Akala first came to my attention with his track Shakespeare from 2006; one of the best grime tracks made and still as relevant today as it was then. Throughout his career Akala has been one of the most intelligent rappers around, and in recent years he has become more and more involved in politics, especially concerning race, identity and poverty. If you search his name on YouTube you will find TED Talks and panel shows during which he is more eloquent than most elected politicians. He also works on bringing Shakespeare to more young people with The Hip-hop Shakespeare Company.
Natives is a work that reflects Akala’s political beliefs whilst also being a biographical work. He avoids the autobiographical standard of telling a rags to riches story without real content, and I would definitely not categorise this book as solely biographical; Akala cleverly uses his experiences to make wider points about the nature of race and class in Britain. Akala reflects upon his life, growing up in 1980s and 90s Britian as a mixed-race (Scottish Jamaican) boy and how this effected his education, his work prospects, and him in general. He talks of institutionalised racism, and his thoughts on whether this is being broken down. The wonderful thing about Akala’s writing is how well self-aware and succinct it is, no chapter seems out of place and his personal stories are used to make a wider point that he has clearly thought about for a long time.
This book is actually quite an uncomfortable read, even for someone like myself how does have a knowledge of Britain’s real colonial history. Akala tells a history of British Empire that opens eyes and may reveal to many people why Britain isn’t necessarily so ‘Great’ after all. As a fan of hip hop this book was great to understand where Akala has come from, but more important for me is the treatment that I have never experienced that Akala shows is the norm for many non-white members of my own community.