Kingslee Daley chose the name ‘Akala’, a Buddhist moniker that means ‘immovable’, yet Akala the artist/MC/entrepreneur is anything but: he is a mutable, restless hip-hop polymath born under the sign of Sagittarius who has rolled through school (straight As at GCSE), the sports scene (he played for West Ham and Wimbledon) and the fast-food trade (he ran an Ayia Napa jerk joint), all before he turned 20. Recently he has focused his energies onto the business of hip hop, producing his own videos, distributing white labels, mixtapes and founding his Illa State label, the logo of which is a Union Jack in the black, gold and green of the Jamaican flag. This colour scheme couldn’t be more appropriate: in the Jamaican original, gold represents natural beauty and wealth; green signifies resources and hope; black denotes hardships endured.
Never one to mince his words, ‘Garbage’ is how Akala describes ‘what was once, not that long ago, the most charismatic, enigmatic, energetic, lyrically creative music on the planet’, because it has turned into a reflex idiolect for plastic players with false values and arid imaginations, who know the price of bling but the value of nothing. Akala’s unabashed attacks on a lazy, retrograde rap scene, have won him the plaudits of music critics and fans alike, with the genre defying debut “It’s Not A Rumour” moving hip hop both forward and back into what it was in the first place – a generational voice for change, empowerment and salvation, for himself, his people and for the streets.
True to hip hop’s original template, ‘It’s Not A Rumour’ is alternately reflective and anthemic, stone to the bone and rocked-out all the way to one louder. It may move you to insurrection, to tears or just nearer to the centre of the dancefloor. On ‘This Is London’, Akala takes off where The Clash’s ‘London Calling’ left off – check that chiming guitar intro – and lifts the lid on the grimy cheek-by-jowl of the capital. On ‘Stand Up’, an incendiary Van Halen-style riff soundtracks a call-to-arms for every UK ghetto: Moss Side, Longsight, St Paul’s, Toxteth, Chapeltown. For ‘Yeah Yeah Yeah’, Akala samples doomy, Black Sabbath-style guitars and attacks modern fakery in all its forms. On the sublime ‘Hold Your Heard Up’, he lays down a hard-lived autobiography over a rolling Isley Brothers soul groove. But it’s on ‘Shakespeare’, and that inspired Tomcraft sample where Akala busts out the level of lyricism that skyrockets him beyond the reach of any contemporary. It is, like says, ‘Shakespeare with a nigga twist.’ Music hasn’t been this gregarious since Aerosmith & Run-DMC, or Public Enemy & Anthrax.
Musically, lyrically and philosophically, his new album ‘Freedom Lasso’ is the logical next stop on Akala’s musical odyssey. Reflecting the disorder and flux of contemporary life, ‘Freedom Lasso’ is an energetic and visionary essay on the modern way, drawing influences from the whole spectrum of music – dance, rap, rock, punk and folk. Together with longtime producing partner Rez, the pair have created a body of work that shifts even further from hip hop’s dominant beats-and-rhymes-and-braggadocio model: The Cure, Siouxsie & The Banshees, Prince, Andre 3000, The Prodigy, Tricky and Nine Inch Nails make strange bedfellows, yet they all feature as emerging influences on an artist who’s put in time figuring out how he sees rock ‘n’ roll history fit together.