Once upon a time not so long ago the UK urban scene was crying out for representation, now the subculture has clearly escaped into the mainstream. Just look at our Eurovision entry this year. To stand out it takes something special, far from the days when being British and rapping was enough for credibility.
With Stand Up 22-year-old-Akala (Kinsglee Daley) does little to impress, it’s a bit clever in rapping over a strong guitar riff but a shout out to the UK isn’t close to eyebrow raising. But as the guitars continue into Yeah Yeah Yeah Akala’s lyrical ability begins to grip, it’s gritty, intellectual, honest, and witty.
As the rock groove continues it does begin to grate through second single The Edge, although its uplifting nature pulls it through. Niara‘s vocals soften and bounce the track along, it’s genuine harmless fun with an old school British rock feel. Then the album undergoes a metamorphosis into the most beautiful of creatures with a little help from Tomcraft.
Using a bass-ed up sample of Loneliness Akala sets himself above anything else out there in hip-hop at the moment; either side of the Atlantic. Shakespeare is one of the most hard-hitting tracks I’ve ever heard, the lyrics are self-indulgent and arrogant which suit the backing to a tee. The rapping is lightning fast and sharp as a butcher’s knife.
Carried Away adds more depth to It’s Not A Rumour with its soft, melodic qualities masking evocative lyrics. There’s cynicism towards the military and gun-culture, which is a welcome break from the glamorization of violence often found in “mainstream” hip-hop. Sampling from The Clash‘s London Calling This Is London is a journey into the capital’s underbelly.
It’s unlikely to be used in any tourism campaigns but it is an honest, compelling look into ‘The place where you don’t fuck with the Turks or the Asians/ Triads, Pikies/ Even Caucasians’. The theme of disenchantment continues in Akala’s relatively weak debut single Bullshit while Roll Wid Us lowers the pace with tales of his maths skills (honestly) and Akala’s sky-high ambition.
Cold is a dark and murky recollection of a difficult youth with an absent father ‘Dad I ain’t mad/ don’t think I don’t understand/ But I still had to learn how to be a man’ is just one example of the openness of Akala’s lyrics. It’s reminiscent of Nas in content a delivery, music devoid of delusions of grandeur – just stripped to its raw essence.
He even lets his sister get in on the act in Why Do, not that Ms Dynamite needs to be thrust into the stoplight. It’s a rather emotional way to close the album with grim lyrics like “Get murked or hit the pipe/ either way you’re a ghost/ that’s reality even though it’s crazy”.
The ending gives a message of hope and promise, and with the quality demonstrated on this accomplished debut it’s safe to say that the UK can add the name Akala to a growing list of genuinely talented UK urban artists. It’s not a rumour.