Published: 8 April, 2011
by ROISIN GADELRAB
MAYBE it’s hatred I spew, maybe it’s food for the spirit,” – Shakespeare or an internationally reknowned rapper?
This is just one of the tests Akala poses in his quest to show young people the Bard’s work is not as archaic as they think.
For those who couldn’t work it out, the answer’s Eminem, on Renegade with Jay-Z.
The success of the Hip-Hop Shakespeare Company – which explores the social, cultural and linguistic parallels between Shakespeare and hip-hop – spearheaded by rapper Akala aka Kingslee Daley, and brother of Ms Dynamite, has not gone unnoticed.
They’ve featured on CNN, there’s a film in the pipeline and they’re due to appear at the Roundhouse Studios during the Camden Crawl (April 30-May 1).
Any trepidation youngsters have when joining a workshop is immediately broken when faced with the Shakespeare v Rapper test.
Kingslee, who grew up in Camden, and went to Acland Burghley School, said: “We ask if they think they can tell the difference between a quote from one of their favourite rappers and Shakespeare and they all say it’d be obvious, Shakespeare’s so different, so old. We do the test and no one can ever tell the difference.
“Once you take the language out of context you start to get a sense of how much your perception affects your treatment of art.
“Whether you like it or not, that’s just a part of the human condition. You make these judgements not solely based on the quality of the work and that’s what really becomes obvious to people.”
The company aims to remove the elitism that surrounds Shakespeare, and the “ignorant crass stereotypes” that surround hip-hop.
Kingsley was attracted to Shakespeare from an early age because of its parallels to the lyrical music he was already listened to. He said: “It just clicked with me this is the same kind of stuff I already listen to – it’s poetry. He captured the human condition the way few writers have.”
Kingslee says he is torn between Hamlet and Richard II as his favourite play.
He said: “Richard II is the most rhythmic, it sounds like a rap. Hamlet for the complexity of the story, the betrayal, the cauldron of feelings – it’s maybe his strongest character.”
The project has provided jobs and training for some of the most promising participants. One young writer has gone on to scribe plays for the Young Vic and Kingslee hopes one day to set up a whole institution dedicated to the cause.
Kingslee said: “Ultimately we all want the same thing – young people that can read and write well and are enthusiastic about language. Whatever methods we use that are most effective – that is the most sensible thing to do.”
Kingslee finds the job particularly rewarding.
He said: “When you work with young people in difficult circumstances and they share something with you through a piece of writing and it becomes a cathartic experience for them or they realise they have a passion no one’s ever stoked in them or they have an intelligence that no one ever told them they have – that kind of ability to help people self discover is the thing I’m most proud of.”
He has just returned from Sudan, where he hosted workshops in-between gigs.
He said: “It went really well. I hate to say it but every time I travel, particularly to countries in the so-called third world, it’s embarrassing the level of education. No disrespect, but they have a much firmer grasp of the English language than most of the young people (he works with here). You have 16-year-old kids when we’re talking about Shakespeare, saying, yeah he wrote in archaic English – this is the level of grasp of the language we’re talking about.
“Perhaps because education over there is so much more difficult to obtain, there’s so much more respect for it once it’s gone. They take it very seriously if they get the opportunity to get a decent education.”
And while Shakespeare proved a hit, so did the hip-hop element.
He said: “Hip-hop over there is as big as it is over here – all over Africa – hip-hop and reggae – Bob Marley’s become bigger then he even was in Jamaica. He’s become a larger than life persona throughout the African continent. And hip-hop, particularly the more politically aware socially conscious hip-hop, has really connected, from my experience throughout the continent and the world.”
Kingslee no longer lives in Camden, having left for the peace of Hertfordshire but he’s having a change of heart:
He added: “I’m out in the sticks now but it’s a bit too quiet for me. I think I’m going to move back into Camden.”
For further information visit www.hiphopshakespeare.com