Ash Shakur is a rapper hailing from South London. Australians can be forgiven for thinking that South London rap is synonymous with the one genre currently saturating our radio waves: grime. Australians took to grime because it offered something both bold and fresh. Now that the love affair is fading, it’s becoming apparent that it’s a hollow form of hip-hop with schoolboy lyricism. Those looking for a touch more sophistication from the Kingston area, look no further.
Where Skepta and his roadmen trot out the same USA clichés whilst struggling to keep the beat, Ash Shakur offers a uniquely British perspective with an effortless flow. It’s nice to have a South London rapper that can actually rap. Ash even subs out the all-black tracksuit that’s dominated UK rap film clips for an aesthetic entirely his own.
In the self-directed film clip for Who Is It?, Ash dons a rainbow Jeremy Scott Adidas Originals puffer jacket. It leaves him looking like a cross between Pharell and Elmer the Patchwork Elephant. As he walks across the dreary estate environment, his jacket adds a dash of much-needed colour and vibrancy. The ensemble is a metaphor for his music. He radiates positivity from even the bleakest setting.
Shakur’s EP Hare This is dominated by a concern for positivity and nostalgia. The overall feel of the EP is laconic, effortless and effervescent. Ash raps over a selection of beats prepared by his favourite producers: The Roots, Knxwledge and Whoarei. There is a common theme in beat selection. Ash favours slow, jazzy beats, with a slight trap influence; quavering saxophone and twirling drums. The sound evokes the warm orange glow of a distant and happy memory.
Opening track Spring quickly conjures the warm haze of the eponymous season. Shakur employs that laidback, almost spoken word flow that positively oozes over the beat. Standout track The Groove is slow, wistful and haunting. It shows that Shakur can imitate and expand upon the golden era of hip-hop. It’s a throwback beat with a slight jazz influence that Shakur rides effortlessly. Shakur’s flow achieves that peculiarly 90’s phenomenon of making even the most simple lines punchy, like “I shouldn’t have left you – without a dope beat to step to.” Nokia is Shakur’s literal ode to his Nokia 3310 and everything that was magical about being a teenager in the new millennium- “Nights as a youth, swapping pictures and tunes.” Shakur skirts the line between mundane and profound, “There was only one snake we knew, now days we have seen a few.”
But whilst Shakur is effervescent, he is anything but vapid. Shakur shows his ability to meaningfully engage with social and political issues on Rain Falls; which tackles the issue of ‘shadism’ most recently addressed on Kendrick Lamar’s Complexion. Shakur tackles beauty paradigms in his community over an awkward saxophone: “She starts to bleach wanting to turn peach / because you were influenced by the ignorance of the 50 inch screen.” Closing track Smile Daily serves to reiterate Shakur’s overriding ethos – an exultation to follow passions, chase dreams and shine every day.
We can be grateful to Skepta and JME for causing the worlds gaze to fall on South London and its hip-hop scene. It’s maybe a testament to grime that more exceptional London hip-hop is becoming exposed to international attention. Ash Shakur is one such native producing a refreshing brand of South London hip-hop, completely distinct from his grime contemporaries. The grime scene is about making pseudo-gangster rap that piggybacks on tired images appropriated from the USA. Ash Shakur is making hopeful music that actually expresses his London perspective. He describes his surroundings and always extracts a silver lining. He does this with sophisticated lyrics, a boom bap flow, and carefully curated beats. Ash Shakur is a whole new reason to keep a close eye on South London.