To commemorate Black History Month this year, Finesse Foreva will be celebrating one artist, musician, or black icon each week to profile. We will be focusing on a wide range of people that have a contribution to Black History and what it means to be a black man or woman today. Check back each week to read up on our picks!
Dr. Kingslee Daley, more commonly known as Akala, is a rapper, author, educator and activist in the UK music scene and in UK politics. He’s a true legend of the UK scene, with a 15-year strong music career, classic songs and freestyles as well as books, Oxford lectures and documentaries under his belt. From this background it becomes clear that Akala really isn’t your average UK rapper – while his career didn’t follow the same trajectory as the Wileys, Dizzees, or even Kanos of his era, Akala is my pick for the first Finesse Foreva Black History Month segment exactly because of this. Akala found a way to have his own impact and make himself integral to music and politics alike.
The North London MC first found his name in grime with early tracks like Roll Wid Us – the remix even had a who’s-who of the grime scene at the time. He was proving himself to be an independent talent like his sister Ms. Dynamite (an artist who could easily have her own article here) but he quickly showed that he had an artistic vision that went far beyond grime.
His music quickly began to incorporate a wider range of influences – a lot of Nas, Wu-Tang, more live instrumentation and an even tighter focus on lyricism to set himself apart. He quickly found himself at the forefront of the only conscious UK hip-hop scene there was, alongside rappers like Lowkey and English Frank. His music was introspective, socially conscious and always pointed a finger directly at the truth of the matter. There was a strong US hip-hop influence, but unlike rappers like Giggs and Nines who were more on the street side, Akala was a backpacker at his core. At the time socially conscious music wasn’t as strong as it was in the US; a lot of grime and rap artists even mentioned in this article branched into speaking on topics such as race, politics and society in their music but songs like these were often rare album cuts or freestyles. Akala was one of a select group of rappers that was instrumental in setting a precedent for making heady and smart music.
As his career progressed, Akala was branching outside of music and into a lane where I was first introduced to him. I was starting to study Macbeth for my GCSEs and happened to find a video of his Ted Talk on Hip-Hop Shakespeare. This lecture was insightful, thought-provoking and showed Akala’s great understanding and respect for black culture and music. His question for the audience was something that would be on a lot of hip-hop fans’ minds, especially any who were a fan of lyrics – why is it that rappers like Nas, Jay-Z and the Wu-Tang Clan aren’t given the respect they deserve? Asking a crowd to try and tell the difference between Shakespeare and Wu-Tang got his point across perfectly and really enlightened the crowd about how talented a lot of rappers are.
Just as he did in his music, Akala made a point to shed a light on black issues and maintain his social criticism whether it was on a beat or in a lecture. His career in politics and media probably outshined his work as a rapper, but his message remains consistent throughout. It almost seemed that as if his hair got longer (going from an afro to dreads), my guy was just getting woker.
What probably brought a lot of eyes to him and introduced him to the mainstream was the video below taken from a BBC Three (RIP) panel appearance – an iconic moment where he shut down EDL founder and known victim Tommy Robinson.
Akala is often the most informed person on race and black issues in the room, and an undeniably needed voice in a social space that tends to sweep these issues and figures under the rug. From his interviews to his lectures, he’s always managed to inform and educate people on the most pressing issues affecting black people. Even now while his music output has slowed down, he remains an important figure in UK music for having these essential discussions. His appearance on Nines album for example wasn’t a verse – but instead a speech that was just as impactful as a verse from him would’ve been.
His Oxford Union lecture mentioned above is essential watching for this exact reason. It’s a dissection of the miseducation and misrepresentation of African history and culture that has taken place in the media and in the education system alike, that has resulted in the pervading stereotypes that we see not just in the UK but all over the Western world.
Akala speaks directly to white people who may have sat in class and got the idea that Africa was just some savage tribes that knew nothing until they were enslaved – those same people who will be surprised at any examples of success of a black man and put it down to white society. At the same time he speaks to people like myself who knew that this explanation just didn’t make sense, or didn’t add up to what I already knew about my country. If you’re not familiar with his message at all then please go and listen for yourself.
I think these examples – his diverse music output and his political message make it obvious why Akala should be included in any Black History Month recognition. If not as a important black figure himself, then as someone who is a well-informed voice on Black History.