Based on his work with the Hip Hop Shakespeare Company, in this TED talk, Akala demonstrates the connections between Shakespeare and hip hop ranging from the obvious links such as rhythm and language, to less less well known similarities. For instance, they share many common misconceptions; Shakespeare as being culturally ‘high-brow’ and of the Queen’s English, and hip hop as being purely gangsta rap. In actuality Shakespeare’s works were focused on and spoke to the Elizabethan ‘street’ and hip hop is essentially poetry.
Akala talks about the fifth element of hip hop: Knowledge. He argues that until the mid 1990s, commercially successful hip hop artists boasted about how clever they were, ‘dropped science’ and demonstrated their knowledge, whilst simultaneously rapped about life in the ‘hood. The two were not mutually exclusive as hip hop artists wanted to educate themselves and others and transmit their knowledge through music.
The most interesting point Akala raises is the question who is allowed to be a custodian of knowledge? Hip hop, like Shakespeare, holds the power to impart philosophy, history, social and political commentary, and encourage us to question the world around us. Rather than the gatekeepers of knowledge being the elite, in the twenty-first century anyone can be a custodian of knowledge, including hip hop rappers.