How did the name Akala come about?
I just picked it, it was a name, it meant immovable from what I found. Since then I’ve found that it has many meanings in many different languages, like in Filipino it means ‘eternal’, in Arabic, Akala means ‘to eat’. Some meanings I had no idea of when I actually chose the name, so it’s really interesting.
Where have your musical influences come from?
Reggae music I heard growing up in my house… James Brown, Wutang Clan, Dennis Brown, Bob Marley, Lauryn Hill.
Why rap, when and how did you decide music was for you?
Very early I decided I loved rap. I must have been about 5 or 6 years old when I heard Public Enemy and I knew that I loved rap and started writing raps. In terms of career, I only really started pursuing it seriously when I was about 18/19 as it didn’t seem like you could be a British rapper when I was younger. It didn’t seem like a viable career; only Americans had careers as rappers.
Did that make you want to rebel, because they said that you couldn’t do it?
No people never said I couldn’t, there just weren’t examples of UK rappers, particularly independent UK rappers, really making careers of it. So we had to create that path, I suppose.
What is your writing process like? Your new album Knowledge is Power Vol 2 has just come out, what was your process for that?
Really it’s to think about what I want to say first and then get the music together and then scat over the music, so I make a certain amount of rhythmic sounds in a certain way that gets me the flow. Then sometimes, if I want to approach it like I’m writing a poem, I will write the lyrics down but sometimes I don’t write anything down at all, I just recite the lyrics in my head, memorize it and then record it.
What would you say comes first, the beat or the lyrics?
Almost always the beat.
Do you view yourself as an activist?
I suppose so, someone who tries to be active on issues that affect humanity, affect my community, affect life, so if that’s what that means then yeah.
How big do you think music’s influence is on political issues?
It’s massive, which is why powerful people have always tried to control artists, not just music artists but artists full stop, as alternative sources of power. Artists have the power to influence people’s minds and the way they think and view society.
‘Murder Runs the Globe’ is a title of song on your new album, can you expand on the songs origin?
It’s a recognition of the fact that mass murders, arms traders, people that sell nuclear weapons, governments and societies that have the capacity to do the most murder get the most respect in this world. Power is not about morality, nor about being nice, nor about being a good person, it’s about who has the capacity to kill the other person’s children more effectively. That’s what determines power on this planet.
Do you ever see a time where murder won’t run the globe?
I would love to think so but I don’t presently see it.
Would you ever make a ‘club’ song?
In terms of the beat, I think I already have loads of songs that the beat is like a ‘club’ song but in terms of content (girls, champagne etc)… I don’t feel the need to make songs about what all other rappers make songs about.
Why do you think it is so easy for music to influence the behavior of young people, for example when taking drugs?
Well advertising is advertising isn’t it? If advertising didn’t work then corporations wouldn’t spend billions of pounds on it. You know what Coca- Cola is, what McDonalds is, Mercedes is because of advertising. There are brands everywhere; if you’re told they’re desirable then they become desirable. Even the way you and me are both dressed is the result of advertising. So that’s part of the human psyche and if popular people constantly advertise something like drugs, it can influence people to be experimental. It seems like humans have always experimented with drugs regardless.
As a conscious rapper, do you think there should be regulations on what artists can rap about, seeing as they have such a big influence on people’s behavior?
There are regulations on what artists rap about. Artists that talk about jewellery, clothes, cars and girls and killing black people are more easily given promotion, therefore that becomes more popular. Therefore young people see that as what is successful, and that sets the tone for what people want to follow. There is regulation: artists that are “too political” never get on the radio. That’s regulation.
You toured with Nas and Damian Marley a few years ago, how was that as an experience?
It was amazing. It was a great show from two artists whom I have a tremendous amount of respect for.
You have a song ‘Shakespeare’ which you’re well known for, what caused you to make that song, what was the meaning behind it?
There wasn’t a particular meaning thought process that went into it, there was just a line that came into my head one day and then it just expanded from there.
How much of an influence does Shakespeare have on your writing?
He is another one of the great poets that have influenced my work, along with the likes of Nas, the Wutang Clan, Rumi, Langston Hughes.
Earlier, I heard you say if Shakespeare were around he’d be a rapper, why do you think that?
Its because I just think that rap is the most relevant form of contemporary poetry.
You also have a Hip-hop Shakespeare Company, why did you start that?
I just felt that the way Shakespeare was taught generally was quite boring and there was a better way to do it. In schools, in colleges, in universities, the perception of who Shakespeare was and the way in which both rap and Shakespeare are perceived and used, I disagreed with so I wanted to put my own spin on it.
What’s your view on the Baltimore riots and riots in general? Do you think it actually gets the government to listen?
Well yeah, we’re talking about it right now and they’re on the media and no ones care about poor people when they protest peacefully. One of the activists from Baltimore was talking about the fact that three or four hundred of the brothers from Baltimore had marched peacefully like a year or two in a row, protesting different issues in the community. No one pays any attention to poor people when they don’t burn shit and when they do burn shit, they’re demonized. But you cannot kill, continually kill members of a community and there be no recourse to justice, when you are the state, when you are paid to protect people and expect for there not to be a reaction. So I’m not one of those people that are gonna sit here and moralise with you about riots and about property getting smashed because X + Y = Z. My only issue is often these rebellions, or these reactions to state murder are not organised, they’re not targeted, they’re not coordinated, they don’t have strategy but I totally understand why and anyone whose spent any significant time in any racially segregated ghetto in the world, should understand why that level of frustration exists and can and will explode. It has exploded before and will explode again.
The London riots in 2011 saw many people rioting who couldn’t even name the person whose death sparked the riot. Therefore personally I think it gives youth who would’ve participated in crime anyway, a bigger excuse to do it. What do you think?
Crime in and of itself is political. Our government murders people all over the world and we get moralistic about crime. We bombed Iraq and stole all of their oil, because nineteen guys from Saudi Arabia flew, not Iraq, from Saudi Arabia flew planes into New York city. Saudi Arabia’s a British ally. Britain and America then bombed Iraq, a country that we know doesn’t even like Saudi Arabia, so this is what I’m saying crime is politically determined. Crimes of rich, elite people are not seen as crime. Poor people whose crimes are infinitely smaller are seen as crime, does that make it ok? Not always but crime in and of itself is political. Why some people grew up in areas of London where they don’t have shit and others grew up in areas where they do have shit is political. So when people try to pretend it’s not political, it’s a way of depoliticising something that is political. Kids in Knightsbridge are not rioting because they have everything, they’re not angry. If they are angry, they’re not angry about not having stuff and we live in a world where if you don’t have stuff, your basically considered a piece of shit. I know from going to school as a child, with holes in my trainers, it’s not a nice feeling, it’s a horrible feeling to be the kid in school, whose got a ‘hooley crep’ who people make fun of, who doesn’t feel good about himself because you don’t have the right material.
No one’s genetically born to do crime, so when you say, “these youths that would’ve done crime anyway” why would they’ve done crime? Do they have access to adequate employment, education and training? Do they have career paths laid out before them and they just said, “you know what I don’t wanna be a doctor, I’d rather do crime”? Partly some people make those choices but those choices are also partly made for you by the social forces in which you live. That’s not to excuse anyone, I think it’s just to give more of a deeper explanation than simply moralizing about poor people who are angry and therefore react in a certain way. Rich people riot all the time, they just riot in different ways, they use lines of credit to riot, they have gentrification where they push poor people into a marginalized corner of communities they’ve lived in for decades and decades and decades often generations as a form of violence. We’re seeing all over London right now, where middle class white people are taking over spaces that have traditionally belonged to poor people of colour and doing basically whatever they want. Selling pork underneath Rasta colours, opening bars, selling Jamaican music and Jamaican culture and then getting scared when more than three black people come to the door. So there are forms of violence, they’re all levers of society. But it’s only when some people are violent that it’s presented as thuggery and mindless and feral and all these things that were said to be attached to it. So I just think it’s a bit more complex than simply good or bad, people having an excuse or not having an excuse. I think it’s a bit more complex than that.
Akala’s new album Knowledge is Power Vol 2 is out now.