when paired with his rich falsetto, feels equally nostalgic and trippy, a kaleidoscopic mix of funk-infused soul informed by late ’90s Maxwell and Voodoo-era D’Angelo. This album presents Hakim as the despondent drifter in search of peace away from the chaos and nonsense he encounters in daily life. This is still love music, though not in the lustful sense. Throughout the album, he urges us to adore the planet, be one with our communities, and be mindful of the mental health of friends and strangers alike.

“Qadir,” a sweeping seven-minute epic dedicated to a late friend with that name, is the best summation of the album’s thematic focus, even if he’s exploring personal pain and US politics on other parts of the LP. It was the first song Hakim wrote for Will This Make Me Good, which set a pensive tone for the album. In announcing the LP, the singer said “Qadir” was his attempt to convey how his friend must have felt in isolated moments. And while the lyrics depict a man spiraling downward, the backing beat—a composition of hard drums, electric piano, strings, and flutes—ascends with each verse. Then there are the vocals: Hakim and a who’s who of experimental vocalists and producers (including We Are King’s Amber Strother, rising rapper-singer Pink Siifu, and beat-makers Nelson Bandela and KeiyaA), sing in unison like a gospel choir. It’s a stellar celebration of Qadir’s life and the album’s most captivating song. Exploring a similar theme, the track “Vincent Tyler” pays homage to another person who died, a Washington man who was shot 13 years ago in the city’s Northwest quadrant and left on the snowy ground in an alley. Here, Hakim sings, “I walked over slowly and prayed that he was sleeping / I tapped his foot three times, but nobody answered.” On “Qadir” and “Vincent Tyler,” Hakim presents the two men as tragic figures who died alone. It’s also an indictment of the groups and institutions that abandoned Qadir and Tyler and let them perish.

In Hakim’s view, we’ve all detached from one another, and on the album opener, “All These Changes,” he laments how that lack of community solidarity has led to us trifling with the planet. As he sees it, climate change is just Mother Earth raging against all the pollution we’ve dumped into the atmosphere. “Cities burning, tides that rise,” he sings, “pretty soon we’ll be underwater.” On paper, those lyrics read almost apocalyptic, yet on the song, beneath a delicate blend of strings and bass drums, his proclamation doesn’t seem so alarming. Instead, he likens our demise to a rebirth of sorts. “Pretty soon we’ll be drifting in the ocean, and we’ll grow scales so we can breathe.”

When he isn’t talking about the earth, he’s chastising American leaders who sell fear and drugs to its citizens as a way to control them. The title track’s beat sounds machinelike, as churning and pounding as a factory operating at full tilt. “Don’t give in to the master plan!” he exclaims. “Burn it down, light that shit up in flames.” The song and album as a whole mark a sharp creative turn for Hakim. Will This Make Me Good might sound messy and downright confusing. But it works, not just because it’s different but also because he manages to capture the joy, pain, and uncertainty of life itself.

Musically, it doesn’t have the same ease of Green Twins and Where Will We Go, yet there’s something beguiling about the way Hakim unpacks weighty subjects while maintaining the warmth of past work, even if deeper listening reveals his most riotous album to date. That he created something this frank is its own form of protest. Take the song “Bouncing”: Here he describes a scene of “lonely strangers marching through the snowstorm trying to get to work on time.” Though this summarizes any major city, “Bouncing” seems to address New York, where Hakim now lives. Bad weather tends to make the city feel desolate, and when you add the stress of subway commuting and working to make rent, the city can feel like a pressure cooker. Throughout Will This Make Me Good, it’s clear that he is tired of, well, everything and he’s fighting to feel human again. “I just wanna get back and support my family,” he shouts on “Drum Thing.” “Fuck all the other shit. That’s all that matters to me.”

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