I initially picked the 10 Years of Akala album. Because the man is, in my opinion, the most interesting thing happening in UK culture right now. (He’s been ‘happening’ for a while obviously, hence the album title, but as ever I’m late to the party.) But I started listening to his music at around the same time as I started reading his new book Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire, which looks set to make him a mainstream intellectual nationally, and maybe internationally. And it’s the book rather than the album that’s really hooked me — I chewed through it in big gulps in no time at all.
The book is part life story, part political essay and part pan-African history, and for anyone interested in British, particularly English, culture… you really need to know this stuff.
I’m at a point in my life where I’m used to regularly learning more detail about things that I feel I have a rough general understanding of. And whilst, considering my background and upbringing, I’m not surprised how little I knew of the British (and world) history in this book, I still find the extent of my ignorance kind of shocking. Much like my current experiences with learning about Feminism and the nuances of gender and sex, I’m realising that I’ve been absorbing my information from all the wrong sources.
Also, another reason why I switched to recommending the book rather than the album is that, as I’ve got to listen to it more, I’ve got to be honest, I’m not going to recommend his early material. Not that it’s bad per se. Just not something that feels to me like it stands out above the rest. Technically, it’s clear he’s extremely skilful — but to me that’s all it is: a showcasing of skills, and not something I can relate to. Then comes a shift, and the music feels to me like it flips 180 degrees, and suddenly the N word disappears and it becomes about a serious critique of life in a divided Britain, as well as what feels like a genuine exploration of his own vulnerability.
Although, that’s not to say he doesn’t still come up with some blistering high energy fuck-you-ness too – my favourite being the track Sun Tzu, which I’ve had on loop for a while:
Wake up when it’s still dark in the sky
With the heart for the grind and an art full of rhymes
And the sharpest of lines and a spark of the mind
So bright that I’m leaving them partially blind