The Greatness Of Hawk House Will Never Be Forgotten

Words: Jesse Bernard

Lately, I’ve been thinking about purpose and what that means in the context of an artist and the work they’re drawn to create. Hawk House, the jazz-leaning rap outfit from London, had a purpose and 2014’s A Handshake To The Brain, their debut album, was just that—an ode to escaping babylon. The album opens with “Grey Matter”, a bleak but witty narrative on life in London and being stuck in this monotonous, steel grey city. Four years on, has the mood really changed and isn’t escaping babylon the dream?

The group may not be around at present but like the experimental neo-soul group Lucy Pearl, maybe Hawk House inadvertently created something in a moment that would last an age. Their legacy lies in nostalgia and, if you’re a fan, there’s a vibrant energy they release through the experimental philosophies that bind the trio together. A Handshake… follows the narrative of ‘Marvin’, and his daily rituals and navigations of life. On “The Nervous System (Topic 4)”, the events reach a climax and now he’s involved in something he doesn’t want to be in. And while Hawk House present this story in the topics, they subsequently show a desire to seek growth in the experiments. The album is contemporary and relevant because of its ability to remain grounded while imagining for the world Hawk House exist in.

London has only become more bleak and as a young working-class, black minority creative, things are only that much more harder with further creative funds being cut and dissolved. In context, it’s impossible for A Handshake To The Brain to not mean so much more to us than it did in four years ago, because the creation of it was so intrinsic to living in a city such as London. It invokes a reaction out of listeners and allows you to peel back a new layer of it on each listen, and its reverence grows as time goes on.

Underground legacy is sometimes that much harder to achieve, as there’s a heightened reverence with your art that fans often possess. Hawk House were able to achieve that because they truly permeated a harmonious energy through their music; they remained unbound by orthodox approaches to creating melodies, leaning on the spoken word-inflected rap style of Demae, and the grime vocal-inspired Sam and Eman.

Music is as much about synchronicity among those making it just as much as it is giving you something to bop your head to. Lucy Pearl is a great representation of synchronicity between artists being much more important than creating music for the sake of it. There’s no doubt that if Raphael Saadiq, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Dawn, D’Angelo and Joi were to recreate that moment in 2000 it would be nostalgic, but it may not necessarily hold up, as comebacks often fail to. People come and go, and the difficulty with groups is ensuring everyone is drawn to creating. That could possibly be where Hawk House are at right now, and while there’s still hope for a return, the landscape has changed a lot in four years. The space they left is now being occupied by the likes of Little Simz and Loyle Carner, but that’s not to say there wouldn’t be room for them today.

By today’s standards, Hawk House would be categorised as alternative rap, perhaps more aptly as neo-soul. Unbound by genres, Hawk House were abstract and experimental, able to switch up styles mid-song almost as though they were freestyling in the booth. Songs such as “Grow (Topic 2)” fit within London’s new wave of jazz artists emerging from the underground, and that’s what legacy does—it finds a way for what’s been and gone to find a place in today’s cultural landscape and remain influential. Nowadays, Demae is still experimenting and making music as Bubblerap on SoundCloud. Though it’s mostly rough covers, it perhaps reinforces that until the time is right, Hawk House—while everlasting—are not currently present.

With the propensity in which streaming allows us access to new material, time isn’t always of the essence and in art, it can create something much more memorable. Maybe Hawk House were never meant to be and they existed but for a moment? Who knows if they’ll return in the same form, but one thing I’ve learned is that some groups and artists never truly die if their work still holds the same purpose years later. Hawk House are both timely and timeless, which is where untouchable legacies often reside.


Posted on February 20, 2018