Ashley Thomas a.k.a ‘Bashy’ as he is known to his friends, or his erm…peepz in da streetz, is the latest Grime artist rising up from inner City London and reaching out to wider global audiences. Following in the steps of artists such as Dizzee Rascal, Kano, Wiley & Lethal Bizzle, his rise has been slick and fast. In a relatively short career he has already had two hugely successful mixtapes in ‘‘Ur Mum Volume One’ & ‘The Chupa Chups Mixtape – Assorted Flavours’. From the waves of interest that these tapes created within the underground scene, Bashy has gone on to write the theme tune for recent Brit-flick ‘Adulthood’. To top this, his first single ‘Black Boys’ which doesn’t focus on the usual negative perception of black people in the media, surely a refreshing approach taken from an up-and-coming urban performer. He just seems a lot more comfortable focusing on positive black role models rather than the more popular morbidly gratifiying approach. The aforementioned track made UK urban music history in getting in some of the UK’s freshest new talents to add their views on the remix. The ‘Black Boys’ track has been such an inspiration to a lot of people that it has currently had just over ¾ of a million YouTube views… pretty impressive for a relatively young guy who’s all to new to ‘da game’. From ‘Kidulthood to Adulthood’ Bashy takes us through the steps…
Can we talk about the point you decided to sit down and write ‘Black Boys’?
Well I actually wrote the track back in 2006. It was a similar point; I saw about another killing on the news and I just remember sitting in my house and thinking, ‘wow, this is all they ever show of black people and especially black men. Anytime we get on the news it seems to be for something really negative’. So I started to pen the track. The first lines were ‘I love it when I see rich black men like Diddy and Nelly’ but as soon as I wrote that, I thought it’s all good seeing those guys, but I feel even closer when an English black person does well. I thought I need to pen something that bigs-up all these people. Even about people I don’t even know or people I might not have got on with in the past, ‘cause we are all in the same boat trying to achieve the same things. The song is about offering some inspiration for a younger generation. When I was coming up I didn’t really get that. There wasn’t really positive representations of black people…
Did the lyrics just flow from here?
Yeah man, it just came pouring out. There’s only two verses on the track, but I’d actually written a third, but it made the track over six and a half minutes, so something had to go…
In hindsight are there any people you wished you’d mentioned on the original track?
Yeah, you know what, I get it all the time. People sayin’ you could’a mentioned them, or you should’a mentioned them. People meet me and they are like ‘blood, you should’a mentioned me’. The song is like a time capsule. It’s about what I was thinking at that very moment. So it wasn’t like I consciously left anyone out, I was flowing and those were the names that fit into my brain at that moment…
Can we talk about the remix side of things? As already mentioned you’ve made history in UK urban music in managing to get so many people turning up and wanting to appear on the remix…with the likes of Nolay, Skinnyman, Ty, Big Narstie, Tinnie Tempah, Wretch 32, Chipmunk, Swiss, Mike GLC, J2K, Skepta, Sincere, Akala & Scorcher all offering up their thoughts on the subject, can you tell us how this all happened?
The remix was a crazy thing. I mean everybody came through, and that’s never happened like that in the UK before on any level. I was shocked about the amount of exposure that there was. I’m not saying that it should have overshadowed the original ‘Black Boys’ song, but it should have at least been at the same level, just for the fact that there were so many people on it. I think it should have been on all the radio stations and all the TV stations. That’s why I think things like YouTube are so badly needed, especially for an independent artist. If people want to watch you then they will. I’m just happy everyone came together the way they did. There were no arguments and no egos; everyone just came and did their thing…
Are there still remixes being done now?
I get messaged on Myspace almost on a daily basis saying they wanna do their own version. I’ve left the instrumental up on the page for that very reason, so anyone can do one now, it’s no problem.
So do you have a particular favourite verse from one of the other MCs?
There’s a couple of verses that I really like man. Swiss and someone called Styla who was on there, and Dirty Goodz. Those were three verses that really made me think…
Staying on this subject, the big issue consistently reported wihtin the media is black on black knife crime. How do you think this issue should or could be tackled?
I mean I don’t know what to do. The only way I can answer some of these problems is through my music. Hopefully people find it therapeutic and they can take something from it. Not in a preaching sort of way, but through my opinion and going into the schools and talking to the kids up and down the country by creating debates. That’s my contribution; I feel if everyone did a little bit, I suppose… y’know
Although I’ve just asked the question, I’m wondering if it’s unrealisitic for the media to continually turn to celebrities for the answers…the problems clearly run much deeper?
Obviously the musicians and artists can help, but we are not the only people who can. We are not the be all and end all, we can’t do everything. We have a responsibility ‘cause lots of young people are looking up to us. For example as an artist, if you are going to talk about a stabbing, you’d better put it in such a way that they understand what is going on and the consequences that are involved and that fact that someone can die. Stating things that people might not think of in their everyday lives.
Moving away from this, I believe you got into MC battling when you were only 14 years of age…can I ask which rappers at this point you found inspirational?
It was more my older cousin really. (Laughs) I had that follow your older cousin syndrome. If he was playing football I wanted to play football, if he bought a certain pair of jeans then I wanted a pair, so he wanted to start MCing. I got into the battling straight away. At the time I was really cheeky, always cussing…
Your second single ‘Kidulthood to Adulthhood’ was chosen as the main track for the recent box office smash Adulthood and in conjunction with this, you ended in a supervisory role for the remainder of the soundtrack. There’s got to be a story there?
That came about ‘cause I went to the barber shop and met Noel Clarke who is the writer and director. He’d heard one of my ‘Chupa Chups’ Mixtapes where I’d sampled loads from Kidulthood. He really liked what I’d done and asked if I wanted to give him some tracks for the sequel, which was going to be titled Adulthood. So I went and got one or two of my tracks and then I went and got him loads of other tracks from Ghetto, Chipmunk and Tinchy Stryder. He was like “Wow, do you want a job?”. He was like, “you might as well come and work for the team and get paid for it”. At the time I was a bus driver, so it was a great move for me. Also at the same time, ‘Black Boys’ just started to take off; I got that job and then that was it, I was in the game completely. I gave him some instrumentals from various producers. He really liked the ‘Kidulthood to Adulthood’ instrumental and wanted to use that for the trailer, then when we gave him the finished one, Noel Clarke was like ‘yep’…and then they used it.
You, yourself, actually come from an acting background, having attended the British School of Performing Arts in London. If there was any film role in the world you could have played what would it have been?
It’d be Malcolm X, ‘cause that’s a heavy role man…
Have you had any other role offers since the Adulthood job?
A few offers have come in for me to work on other films in a musical supervisory role. I’m more concentrating on my music at the moment, but regarding films, I’m more interested in the acting side. But doing the supervisory work means I can bring myself and other artists in on the tracks so our music is getting exposed in other mediums. I mean ‘Kidulthood to Adulthood’ is an international track now, because the movie was successful internationally. So it’s about giving that opportunity to other people really, ‘cause I can’t have the theme song for every movie, so it’s all good. I’ll be acting as well soon, but that’s about picking the right roles, so it’s not a career damaging move. I’m an artist that has never had an instant hype around them. I have worked for mine, and its taken years and years of building. It’s taken me years to build it, so I’d like to think it’ll take years for it to disappear.
For the first time in a long time there seems to be a lot going on within UK Hip Hop…the Grime thing seems to be really bubbling at the moment. I wondered if you could choose any UK artist to go abroad and fly the flag for the whole UK urban scene, who do you think would be the best representation of what we can offer?
To be honest, I’d probably send Ty. He is a seasoned veteran. Even though everyone is like mad talented, Ty has been doing this thing for years. Maybe even Black Twang; their stage shows are tight man, like super tight. Then the younger generation can come through and stand firm.
I recently interviewed Sway. He made an interesting point regarding mixtapes and the gulf between these and producing your first album, and how you can only be truly judged on your album ‘cause that’s the true reflection. As you are currently working on your debut album ‘Catch Me if you Can’ (due out in 2009) I wondered your feelings on this belief?
I love the whole mixtape thing. I think mixtapes get you prepared for your album. They give a chance for people to hear you considering varying subject matter. With a mixtape you can be as free as you want; your track can be as long as you want. There’s no restrictions; you don’t have to release anything off it. For me, yeah man, the album thing is like a scary time. At first I went into this album, thinking ah, this will be just like doing a mixtape, but it’s not as simple as that. I think the younger guys can learn from those who are doing albums. The actual music needs to be very tight. And the sounds need to be wicked and sonic. Everything needs to be big and wide and mixed up and mastered properly. I think people have approached albums like mixtapes and they ended up sounding rushed. I think as well, subject matter and how you structure your album are also important. It’s new waters for me. Basically I’m nearly done with ‘Catch Me if You Can’; lyrically done with where I wanted to take it. So we’re going to spend the next few months working on the music side of things and get that end on point. I want musicians to be able to appreciate the art form. I’m looking for that critical acclaim.
Although you are a relatively new artist, yet this year you played Glastonbury. With all the hype surrounding Jay- Z and the negative connotations towards Hip Hop, how did it you find it?
I ripped up the stage at Glastonbury man. But it was a daunting experience. When the call came through I was in two minds as to whether I was going to take it. It’s always good to be able to get to new audiences, but to go somewhere where Hip Hop or Grime might not be welcome… the media had me thinking with all the Jay Z stuff, that they just don’t want it at Glastonbury. But I thought, d’you know what, fuck it, I’m going. With the amount of love I got, I couldn’t believe it. I think I said it as well on stage.
Finally, our sign off question…have you ever been to Norwich before?
Yeah I have. Hold on, I went to Norwich with Lethal Bizzle. Recently in May. Yeah it was at the Arts Centre. That was the spot. That was one of the best dates on the tour. They was into it man, they was supporters of the music…