‘The streets gave birth to hip hop, and the streets are where it lives. But the corporate world stole rap. Now Akala’s stealing it back.’
That is an excerpt from Akala’s official website. It is without a doubt a noble cause and one that many may find truth in. It is often true that the more ‘mainstream’ rap is inferior to the more underground material, and Akala is definitely more underground and ‘grimy’ that anything that is to be found on the charts. However, reclaiming hip hop is a colossal task and one that many have laid claim to, and ultimately remain unsuccessful. There is only one thing that can be said regarding his aim, and Akala’s sophomore album; it’s not working so far.
Akala is arguably leading the way for British hip-hop right now. Compared to the other artists with albums released this year, Kano and Dizzee Rascal, he is a step above. He’s more tolerable than Dizzee, with his almost overpowering accent and somewhat forced nature. And compared to Kano, Akala is far superior due to his skill on the microphone and his ability to just know what to do. Akala never sounds forced with his rapping or with his chosen beats. It all feels completely natural which comes with his ability to excel at most things he takes part in.
shows a refinement of Akala’s own style. This time he forgoes the guitar dominated loops found on his debut, It’s Not a Rumour
and instead chooses the route of the synthesisers and more computerised sounds. That’s the most blatantly obvious difference between the two records and this album benefits because of that change in style. The lead track, Electro Livin’
shows this perfectly with a slow, pulsing beat that mainly never changes throughout the whole song. Things are mixed with more synthesised bleeps and drum patterns that increase the tempo and keep things from dragging. The same is true for the title track, which follows on. This song uses the same sound effects as Electro Livin’
, just slowed down to fit the nature of the song. The beats from then on range from jerky violins, to slow acoustic guitars. The backing tracks for the most part always fit the song.
Akala himself shows us exactly what he can do on this album. He definitely has a talent as a rapper. His voice never grates as much as Dizzee Rascal and it rarely falls into a monotonous drone like Kano. Instead his voice is fairly pleasant on the ears for most of the time. Sometimes his voice is commanding and the forces the listener to listen to what he has to say, and other times he sounds lazy and that attention is lost. For example, the chorus hook to You Put a Spell On Me
, no effort is made to grab the listener’s attention. It sounds very drab and that track suffers heavily from it, becoming one of the album’s inferior tracks. Akala also sometimes falls into the trap of going too fast, blurring the music. While he is technically capable of going at light speed, it is questionable as to whether he should or not. It can easily be compared to a band like Dream Theater, going out of their way to show what they can do and sacrificing some of the musical quality to achieve that.
The largest complaint to be levelled at this album is the way that most of the songs bleed together. The only real highlight of the album is Electro Livin’
, and that’s coming at a stretch. Even though individually, the songs are all unique in their own way, not enough is done to differentiate them from each other. Even within the songs, this is the case with the hooks capable of far too much repetition and not enough mixing of single sections. Furthermore, almost all of the slower songs are placed on the second half of the album, making the album feel weighted. As a result, the first half of the album is far superior to the second half, which is a shame as mixing them up together may have easily defeated this problem. Ultimately, Freedom Lasso
is a promising album with painfully obvious flaws. Akala definitely has the skill and determination to make it big in the music world, and he stands a chance, no matter how small, of reclaiming hip-hop. Unfortunately, this is not the album to achieve that.