• Chinwe Ojielo
He’s intrigued us with the promo video for XXL and whet appetites on his F64, now after three years Akala is back with his third album DoubleThink. Ever the socially conscious individual, Akala’s taken inspiration from dystopian novels as well as artists as diverse as Public Enemy and Rage Against The Machine to bring us a truly genre-defying album. Joining forces once again with producer Reza Safinia, a collaboration that previously gave us hip-hop classics It’s Not A Rumour and Freedom Lasso, Akala’s upped the stakes by partnering with British classical composer Paul Gladstone-Reid MBE.
Mindful of the fact that Freedom Lasso was leaked just weeks before it’s release, as an independent artist Akala is determined not to let that happen again, so only limited promos of DoubleThink are in circulation.
We meet early, 9am sharp in east London. This isn’t the first time we’ve met, but it’s our first breakfast meeting. He’s healthy, a couple of massive oranges by his side and fresh orange juice. On the table to his right, an afro-pick comb bookmarks a page. The book is Saul Williams The Lost Teachings of Hip-Hop. I don’t get to see what he orders for breakfast; it’s the first day promoting lead single XXL so he’s busy, really busy; by the time we finish he’s completed two interviews and a photo-shoot, all in the space of 45 minutes.
First of all, before we start talking about the album, we have to talk about your F64. Everyone’s going crazy for it. Did you expect that reaction?
No to be honest. I expected a reaction and I knew that a lot of people would say it’s quite good, but I didn’t expect the overwhelming reaction that it’s had. I’m very pleased about it because obviously it shows what I’ve always felt inside myself that people want to be inspired, they want knowledge. They are bombarded with nonsense. Young black boys killing each other is promoted when we wouldn’t tolerate that from any other kind of group of people. They are bombarded with materialism etc through rap music not through hip-hop, because hip-hop and rap are two very different things and I’ve always felt that people want a return back to the culture and I think that the F64 reaction really showed me that’s true.
Would you ever release the F64?
Maybe, I think the thing is a lot of my hardcore group of fans that have followed me know that what I am saying in the F64 isn’t anything new; it’s not stuff that I haven’t said before. Don’t get me wrong, it’s new lyrics, but that’s been the message. I suppose the difference is it being in that platform and in that arena. I’ve never really been in that arena before within the scene like that and that is why people have had that reaction, so yeah I’d consider putting it on something and releasing it.
Coming on to the album, why did you decide to call it DoubleThink?
The term DoubleThink comes from the George Orwell novel Nineteen Eighty-Four and it means to simultaneously hold two contradictory beliefs at the same time, to tell deliberate lies and to forget any fact the moment it becomes inconvenient. I think as a society that’s what we do and so that’s where the inspiration came from. Looking at how that applies in a modern context is the philosophy behind it.
So how did the album come together?
I told Reza about the concept of it being inspired by Nineteen Eighty-Four and what I thought that meant for the production and how we should approach it much more like a film than if we were making a music album. We did the first eight tracks in LA, then I came back and thought about what would complete the album. I got Paul to play the piano interludes that go throughout the album and I got some dubstep producers on there and then I did a couple more tracks with Reza. The official party line for this album was Aphex Twin meets Public Enemy kind of vibe, with a splash of Radiohead and Rage Against The Machine thrown in there.
Which is your favourite track and why?
If I had to pick one, I’d say the track called Find No Enemy, just because it is the most personal and there’s no chorus, just music and lyrics for five minutes. The songs on most of the album are so harsh and so hard and that was deliberate, but Find No Enemy is a nice break. I really love the guitar music on it as well.
Why did you decide to go with XXL as the first release?
The single is a nice upfront feeler and it really isn’t indicative of the album at all, which I quite like. I like that little bit of trickery in that XXL doesn’t really, unless you watch the video, doesn’t really say much and you don’t really get what it is especially people who know my music up to this point, but then when they get the album, it is like, oh cool. I think it will make perfect sense in the scheme of the album. It is deliberately not like the rest of the records.
What are your expectations for this album and how do you want it to be received?
I don’t know, I suppose that I just want it to go out into the ether and do what it is supposed to do, whatever that is.
You’re involved with Pledge Music. What is that exactly?
It’s a website for independent artists that allows you to create exclusive experiences for your really kind of hardcore champion group of fans which basically in this day an age is more required than ever before. Fans want that extra experience, they want to be part of the process, they want to be involved and things like Twitter and MySpace and Facebook have made that more of a reality. That one-on-one connection is the next extension of that like for example today, we are doing a listen back with just 10 particular fans, the first 10 fans that were involved in the Pledge project and that is what that is.
When you were little, did you know that at 26 this would be the career that you would be doing?
Yeah it’s weird I kind of think I did, but I put it off for a while. Throughout my teenage years I was playing football for West Ham and for Wimbledon and even though I still got into a little bit of trouble, football helped keep me out of trouble most of the time, so in that sense it was really good, but deep down I always knew that football wasn’t what I wanted as a life choice, so yeah I think I did know.
Do you and your sister Niomi (aka Ms Dynamite) ever feel in competition with each other?
Never at all. I’m not in competition with anybody, least of all my own sibling. I’m just doing me.
Ok. Which artists are exciting you at the moment?
Maybe I’m a bit of an old man, but I’m just bored of the Gucci and the jewellery talk, so I always get nervous when guys are like ‘there’s this new rapper and he’s sick’ because so often people tell me that and I listen and the guy is trying to sell me jewellery, but Jay Electronica is actually genuinely very good.
Funnily enough I had been hearing about Jay Electronica for ages and I’m quite upset with myself that other rap over the last few years has made me take so long to actually listen to him. He’s a brilliant lyricist. I love what he is doing, so he’s someone that’s really exciting me. Over here you’ve got people like Lowkey and Klashnekoff and Ty; it will be interesting to hear what Devlin comes with.
Finally, you’ve been in the game for a while, what advice would you give to someone who’s just starting out?
Be yourself. That’s the only advice.