The Cape Town-born, Jozi-based rapper AKA is just about to drop his sophomore album Levels. At the listening session, he set some time aside to chop it up with us. What follows is a candid and in-depth discussion about pan-Africanism, cross-continental collaborations, and his decision to fuse house and hip hop beats to create what he simply calls 'a new sound'. This is how it all went down.
Axecess: We've noticed that you've been making steady in-roads into the African continent, something that South African hip hop artists seem to have either overlooked or failed to do. What inspired this?
AKA: I want to make steps to connect on the continent because I believe that our future is not in America, our future is not in Europe, our future's right here! We have enough people, we have enough spending power, and we need to take pride in being South African; or being Nigerian; or being Ghanaian. One thing unites us all, and that's being African. As a people, we have a certain warmth, a certain demeanour about us. And if we're all Africans, we can all unite. We don't even need America or Europe. For me to do songs with [Ghanaian rapper] Sarkodie, I'm reaching out to his people; his people are familiar with me, and they're also reaching out. It's like an exchange, and it's just breaking down borders and breaking down barriers, making sure we make music together as Africans.
Your lyrics have not always celebrated pan-Africanism. Is that something you'll be delving into on the forthcoming album, Levels?
I will definitely have music on that album that touches on the fact that... it's crazy to think that Mali was one of the most powerful places in the world! Mansa Musa, the richest man to ever live, is an African. The Egyptians, they are African. I get into it on this album; I have music that touches on social and political issues. Not just limited to us as South Africans, but also us, as Africans. I do believe that we're getting to a point where we're going to wake up! At some point we are going to wake up and we're going to understand that we need to support our own; we need to be loyal to our own and push our own music, our own slang, our own clothes, our own culture. And that's really happening right now.
How are you going to achieve that without sounding preachy?
By being sincere. People can always pick up by sincerity in music. What did Peter Tosh say, 'you can fool some people sometimes, but you can't fool all the people all the time.' That'll come through in the music, and I can't wait for people to start hearing that side of my music on this album as well.
Why did you decide to fuse house samples over hip hop beats on this project?
Simply, I need to make music that separates me from anybody else. I don't know how many hip hop artists you see right now who get on-stage, do their thing with the band and a DJ, and take the time and effort to give people a show. You can probably count those people on one hand. It's about separation, and that's why the new album is called Levels.