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Akala’s been dubbed a modern day Shakespeare for his talents with words. He’s celebrating 10 years of making clever, political hip hop tracks with a gig at the Waterfront as part of a UK tour, where he’ll be presenting the very best of his work live. Not only a rapper but also a graphic novel writer, a TV presenter and champion of young artists, Akala is a man of the people. I spoke to him about NWA, Tolkien and Stormzy ahead of his gig here in Norwich.


an you remember the first time you ever gave rapping a go?

When I was really young, like 6 years old I memorised some of NWA and Public Enemy’s lyrics. My parents were fine with the Public Enemy but not so much with the NWA! “Cause I’m the type of n****a that’s built to last, if ya fuck with me I’ll put a foot in ya ass”. Ha! Not great for a six year old. My stepdad and my dad were both DJ’s so I heard a lot of music, which led to learning the lyrics, which started me off really. It’s been 10 years since your debut album It’s Not A Rumour, and you’re about to drop an amazing best of of 19 tracks on triple vinyl picked by fans. Were you surprised by any of the selections, or any that weren’t mentioned? Tere’s a song called Welcome To Utopia which is a really dissonant, abrasive song. I really like it but I was surprised that it was picked. I was surprised by some that didn’t get picked like Bit By Bit, because it was a single, had a video and got a bit of radio support, it was a bit softer. All in all I was relieved because I didn’t want to be in a position where I had to tell

18 / October 2016/

people who support me that the songs they picked weren’t reflective of my music You’ve got many strings to your bow – not only are you a musician with 6 albums under your belt, you’ve written two books and founded the Hip Hop Shakespeare Company, so you’ve really carved out your own career for yourself. Was there a masterplan from the beginning or have opportunities just come up as you’ve gone along? A bit of both really. On one hand I always planned right from the beginning to make music that was quite political, unapologetically so, because you can’t act like the music that’s played on the radio isn’t political – it is. I‘ve always made music that questioned dominant power and I knew that would probably result in me not getting much daytime radio play. So I always had to shape our business plans, album campaigns and the way in which we spent money on that assumption. I’ve spent the last 10 years approaching my career more like a rock band would, playing hundreds of shows and building a really solid live audience. Stuff like writing a

graphic novel, on the other hand, I had no idea 10 years ago that I would do that. I never thought I’d be working on a spoken word opera. We’re in an interesting time, artistically, and as many problems as we have in the UK and as much as the powers that be seem to want to shrink the arts sector, one of the strongest things about Britain and London in particular are our arts. UK hip hop and grime are so strong at the moment and that’s being led by the fans and the internet rather than the music industry. Does that make it easier or harder for upcoming artists do you think? It makes it much easier and better – just look at someone like Stormzy. Do you think that a song like Shut Up would have got on the radio had it not been for the fact that it had 10 million views on YouTube? When you get to a point where the demand is so unquestionable it puts you as an artist in the driving seat.

It’s very difficult for the radio to get out of the way of that kind of level of demand, and if they do they still might not play your tracks but it doesn’t matter by that point if they do or not. You obviously have a love for words –“I’m similar to William but a little different –I do it for kids that’s illiterate, not Elizabeth” (Shakespeare). Were you a big reader when you were young? We didn’t have much money growing up but in terms of culture we were very very rich. Both my dad and stepdad had a canon of political books that we were encouraged to read, but my favourite book from when I was a child was Te Hobbit. Te level of imagination, description, the creation of this whole world, even a whole different language means I think even a hundred years later we still have to take our hats off to Tolkien.


> INFORMATION Akala plays at the Waterfront on 24th October. Tickets available from Read this interview in full online at

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