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Mixtape review: Akala – Knowledge Is Power Volume 1

When it comes to dropping knowledge over hip-hop and grime beats, who can do it like Akala?

Knowledge Is Power Volume 1 is definitely one of the highlight releases of 2012, and sees Akala on top form, educating, elevating, entertaining and inspiring over fresh hip-hop and grime instrumentals.

The first track, Educated Thug Shit, sets the tone nicely, challenging the listener’s notion of what a “thug” is, in collaboration with English Frank.

“Do you really really really know what a tug is? Think it’s just a man that moves on the road criminal? I think it’s a man that’d die for his principles.”

This gets to the core of what Knowledge Is Power is all about. Akala is constantly challenging his listeners to re-evaluate their concepts of what is ‘cool’, what is ‘gangsta’, what is ‘hard’; he wants us to see how these concepts are shaped by a mass media and corporate record industry that are fundamentally anti-poor and anti-black; he is helping to move the culture back to a place where knowledge is valued, where it is a weapon to be used against oppression, where it is ‘cool’ rather than ‘neeky’.

Akala gets on a laid-back, reflective vibe with Absolute Power, talking about the sense of powerlessness which is deliberately created in oppressed people in order to ensure they don’t rise up against the system that oppresses them.

What do they fear more than a working class black male with a brain
When our energy is harnessed, everything change
Look at Pac, look at Marley, look at Hendrix, look at Garvey
This is the potential that is wasted on a daily basis
A racist, classist world that we live in
Still we come from nothing and we educate millions

Who’s The Gangsta picks up a similar theme to Educated Thug Shit, over a heavy grime beat from from Ripperman. Akala looks at all the ‘gangsta rap’ and asks: who’s the real gangsta? Is it kids making bait rap videos claiming to be killers? Is it street hustlers? “Do we make the straps and the scales or just pack the jails?” And why do the real gangstas want us to think that we are the gangstas?

The last thing they want is for man with road energy
To stop killing one another and think cleverly
Ask why you’re living, where you’re living, how you’re living
Did you create the condition that you were raising a killing
If you didn’t, who did it? Is it really for the hood if our oppressors like our lyrics?
Only by crushing your aspirations can they maintain this here situation
Only by destroying the dreams of your kids, can they keep their unearned privilege
And that’s what it’s all about…

I’m So Cool is Akala’s unique take on rap braggadocio, that you have to hear to believe!

In A Message, Akala goes waaaaay beyond the limits of ‘acceptable’ hip-hop subject matter, exploring the issues of patriarchy, single parenthood and the the corrosive effect of male supremacy on the family. Selah’s chorus helps to make this a very moving, thoughtful piece of music.

On Otherside, Akala works with the legendary Jaja Soze to tell the ‘other side’ of the story – not the glamourised portrayal of the hood that you get from the music videos, but the tears, the pain, the contradictions.

The other side that you never see on television
The other side when a killer shed a tear in prison
The other side ain’t written in gold, it’s really cold
The other side is the truth, but it’s never been told
The other side ain’t no fake rap video
Just jail cells, funerals and mental homes
This rap shit used to be the news for the hood
Now everyone’s jumpin round like it’s all good

Really sees Akala showcasing his verbal dexterity over a Lavar-produced 6/8 beat and letting the wannabe rappers exactly how threatened he feels by their claims to be on his level 😉

Get Educated is another Lavar banger, this time on a heavy boom-bap tip. The message is loud and clear:

The most rebellious thing you can do is get educated
Forget what they told you in school, get educated
I ain’t sayin play by the rules, get educated
Get educated, get educated
Get educated, break the chains of their enslavement
Get educated, even if you’re on the pavement
Get educated, what a weapon that your brain is
Get educated, get educated

On Behind My Painted Smile, Akala and Lowkey give their listeners a glipse of the vulnerability and contradictions that lie behind the exterior of confidence and contentedness that they both project.

Behind my painted smile, when all the revolutionary noise is nothing but a lost little boy
Confused and insecure, arrogant and oversure
Egotistical prick, so come on, please praise me more

The echoes of Aimé Césaire, Steve Biko and Franz Fanon can be heard in Lowkey’s verse about being a victim of mental slavery:

Behind my smile there’s generations of pain
Self-hatred ingrained, miseducated my brain
Decimated the place where my dead relations were slain
Not just physically but mentally penetrated our veins

The last verse where the two rappers go back to back is a definite high point of the mixtape, and the laid-back Last Resort beat works perfectly.

Your Time is Over Now is a fitting eulogy-in-advance for colonialism, imperialism and western/white supremacy. Rapid-fire knowledge, moving chorus from Selah and a dope, energetic beat make this another standout track of the project.

As far as I can see, western supremacy’s the most anti-human force that’s ever lived
And we can all see the holes in the bottom of the tin
Right now the ship’s gonna sink
So we paint the Global South as the terrorist
Been living on their backs for half a millennium
It’s over now, explain that to these leaders
It’s nuclear war or accept new teachers

For Are You An MC, Akala brings in the undeniable skills of Durrty Goodz – one of the most gifted lyricists the UK has ever produced – and Dexplicit – one of the most respect producers on the grime scene – to provide a lesson to some of the up-and-coming MCs who might think that becoming an MC is a shortcut to respect and money. Heavy, heavy track!

Insert Truth Here is another very thought-provoking and philosophical track, its venom directed at those merchants of ‘absolute truth’ who want you to believe that everything they say is correct and there is no other truth. Particularly harmful are those ‘absolute truths’ that tell you to be happy with a system that oppresses you and to accept it as the natural order of things. As ever, Akala encourages his listeners to be active in learning and discovering truth for themselves, not just lapping up whatever’s put out on a plate for them. The intense beat from Skilloso works beautifully with the lyrics.

The final – and title – track is a spot-on ending to the mixtape. Akala fires off unforgiving triplets over bouncing drums and filtered strings, dropping knowledge about some of his favourite subjects: the African origins of hip-hop, and how corporations have bought control of the culture in order to promote racist, sexist, classist images. How do we fight back? We arm ourselves with knowledge: “C’mon my people stand up. Knowledge is power. Don’t let them tell you about yourself, never dash your wealth.”

The mixtape is an undeniable classic. I’m already looking forward to Volume 2!

The CD can be purchased exclusively from Mamstore.

You can buy the MP3s from iTunes, Amazon UK and elsewhere.

Akala’s blog has a useful note for anyone who buys the MP3s.

Follow @AkalaMusic on Twitter.

Happy birthday Freddie Hubbard

An all-time jazz legend!

Another one for Mandela’s birthday: Tracy Chapman – Freedom Now

Beautiful song dedicated to Nelson Mandela.

They throwed him in jail
And they kept him there
Hoping soon he’d die
That his body and spirit would waste away
And soon after that his mind

But every day is born a fool
One who thinks that he can rule
One who says tomorrow’s mine
One who wakes one day to find
The prison doors open the shackles broken
And chaos in the streets

Everybody sing we’re free free free free
Everybody sing we’re free free free free
Everybody sing we’re free free free free

The throwed him in jail
And they kept him there
Hoping his memory’d die
That the people forget how he once led
And fought for justice in their lives

But every day is born a man
Who hates what he can’t understand
Who thinks the answer is to kill
Who thinks his actions are god’s will

And he thinks he’s free free free free
Yes he thinks he’s free free free free
He thinks he’s free free free free

Soon must come the day
When the righteous have their way
Unjustly tried are free
And people live in peace I say
Give the man release
Go on and set your conscience free
Right the wrongs you made
Even a fool can have his day

Let us all be free free free free
Let us all be free free free free
Let us all be free free free free

Free our bodies free our mind
Free our hearts
Freedom for everyone
And freedom now

Freedom now
Freedom now
Freedom now

Let us all be free free free free
Let us all be free free free free
Let us all be free free free free

Birthday greetings to Assata Shakur

Best wishes to legendary freedom fighter Assata Shakur! Here is Common’s beautiful tribute (easily one of his best ever tracks – his support for a black power exile earned him the hatred of the tea party lunatics). I hope Assata is enjoying the hospitality of her revolutionary brothers and sisters in Cuba.

In the spirit of god.
In the spirit of the ancestors.
In the spirit of the black panthers.
In the spirit of assata shakur.
We make this movement towards freedom
For all those who have been oppressed, and all those in the struggle.
Yeah. yo, check it-

There were lights and sirens, gunshots firin
Cover your eyes as I describe a scene so violent
Seemed like a bad dream, she laid in a blood puddle
Blood bubbled in her chest, cold air brushed against open flesh
No room to rest, pain consumed each breath
Shot twice wit her hands up
Police questioned but shot before she answered
One Panther lost his life, the other ran for his
Scandalous the police were as they kicked and beat her
Comprehension she was beyond, tryna hold on
To life. she thought she’d live with no arm
That’s what it felt like, got to the hospital, eyes held tight
They moved her room to room-she could tell by the light
Handcuffed tight to the bed, through her skin it bit
Put guns to her head, every word she got hit
‘who shot the trooper? ‘ they asked her
Put mace in her eyes, threatened to blast her
Her mind raced till things got still
Opened her eyes, realized she’s next to her best friend who got killed
She got chills, they told her: that’s where she would be next
Hurt mixed wit anger-survival was a reflex
They lied and denied visits from her lawyer
But she was buildin as they tried to destroy her
If it wasn’t for this german nurse they woulda served her worse
I read this sister’s story, knew that it deserved a verse
I wonder what would happen if that woulda been me?
All this shit so we could be free, so dig it, y’all.

I’m thinkin’ of assata, yes.
Listen to my love, assata, yes.
Your power and pride is beautiful.
May God bless your soul.

It seemed like the middle of the night when the law awakened her
Walkie-talkies cracklin, I see ’em when they takin her
Though she kinda knew,
What made the ride peaceful was the trees and the sky was blue
Arrived to middlesex prison about six inna morning
Uneasy as they pushed her to the second floor in
A cell, one cot, no window, facing hell.
Put in the basement of a prison wit all males
And the smell of misery, seatless toilets and centipedes
She’d exercise, (paint? ,) and begin to read
Two years inna hole. her soul grew weak
Away from people so long she forgot how to speak
She discovered freedom is a unspoken sound
And a wall is a wall and can be broken down
Found peace in the panthers she went on trial with
One of the brothers she had a child with
The foulness they would feed her, hopin she’s lose her seed
Held tight, knowing the fight would live through this seed
In need of a doctor, from her stomach she’s bleed
Out of this situation a girl was conceived
Separated from her, left to mother the revolution
And lactated to attack hate
Cause federal and state was built for a black fate
Her emptiness was filled with beatings and court dates
They fabricated cases, hoping one would stick
And said she robbed places that didn’t exist
In the midst of threats on her life and being caged with aryan whites
Through dark halls of hate she carried the light
I wonder what would happen if that woulda been me?
All of this shit so we could be free.
Yeah, I often wonder what would happen if that woulda been me?
All of this shit so we could be free, so dig it, people-

From north carolina her grandmother would bring
News that she had had a dream
Her dreams always meant what they needed them to mean
What made them real was the action in between
She dreamt that Assata was free in they old house in queens
The fact that they always came true was the thing
Assata had been convicted of a murder she couldna done
Medical evidence shown she couldna shot the gun
It’s time for her to see the sun from the other side
Time for her daughter to be by her mother’s side
Time for this beautiful woman to become soft again
Time for her to breathe, and not be told how or when
She untangled the chains and escaped the pain
How she broke out of prison I could never explain
And even to this day they try to get to her
But she’s free with political asylum in cuba.

I’m thinkin’ of Assata, yeah.
Listen to my love, Assata, yeah.
We’re moulded from the same mud, Assata.
We share the same blood, Assata, yeah.
Your power and pride, so beautiful…
May God bless your soul.
Your power and pride, so beautiful…
May God bless your soul.

Freedom! you askin me about freedom. askin me about freedom?
I’ll be honest with you. I know a whole more about what freedom isn’t
Than about what it is, cause I’ve never been free.
I can only share my vision with you of the future, about what freedom is.
Uhh, the way I see it, freedom is — is the right to grow, is the right to
Freedom is -is the right to be yourself, to be who you are,
To be who you wanna be, to do what you wanna do.

Verbal Terrorists ‘No Ifs No Buts’

Uncompromising anti-war anti-cuts UK hip-hop anthem!

No ifs, no buts, no fees, no cuts
No more buying lies from these evil fucks
No ifs, no buts, no fees, no cuts
No surrender no retreat not me, not us
No ifs, no buts, no fees, no cuts
No rotten politician can speak for us
No ifs, no buts, no fees, no cuts
No surrender, no retreat, not me, not us

Verse 1
Clegg claims we haven’t read up he thinks that we’re fools
You patronising fuck you’re the one whose ignorant dude
You think 50 grand of debt wouldn’t influence you?
And it’s not just the money it’s the principle too
Why should the next generation pay for your crisis
While big business dodge tax and evade the law like this
They talk of fairness everyone’s feeling the squeeze
A cabinet of millionaires who got free degrees
They say the recession was made by irresponsible debt
So what’s the government done in response to this threat?
Charge the students more leave the poor wanting instead
Solving debt with more debt’s an incompetent bet
And that’s not the only reason I despise the policy
Cos it’s not right to treat knowledge like commodity
Anger in streets the press can’t describe it properly
Calling petty vandalism violence, honestly?
Regarding police as the divine authority
I saw them charge with horses but they deny atrocities
It’s no surprise and yet it rightly bothers me
That we value human life less than private property
It’s 1984 spreading like a virus
Having de ja vu cos we got striking minors
From the schools not the pits a frightening likeness
Students and workers unite and fight beside us!


Verse 2
Once more, rich bailed out by the poor
Lopsided cuts bringing us through class war
Queen’s subjects with nuff debts are taxed more
Than the rich fat cats who dodge through the back door
Look at Tesco, registered in Britain alone
But with Seven Sister companies out in Monaco
The cost of the cuts to the DSS
Could be covered by the unpaid debts of Vodafone
That knob from Topshop knows what’s what
Got the whole lot boxed off
It’s got me mad distressed cos he cashed a cheque
For over a billion quid and wasn’t taxed a cent
It’s like they’ve got the game theory on lock
So the strategy is spanners in imperial cogs
Boycott big chains burn the big 3 and rise up
It’s high time we wise up


Verse 3
I’m sick of living off crumbs of a table we have made
From the bread that we have baked using wheat we have raised
Now they’re putting up funds and taking EMA
We want to save jobs but don’t forget that we are slaves
See we put in the hard work they just pocket the funds
So I’m in the streets shouting at the top of me lungs
We’re claiming them back from these opulent scum
I’m plotting not stopping till we topple these cunts
This one’s for the mums, the students and the migrants as well
It’s rich two toffs telling us to tighten our belts
Say goodbye to our jobs goodbye to our health
Might as well tighten the noose on kids bright with no wealth
Does smashing windows constitute actual violence?
I’ll tell you what the real fucking staggering crime is
We pay a thousand pound a week for Cameron’s stylist
Is your tax misspent? Cos I’m adamant mine is
No money for our schools but we can pay for our troops
Disgracing our youth with lies displayed on the news
It’s blatant abuse they’re manipulating the truth
About police brutality won’t engage with the proof
My lyrics laced with fury but I’m staying astute
Gracing the booth with the pain of kids facing the boot
From the dirty pigs they’re the real thugs on the streets


Geronimo ji-Jaga – the essence of a revolutionary

Geronimo ji-Jaga

Geronimo ji-Jaga

Geronimo ji-Jaga (né Elmer Pratt), former Minister of Defense of the Black Panther Party, died on the 2nd of June, 2011. He will be remembered as an upstanding revolutionary who never stopped fighting for justice and freedom.

Ji-Jaga was born on 13 September 1947, in a close-knit black community in Louisiana. He said of his early surroundings: “The situation was pretty racist, on the one hand; on the other, it was full of integrity and dignity and the pride of being a part of this community … the values, the work ethic, very respectful to everyone.”

Having graduated from high school, he was sent by the elders in his community to join the army, in order to learn military skills that could be used to protect the black community.

“There was a policy that some of us, when we got of age, would be sent to come back and help protect the Black community from racist attacks from the Ku Klux Klan. It had nothing – and listen to me carefully – nothing to do with being patriotic to America. It had everything to do with getting training and returning to protect the community from the Ku Klux Klan. Little did I know, I was going to end up in Vietnam, blown up, all this stuff, but that’s just the way things happen.”

Upon his return from Vietnam, ji-Jaga began to see how the police treated the black community in much the same way as the army treated the rebel Vietnamese forces. He proceeded to put his significant military experience at the service of the black liberation movement. By 1968, he was acting Minister of Defense of the Black Panther Party, and a leader of its Los Angeles chapter. After leading the LA chapter’s defence against a six-hour onslaught by LAPD’s SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) team, Geronimo was described in the Black Panther newspaper as “the very essence of a revolutionary”. In 1969, ji-Jaga was sent by Huey P Newton to go underground and develop a revolutionary infrastructure in the deep south.

The FBI targeted Geronimo ji-Jaga in their notorious Cointelpro operation, aiming to “neutralize Pratt as an effective BPP functionary.” In 1972, he was falsely accused and convicted of the murder of a woman. He spent a quarter of a century in prison, much of which was spent in solitary confinement. He was freed in 1997 when his legal team, backed by a number of civil rights groups, were able to prove that the main witness against Geronimo was an FBI informant.

Upon his release from prison, Geronimo worked hard in support of other political prisoners.

Geronimo always maintained a strong Afrocentric focus, and considered it very important that the African diaspora in the US and elsewhere reclaim the African roots that slavery and white supremacy had tried to cut off. He changed his surname from Pratt to ji-Jaga in 1968, reasoning:

Names are very important to our historical personality. By having these alienating names, we develop a certain kind of schizophrenia that we can regain by reclaiming our historical personality.

He spent many months a year in Tanzania. In one of his last interviews, he said: “I want to remind all Africans, please come to Africa. It’s right across the water. Come look at yourselves. Momma is waiting.”

Geronimo ji-Jaga is a particularly important name in the hip-hop community due to his being Tupac Shakur’s godfather. Ji-Jaga had a great insight on the attempts of the state and the corporations to subvert hip-hop:

“Hip-hop is indigenous and it’s powerful and it scares the hell out of these people, right? So, they have to get control and employ Cointelpro-like tactics. They work easily. I saw it with Pac. Before he was murdered I mentioned that to him. I believe to this day that they were involved in his death and they were involved in other deaths.”

On the legacy of Cointelpro and the rise of gangsterism since the decline of the black power movement, Geronimo said:

“After the leadership of the BPP was attacked at the end of the 60s and the early 70s, throughout the Black and other oppressed communities, the role models for up-coming generations became the pimps, the drug dealers, etc. This is what the government wanted to happen. The result was that the gangs were coming together with a gangster mentality, as opposed to the revolutionary progressive mentality we would have given them.”

Geronimo ji-Jaga died of a heart attack in his adopted country, Tanzania, on June 2. Rest in power always.

A selection of Durrty Goodz

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been posting Durrty Goodz tracks on my Twitter and Facebook pretty much every day – partly as a response to a few people that have been dissing grime and saying there’s nothing positive in it. I’m not down with being negative about grime – like any music it has different lyrical narratives in it, some amazing and some bullshit, but it is an important voice of the young and oppressed in this country (comparable to dub in the 80s and jungle in the 90s). Goodz is undoubtedly one of the most talented artists on the scene, and he combines his incredible flows and storytelling skills with a thought-provoking, conscious narrative. His latest album ‘Overall’ is due out very soon and will no doubt be a classic.

Give Me The Music (feat. Ny)

This ridiculously slept-on banger will speak to anyone that couldn’t do without music. Life is full of struggle and music is one of the main things that gets us through it.


This is a heeeeavy track opposing gun violence and showcasing Goodz’ lyrical versatility. Great video from Carl Allegard.

Letter 2 Titch

A message to Goodz’ brother in prison (the legendary MC Crazy Titch). Some serious emotional depth on this.

Switchin Songs

A history of garage and grime, and a showcase for Goodz’ unparalleled ability to switch flows.

Westwood freestyle

This is freestyle on another level.

Grime Killers

Very interesting lyrics on this one – about cultural scapegoating (“grime makes kids kill each other”) and the state’s hatred of black economic empowerment.


A very deep concept, beautiful lyrics and great production.

Boi Dem

“You’re thinking that I’m hiding some of the white ting but I ain’t shottin a Red Bull!” Fiiiring track about the feds.

Freedom Fighters

A tasty freestyle from 2004 or so. Title says it all!

Back 2 School

For those that think grime artists can’t chat positive!


Goodz and Terror Danjah show the link between jungle and grime.

More 2 Da Floor

Hilarious statement about grime MCs selling out and doing pop-dance tracks.


One of the most creative and lyrically brilliant tracks to come out of the UK scene. Full of history and metaphor.

Download the amazing album Born Blessed for free.
Buy Axiom on iTunes – one of the best grime releases of all time IMO.
Buy Ultrasound on iTunes
Buy the latest single Oi What U Lookin At on iTunes
Follow Durrty Goodz on Twitter

RIP Smiley Culture. Guess they never forgave him for ‘Police Officer’.

Classic resistant anthem!

Lyrics: Termanology feat Reks – Freedom

Most of you who keep up with current hip-hop will have peeped the new Statik Selektah and Termanology album, 1982. So far this is my favourite track of the album. Termanology has got a great voice and good flows, but I’m not generally into his lyrical content; however, it’s great to see him exploring socially relevant ideas in this collaboration with Reks, who has more of a reputation as a ‘conscious’ MC.

Reks kicks things off with a classic ‘keep your head up’-themed verse:

The government don’t love us, they told us we were two-thirds
Human being, you MCing, keeping them scared
Keeping ’em worried, that’s why they bury Panthers
Bobby Seale prolly fist still up in the air
Who murdered Malcolm, who murdered Pac, who murdered Big?
Is there a heaven out there from this hell we live?
Right in this hell we live, I tell my son to dream big
See he don’t understand what struggle is
Or how the government planned to keep us in ghettos
Drug dealers our heros, I come to tears
Thinking the black leadership shrinking
Cos of innate feeling that we inferior, fearing our peers
Niggaz is, always was free
Even when we fall like Sir Humpty
We pick up the pieces
From following leaders to leading demons from the dark
Ghetto is our Garden of Eden
Long as you breathin’ gotta keep your head believin’, boss

Reks’s verse is basically optimistic, saying we *will* make progress. Term’s verse is arguably more nihilistic, explaining the messed up situation without showing a path out of it. However, it’s great to have this overview of the Puerto Rican experience in the US, which, given the role played by Puerto Ricans in the development of hip-hop, is not heard often enough.

My people came to this country in 1950
Now my family are mean Puerto Ricans
So that alone shows you that we know a different struggle
Americans got heritage we didn’t fuck wit
Like that racism, and the prejudice
We was only here to get them dead presidents
We weren’t here for the slavery or the bravery
Of the women who fought so they could get their right to vote
We was them dirty Spanish kids on the trifest boats
We was in them cold-ass houses, no lights and soap
Now you’ve been schooled in why we do shootings
Move drugs and treat our women abusive
Cos that’s all we ever knew from day one
Ain’t got a dollar but uffin’ to make one
We had our own rules and this is not all we know
But we learnt to pack the [gun?] when we learnt to rock the coke
There pappy go, gettin so populoso
With his 4-4, more chains than Loso
Caucasians, Asians and Latinos all buy from us
So we be on the d-lo, killing every race including our own people
Until somebody snitch on us and we in chino
We Latino, feeling of the proudest race
Before we powdered our face, Jesucristo
Was the man that our momma used to talk about
Papa somehow made it to church, though we fallin’ out
We never had a great leader in America tellin’ us keep ya head up
Shit got me fed up
So now these young bucks going for the cheddar
Put masks on they faces, straps on they waistses,
Sip hennessee out the bag, no chasers
Keep ratchets in they bag or they basements,
Man this shit’s outrageous

Statik’s production is, as ever, bumping and soulful; a perfect complement to Reks’s and Termanology’s vocals.

Get the album on iTunes
Termanology on Twitter
Reks on Twitter
Statik Selektah on Twitter

Skinnyman interview

Via Rhyme and Reason

Great interview with a true innovator of the UK hip-hop scene. Big up Skinnyman for representing the marginalised and disenfranchised youth! If only more artists took some responsibility for their communities.

In part 1, he gives some insight into his outlook on life, how he got into hip-hop and why he raps the way he does.

In part 2, he gives a great rundown of the cipher culture and how the ‘battle’ within hip-hop plays a positive role. He also addresses his charitable work with WaterAid.

Much respect to a legend. I for one am looking forward to his performance in London tomorrow night!

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