Selected by: James Keith
Photography: Jamie Drew

Name: Akes

Where He’s From: Wolverhampton

Genre: UK Rap

File Next To: Jaykae, Hitman, Deadly, C4

When He Started: “I used to do drumming lessons when I was in primary school, so I must have been 9 or 10. I’m 27 now, so thinking about it, that’s nearly 20 years ta rasclart!”

Sounds Like: “Merging energy and substance, capturing the vibrancy of the grime subculture I’ve come up on while blending the pain into it. That’s where the whole concept of Akes x Pains came from.”

First Music That Inspired Him: “I’d have to go old-school, you know: Lord Of The Mics made me want to be an MC, but Lethal Bizzle’s “Pow”, More Fire Crew’s “Oi” and them type of riddims there made me realise it could be a real career.”

Forged in the fire of the West Midlands, Akes (fka Akesman) came up in the region’s thriving grime scene of the mid-2010s, sparring alongside the likes of Jaykae, C4, Hitman and the rest. Although his sound has evolved since those days, it’s still central to what he does. You just have to look at Sir Spyro’s West Midlands set for 1Xtra last year. “That was a wild story to look back on,” Akes tells TRENCH. “How that happened was organic, and being able to represent Wolverhampton in a room full of legends—C4, Deadly, Hitman, Ace1, Jaykae—that set there’s a legendary set, so for me to participate in that was a surreal feeling.”

Nowadays, Akes’ sound has evolved to incorporate, as he puts it, “the vibrancy of the grime subculture I’ve come up on while blending the pain into it. That’s where the whole concept of Akes x Pains came from.” It’s been an ongoing evolution—he still makes plenty of party bangers—but the general trend towards more lyrical, more thoughtful rhyming really notched up a gear in the past couple of years, particularly when he dropped the ‘man’ to become simply Akes. “At the time when I was trying to cross over, I had a conversation with DJ Biggoss from Birmingham, who convinced me to drop off the ‘man’. Becoming Akes represented a shift toward touching on more subjects with substance, which was especially important to me because I’ve got kids now.”

Akes & Pains stands as a proud achievement for the rapper and a big part of that comes down to keystone track, “Black & Proud”. Between the murder of George Floyd and everything else going on, it was a timely celebration of Blackness that came with a personal touch. Akes’ own grandmother featured prominently in the video, but perhaps just as special for him was the feature from NoLay, an MC he’d admired for years. “I didn’t ever think I’d be able to make a record like that,” he says. “So bulletproof. And obviously, working with Nolay, who I’ve always aspired to work with since seeing her on Channel U back in the day… and it’s not like it’s a throwaway song. That song can live on and on. I’d like to think it’s a timeless record.”

Like a lot of artists, especially those who’ve seen their fanbase grow during lockdown without being able to capitalise on it, Akes’ focus for the future is on live music. “I just wanna start doing some shows! I haven’t yet done a tour; I would love to do an Akes x Pains tour or a headline show and connect with the people in that way. Obviously in the current climate, that may be hard, but I wanna make it happen.” But his plans don’t focus just on himself: having suffered from Cerebral Palsy all his life, Akes also wants to “inspire other people with disabilities that do creative stuff. I want to be the voice of the people. Akes x Pains, that’s me, innit? I wanna use my journey, my life, my story to empower others.”

More power to him.

TRENCH Highlight...

Posted on August 31, 2021