Akala means immovable. But the crowd at Exeter’s Move on Saturday were pumping their hands in time to the beat of the live drums, captivated by the rapper’s sold out show. I’d dare say that even the bouncers, usually bastions of static solemnity, were hyped and vibing.
Akala is a veteran performer. His ten years in hip hop are the true testament to his steadfast title. His latest tour, dubbed It’s Not A Rumour in reference to his breakout first album of the same name, celebrates a decade of Akala at the top of his game. With the creation of his own label, Illa State Records and the Hip Hop Shakespeare Company, Akala has moulded his own career from the start, and made a name for himself not only as a rapper and talented lyricist, but as an educator and advocate of intelligent social commentary in the UK.
In stark contrast to the stash-sporting, avocado-toting types one usually sees around Exeter, when I descended the metal steps into Move’s underground cavern-like bar, I was greeted by a crowd of hip hop fans in snapbacks and Disobey branded shirts, some sipping drinks in the shadows, others already gathered around the stage. In spite of the fact that Akala wasn’t due on until one a.m., just after ten, the venue was already buzzing. Akala had strong support from several local rappers including The Prophecy and Team Sweeze and the hip hop heads of Exeter were just as keen to hear their music live as they were to see Akala.
Akala confesses imitating the style of American artists as a young boy, taking his cues from the silver tongued lyricists of Wu-Tang Clan, before going on to dub himself Shakespeare in the stand out track on his debut album. This demonstrates not only Akala’s own growth as an artist, but also reflects the way in which hip hop in the UK has developed its unique flavour, pioneered by crews such as So Solid and Roll Deep. And there was no better way to evidence this than the crowd’s hype for the supporting acts, testimony to the growth of hip hop in the South West.
When the clock at last struck one, Move was jam-packed, the drums were pounding, and Akala arrived onstage to dive straight into his setlist, an uncompromising salvo of tracks from 2006 to 2016. To commemorate his ten year anniversary, Akala’s independent label Illa State released a triple vinyl of his top tracks, handpicked by fans. It was from this selection that Akala curated his 90 minute setlist and showcased his mastery as a rapper, both in his intelligent, witty lyricism and scorching delivery.
Politically charged tracks such as Murder Runs the Globe demonstrated Akala’s knife-sharp critique of current issues, while Sun Tzu allowed the rapper to grandstand – which he did excellently, drawing references from the gamut of world history, name-dropping Mayan religion, Ancient Greek mythology and The Art of War to assert his dominance – and intelligence – for a quick scan of Akala’s lyrics will reveal his music is a far cry from the hype music currently dominating mainstream rap. This is true hip hop, shrewd engagement with issues of class separation and global conflict woven into hard-hitting tracks that had the crowd at Move raising hands in the air as one for Dat Boy Akala.
The hype driven by the rapper was backed by a stunning display of visuals. Clips were taken from Akala’s speeches, music videos and interviews, with key quotes and lyrics emboldened behind him onstage, to demonstrate the rapper’s power not only as a musician, but an orator – a reputation Akala upheld throughout the night in his sharp, lively interaction with the crowd.
Merchandise and CDs were sold after the show, and I went away with a copy of Akala’s latest release, Knowledge is Power Part 2. The night was live, the music was dope, and I returned home high on music, CD in hand ready for my next fix.
In a sentence, it was Akala’s power not just as a performer, but as a poet that made the show a standout. At five foot tall, I caught barely a glimpse of his dreads from the back of the crowd, but every word hit home.