Hip-hop deciphered at the British Library

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The Independent Culture

When hip-hop artists stand in a circle and rap it's called a cypher," says Mobo award-winning artist Akala, who will be part of two events at the British Library this evening; a one-off language-based panel discussion, Voices of Hip-Hop and Late at the Library. "It's a common hip-hop word which came from the Islamic influence on hip-hop culture, and it's just one of tons of examples of the impact of hip-hop on the English language and the way people use that language."

The events are part of the British Library's Evolving English: One Language, Many Voices exhibition, the first show of its kind to explore language from Anglo-Saxon times to the rap of today.

Akala, whose new album Double Think has been partly inspired by George Orwell's 1984, has been touring the UK's libraries trying to get young people fired up about reading. He will be joined at the British Library by underground rap artist Lowkey for a discussion on how words impact at street level. The rapper-turned-comedian Doc Brown, writer Zadie Smith's younger brother, will MC at Late at the Library.

For Akala, who's from the "intellectual school of hip-hop", it's a fitting end to his library tour. "We'll be talking about how hip-hop has evolved language for its own purposes rhythmically, and how it has affected popular culture. We won't be focusing on street slang so much as looking at it from a philosophical angle."