Akala: Following in the footsteps of Ms Dynamite

Akala, the younger brother of the UK's rap queen Ms Dynamite, tells Matilda Egere-Cooper why he's finally stepping out of the shadows and making his own bid for stardom
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The Independent Culture

In an ideal world, it would probably be easier if Akala weren't related to one of the most popular rappers to rise out of the UK in recent years. Ms Dynamite, the undisputed poster girl for hip-hop's politically aware, has amassed the accolades, the fame, and the critical-acclaim that has ensured her status as a national darling. Meanwhile, Akala, aka Kingslee Daley, was just that guy you may have noticed at the Prince's Trust Urban Music Festival in 2004, who rapped alongside his sister at Live 8, and who showed a united front with Dynamite when she got rapped for slapping a policewoman earlier this year. Now that he's decided to step out of his sister's shadow to become a rap star in his own right, even he admits that the heat is on.

"I know her success will have an impact, particularly for the first two years, but everything I've done I've done on my own," he says in a thick inner-city London accent. "I feel it's important to be respected on your own. I know how the world works and I know people would love to support me or not because of my sister. But there's no predicting how it's gonna be."

That's an example of the infuriating diplomacy the fast-talking 22-year-old occasionally resorts to, but when he's ready he can be refreshingly frank and a bit of a joker. He's certainly a likeable guy. This handsome 6ft tall ex-footballer has an infectious smile and it is easy to imagine him carving out a career as a model if music doesn't work out for him. But he's determined to mirror his sister's musical crusade to educate the masses on the injustices of modern society and contradict the damaging preconceptions of contemporary rap music.

His debut album, It's Not a Rumour, is hardly a typical hip-hop album. Two years in the making, it serves as an amalgamation of alt-rock, punk, soul and electronica, and the flickers of hip-hop that shine through are a throwback to the early Nineties sound, adding to the broad appeal. He points at Public Enemy Red Hot Chili Peppers as musical influences, and speaks of present-day hip-hop with contempt. "Hip-hop is garbage," he complains. "It's a shame really because I grew up in a time when hip-hop was the best music on the planet. So I've tried to recapture that on this album."

On "Bullshit", the rapper sounds off on domestic abuse, the Government, racism in football, the Iraq War, London's congestion charge and even the British weather. But why resort to political preaching instead of the youthful and wayward experiences of your average 22-year-old? "I just feel that you've got to be yourself," he shrugs. "If I was the kind of person that all I wanted to do was get drunk all the time, then that's what I'd rap about. I do feel that as an artist, especially as a young, black, male artist, I have a responsibility on what I say. I just feel it's important to paint a realistic standpoint of myself and of young black males in general. The reality isn't that we kill people or we all live in this fantasy world with guns, jewellery and lots of girls."

Does he vote? "No." He raises his eyebrows, and smiles. "To be honest, it hasn't been a conscious decision not to vote, but I would say that. I don't feel that me voting is what makes a difference. I think pressure on a government, whoever is in power makes a difference. Things can change through protest."

It's clear that his sister is a big influence. His stance isn't far removed to that which Ms Dynamite introduced on A Little Deeper and he admits she's played a significant role in his life. "My sister is my best friend," he says. "She knows me better than anyone else. But Ms Dynamite didn't inspire me, Naomi did by being the kind of person that she is, just the way she deals with things. She's got principles and I respect that because not many people have that in this world." Does he feel he has to compete with her? "Not at all. If I sold 50,000 albums or 50 million, so what? That's not relevant to her."

Akala's childhood in Camden, north London, was marred by terrible experiences at school. "I got put in a special needs group for children who don't speak English. My teacher was too ignorant to teach me. But I don't understand why. I was always bright, without sounding arrogant. I was a bit loud, but that doesn't mean you're not intelligent."

Watching Nelson Mandela's life story as a child had a profound influence. "Naomi and I were quite serious and taking in a film like that affected our outlook on life. Having your innocence broken so early means you're basically an adult."

Still, he packed in college to pursue a football career and played for West Ham and Wimbledon before an injury forced him to return to music. Formerly known as MC Metric he changed his moniker to Akala, a Buddhist term for "immovable". He's now created his own record label, Illa State Records, in a venture with his sister and the producer Rez, to release his music, as he isn't keen on getting involved in major-label politics. "Being independent is wonderful. It's hard work and a lot of stress, but it's worth it."

Is commercial success important to him? "I'd like to make as much money as possible," he states. "Anybody would. Money is power and if you want to change stuff and do stuff, the reality is a voice can only do so much. If Malcolm X was a billionaire, I'm sure his situation would have been different. So I might be lying if I said I didn't want to be successful. But even more important than that is the feeling I felt growing up when I listened to new music that I loved, that rush that you get when you listen to an artist the first time. If people can have that feeling when they listen to my own album, even though it's one person, that's a great achievement for me."

'It's Not a Rumour' is out on Monday on Illa State