Akala: The Hip Hop Prophet

What is a prophet?

If you’re like me, when you think of a “prophet” you conjure up an image of an austere bearded man in the Middle East somewhere several centuries ago, shouting at passers-by in a market square. This chap is very angry and spends his time warning anyone who will listen about the impending catastrophe that is about to befall them from God, unless they change their ways.

A prophet is usually seen as one who predicts the future, hence the term “prophetic.” And according to the Bible and other texts, this is indeed a big part of the prophet job spec.

But a prophet doesn’t necessarily tell the future. He or she (despite its generally patriarchal and somewhat misogynistic outlook, the Bible does affirm that women could be prophets) is also someone who speaks about and critiques present day realities. I think of people like Martin Luther King and Omowale Malcolm X as great African prophets of the past century. Their words were like flaming arrows, telling America and the world, just how unjust and ugly it really is.

It might seem a bit outlandish, but I believe that we have a prophet in our midst, right here in north London. I’ve seen Akala (aka Kingslee James Daley) perform live a few times and I’ve also seen several of his talks and lectures and I’m always impressed by his clarity and by how deep he thinks about a range of subjects. For me, he shares the same sprit as MLK and Malcolm, the ability to speak uncompromising truth in a manner that is engaging and inspiring. He has recently released his latest album, Knowledge is Power Vol.1. More details on his website www.akalamusic.com.

I’m sharing two examples of his vision and clarity. They are two completely different audiences but in both cases, he commands the audience’s full attention.

The first is a rhyme he delivered at a school in 2011 (I think). I especially love this because of the way the young students are all hanging on his every word, even though he’s going for nearly 10 minutes… with no beat.

The second vid is a TED talk that he did on the connections between Hip Hop and Shakespeare.

Thus sayeth I and I, don’t sleep on this brother. www.akalamusic.com

R.I.P. Gill Scott Heron

Gil Scott Heron died in the week of African Liberation Day 2011. He was a genius and encountered some of the problems that usually come with genius. Along with others like the The Last Prophets, bother Gil provided the musical counterpart to the fiery politics of the 1960s and 1970s. And his music helped to inspire me to become politically-aware and to get involved in political activity. Here are some of my personal favourite songs of his.

The Rise and Fall of So Solid: A Cautionary Tale


So Solid Nostalgia!

I’m feeling all nostalgic for the So Solid crew (pictured right). I’m thinking about the kind of things they might have gone on to achieve if their rise had not been stopped so soon.

So Solid emerged at the tail end of UK Garage’s commercial boom in the late 1990s. Up until then, MCs were not really recording artists. Instead, they hyped-up crowds in the clubs and rhymed over tracks on pirate radio stations. But So Solid and others ushered in a new era in which MCs took centre stage as artists in their own right.

On one hand, this was a positive development. MCs are able to express themselves a lot more comprehensively than singers and the new tracks provided a window into the things that black youth in London had on their minds. Unfortunately – but not surprisingly – these MCs mainly wanted to talk about sex, money and guns. The attitude they put forward was unashamedly materialistic, nihilistic and individualistic.

When they were up
This new era was led by the So Solid Crew along with others like Oxide and Neutrino, More Fire Crew and the Heartless Cru. So Solid led the way and in 2001, they achieved a series of chart hits from their debut album They Don’t Know. Their pinnacle was the massive chart-topper 21 Seconds with its superb video.

When they were down
But the bigger their profile became the more trouble they seemed to get into. The mainstream media fell over themselves to tell us about the latest brawl or stabbing or shooting that had occurred at a So Solid gig. At the same time, violence began to occur more and more frequently at UK Garage nights. Clubs began to disassociate themselves from Garage due to the violence.

Within months, So Solid went from chart topping superstars to public enemy number one, with even Government ministers lining up to blame them for the ills of urban Britain. So Solid were driven away from the limelight by the negative publicity and their sophomore album released in 2003 disappeared without much interest.

An alternative ending
Had So Solid been able to flourish and progress, they would have learned valuable lessons about the industry. They could then have passed these on to a younger generation. In fact, they had youngsters in their camp called So Solid Kids who were not actual members but were learning the ropes.

So Solid would inevitably have branched out into other commercial areas in order to generate new revenue streams. Imagine a large group of young black men and women becoming well-versed in business and entreprenuership and passing on that know-how to youngsters!

As they matured, So Solid might also have got more involved with their local community in constructive ways. For example, they could have supported anti-gun and knife crime initiatives and mentoring schemes.

Conscious lyrics
Over time, the group may have also grown up a bit lyrically and their music could have started to offer a more conscious worldview. In fact, last year So Solid’s Swiss released a track called Bad Boys (video below) which dealt with police harassment. Imagine if they had put out this kind of material during their heyday?

Lessons to learn
What can we do to prevent other youngsters falling into the So Solid trap? This question was answered by So Solid songstress Lisa Maffia in an interview last year:

“We had no guidance, no mentor,” says Maffia, “No one told us, ‘It’s probably not a good idea to stay on the estate where you grew up with all that money and success.’”

Our job as a community is to learn from the experience of So Solid and build relationships with up and coming artists to ensure that they are better prepared to handle fame and fortune if it comes their way.