By Terence Elliott-Cooper / @terryec91
UK hip-hop is a varied genre, often depicted as ranging from the electronic grime-inspired hype, to the US-inspired bling. But Akala has established himself as one of the figureheads by doing neither. Drawing from both these genres – in addition to reggae, rock, soul and more – his latest offering, The Thieves Banquet, has been highly anticipated. This release follows his Knowledge is Power mixtape released earlier this year, and is his fourth album, the last being 2010’s Doublethink. Thieves Banquet very much follows suit from earlier albums, with a variety of tones musically, but a consistency in lyrical content, which few rappers can match. One of the highlights of the record comes in the title track, a dark instrumental with a brilliant narrative in which Akala takes the voice of a number of the world’s great thieves – it is as morbid as it is clever, and bears some resemblance to the bitter truths of Immortal Technique’s eerie ballads.
This is an album with considerable depth, and requires the listener to replay tracks, discovering deeper meanings and catching subtle nuances that are hard to detect at first. The hooks on a few of the tracks on the album may be better suited to rock-listeners, again similar to previous albums, but the rawness of the hip-hop verses provide a perfect counterbalance every time. A welcome feature is the live band, which the album was recorded with, making the beats heavier, and the overall production value of the album a real step up from the previous.
Similar to earlier albums, there is a rock element, which fits in naturally with the rest of the tracks, and the use of electric guitar in the chorus in Pissed Off contrasts nicely with the rolling drum breakdown in the verses. Maangamizi provides a history lesson like no other, showcasing one of the main reasons Akala’s music is so appealing: he possesses a storytelling dexterity that is unrivalled in the UK. Another favourite is Old Soul, which acts as a reading list of classic artists of influence, over a smooth and jazzy piano backing, questioning what contemporary artists can learn from those before them.
If knowledge-dropping verses are the reason you listen to Akala, then Thieves Banquet won’t disappoint, with wordplay and flow provided that is varied and distinctive. The live element feels more like an MTV Unplugged than a rock soundtrack, which provides a crossover appeal making this release one of the best so far this year.
The Thieves’ Banquet is available from the official website or iTunes
Terence Elliott-Cooper is a writer and student activist
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