01 FEAR NOTHING
02 HEAD NOD
03 BOUNCE BACK
04 MY GENERATION
05 FUNKY FLOW
06 TALK TO ME
08 DON’T GIVE UP
09 OLD TIMER
10 NINE LIVES
11 UNRECONSTRUCTED JUNGLIST
13 HARD TO GET
14 THE SIMPLE TRUTH
15 SOULFUL LOVE
17 DONE BEEN THRU IT ALL
18 THE LAST DANCE
19 SOMETHING FROM NOTHING
When it comes to dropping knowledge over hip-hop and grime beats, who can do it like Akala?
Knowledge Is Power Volume 1 is definitely one of the highlight releases of 2012, and sees Akala on top form, educating, elevating, entertaining and inspiring over fresh hip-hop and grime instrumentals.
The first track, Educated Thug Shit, sets the tone nicely, challenging the listener’s notion of what a “thug” is, in collaboration with English Frank.
“Do you really really really know what a tug is? Think it’s just a man that moves on the road criminal? I think it’s a man that’d die for his principles.”
This gets to the core of what Knowledge Is Power is all about. Akala is constantly challenging his listeners to re-evaluate their concepts of what is ‘cool’, what is ‘gangsta’, what is ‘hard’; he wants us to see how these concepts are shaped by a mass media and corporate record industry that are fundamentally anti-poor and anti-black; he is helping to move the culture back to a place where knowledge is valued, where it is a weapon to be used against oppression, where it is ‘cool’ rather than ‘neeky’.
Akala gets on a laid-back, reflective vibe with Absolute Power, talking about the sense of powerlessness which is deliberately created in oppressed people in order to ensure they don’t rise up against the system that oppresses them.
What do they fear more than a working class black male with a brain
When our energy is harnessed, everything change
Look at Pac, look at Marley, look at Hendrix, look at Garvey
This is the potential that is wasted on a daily basis
A racist, classist world that we live in
Still we come from nothing and we educate millions
Who’s The Gangsta picks up a similar theme to Educated Thug Shit, over a heavy grime beat from from Ripperman. Akala looks at all the ‘gangsta rap’ and asks: who’s the real gangsta? Is it kids making bait rap videos claiming to be killers? Is it street hustlers? “Do we make the straps and the scales or just pack the jails?” And why do the real gangstas want us to think that we are the gangstas?
The last thing they want is for man with road energy
To stop killing one another and think cleverly
Ask why you’re living, where you’re living, how you’re living
Did you create the condition that you were raising a killing
If you didn’t, who did it? Is it really for the hood if our oppressors like our lyrics?
Only by crushing your aspirations can they maintain this here situation
Only by destroying the dreams of your kids, can they keep their unearned privilege
And that’s what it’s all about…
I’m So Cool is Akala’s unique take on rap braggadocio, that you have to hear to believe!
In A Message, Akala goes waaaaay beyond the limits of ‘acceptable’ hip-hop subject matter, exploring the issues of patriarchy, single parenthood and the the corrosive effect of male supremacy on the family. Selah’s chorus helps to make this a very moving, thoughtful piece of music.
On Otherside, Akala works with the legendary Jaja Soze to tell the ‘other side’ of the story – not the glamourised portrayal of the hood that you get from the music videos, but the tears, the pain, the contradictions.
The other side that you never see on television
The other side when a killer shed a tear in prison
The other side ain’t written in gold, it’s really cold
The other side is the truth, but it’s never been told
The other side ain’t no fake rap video
Just jail cells, funerals and mental homes
This rap shit used to be the news for the hood
Now everyone’s jumpin round like it’s all good
Really sees Akala showcasing his verbal dexterity over a Lavar-produced 6/8 beat and letting the wannabe rappers exactly how threatened he feels by their claims to be on his level
Get Educated is another Lavar banger, this time on a heavy boom-bap tip. The message is loud and clear:
The most rebellious thing you can do is get educated
Forget what they told you in school, get educated
I ain’t sayin play by the rules, get educated
Get educated, get educated
Get educated, break the chains of their enslavement
Get educated, even if you’re on the pavement
Get educated, what a weapon that your brain is
Get educated, get educated
On Behind My Painted Smile, Akala and Lowkey give their listeners a glipse of the vulnerability and contradictions that lie behind the exterior of confidence and contentedness that they both project.
Behind my painted smile, when all the revolutionary noise is nothing but a lost little boy
Confused and insecure, arrogant and oversure
Egotistical prick, so come on, please praise me more
The echoes of Aimé Césaire, Steve Biko and Franz Fanon can be heard in Lowkey’s verse about being a victim of mental slavery:
Behind my smile there’s generations of pain
Self-hatred ingrained, miseducated my brain
Decimated the place where my dead relations were slain
Not just physically but mentally penetrated our veins
The last verse where the two rappers go back to back is a definite high point of the mixtape, and the laid-back Last Resort beat works perfectly.
Your Time is Over Now is a fitting eulogy-in-advance for colonialism, imperialism and western/white supremacy. Rapid-fire knowledge, moving chorus from Selah and a dope, energetic beat make this another standout track of the project.
As far as I can see, western supremacy’s the most anti-human force that’s ever lived
And we can all see the holes in the bottom of the tin
Right now the ship’s gonna sink
So we paint the Global South as the terrorist
Been living on their backs for half a millennium
It’s over now, explain that to these leaders
It’s nuclear war or accept new teachers
For Are You An MC, Akala brings in the undeniable skills of Durrty Goodz – one of the most gifted lyricists the UK has ever produced – and Dexplicit – one of the most respect producers on the grime scene – to provide a lesson to some of the up-and-coming MCs who might think that becoming an MC is a shortcut to respect and money. Heavy, heavy track!
Insert Truth Here is another very thought-provoking and philosophical track, its venom directed at those merchants of ‘absolute truth’ who want you to believe that everything they say is correct and there is no other truth. Particularly harmful are those ‘absolute truths’ that tell you to be happy with a system that oppresses you and to accept it as the natural order of things. As ever, Akala encourages his listeners to be active in learning and discovering truth for themselves, not just lapping up whatever’s put out on a plate for them. The intense beat from Skilloso works beautifully with the lyrics.
The final – and title – track is a spot-on ending to the mixtape. Akala fires off unforgiving triplets over bouncing drums and filtered strings, dropping knowledge about some of his favourite subjects: the African origins of hip-hop, and how corporations have bought control of the culture in order to promote racist, sexist, classist images. How do we fight back? We arm ourselves with knowledge: “C’mon my people stand up. Knowledge is power. Don’t let them tell you about yourself, never dash your wealth.”
The mixtape is an undeniable classic. I’m already looking forward to Volume 2!
The CD can be purchased exclusively from Mamstore.
Serious depth once again from Jaja Soze, talking about the transatlantic slave trade and the rape of Africa, how it feeds into black inferiority complex today, and how it can be overcome with economic and cultural empowerment.
Akala’s new Fire In The Both shows once again that Akala brings the full package of lyrical skill, content, flows, relevance and personality. Forget all these wannabe gangsters and autotune bubblegum rappers! Akala has set the standard. Who’s rising to the challenge?
Akala’s mixtape ‘Knowledge Is Power vol 1′ will be released on 28 May. Preorder it here.
First things first, RIP to a Adam Yauch, a hip-hop innovator whose contribution to the art form is widely recognised. The Beastie Boys form an important chapter in hip-hop history. Even as white, middle-class kids whose main effect was to make hip-hop more accessible to other white, middle-class kids, they were generally respectful of the art form and of the communities that created it. Chuck D commented on Twitter:
“Adam & the boys put us on our first tour 25 years & 79 tours ago. They ARE essential to our beginning, middle and today. A very real cat R.I.P MCA”
While Yauch deserves respect as an artist and innovator, the aspect of his life that has earned him the most praise in the liberal press is his activism in favour of Tibetan independence. This is interesting. While the press censors musicians who call for Free Palestine, it lauds artists who call for Free Tibet. And while western governments actively support the Israeli government against the Palestinian movement for national self-determination, they actively support the Tibetan independence movement against the government of the People’s Republic of China. Why the discrepancy? In short: because Israel is a ‘friend’ and China is an ‘enemy’. The west has consistently used the issue of Tibet in order to paint China as an evil, ruthless coloniser, thereby making it morally abhorrent, even to those that support other aspects of Chinese politics (you know… little things like the most significant poverty alleviation programme of all time).
Every western liberal knows that Tibet must be free. And yet 99.9% of them haven’t got the slightest clue as to the history of Tibet, or the relationship between Tibet and the rest of China. Wearing that ‘Free Tibet’ t-shirt is simply the easiest, most acceptable and least confrontational way of saying “I am a good person”, absolving the wearer of all responsibility for developing their knowledge and understanding.
In fact, the issue of Tibet is not an open-and-shut case of Chinese colonialism. And perhaps more importantly, there are better ways for people in the ‘first world’ to be active in pursuit of a fairer, more peaceful world. The Beastie Boys were/are privileged white Jewish kids from affluent families in New York. They have made a fortune, and built a musical legacy, on the basis of a culture created by people of African descent in the poorest districts of New York. Instead of taking up a cause celebre which poses zero challenge to the US ruling circles, surely it would be more appropriate to use their privilege and wealth in support of the oppressed communities that hip-hop grew out of?
Incidentally, New York wasn’t always called New York – it was given that name by English colonisers in 1664. Native Americans have lived in that area for an estimated 12,000 years. Wealthy European settlers could consider supporting indigenous rights and power as an outlet for their activism. But that would be a bit difficult. It would mean standing up to their government; it would mean getting labeled in the press as subversives rather than lauded as heroes; it would mean taking on corporate interests; it would mean not sharing the same views as George W Bush. It doesn’t take any courage for a wealthy North American or European to stand up to ‘Chinese tyranny’. The Chinese are an easy target. The west is generally anti-China to begin with, and there’s a prevailing sense of indignation that they are no longer our colonial subjects (things were soooo much better in China back when we fought wars for our right to get the Chinese masses hooked on opium). In the US this sentiment is mixed up with the intellectual legacy of McCarthyism, which means that anything called ‘communist’ is automatically considered demonic. The prevailing hatred only grows as China is developing into an economically and politically strong country, the number one challenge to the total dominance of US imperialism.
One international cause which doesn’t typically attract the support of many wealthy western celebrities (especially Jewish people from New York) is that of Palestinian national self-determination. Why not demand an end to Israeli oppression of Palestinians? There are few such clear-cut cases of ongoing colonial occupation, organised and paid for by the west. Opposition to Israeli occupation is a lot more valid than joining in with the fashionable Hollywood-liberal cries of ‘Free Tibet’. However, I can’t find any record of the Beastie Boys voicing their support for Palestine. Indeed, they played concerts in Israel in 1995.
So in celebrating the legacy of the Beastie Boys (Paul’s Boutique is playing in my headphones as I write this), I suggest we emulate their creativity rather than their activism. Be an activist, for sure, but pick the right side!