It is ten years since Akala made his first album. In his shows, he delivers full visuals, a DJ and live drummer Cassell the Beatmaker. The sound really does hit you and this high quality production is what he strives for in all his live shows. I went to see him for the first time last year which makes me about nine years too late to the Akala game.
That’s because I am not cool. I have a photo to prove it. As a successful independent artist, Akala deals directly with his fans. This was how I got to have a picture taken with him standing next to the merch stand. His finger is pointing towards me in a cool hip hop gesture and above my head the cover of his EP ‘Ruins of Empires’ is being displayed. He seems to be suggesting that it is all my fault. Uncool people ruin empires.
It does not help my case that I once blurted out ‘hipperty hopperty’ when trying to have a discussion about hip hop. No doubt Akala would have a more balanced view. He would be able to pinpoint and draw out details from history about how the uncool are being mistreated and misrepresented. That there are infrastructures in place that serve to keep them uncool. He would debate both sides; ‘yes you did say ‘hipperty hopperty’ but to be fair, you were having a conversation about hip hop and that’s cool’. Then I could walk away feeling validated and being able to hold both the cool and the uncool in my head at the same time.
His gift of verbal virtuosity combined with a fierce intelligence and academic mind means that he is able to dig deeper into issues and present them with ninja style precision. He gets asked questions all the time by respected people and organisations. The Guardian, Jeremy Paxman, erm……Frankie Boyle.
Imagine having people like Paxman nipping at your heels asking questions all the time: “is London too rich to be interesting, Akala?. Is Britain racist to the core, Akala?. Akala, Akala is there more truth in Shakespeare than in the bible?”. Instead of batting them away, he added the role of ‘educator’ to his portfolio and accepted invitations to sit on lots of panels. The artist and musician has long been thought of as a social and political commentator (Eitan Gavish, Daily News) and he takes this to the edge and back.
The stories that we tell are thought not only to describe our identities, but are our identities (Sadie F Dingfelder, APA). So looking at the album comprising of 10 years of Akala’s work, what stories does he tell and how have they evolved over the years? The first track ‘Roll Wid Us’ from his first album ‘It’s Not a Rumour’ portrays an angry and ambitious young man who will stop at nothing. A few years of success later, ‘Fire in the Booth’ shows that he is able to move away from his own inner struggles and becomes more socially and politically aware. By the time ‘Murder Runs the Globe’ is written, he is focused outward on the world, looking at systems and the bigger picture. Has Britain matured in parallel with the artist in the last ten years? Nope, but at least that means that he still has plenty to rap about.