- Words Liam Cattermole
UK rap talisman Ashbeck talks milestone moments, 50 years of hip-hop and the importance of growing a cultish fanbase.
In this modern music era, where artists are increasingly concerned about what’s new, it’s refreshing when a rapper comes along with a propensity for the past. Hailing from North West London, Ashbeck has taken the tried and tested formula of hip-hop greats like MF DOOM and Freddie Gibbs while crafting a sound that’s inherently British. What do DOOM and Gibbs have in common with Ashbeezy, you may be asking? Well, some of their best projects were made alongside Madlib: a musical accomplice whose beats forced them into new realms of lyrical possibility. Similarly, Ash’s carefully considered come-up is partly thanks to El Londo, his producer-friend whom he’s released with prolifically since Ashlondo, their debut tape.
Even before then, Ashbeck was honing his skills as a musician through consistent Soundcloud releases. ‘Tango’, the wordsmith’s first upload, has all the components of a bedroom rap banger. Varnished with an unrivalled swagger, the track announced his breezy flow patterns to the world and sent an underground buzz that’s failed to waver. Fast forward to 2023, and for headsy hip-hop fans, his music has become inescapable.
‘Rush Hour’, a collaborative EP with fellow rap marvel Rushy, hit streaming services this month. One of the biggest misconceptions of both artists’ music is that they make ‘Chill UK Rap’: a term coined to group a new wave of emcees influenced by then Soundcloud stars like Rejjie Snow, Loyle Carner and Lord Apex. However, there’s nothing casual about the gut-punching flows and brain-rattling 808s across this collection of tracks. Spitting with a lavish eloquence, the duo stands back-to-back, knocking back rap rivals with infinite rounds of lyrical ammunition.
This won’t be the last you hear of Ashbeck in 2023, as he gears up for an exciting announcement before the end of the year. While we all wait (im)patiently for what that may entail, here, the talismanic rapper talks milestone moments, 50 years of hip-hop and more.
What are some of your earliest memories of music?
Some of my earliest memories of music are being in Malaysia, where my dad grew up, bumping Black Eyed Peas in the car. That was my shit when I was a kid.
Can you pinpoint a moment in which your dream of becoming a rapper finally became a reality?
I couldn’t pinpoint one singular moment where being a rapper became a reality, but one moment that definitely gave me that push was hitting my first million streams on ‘Cooli’. That felt like a milestone I’d been waiting for, so it just gave me that fuel to take it more seriously.
In three words, for those that don’t know, how would you describe your sound?
I hate this question because I find it hard to describe my sound with only three words, but if I were to try I’d say: wavy, punchy and unconventional.
Just a couple of weeks back, you released a collaborative EP with Rushy, called ‘RUSH HOUR’. Can you tell us about how the project came about and your friendship with Rushy?
Rushy and I made two of the tracks in August 2022, and that sparked the idea of making a joint EP. From that point onwards we just kept having studio sessions and making bangers until we finally felt we had the right tracks for the project. Rushy’s my boy and I really enjoy cooking up with him, so the EP just came around very naturally.
My personal favourite is ‘CELLY’, which comes alongside a sharp LAUZZA video. how important are visuals to you as an artist, especially in helping you to tell your story?
I think visuals are a very important part of being an artist. I’m always impressed when an artist has good visuals and can create an aesthetic to their brand by using them, so that’s what I’m trying to do as well. I think they’re also important because nowadays people almost need something visual to digest music, unlike back in the day when you would just listen to the music for the music.
This year marks 50 years since the birth of hip-hop. As a well-known East Coast rap fan, what’s one album that changed the way you thought about music?
Piñata by Freddie Gibbs and Madlib. That album made me realise the importance of having a unique production style, and how you can really build a sound and feeling within a project.
You count “building a solid fan base who genuinely fuck with my music,” as one of your biggest achievements to date. How have you looked to do this over the years as an independent artist?
To be honest it’s never been something I actually set out to do intentionally, I think it just happened. My music can be pretty relatable, so I think that people can make a connection to it and want to fuck with my music. On top of that, I’ve never been a one-hit wonder, growth has been gradual and I think that is a good way to build real supporters.
What’s the biggest misconception about you as an artist?
Probably that I make chill music. I don’t think they’re listening loud enough, that bass be hitting!
Where do you find it easiest to write? Are you more productive in the studio or do you seek inspiration from elsewhere?
I feel most comfortable in a studio, but not some big-ass fancy studio. I started off making music in bedrooms, so I like the ones where you feel comfy.
If you could land a feature from anyone on your next project, who would it be and why?
Probably Skepta because he’s the UK GOAT and someone I look up to a lot.
Ashbeck rules the world for a day, what’s going down?
Man, I’d just have all food free for everyone that day and then make the government compensate. There’s nothing better than free food.
What’s next for Ashbeck? Beyond this collaborative EP with Rushy, do you have any plans for new music before the end of the year?
I’ve got a very important project loading up. I can’t speak too much on that one.