The Sunday Joint at HiFi has long been a go-to place for exciting live music. I’ve seen some people I’m big fans of here (including Dr. Syntax and The Mouse Outfit on the first night I moved to Leeds three years ago), as well as discovering quality acts for the first time too. Astonished when Akala was announced as appearing at the free weekly night, I headed down to see the veteran London MC, well known for his sophisticated writing and intelligent content; he’s just a very, VERY good rapper.
After over an hours anticipation, with the crowd growing to make HiFi the busiest I’ve ever seen it, the screen at the back of the stage starts flickering, with images of important figures spliced with footage of Akala. The set starts with ‘Bang Wid Us’, from his 2015 album ‘Knowledge Is Power Vol. 2’, and Akala’s energetic, authoritative presence is instantly felt around the room. Next up is ‘Sun Tzu’; the decisive delivery and thought-provoking content is backed by a live drummer and a DJ.
On ‘XXL’, Akala demonstrates his heavy flow. The intricate syllables are recited with clarity, and his rapid-fire spitting keeps the energy at a high. His intelligent lyricism is delivered with power, passion and precision. ‘Sometimes’ highlights the emotion and soul in Akala’s music. The writing is cuttingly real, and it’s clear tonight how much of an effect his message has on people.
‘Pompus Peterson’ is a pounding, bass-driven grime banger, and it makes a real change to see the genre being exploited in such a substantial way; the concept (played out by Akala before the song started) is both interesting and intelligent, but it’s also delivered at furious 140 BPM tempo. ‘Sovereign Master’ sees Akala display a versatile mix of flows over a minimal, crisp drum beat. He also kills a portion of his historic first Fire In The Booth appearance before dropping ‘Shakespeare’. It’s the third-time lucky as technical difficulties were preventing the performance of Akala’s breakout track.
‘Don’t Piss Me Off’ is a highlight of the set. No matter the vibe or the style of the track, the content Akala brings is always considered, relatable and inspiring. He also drops ‘Roll Wid Us’, another iconic cut from his 2006 debut album entitled ‘It’s Not A Rumour’. ‘Dat Boy Akala’ is another track for the longtime fans, before bringing us up to date with his recent single ‘Mr. Fire In The Booth’; Akala’s catalogue is impressively deep and he proves that with tonight’s set, and he closes the show with the mellow and introspective ‘Find No Enemy’
With a fantastically structured show, pure energy from start to finish and content that will surely have made even the drunkest member of tonight’s audience (it is a free Sunday night event in Leeds after all) come away pondering something he touched on, Akala did his job well. It’s easy to see why he’s remained musically relevant for almost ten years now; if you ever get a chance to see the man, don’t think about it, just do it.
By Sam Bennett