There has always been a natural symbiosis between hip hop and activism, with rappers throughout the history of the genre rising up to speak about key issues of race, poverty and injustice. As a heavyweight of the British hip hop scene, Lowkey has long been recognised for his candid and politically charged lyrics and masterful dissection of social inequalities. Following a hiatus that saw him take time off to focus on studies and activism, the rapper will soon be making his long-awaiting return with the follow-up to 2011’s highly acclaimed Soundtrack To The Struggle.
‘What I am seeking to do is mobilise people in specific causes,’ the British-Iraqi hip hop artist notes about his return. ‘In terms of the situation that I was in before, we didn’t have any kind of political alternative towards which I was able to push people to be active. I feel like at that time, I could have continued making my music while sort of alienating and isolating myself, not really having had the chance to get educated in the way I felt I needed to be. And so taking that time out was essential for that. In terms of coming back now, I think we’re at a stage where progressive ideas have more traction than ever before and things are more polarised than they were. Coming back, I really have a lot more space to move.’
Soundtrack To The Struggle 2 is a continuation of Lowkey’s mission to challenge the status quo, but as he explains, the album represents a sense of personal and artistic development too.
‘The album connects to Soundtrack To The Struggle 1 in that I have developed as far as my political education goes. Back then, I was more knee jerk and instinctive in terms of my rebellion, I don’t think I really necessarily understood the social forces that were behind some of the things that I was making songs about. I think now I have a deeper understanding of how social forces function and the way in which structural violence affects people’s lives. I now have been able to identify the way power operates through people and above and below people as well. So I think Soundtrack To The Struggle 2 has more depth to it; it’s more complex.’
Highlights from the upcoming album include ‘Ghosts of Grenfell (feat Mai Khalil)’ and ‘Ahmed’, both of which perfectly exhibit Lowkey’s ability to interweave his music with his political activism.
‘The fact is that people’s creation of art doesn’t take place in a vacuum.’ He says. ‘When you’re in a situation where you’re maybe trying to create art that makes mirrors where there once were walls, you’ll be more likely to get your music amplified. I think music can play a role in political change. Just look at Rock Against Racism; the way that that was a completely umbilical relationship between the music and the political conditions of the time. On the one hand, you want your music to serve as a mobiliser but I also want it to serve, to some extent, as an accurate historical document.
‘I think in general, we subscribe on a societal level to the idea that the needs of each citizen should at least be administered by everyone in that society putting into the pot. So we accept that social responsibility. But outside of that, it doesn’t extend further. So not only is it a case of musicians having a social responsibility, it’s a case of all of us trying to encourage young people to start thinking about social responsibility, to start thinking about the ways that they’re interconnected and interdependent in general. I think it’s important to try to cultivate that in young people.’