The most recent episode in the Folger’s Shakespeare Unlimited podcast features British poet, rapper, and educator Kingslee James Daley, who goes by the stage name Akala.
Since 2009, under the auspices of The Hip-hop Shakespeare Company (THSC), Akala has been going to community centers, prisons, and schools in immigrant and underserved communities, using the tools of hip-hop to spread an understanding of the relevance of Shakespeare’s poetry.
Akala often leads with the question “Is it hip-hop, or is it Shakespeare?” This question has tripped up many people, including Sir Ian McKellen, which as Akala says, “the point is to just show you that once you remove the baggage of what you think Shakespeare’s about and what you think hip-hop’s about, then all of a sudden it becomes much more difficult to differentiate.”
In the episode, Akala challenges the host, Barbara Bogaev, with a few different lines to see if she can guess correctly. Before you listen to the podcast, see if you can too!
(a) “Sleep is the cousin of death.”
(b) “Maybe it’s hatred I spew. Maybe it’s food for the spirit.”
(c) “I was not born under a rhyming planet.”
(d) “I am reckless what I do to spite the world.”
(Scroll down to the bottom of this blog post to see the answers.)
Listen to the podcast episode:
You can also watch Akala give a TED Talk, in this video from 2011:
Hip-hop fits well with Folger Education’s approach to teaching Shakespeare, as the director of education explained in a story from KQED’s MindShift last fall which also featured Akala:
Peggy O’Brien, director of education at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., said often the study of Shakespeare can focus too much on what the words mean and not enough on what they sound and feel like.
“[Shakespeare] is the only book that we give to students that has footnotes everywhere, footnotes and glossaries, where we tell kids practically what every word means,” she said. “And so what happens is, we focus only on the meaning, and we forget that a ton of what Shakespeare is about is what it sounds like with the language, the meter and the rhyme. But hip-hop and freestyle and beatbox, which is all about meter and rhyme, is a fabulous way to enter that world. And you can get to meaning after that.”
Answers from above: (a) Nas, (b) Eminem, (c) Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, (d) Shakespeare’s Macbeth