When I met Akala, he was just as cool as I had hoped. He was sitting on a sofa in full white looking like a snow wolf with dreadlocks. He looked energized, despite this being his 5th show in as many nights as part of his 10th anniversary tour.
“He has set the bar not just for rappers, but perhaps for politicians as well”
Q: How has it felt to be rapping for 10 years and how does it feel to be a rap veteran?
A: ‘it feels kind of like a complete journey, it feels good to have done it my way.’
Akala’s career features 6 albums and 4 mixtapes, all of which he released under his own label ‘Illa State records,’ which few other rappers can boast. But the journey wasn’t easy. Akala’s sister, Ms Dynamite, became a hit sensation at the age of seventeen, while Akala has had a steady rise in popularity.
Q: Has being the brother of such a successful young musician been hard?
A: ‘I felt a certain snobbery from others in the music industry… I really had to tread my own path because I didn’t want to be under the shadow of my sister.’
There are few other rappers that speak as candidly as Akala about controversial topics such as politics, race and education. When most popular rap seems to be Fetty Wap, Lil Yachty and Young Thug, it’s encouraging to know that there are rappers who have care for more substantial problems in communities rather than weed, hoes and bank rolls.
Q: What is your view on mainstream rap?
A: ‘I do not think there is anything wrong with bragging in rap, bragging is part of rap… I think the problem is with rap today is that it is just not very good. You got this phenomenon of mumble rap which I just think is crap.’
Q: Why do so many artists make their own label nowadays?
A: ‘The industry has an idea of what is and isn’t acceptable to say, sound like, look like, to be like and more often than not, A&R’s don’t know what the fuck they’re doing. UK rap and grime has proved that more than any other genre – for 10-15 years, dudes couldn’t get shot for making the music they wanted to make. Labels were all trying to make rappers in to something they’re not. Now we’re all pretty much independent. Skepta’s where he is. Stormzy’s where he is. We’re all selling tens of thousands of tickets to do tours all over the world yet the industry would have told you that the music is “too black” or “too urban” because they just didn’t get the audience.’
Q: Your strong views on topics such as education are well known. How do you think we could improve in that aspect?
A: ‘Which countries in the world have the highest educational attainment? Look at Scandanavia; half of them don’t go to school until seven, they play music in school, it’s all very informal and they call their teachers by their first names. Basically all of the kind-of Victorian assumptions about how education should be, they violate them all but they get far better academic results than we do. If we’re not learning from that, there must be some other agenda at play; it’s about reproducing hierarchy more than it is about actually educating people.’
“it’s encouraging to know that there are rappers who have care for more substantial problems in communities rather than weed, hoes and bank rolls”
The interview had covered some heavy topics by this point and Akala’s immense knowledge and convincing arguments were starting to intimidate me. So I went back to a lighter topic; football. The state of English football riles him like the state of the English education system. I regretted my decision of lighter topic to end the interview.
A: ‘We think we’re the best and we’re fucking not. We have a mentality that it’s 1850 and we run the world still. The English football team is not good.’
Q: What does the future hold for you?
A: ‘The main thing I really want to do is build schools. I want to collaborate in building the educational institutions of the future.’
He has set the bar not just for rappers, but perhaps for politicians as well.