Brisbane’s Music Man
Meet Frank “2Seconds” Aikins, the Ghanaian from Japan looking to make waves in Queensland’s music industry.
In 2016, Frank Aikins entered his first year at Tokyo’s Komazawa University. A few months later, Aikins was strolling through the city’s bustling Harajuku district — a black dot floating amongst a sea of lighter faces — when two teenagers flagged the native Ghanaian down, asking if it was really him. Aikins, who releases music under the name “2Seconds,” sheepishly admitted his identity and agreed to take a photo with his fans, students at his old high school in Saitama where framed newspaper clippings of the rap artist adorn the walls.
Encounters like this had become increasingly normal ever since Aikins’s 2015 breakout single “Rest of My Life” — a half-English-half-Japanese pop-rap crossover — grew his 1,500 Twitter followers into 38,000 seemingly overnight. He shortly followed up with another genre-bending hit called “One Day” in collaboration with American SoundCloud rapper Eddie Soul, which so intensified his popularity that Aikins began wearing a surgical mask in public to avoid such frequent street sightings. “In Japan, it’s normal to wear a mask when you have the flu, so I used to walk around town with my hat and a mask on even though I wasn’t sick or anything,” he explains. Despite his success, Aikins says he didn’t want people to recognize him all the time because he likes to be a “normal person.”
About a year later in June 2017, Aikins sat in his Brisbane, Australia apartment-turned-makeshift-studio — with a TV connected to speakers, a laptop, and mixing software — comfortably talking about his taste of moderate fame, mask off. His gold watch and bright red Gucci slip-ons stood out among the rest of his sleek, black ensemble. The now-23-year-old had just finished his first of two semesters abroad at the University of Queensland where he took classes like “Music and Technology” as well as courses about communications and law. He came here because he needed a break from his stressful life in Japan, but Australia totally changed his trajectory. At the end of the year, he would return to Japan in order to finish his education in Tokyo, but in 2018, Aikins has plans to dive into Australia’s music industry — though not through crafting his third album like he anticipated, but through a business venture unlike anything he’s ever done before.
Aikins’s pursuit of music started in childhood, back in his native Ghana. Born in the coastal Central Region, Aikins and his younger brother and sister moved into their grandparents’ house in Accra, the nation’s capital, at a young age when work relocated mom and dad to Japan. Out of Accra came Aikins’ stage name, 2Seconds, which happened just as fast as it sounds. One day during his junior year of high school, his “school father” — a senior advisor — called Aikins to his desk, encouraging his mentee to continue freestyle rap. According to Aikins, the older student told him, “From now on, your name will be 2Seconds,” and Aikins simply rolled with it. People often scratch their heads when he tells this story, but the rapper says the name “worked perfectly” for him. Both the name and its origin serve as a testament to the rapper’s spontaneous nature, making decisions guided by intuition.
When Aikins turned 17, his parents brought him and his siblings to join their new life in Japan. Aikins, who spoke five local languages plus English, couldn’t even say “good morning” in Japanese, but chance sat him next to his first manager of sorts on the flight there. By the time the plane landed, the man — who went by the name “Pop” — learned that Aikins could rap, and it wasn’t long before Pop began working with the young Ghanaian in his office. Pop shot a music video for him and uploaded it to YouTube, and he introduced Aikins to other industry contacts, including another new mentor named “Frank Guy” who taught Aikins how to produce his own music using Mixcraft software.
However, Pop had to walk away because Japanese recording studios don’t come cheap and Aikins’s family didn’t support his music career. His father, a highly respected man in their natal community, didn’t want his son rapping. Aikins doesn’t resent him for this — “I understand him perfectly,” he says — but he couldn’t obey his father’s wishes because his passion always pulled him back into music. “I stopped for some time, but I found myself getting back into it because it just doesn’t stop,” he explains. Determined to make it, Aikins pushed himself to produce his own music, first recording on phones and his laptop. Then he incorporated what Frank Guy taught him, watched additional YouTube tutorials, and researched, saved up, and bought instruments to work with. Within a year, Aikins had fully gotten the hang of producing his own beats.
While things with Pop didn’t work out, the video they made together helped Aikins meet his current manager, a fellow Ghanaian by the name of Gat Doe. Gat Doe knew one of the other guys in the video, looked up Aikins’s music on Soundcloud, and wanted to meet him. They hit it off immediately, and Aikins became affiliated with his record label, Gat Doe Nation. There’s no legal documents between them, but Aikins says the legitimacy of their relationship runs deeper than paper. “He’s like a big brother to me,” Aikins says, adding that Gat Doe even built him his own soundproofed studio complete with all the necessary equipment. Under Gat Doe’s wing, Aikins transitioned from making mixtapes to producing real records.
All of this happened while Aikins struggled through school; none of his high school credits from Accra transferred, so the would-be senior started high school all over again while learning the language. But after two years, he had become fluent enough to start performing and garnering some exposure. The first piece of publicity came after Aikins rapped one of his songs at the Saitama City Hall. The Japan Times interviewed him and ran a story about him in the paper. When Aikins saw that newspaper, he knew he had made waves. “You opened the Japanese newspaper, and there was this black guy’s face in there. It was like, I made it,” he recalls, grinning.
Over the next year, Aikins had earned a reputation as the guy in the newspapers, and by the time his high school’s annual festival of student concerts rolled around, his classmates’ anticipation to see him perform had built up to the point of bursting. At the festival, students vote for the best performance. The most popular winner in the school’s 58 years received 180 votes — a record Aikins smashed with 408. Still trying to process that he had just won, Aikins ran to the stage, and the crowd roared as the announcer told him to give an acceptance speech. All he could say was, ‘I don’t have anything to say. Yes!’” he yelled, raising both fists into the air. Telling this story now, Aikins gazes off into the distance as he talks, as if still looking out over that crowd with everyone cheering. As far as he knows, his record still stands.
As an artist, Aikins draws inspiration from musicians from all his cultural influences. As a proud Ghanaian, he admires his homeland’s musical legends from the 1980s up until now. “They’re not doing the kind of rap we’re doing. It’s a whole different kind of Ghanian music genre called ‘highlife,’” he says. The sound developed in the 1920s when Ghanians began applying the local Akan people’s melodies and rhythms to Western instruments, particularly jazzy horns and bands of guitars. Today, a new branch of synthesized dance high life has emerged, and hints of this sound can be heard in Aikins’s beats.
LISTEN: Ghanaian artists highlife music has a unique style, one that transcends generations as modern artists make it their own. Check out this mix of classic and current highlife songs, curated by Samvico Productions
Aikins’s involvement with the local music scene in Japan has also helped shape his sound, particularly by adding some pop elements to his songs. His most popular tracks include at least some verses sung in Japanese mixed in with his rapping. “Hip-hop culture’s not as huge there as in other places — it’s more of a pop culture — but it’s still there,” he explains. He has connections with a few Japanese artists he’d love to work with, including a female singer named Ai and a rapper named AK69. But of all his musical influences, American hip-hop has had the greatest impact on Aikins’ style. Some of his favorites include Lil Wayne, Dr. Dre, Kendrick Lamar, J Cole, Eminem, and DJ Khaled, especially his production ability.
With Gat Doe’s help, Aikins has released a few mixtapes and singles on iTunes and posted a few music videos on YouTube, but he hasn’t released any of his albums yet — including The View, Second Season, and a third nearly-completed set of tracks — because he doesn’t want to launch them without a business plan fully in place first. For several months, he had been preparing for all of the promotional efforts that come with such a major debut, but another opportunity grabbed Aikins’s attention in Australia, putting all of that on hold.
Brisbane presented Aikins with a lifestyle totally different from anything he ever knew before. In the past, he thought his hectic Tokyo world was the perfect life, but the less chaotic — yet still fulfilling — pace of Brissy taught him a new work-life balance he wants to maintain. “I never thought I’d find a place like that,” he says about the Queensland state capital. “It was a whole new dimension. You have time for work, school, and recreation.”
The shift began with a new friend named Nick Covington, a 20-year-old Australian who lived in Aikins’s apartment complex. When Covington and some friends hosted a small, spur-of-the-moment party at the apartment complex pool one day, he invited Aikins, who had just moved in, to join them. That fun, carefree day, neither of them could’ve imagined that this was the start of a business partnership. After months of hanging out as friends, Covington and Aikins found an opportunity to work together. Covington had no experience with music, but he used his hidden talent with a paintbrush to design the album cover for one of Aikins’ songs, and they began to imagine the possibilities of what they could do together.
As a student at UQ, one of Australia’s most prestigious universities, Aikins had access to the music faculty’s state-of-the-art studio equipment. He says that just one of the microphones he often used costed $50,000. However, even though Bigsound — the Australian music industry’s annual conference and concert — is hosted here, record labels have virtually no foothold in Brisbane. In fact, The Industry Observer‘s 2018 list of the best recording studios in Australia did not include a single one from Brissy. Currently, QMusic serves as the state’s music industry development association, providing networking opportunities, but it doesn’t quite function like a studio. And even in the face of QMusic’s existence, Aikins says all of his professors and classmates told him that there’s hardly any opportunities opportunities for aspiring artists in this city after graduation. Perplexed, Aikins kept asking, “Why?” So he and Covington came up with an idea: staring their own music group to work with local artists who don’t want to move to Sydney or Melbourne. “There’s not so many people doing what we’re bringing in Brisbane,” Aikins says.
As the two bounced ideas off each other, they came up with an entertainment company named August Music Group. Just like “2Seconds,” the name “August” came about purely because it made sense to them. “We just started liking the sound of it. That’s kind of how Frank and I both do things, just wing it basically. If we like something, we just go with it,” similarly-minded Covington says. Aikins adds that the connotations of the word August — courage and dignity, for example — seemed to fit their personalities.
In addition to his artistic abilities, Covington brings his local connections to the table. Having lived in Brisbane for several years, Covington knows a handful of event planners, business owners, and club managers who could help with the promotional aspects, and of course, Aikins intends to reach out to his network of student artists he met at UQ. “We gotta get the young ones on board, get them all in the studio,” he says. He has full confidence that they can foster a thriving music industry in a city like Brisbane. “The internet doesn’t care where you are. Just put it out there, and show people what you’re doing,” he explains. Through August Music Group, he can help others like himself get recognized for their talent.
But right now, Aikins’s primary task is getting back to Australia again, since he had to return to Japan after his study abroad year ended. He currently put his own musical career on hold in order to save up money. For now, he works multiple jobs at a restaurant and fitness club while producing beats commissioned beats for other artists, along with helping his manager Gat Doe run the studio and his nightclub venture. When he’s stockpiled enough money — probably in July 2019 — Aikins will return to UQ to get his master’s in media law, which will help him run the company. He hasn’t forgotten his personal musical aspirations, though. Right when he’s earned enough money and has finished his application for the master’s program, Aikins plans on releasing all of those albums he has in store. He says that so far, everything is going according to plan.
LISTEN: Aikins shares a recent beat he produced. Artists who wish to use it can buy it for $29.99 (mp3) or $49.99 (wav).
In the meantime, Covington is working on getting the company off the ground in Australia. While Aikins spearheads the talent-finding, he focuses on the business and logistics. At this point, they’re still in the research phase, searching for a good accountant to help them register the company in the right way so that they can turn it into the hub they envision. “The idea is, eventually, we want to have a big international thing across different industries — fashion, construction, real estate, events, all that kind of stuff. Look at Virgin — airlines, phones, all those different Virgin things are part of one individual company,” Covington explains. Therefore they have to figure out exactly how all parts of the company are going to operate before they can officially register it.
When Aikins returns to Australia, he’s going to move in with Covington. Based on their experiences so far, the duo anticipates a smooth sailing living-working relationship. “We have similar mindsets and interests, so it’s a nice, easy relationship where we both listen to each other’s opinions and come to an agreement before we approve anything,” Covington says. He especially praises Aikins’s paradoxically easygoing yet ambitious, eager-to-learn personality.
Aikins and Covington both know that their goal may seem lofty, but with their savvy nature and strong drive, they have faith that they can achieve something way beyond the individual dreams Aikins first arrived with in Australia. “If the company goes well,” Aikins says, “I don’t think I’ll ever have to do another man’s job.”
Photo courtesy of Frank Aikins