Once every little while I like to use this space to share something that I consider to be of real value. Something that otherwise might go undetected by a larger audience. Sometimes it’s a Carl Sagan video spliced with classic movie clips. Sometimes it’s tools for fighting climate change disinformation.
Today it’s a person. Specifically British rapper, poet, and academic, Akala. London-based Akala (born Kingslee James Daley) has been on the scene here in the UK for just over a decade, and in that time he has risen to become one of the most vital, important, and relevant voices in not just hip hop, but in our overarching national cultural and political dialogue.
I am not sure how well Akala’s music or presence has traveled across the Atlantic, but if the answer is ‘not well’ then I am here to put right to that. Because it seems that in this new orange-tinted dawn, hope is at an all-time low. And it’s at times like that that music—especially when it comes with a message—can be the shining light which warms the souls of those who otherwise feel lost at sea, and encourages them to row to shore. Now, Akala is UK-based, and as such his music and message often speaks to his experiences based on that background. But though his lens might be specific, more often than not the experiences and issues he talks of are universal—especially when it comes to this small rainy island, and its bigger cousin across the water. We share a lot, for better and for worse.
But that’s enough out of me, here’s a primer on Akala should you be so inclined as to listen:
Fire In The Booth
In what must be one of the greatest displays or raw lyrical power in memory, Akala tackles racism, history, propaganda, and a whole stream of topics that are as relevant today as they have ever been. The artistry and craft on display here is quite literally jaw-dropping. Wait for him to warm up near the start, and after a minute or two the spectacle is superlative:
Find No Enemy
A mellower, more directly self-reflective number that demonstrates Akala’s meditative, more spiritual nature (‘Akala’ is the Buddhist term for ‘immovable’). Settle in and get ready to have a whole spectrum of emotion wash over you:
In a short video for The Guardian, Akala explores the topic of everyday racism and micro-aggressions, demolishing the myth that racism only comes dressed in white sheets and brandishing a burning cross:
The Propaganda of British Values
Another short video for The Guardian. This time Akala takes on the topic of ‘British values’. In an era of rising nationalism in the West, surgical, sober analysis of otherwise unquestioned ideas is an essential task:
Murder Runs The Globe:
A visceral number in which Akala excoriates the global industry of death:
‘English Defence League’ Leader Gets Demolished:
The erstwhile leader of the racist-white-nationalist, Islamophobic organisation, the ‘English Defence League’, Tommy Robinson (real name: Stephen Christopher Yaxley) once appeared in the audience of British panel show. Intent on sowing some seeds, he instead gets calmly and methodically dismantled by Akala:
Britain’s inherent xenophobia
A holier-than-thou national self-image is paramount to maintaining existing power structures and dominant narratives. What Akala says here about the mythical properties and hollow foundations of those narratives applies equally well in Britain as well as America:
Police Shootings And The Mainstream Media’s Complicity
An interview that focuses more on problems Stateside. Akala brings his usual hyper-insightful, brutally honest, and holistic view to bear on a difficult topic:
Malcolm Said It
Akala references many of the heroes of liberation in a clarion call for resistance. ‘If you ain’t found something to die for you’ve never lived’ indeed.
That’s just a taster of Akala for you. If any of that happened to be up your street then I guarantee that an afternoon spent on YouTube with ‘akala’ entered in the search bar will yield much, much more.
As a bonus, here is a clip from another British rapper with a hyper-relevant message, Lowkey. Lowkey happens to be a friend of Akala’s, as well as frequent creative collaborator, and this is his song about the Syrian refugee crisis [warning: pretty emotionally intensive imagery]: