Akala doesn’t make music to entertain for the sake of entertaining, he rather provokes his listeners to question everything there is to know. He has never conformed to the stereotype many rappers are famous for. His lyrics contain virtually no mention of money, cars or hoes. He doesn’t appear interested in impressing everyone and his intelligence is, well, striking.
Sitting in the “green room” on the side of the stage at XOYO in Shoreditch, preparing to perform for his album launch, Akala, 29, is in a cheerful and relaxed mood. “If I’m honest, I’d say yeah, even though I was brought up in a single parent family, I always thought I’d be successful. When I was younger, I didn’t feel ashamed of being clever. As young black and brown people we’re taught that to be clever is to be like white people,” he says.
Akala, born Kingslee James Daley, has squeezed a lot of achievements into his life so far. Despite his socially deprived upbringing in Camden, his life, to put it bluntly, has been nothing short of remarkable.
As a child, he was blessed with an acute mind, showing a particular genius in mathematics and school generally, while also excelling in football, going on to play for the youth teams of West Ham and Wimbledon, before pursuing his real love: music. He has also opened up a restaurant in Ayia Napa, is the founder of The Hip-Hop Shakespeare academy, owns a record label, delivered Tedx talks and has just released his fourth album.
Akala is fresh-faced, lean and dons an impressive afro – he seems eager to talk about literally anything. He offers his thoughts on the tragic death of Lee Rigby in Woolwich last month, and fears the far right are gaining way too much ground.“People should be worried, vigilant and prepared,” he says. “It is our job to organise ourselves to defend ourselves. These are the type of scumbags who attack our grandparents as we’ve seen recently. This is a recurrence [of the overt racism from 30 or 40 years ago]. We’re going to get a rude awakening that, actually, we might have been born here and sound English but we’re not that welcome,” he says.
He believes the death of Lee Rigby shows complete hypocrisy. “It says a lot about the psyche of working class white people, or those involved in this type of politics, that they’re into this type of collective blame issue,” he says. “And that an incident can stoke up in them so much rage, more rage that they can have for all the people dead in Iraq of Afghanistan because of British foreign policy where countless people have died. Or even the murder of Stephen Lawrence, but they probably don’t give a shit about that,” he says.
Akala is now in full flow: “These are stupid people. They actually think we forced our way into their country,” he says, leaning forward and speaking even louder to emphasise his point. “Think about the insanity it takes to know so little about British history that you don’t understand why Indians, Jamaicans, Ghanaians and Iraqis are in your country. India gave 2.5m people to World War II, she was owned by Britain and is still part of the British Commonwealth. And these idiots are so confused. They don’t even understand what a Commonwealth is, he says.”
“They don’t know why people from their own Commonwealth come to the mother country. If you want to be an empire and want to mother the world than your kids are going to come home every so often. So make up your mind. If you want to be a closed country than do that. But then stop living of Congolese minerals, Iraqi and Irani oil and Jamaican aluminum. Those people aren’t the real enemy, because they aren’t going to invade anyone’s country. They do serve as a useful scapegoat for people who are too polite to call you a Paki or a sand nigga but will invade your country. So they let the EDL call you rag heads instead, he says.
“The people most likely to react are the people furthest away from the elite of that society. So when you’ve got a country like Britain, which is a rich, white, elite county, the people most likely to react are often going to be young, black people. Not necessarily because they’re braver but because they have to deal with classism, racism and all these other isms,” he says.
Akala is certain that the Government inflames racism. “Britain as a society is institutionally racist. People get their backs up and say ‘oh my god how can you say that’? But it’s pretty basic to me. You’ve got a country whose greatest leader is someone who said the genocide of native Indians and Aborigines is no crime at all. It’s not my fault Winston Churchill said that.”
One of the central themes that runs through Akala’s music is his push to get people questioning what it means to be a human being – it’s as if he’s urging his listeners to radically reassess who they fundamentally are. “I’m not trying to take people away from the problems of what needs to be solved on the ground,” he says. “But if people spent more time contemplating life, existence and discussing philosophy, as opposed to watching The Kardashians and the X Factor, the world would be a slightly better place. Partly because we’d come up with solutions and realise how much we all have in common,” he says.
In typical Akala style, he then decides to go even deeper. “Because ultimately this energy that occupies my body, or your body, or bodies in Somalia, Ethiopia or Italy, nobody has a monopoly over it, or knows where it comes from and can say for certain where it goes afterwards. And those humbling questions put humans in perspective a little bit.”
All this talk of spiritual energy or a soul-like entity, leaves many people unsure on where Akala stands with regards to God and religion. “There is an element of truth in most religions and most spiritual systems but I think a lot of humans use those elements of truth and use them for fraud,” he says. “But I believe there is an intelligent spiritual energy that is beyond human comprehension, some people call it god, others call it science, I don’t have a name for it. But looking at the universe, I don’t believe it could have happened by accident.”
Up until recently, Akala’s “five-year run of Veganism was ruined by halloumi cheese”, a temptation, he says, he couldn’t resist. He is now a vegetarian and still refuses to eat meat or eggs, believing it to help him both physically and spiritually. “After a lot of research I found that meat is not the optimal food for human beings,” he says. “I think eating a lot of blood makes you angry. I use to have a lot of anger management issues. If you eat sugar it affects the chemical state of your body. So your diet is bound to affect how attuned you are with your self,” he adds.
At the Album Launch, there are some familiar faces in the crowd. Lowkey, Logic, TY, Jamal Edwards and others all watch Akala entertain a packed hall by performing songs from his new album. The atmosphere is palpably one of love.
A lot of Akala’s fans also happen to be fans of Lowkey, also a politically driven British hip-hop artist. Both artists rap about very similar concepts and have become successful despite little mainstream support. Last year, Lowkey announced that he has quit music for the foreseeable future. The question many are dying to know is: when will Lowkey be back? “He hasn’t shown any signs of wanting to come back. When he comes round to mine to watch a film I don’t ask him, ‘bruv when are you coming back’? I respect he wants some time out and I don’t bug him about it.”
Artists like Akala provide their fans with a type of music and honesty unknown to a lot of people. His fans are incredibly loyal and often brand Akala as the best hip-hop artist in the country. One of the problems with Akala’s music is that, some of his lyrics contain so much meaning, they are bound to go over the heads of many of his fans, without them even knowing.
This is an extended interview from the original published here in Live Magazine
You can buy his album from here
Follow Omar @omar_shahid