Authentic, funny and socially conscious, Akshay is one in a new line of generational rappers who are confronting the pitfall of commercialisation typically rife in the entertainment industry. The British rapper, Akala, famously uses hard-hitting verse to talk about the persisting racism of an imperial era while Canadian rapper, Shad, explicitly champions women in his songs within a male-dominated, and often misogynistic, world.
Akshay’s exceptional niche is the uplifting, emotive focus on the power of community and education in creating an empowered self.
Growing up in the late Nineties and Noughties, “as people called it,” Akshay, or Mr Shay, first entered the lyrical landscape of hip-hop through the urban sub-genre of Grime. “This was a time when Grime music was taking a massive turn for the better. It was changing from being underground, and based solely in (East) London where it originated, to being more widely enjoyed across the country. It wasn’t so much that it was mainstream as becoming more available by those who sought it.” Akshay emphasised the inherent “social quality” of general street-based rap. “As a youngster, I discovered the latest tracks and MCs through my London-based cousins, and soon took the music to the playground myself.”
The Leicester-born rapper would use raw rhymes as a form of expression, also gradually fostering a healthy sense of belonging. “Grime was more than music: it was a lifestyle. You’d have rap battles with your friends, and imaginatively use lyrics to test yourself and spar with each other. The known term is ‘clashing’. It might sound superficial, but it builds a lasting confidence.” Today, standing an inspirational Community Rapper, Akshay shows that the proof is in the person! Indeed, as well as being a rising Rap artist, he is the founder of production company, The Underground Creatives, responsible for running workshops that use the creativity of rap to bring out young people’s originality, and showcase up-and-coming talent in the local area.
“We help young people create their own music to find a connection to themselves and communicate it. One of my projects has been with the charity, Pedestrian Arts in Leicester. We held 8 weeks of workshops to help aspiring youth hone their craft to finally showcase their products at the prestigious Leicester Curve Theatre. This was well-funded which allowed us to have the best industry professionals watch the performances, and allowed them to see that local artists can be excellent in turn. These kids could be on the radio and handle big live performances, holding their own.” Akshay’s hope is to continue building a network in Leicester and The Midlands and to move across the UK, bridging the gap between good independent music and the opportunities that are found in bigger cities: “You will hear the stories no one else is telling.”
Indeed, the contemporary rapper’s own budding music call to deeper messages that promote poetic curiosity, social activism and an ongoing commitment to self-development. This is evident in songs such as Poseidon Riddim, Go Back Home, and Just Chilling. “A lot of rap tends to err on an unchecked level of self-importance. My work always departed from that – exploring meaning, spirituality and purpose.” However, significantly, in addition to his philanthropic outlook, Akshay specialises in the compelling art of Beatboxing, which introduces a lightness and an extra spontaneous spice to his signature songs. Indeed, this is what constitutes Akshay’s particular sound. The rapper reiterated: “again, Beatboxing evolved from my early relationship with Grime. That genre used electronic synthesisers and gaming sounds on a loop. You’d have phrases lifted from video games such as Street Fighter, Tekken and Mortal Combat. I went one step further to use the loop station to sample the voices of people. We weren’t allowed phones in school so I’d get someone to create the sound with their own vocal chords – Later, I’d use my own voice to run over the sample recordings and create beats too.” Now, Akshay will play back audience reactions as he raps on stage, and comperes community rap shows.
“Once at an event, one of my most memorable, there were technical difficulties playing the digital instrumentals as the backdrop to the lyrics, so I decided to improvise a purely acapella set! The live energy was great with people already body-popping in the audience. I thought it would be best to do my own Beatbox set and rap. People were so involved; there was synchronised stomping to my beat. That connection, using only your mouth, is so immediate. Beatboxing is unparalleled that way. Connected to the simpler beats and melodies of rap, really good rappers can impressively improvise on the spot. It’s an experiential sharpness that can’t be easily replicated. I love being the creator of real moments – I don’t like performance to be repetitive.”
Reinvigorating the up-front, honest value within rap music then, Akshay not only demonstrates the resourcefulness of the genre, but also the untapped potential of the everyday individual. “It’s amazing what you can do with just your voice,” he emphasised. “You can be your own instrument: everything else is an extension of this.” This resonates with a zeitgeist that goes beyond respect of the individual to celebrating individuality as whole. People don’t simply want a society that sees them, but also allows them to thrive while being their unfettered selves too. Akshay fittingly concluded by commenting on the unique balancing act that will be his first album: “I’m happy to announce that my EP will be coming out soon. It’s an evolution of my rhythmic journey. It is called POLARISED as I continue to negotiate the conscious positive thought, and gripping, assertive pull of in-yer-face lyrics and attitude. The EP is also a fortunate by-product of my social enterprise, Underground Creatives, which has been the main focus of my career.” It seems the first song should be called: a modern equilibrium!
Can anyone BeatBox?
I actually get that question a lot from women. In which case I refer them to a World Champion BeatBoxer by the name of Bellatrix. She is a petite woman who creates rounded bass sounds as well as all the rhythms under the sun! Regardless of gender, anyone can, yes. You just need to train yourself. In my workshops, I always teach the basics and by the end everyone can manage a simple rhythm.
Can you give us some basics?
There is the famous ‘Boots and Cats’ example. You repeat that, and then start emphasising the Bs and C’s. This emphasises the plosive sounds and the sibilance. Then you remove the vowels and say that over, and finally you can add chicken tikka or just tikka if you’re vegetarian, and you’ve completed BeatBox 101! Boots n Cats Tikka Tikka Boo-Cats
Tell us more on your own Beat-Boxing nights where you compere?
They will mostly be workshops I run with young people who are, disengaged, or from disadvantaged backgrounds. They might have been expelled from school or experienced bullying or mental health barriers, and are considered vulnerable. I also do music sessions around anti-bullying and mental health, and facilitating young people on how to produce an album.
Beat-Boxing is accessible because all you need is mouth; loops get people interested in music; finally, the music production sessions gets them invested and most importantly heard. At the end of the courses there is a sharing show with parents and perhaps bigger guests such as the local mayor. This is massive for self-esteem, and social development.
Currently, I have a show called Mr Swing and the Beat Rangers as part of the Spark Festival, touring 3 different schools, this week. It is aimed at children, and will be me Beat-Boxing with jazz and African style drummers, and a break dancer to explore different forms of rhythm. The finale show will be at the Y Theatre in Leicester on the 15th.
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“Grime was more than music: it was a lifestyle. You’d have rap battles with your friends, and imaginatively use lyrics to test yourself”