- Words Ray Sang
- Photograhy Abigail Morris
Cashh discusses his transition back into the UK music scene ahead of the release of his upcoming project, 'Return of The Immigrant'.
If there is anything to be learned from the pandemic so far, it is that change may be the only guarantee in our lives. True success, and maybe even happiness, therefore, is only found in the ability to adapt and remain malleable regardless of the unpredictable circumstances one may be faced with. For one artist, in particular, that notion has been a prominent theme, both musically and in his personal life over the last 5 years.
Musical chameleon Cashh – previously known as Cashtastic – often finds himself at the intersection of a multitude of genres: including dancehall, rap, and most recently drill. Meandering his way through an assortment of tempos and sounds, the recurring motif in the rapper’s art that continues to reel listeners in is the captivating way in which he tells stories.
For this chapter of his career, Cashh is focused on rewriting the narrative of what it means to be an immigrant, beginning with the imminent release of his upcoming project ‘Return of The Immigrant’.
It follows the story of his wrongful deportation to Jamaica in 2014, his return to the UK after overturning his case, and everything else that occurred in the interim. At its core, the project is an extension of the rapper’s desire to create music that is truly representative of his thoughts, as he continues to peel back the curtain into his world.
Notion talked with Cashh about rebelling against being boxed in, genre-mixing and his upcoming documentary about his deportation to Jamaica.
I know everyone is waiting for the project to drop, but before we even get into that let’s talk about the DancehallNB teaser you put out on Instagram. Is this the new wave for Cashh?
Do you know what? The crazy thing is that I coined the name DancehallNB because it’s just a thing that me and Deanyboy have going. That snippet that you heard was literally one of a lot of DancehallNB songs that we have. So, I feel separate from the project that’s about to come. I need to do a DancehallNB project and drop that on the people.
I mean, I know I’d like to hear that so –
– of course you would! To be fair, it’s good because I think Deanyboy highlighted to me that this was the first time I’ve actually shown that side of me online. This is a thing that I always forget: most people in the public haven’t heard what we hear on a daily basis on my laptop. Usually, you know me… Mr. Perfectionist – I probably wouldn’t put that out or do any sort of snippets until everything was perfect. But I’m in that zone now where I’m firing off. Whatever my feelings tell me to do, I’m doing it. That snippet you saw, I literally just wrote and recorded it. The little harmony was in real-time and then I edited the video and chucked it out. That felt good because people can get to see all the different sides that I have as an artist. I definitely don’t want to get put into any boxes for sure. The moment I feel like maybe I’m gonna get boxed in, I rebel. I read something somewhere saying, “UK drill artist Cashh”, and I was like Whoa, whoa, whoa… let’s let them hear some DancehallNB quickly.
Let’s talk about that, because I guess that’s something that’s changed since you’ve been back: the use of social media and how that’s skyrocketed for musicians. What has it been like adjusting to that?
It’s not been that difficult, to be fair. It’s been something that I’ve just had to adjust to and realize is a part of the way things are now. It’s a testimony to how far we’ve arrived as a scene and as a culture within UK music – UK rap music, I should say, because this existed for the pop world since forever. We always grew up seeing this one in the tabloids and this one doing that. Now we have that! People want to see what we’re doing outside of what they know.
Speaking of, we’ve all seen you on TikTok and your recent double-tap challenge. What’s it been like for you doing that and seeing the responses you’ve been getting?
Do you know what, I’ll be honest with you – management has been on me to engage with this TikTok app. I’ve been on some “yeah, man, just run it for me, whatever you want to post just post vibe”. But what I’m realizing now is, I actually have to be on there. For example, the DancehallNB preview: I uploaded a separate edited version on TikTok, and that was my first time going on there and seeing different features. I love the whole editing thing. Everything you see on my Instagram, I’ve edited it. For most of the trailers, anything visual, the ‘Once Upon a Song’ episodes, all of that stuff, I edit. So, seeing that TikTok has those features… I mean, I should have known because I’ve seen everyone else’s videos, but I think I might spend a little bit more time on there.
It’s very addictive, you know.
I’ve been hearing that. So I feel I definitely need to take it with a pinch of salt, but seeing people react to the challenges whenever you put them out is a good feeling. I’m very intrigued by this one that I’m about to do because it involves dancing, but not just any type of dancing. I’ve always seen people do dance challenges and whatnot. This one, in particular, based on the song, is going for the Cashh summer record. I wanted to get the dancers out for this one.
Let’s jump into the project. It’s titled “Return of The Immigrant”. Do you see that as part of your identity now?
Yeah, for sure. I think everything that’s happened with me has enhanced my knowledge of the reality of my situation. When I’m in Jamaica, I’m supposedly not an immigrant anymore – but it felt like I was an immigrant even when I was there. Regardless of which way I went, I was migrating. It’s definitely a part of my character now to be 100% with what my situation is.
I don’t know if you’ve watched 8 Mile with Eminem at the end when he’s doing the rap battle and starts stating every reality about his situation and his life. He spoke about living in a trailer and his mum and various other things, so when it was time for the guy that he was opposing to rap, they had nothing to say. I went through a very public situation where everyone knew that I got sent back to Jamaica, but no one is going to be able to use that against me because I’m fully owning that – and I’m proud of that, too. I’m proud of the fact that I’ve had to create and sustain a career while being an immigrant since the beginning. Not only have I had to work extra hard because I’m a Black man, but I’ve also had to swindle my way around the system in regard to small things like having a bank account. I was getting paid for shows and stuff and the payments had to be made into my friend’s accounts and then they would give it to me in cash because I never had a bank. I got my first bank account when I got to Jamaica. It’s definitely something I’m proud of whenever I see anybody who’s descendants of immigrants, whether that’s first-generation, or second-generation. It’s not a simple task to migrate to a new place, be great in that place, and be noticed in that place.
Having listened to the project, one thing that stood out to me was how seamlessly each song blended into the next, almost as if the entire thing was one continuous story. Why did you choose to do this and what is the story that you’re trying to tell?
The crazy thing is we’ve probably adjusted things on the project since you’ve heard it. It’s funny you’ve mentioned that because I left the studio at around half three this morning, and the whole session was based on transitions. When I first came back, I didn’t do a lot of interviews, for a few reasons, but this was one of the reasons. I wanted the music to do the talking and tell you what’s happening and where my mind was at that moment. We’ve added songs to the project, we’ve replaced a few and we’re moving things around. But the transitions are very important to me. I feel a lot of classic American albums had skits and things that aren’t as important – or haven’t been highlighted enough – on UK projects. The skits and transitions from one song into the next on “Return of The Immigrant” are definitely going to stand out because it just doesn’t happen a lot over here.
You briefly mentioned letting people know where your mind is at and something I’ve also heard you say is the possibility of doing therapy. So, I wanted to know whether that is something you’ve started and how have you been taking care of your mental health during this lockdown period?
I started therapy and it was definitely good for me. I’m currently not in therapy anymore because in the last session I had, which we didn’t know would be my last session, we got to the end of it and both had the same feeling. She was like: Well, I think we’ve made a lot of progress. But it’s definitely something that whenever I feel I need to pick up again I will. It’s something I really want to encourage people to take part in. I used to always view it as: “So I’m just going to give my money to somebody to tell them my business. This is crazy”. But honestly, I think it really helps – you’re speaking to a professional and there’s zero judgement being cast upon you. It’s also different because they don’t know you personally. They ask questions that anyone within your life is not going to ask and the way they ask the questions activates a different part of your brain. I really enjoyed my therapy sessions. Since doing therapy, I’ve definitely paid for a few for the people around me as birthday gifts.
There’s a particular line from the project I wanted to get into which was: “You can’t know if loyalty is real until loyalty is tested”. Can you speak to me a bit about that?
I think as human beings, we can be around for our entire lives and feel like a person is loyal. But you will never actually know how loyal a person is unless that loyalty is tested. I think that came from my situation of getting sent back to Jamaica. There were certain people that I was around on a daily basis. No word of a lie, once I got on that plane I never heard from them again. This is not like somebody that you speak to every now and again – these are people you’re around almost every single day. It’s just like: well, yeah, that makes sense. You were obviously around with an ulterior motive and now that doesn’t have an interest anymore, you’ve shown yourself. But also, on the other side of the coin, there are people who were just hella loyal throughout my situation. I’ve got really close people who I spoke to every single day for those five years without fail, no matter what I was doing, even if it was for a five-second conversation. The support system that I had really and truly was a major part of how I made it through that situation.
“Trench Baby” is currently sitting on 1 million views, and your song with M1llionz “Pounds and Dollars” is pretty much heading in the same direction. The last time we spoke you were quite adamant that views and chart positions weren’t really something that you were fussed about, but now that you have reached these milestones, is this something you see differently?
Well, I think for “Return of The Immigrant”, I definitely intend on seeing that get into the charts – not necessarily because of the specific accolades of charting, but more in terms wanting this project to be received far and wide. What I realised is, when you get into the charts, it’s literally just another talking point. It’s another marketing tool. So, I’m looking at it from that perspective because people go into the charts all the time, and no one actually cares about the amount the artist sold to get into the charts. That just gets more eyes onto the project. In terms of the views situation, I’m still not 100% focused on the views. I’m more concerned if the views are from a real place. I’ve now started putting all of my videos on my own YouTube channel, which was a big risk that a lot of artists don’t tend to take – especially if they’ve been releasing their music on the bigger platforms like the GRMs or your Link Up TVs, etc. One of the regrets I had from the beginning of my career was not building my YouTube channel from the jump. All of my peers that were around me at the time took that leap of faith before me: Krept and Konan, Sneakbo, and Yungen. Everybody made their channels but because I was so good with the platforms like your Rap City’s or your Link Up TVs, etc it was just –
– chuck it on there?
Yeah, just chuck on them man’s channel. I think it was also, if I’m being honest, something to highlight based on my character as well. Every time I released a music video on Rap City or Link Up TV, I was helping to build their platform. So, I thought let’s build together. In these times everyone else was like: yeah, but…
Let me have my own thing?
Yeah. So that’s what I’m doing right now. I mean, I’ve never been one of the artists to get a whole lot of views, so just seeing the way that the channel’s performing so quickly is something that is making me feel proud. The other night, I was watching someone else’s video and I saw “Pounds and Dollars” on the right-hand side as a suggested video to watch. I saw that it said it’s been out for one month, and then I saw the number of views and it was literally a moment. I felt like crying. It was the first time I’ve looked. Normally when I put my stuff out, I never check them again. So, it was the first time I looked at it and said: Yo, that’s on your channel, that’s your song. A little while back you were in Jamaica. No one was really looking, or even checking for you like that. The fact that this is happening, you should be proud of that. I spoke to myself in that moment and it made me go back and watch everything that I’ve put out leading up to this, all the way up to “Double Tap”. It was just a proud moment for me.
I love that. Staying on the subject of “Pounds and Dollars”, it’s a drill song which is quite a different vibe for you. So, what was it like to write on that sort of beat?
Well, it’s an elegant drill song, respectfully. That was probably the first drill song that I made, actually. It was a big thing for me and Deanyboy for it to have my own feeling towards it. I feel it doesn’t sound like any other drill song out there. Obviously, the tempo is the same, and the baselines, etc. But the feeling of the song is a bit different. It’s kind of like Lil Wayne in the early 2000s when he was doing covers of everybody else’s songs and turning them into his own. I look at these other genres like that.
It’s interesting that you say that because you’ve tapped into drill, dancehall has always been a part of your music, and of course you’ve also been a huge part of the UK rap scene. Where do you see yourself fitting into this space now?
Not even to compare myself to him, but the easiest analogy I can give you is Drake or Tory Lanez. I don’t think they belong in a space. They are just known as artists who you can get many different sides from and I think I want to fight for that. In fact, I don’t want to fight for it, I want people to recognize that organically. I don’t want it to be a surprise when you hear me do DancehallNB just because you’ve heard me do “Pounds and Dollars”. I might even come up with aliases for each time I do a different type of genre because it’s just within me. I can sing Celine Dion songs to you from start to finish. How can I have all of this in my library and not use it? I need to use it. I don’t want to exist in a specific space, I want to be the space where everything else existed.
Okay, stepping away from the music for a bit, I wanted to touch on all the other ventures that you have going. I hear you’re working on a documentary – tell me a bit about that.
The documentary is something I’m looking forward to piecing together and releasing because it highlights everything that’s happened with me and my scenario. That’s probably as much as I can say about it at the moment. But the documentary would be the first step on the stairs leading up to something, in regards to my story, and putting it out as something people can watch. The intention is to take it from that documentary, to keep building and take it somewhere else, whether that’s a TV series or a film or something like that.
In terms of directing, how hands-on do you intend to be with that?
I think even if I get another director involved, I would definitely be a co-director on it. Unless they’ve been through exactly what I’ve been through – even if they’ve been through exactly what I’ve been through – it’s gonna be very difficult for them to depict exactly how I want it to look. When we fly back to Jamaica to start filming, they won’t know how to capture some of that. How do you capture the scene of the first time I landed in Jamaica, how I felt? Visually, when I close my eyes, I can picture that exact same thing happening again. I want to be as hands-on as I can because at the end of the day if you don’t tell your story someone else is going to tell it for you. That doesn’t disappear, it’s going to be out there forever. I don’t want to kick myself thinking, why did I let them do this?
Yeah, for sure. You’re also looking to launch a foundation to help people who have been in similar situations – how’s that been going so far?
Honestly speaking, it’s on my to-do list. It’s something that we need to do but I’ve obviously had to prioritize finishing the project. We’re practically there now so once I’ve got everything mixed, mastered, all the skits done, then I can start moving down my to-do list. That’s definitely something that I want to do. It’s something I’m going to do, God-willing.
In addition to all the above, you’re also launching the “Proud Immigrant” clothing line?
“Proud Immigrant” is a badge of honour but also being able to be comfortable when you’re wearing it. It’s a bold statement. It’s being a proud immigrant. This is a niche. There’s a lot of people who are proud immigrants, but society makes them shy away from what they are and I want to change that narrative. Being an immigrant isn’t synonymous with being an illegal immigrant. Being an immigrant isn’t necessarily a negative thing, it’s not a bad thing – especially if you’ve come from somewhere and managed to put yourself and your family on. There are people that have migrated here by themselves and they’ve managed to get themselves into a position where they can build back home or even send for another family member to come over. You should be proud of yourself. I want something to represent that basically, while still looking good.
One thing that I hear you say all the time is that you prioritize direction over speed. What direction do you see yourself heading in now?
It’s a difficult one because I’m headed in different directions based on different parts of my life. If I should sum it all up, I think I’m headed in the direction of stability. Finally. I haven’t been stable my entire life and I feel all of the steps that I’m taking currently are heading in the direction of stability. It’s something that I’ve always wanted as a child and now that I’m an adult I’ve realized that destiny is within my hands. I have to make that happen. In order for things to shift, I need to be the one that shifts them.