Contactmusic.com spoke to the charming and straight – talking Akala.
Akala, so what's the story behind your Buddhist name?
Basically when I was at school I had the name MC Metric, when I left I felt that I really had to change my name to something more serious. So I compiled a list of names and ran them by the committee - a group of all my friends. Akala was not only the best sounding name but it also had great meaning - "immovable".
You have said that your album 'It's Not a Rumour' is 'hip-hop but not as we know it'. Explain?
I mean not as it is today. There isn't much talk about Cristal champagne or about how many girls I slept with, the beats aren't produced by the Neptunes. There is some rock influences, some soul and some of the tracks are completely recorded with live instruments. I have also chosen to sample, The Clash's 'London's Calling' and a house record by Tom Craft. Hip-hop, once used to be really creative and really diverse with each artist having their own identity and their own sound, which has now been lost. You couldn't mistake this as someone else's album. I'm just trying to be creative and real.
You are outing your music independently with your label Illastate Records. What are your reasons for not courting major record labels?
For both creative and financial control. Obviously, I'm not an idiot, I'm a business man. If a record label put an offer on the table that made financial sense than I would take it, but it would have to be a really good deal. And to basically get a really, really good deal you have to already be an established artist. When artists are new they don't get good record deals, they get jerked. I am trying to get myself to a position, where that either one, be it that Illastate can get to a certain level where we don't need a major or that any deal we do with a major will be beneficial to everyone.
'Bullshit' has a strong narrative and message, risky as a single. Which radio stations didn't support your freedom of speech?
Come on name and shame!
All the pirate stations really supported it but all of the commercial stations did not, including 1xtra. To be honest with you, I didn't expect anything different. I just knew they wouldn't play it, and I know that wasn't because of the word 'bullshit'. From the feedback I got, it was mainly because of the political content, which I think is strange. I mean isn't it obvious that the war was bollocks, they said it was weapons of mass destruction and went ahead and massacred how many people, but we don't even know how many it is because they have broken the Geneva Convention by refusing to keep count, joke is they didn't find any weapons and I am not allowed to say that that's bullshit. However, I am sure that if that were British families dying everybody's ears would be a lot more receptive.
My dad listens to your music. Do you think older people can understand your message?
I think that older people obviously have more of a degree of political awareness. One of the resons they are put off by young people's music is because of the consistant chatting of rubbish. In the 90's hip-hop probably had a lot more of an older fanbase with groups like Public Enemy, people 30+ can appreciate that kind of music because to them it has an outlook on the world. 'Bullshit' has the same element and it's a track that has travelled far for me.
Why do you think it is that some people in hip-hop have nothing of any real relevance to say in their songs? There is so much going on in the world, do you think people are afraid to speak out, and find it safe to just talk about the girls and materialism?
I believe that some people think they need to do that to sell records, which you do not. I think some people just don't care about what they are putting out there and then others are just scared to be themselves so they try to fit in with what is already out. Look at Kayne West, he can have a single like 'Diamonds of Sierra Leone' on radio, so clearly you don't have to call your song 'Shake Your Arse' to sell records. These young girls are listening to music where a dude is saying, 'you're a ho, suck my d**k', sorry not to be crude. Any self-respecting woman wouldn't want to listen to that.
Speaking about materialistic rappers, what was it like supporting 50 Cent on his UK tour?
It was cool. But it wasn't specific to it being 50 Cent. If I got the chance to warm up for Madonna I would or Kylie and that music isn't anything even similar to mine. Someone gave me the opportunity to perform in front of 7,000 people, at a time I was a completely unknown artist, the music I was making was just mix tape music nothing like the kind of live musical stuff you will hear on this album it was straight hip-hop and it worked well with the audience.
'The War Mixtape' was obviously for an underground scene. Do you think that you've gone commercially friendly with this album, to gain a wider audience?
No, certainly not. I've made music that I love and more of the respect and accolade that I have gotten has been from the street people. They appreciate that it's different. Sound wise yes it's different but if you actually listen to the content it is pretty much the same. 'Stand Up', that's a street record, and even 'Yeah, Yeah, Yeah', it may be delivered in a witty way but it has relevance. Again with 'This is London', I am talking about the roads. As an artist I have grown musically and this album reflects that. The content is still the same. Some people feel that if you make records that are eligible for radio that you have sold out - no you haven't, as long as you like the record no one can tell you anything. You got to be real to yourself, not the perception that other's have of you.
Who are you listening to right now?
The Red Hot Chilli Peppers are my favourite band ever. Artic Monkeys are good, all the hype aside, their music has an urgency that reminds me of Jungle, that urgency that not many rock bands have. The last album I actually brought was from a guy called José Gonzales.
You only have to watch Channel U, to see how easy it is for everyone and their grandma to make a music video. With this recent influx of new urban artists, do you think that the quality control is starting to decrease or do you think that the bar is set higher?
I think in a weird way a combination of the two. Yes everyone has a video but only a small portion get recognised. The main problem in England is that our scene has no superstars. SoSoild had it for a minute, lockdown, and every other Garage crew tried to emulate what they had done but you remember So Solid over and above.
Who to you think is actually good on the scene?
Kano, Sway, Dizzie, Lethal. All of those guys have a distinctive personality and character. Sway's the comedian, Lethal B is energetic, Kano has that swagger for the ladies and Dizzie is just Dizzie on another level.
And what character do you play?
I'm thoughtful. That's my part, in a sense I cover every angle. Everything I say on my songs is me. I don't try to be someone else. A lot of artists try to become something else when they get behind a microphone. I don't. Everything I say on my albums are my real feelings and thoughts. I cover for the ladies, I can cover for the older people because I'm thoughtful or for the street because I am from a working-class background , I grew up on the dole, I've seen and been through certain things. What I give you is not a persona or some bravado and because of that there is little bit of everything, which makes me a rounded character. And I hope that is what keeps me lasting. Especially in hip-hop honesty is the best policy.
What is next for Illastate, any new artists?
No new artists are this point. I'm really just focusing on myself. Illastate mix tape is out in June, it's basically got the whole British underground on it, and I also have my sister (Ms Dynamite) on it. It's a collaboration of the Grime scene and the rap scene, which is quite similar to the War Mix tape stuff.
Are you happy?
Happy, yes. Content, no. And I don't think that I will ever be content.
Tell contactmusic.com something that we wouldn't have read about you?
I am the clumsiest person ever, I have scars everywhere!
Heart Heart Heartbreak (make.believe live set)
Ich will mich verlieben
Hero/Heroine (Live Sets)
Ready Or Not (VEVO LIFT Presents): Brought To You By McDonald's
Ugly Heart (Behind the Scenes)
You Changed Me ft. Chris Brown (Behind The Scenes)