Akala once called rap; “the misogynistic, materialistic handmaiden of American capitalism.” As he told The Guardian, he is simply referring to the majority of UK rappers whom stay non-commercial because they maintain strong connections with their cultures. However, his fourth solo album, The Thieves Banquet, could be the exception to this rule. Akala has travelled a long way from the young British MC who brought us ‘Roll Wid Us’ and ‘Shakespeare’; he has developed into a passionate, intricate, and socially conscious rapper. He uses a extremely wide range of instrumentation from his studio band to provide a original and authentic backdrop to his emotive and socially aware rhymes. This choice can be seen as experimental, however as a breath of fresh air it has given Akala and the album a unique character, so its an experiment that has truly worked.
The opening track, ‘Let It All Happen’ is an instant call to arms and draws the listener into the albums knowledgeable message through its hook; “existence is resistance in a world that, thinks that human instinct should be held back, and all of our wisdom, we should sell that, destroy the difference that we all have”. However, it is Akala’s flow that really gives this album a distinctive diversity, through the track ‘Another Reason’ his laid back and relaxed flow really highlights his ability to vividly assess social injustices; “we are so busy noticing money don’t grow on trees, we forgot that food does, and that it’s the food that we need”. Though with a flick of a switch, ‘Lose Myself’ demonstrates his capability to tear up a track with unstoppable momentum and rage.
Akala is unafraid of strong nostalgia and uses it wisely in the jazz influenced track, ‘Old Soul’ which conjures the ghosts of Gregory Issacs and Jimi Hendrix, looking back to the days; “when Miles Davis was a commercial artist.” With ‘Malcolm Said It’ he aims to educate the listener through rapping about revolutionary figures who fought for either equality, peace, or freedom; “Malcolm said it, Martin said it, Marley said it, Ali said it, Garvey said it, Toussaint said it”. On the track, ‘Pissed Off’ the activist rage from within him rises to the surface once again, he raps about all the issues and problems that anger the average listener. As the track develops, alongside the live band, the track becomes even more thought provoking.
However, the centrepiece of the 12 track album has to be the title tracks, ‘The Thieves Banquet’ and ‘The Thieves Banquet, Part 2’. ‘Part 1’ is an masque rap which balances on mounting guitar tension, in which four allegorical evils compete for a place in hell in the presence of a priapic Satan, the four evils being; ‘third world dictators’, ‘monarchs of empire’, ‘religious leaders’, and the ‘banking cartel’. In ‘Part 2’ they decide to join forces in order to spread their oppression across the world in the interest of personal gain. As an educating scenario, a politically aware picture, or simply a story telling rap; once experienced, these tracks together create one of the best rap sequences that has been released for a very long time.
Akala has expressed a lot of thought and emotion in this album, and it seems that he still has plenty to give. However, his endeavors to educate, the majestic live band, and his succinct, sometimes raging flow, has given this album the opportunity to become a trail blazer. This is because through everything, each track individually and as a entire project aims to bring something rare; art through realisation.