From the classical music that hits your ears on the intro, to the sickeningly insightful and observant lyrics and the gentle piano that signs the album off; DoubleThink, the latest offering from UK Hip Hop artist Akala, is not what you’d expect.
This is Akala’s third album and he’s come a long way from where he started on the underground scene back in 2004. He’s always been a highly lyrical rapper, with complex rhymes about widespread issues that would label him as a ‘conscious’ artist. A label that, on some levels, has been both a blessing and a curse for him, as conscious Hip Hop is effectively an oxymoron within mainstream music.
This comes to light somewhat in Akala’s inspirations for Double Think. He quotes George Orwell’s ‘1984’, Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ and Yevgeny Zamyatin’s ‘We’ as stimulus for their dystopian qualities. These are all things that will no doubt require a quick session of Googling for most people, whereas his musical influences for the musical and hip hop element of the album were from Wu Tang Clan, Public Enemy, Depeche Mode and Radiohead. Even his muses are juxtaposed, perhaps intentionally.
His intelligence is put on display for all to see in this highly evolved piece of work. For me, it became more about what he was saying rather than the music, however the musical element of the album is no less captivating than the words. There is an eclectic mix of genres throughout, with Rock and Metal guitar riffs played out on tracks like ‘Faceless People’ and ‘What Is Real’, Dubstep, Punk, Classical and of course some plain old Hip Hop. The beats are ones to bob your head to and the entire album is a very easy listen.
The subject matter on a lot of the tracks is painfully poignant, for example ‘Yours and My Children’ talks about the children being killed all over the world being just the same as children of our own. He also explores many of his own emotions that no doubt listeners can empathise with. ‘Psycho’ displays this perfectly, as he angrily rants that Sometimes I just wanna fight / and I don’t give a s*** what’s right but on the other hand, some days he just wants to love the world. A feeling that many of us can relate to I’m sure.
As a lover of Spoken Word, ‘I Don’t Need’ is a track that stood out to me. The interesting subject of what women think men want and what men really want is explored;
‘I don’t need for you to be an independent woman / and I don’t wanna be an independent man /
If we can get along and laugh, talk, have sex, dream / laugh, talk and still like each other /
Then maybe, just maybe, we can depend on each other.’
‘Find No Enemy’ focuses on race and identity and ‘God’ takes on queries about faith and higher power, backed by stimulating electro sounds.
So many topics are covered and questions are raised on this 18-track LP. At first thought it may seem long but once you start listening, it’s almost not enough time for Akala to explain himself. His lyrical prowess and honesty make this body of work enthralling. The album is an all rounder, and with it I think Akala has proven that ‘conscious’ artists’ works can have just as much musical clout, if not more, than the mainstream players. It’s just a shame that his efforts haven’t been as widely received in the past as perhaps they should have been.
It’s my hope that DoubleThink is a breakthrough for Akala as younger generations could learn a lot from listening to this kind of music – and his fanfare is long overdue.
DoubleThink and the single ‘XXL’ are both out now via Illastate.