23-year old London MC Akala releases “It’s Not a Rumour” today. Anna Nathanson caught up with Ms. Dynamite’s little bro in a Camden bar recently to find out about his unique musical fusion, his troubled school days, and why he counts Shakespeare as one of his influences…
…The whole album, not one word was written down on paper. I never write anything down on paper, I memorise it. That’s something I took from Jay Z, and I’d recommend it to everybody…
You’re album has quite a rocky feel to it, what made you decide to mix hip hop with rock?
I think the two genres have a history, right from the first big hip hop track ‘Walk This Way‘. They were born from a similar attitude; rebellion, and they both have a youthful energy about them. In many ways, that element has been lost in modern day hip hop and I think this album is a showcase of the relationship between the two genres and how they can be fused.
You have a track on there called ‘Shakespeare’. Is he someone you look up to?
When I read Shakespeare at school, I thought “wow, this guy’s talented, he’s like a rapper!“ There’s a rhythm to all of his work, and if he was alive today he’d be a rapper. Guy’s been dead 500 years and people are still studying him. Society’s changed so much and he’s transcended all of that. I don’t think rappers get enough credit for how intellectual a profession it is.
Your lyrics are often very political. Where does this influence come from?
Probably my mum. She is very very politically aware. She made me watch the Nelson Mandela film at about four years old. That shapes you for the rest of your life. I saw and took in so many serious images at such a young age, and that had a big affect on me.
…When I read Shakespeare at school, I thought ‘wow, this guy’s talented, he’s like a rapper!’ There’s a rhythm to all of his work, and if he was alive today he’d be a rapper…
You did your Maths GCSE a year early and went on to be chosen to attend the Royal Institution of Mathematics. Did you find school easy?
No, I had a hard time at school, I didn’t enjoy it at all. I found that a lot of teachers had a certain perception of me, which influenced how I was treated. At the age of eight I had a reading age of a 16 year old, but none of them actually knew that as they hadn’t bothered to read with me. In general I found that teachers found me a very difficult pupil to stomach. Rather than try and nurture me and help me do well, their instinct was to put me down and stop me doing well, which as a teacher is pretty stupid.
How did you cope with that?
Well it actually helped me stay in school cos I knew so many people were betting against me and hoping that I’d fail. And that made me think, “Well, fuck you, I’m not gonna fail, I’m gonna do well”.
You’re a very talented writer, how do you go about writing lyrics?
The whole album, not one word was written down on paper. I never write anything down on paper, I memorise it. That’s something I took from Jay Z, and I’d recommend it to everybody.
How do you see the UK scene compared to America?
Right now I’d say England is just like New York in the early Nineties when it comes to rap. Everyone was hungry, and there was a style of the rapping that was so high, that the kid on the corner might be a better rapper than you, if you’re not on your guard, you get what I mean? And that’s kinda how it is in England right now, where you got the little kid who doesn’t even take rap seriously, but he’s out there and he’s seeing certain things every day. And he’s writing his thoughts and what he sees in such an articulate interesting and analytical way, that even he can spit. And I don’t even know what his name is, see what I mean? There’s that kind of vibe in London now.
Can you see it crossing over to an American market though?
The same things that are happening in New York or Los Angeles, are happening in London. That’s fascinating to them. I’ve been out there and I’ve battled with people, and they can’t believe the things I’m saying. So I feel there’s definitely the potential for a UK artist to do really well in the States, yeah.
…In general I found that teachers found me a very difficult pupil to stomach. Rather than try and nurture me and help me do well, their instinct was to put me down and stop me doing well…
– Anna Nathanson