NME Radar: Breakout

Stalk Ashley: Simmering R&B fusion and dancehall star with fans in Jorja Smith and Stormzy

The 22-year-old is already proudly flying the flag for Jamaica, but now she wants to "leave my imprint on the world"

Each week in Breakout, we talk to the emerging stars blowing up right now – whether it be a huge viral moment, killer new track or an eye-popping video – these are the rising artists certain to dominate the near future

Flying the flag for Jamaica’s fizzling R&B scene, Kingston-based and Mandeville-born Stalk Ashley is about to go global. Her reggae-infused tunes have already landed her on BBC Radio 1Xtra’s coveted Hot for 2021 list, while the likes of Jorja Smith and Stormzy have professed their love for the vocalist, the latter inviting Ashley to cover Beyoncé’s ‘Brown Skin Girl’ with him for Radio 1’s Live Lounge.

Kicking off her career with 2019’s hot and heavy ‘Sin Sex’, Ashley has been picking up momentum ever since. Last year she teamed up with fellow Kingston resident and dancehall heavyweight Alkaline on ‘Incognito’, as well as Shepherd’s Bush’s WSTRN on the slow-burning ‘Deserted’. She’s more than capable of going it alone too, releasing solo stand-outs ‘OPEN.’ and ‘TIP (The Party)’.

Now working on a secretive dancehall and R&B fusion project, the 22-year-old spoke to NME about Jamaican pride, singing in church and her dream collaboration.

What are some of your earliest musical memories?

“Growing up in Mandeville, the first thing I remember is being put on chairs and stools in church. I always wanted to sing, and I could always sing, but I was so short that no-one could see me at the back of the church! I never liked my picture being taken for some reason, but, for the longest time, if you get me up on that chair and gave me a mic, then I’ll sing my heart out.

“My sister had an iPod – the square iPod with the circle in the middle – and I used to play specific songs. I think one of them was ‘Beautiful Girls’ by Sean Kingston. I’d play that song every single day. I loved it.”

How did you know music was for you?

“I tried to do other things. I went to college – didn’t quite like it. I feel like even when I tried to not do music, I always found my way back. Music’s my purpose: this is what I’m here to do. And so it wasn’t hard choosing what I wanted to do, because it’s what I know I was made to do.”

How did you find moving from the suburbs of Mandeville to Kingston?

“It’s a lot more fast-paced and that’s definitely how I operate and create music now. My mind is fast-paced.”

Are you proud of dancehall culture being on the rise?

“I am really proud. I think a lot of people are doing a lot of different things, which is nice. I like to see it because dancehall is usually some people following the books, and their mixes kind of sound the same. But it’s always nice to see new things like me. There’s nothing more exciting to me than when I’m listening to a playlist or when I’m just hearing music and it’s just so fresh. I get really excited. I like to see different things that people are doing right now. People are kind of bending the rules.”

What’s your contribution to Jamaican culture?

“I am just hoping for the best and wishing for the stars. And that’s as much as I can say, you know – I’m doing it for real. I hope I make a great impact. I want to leave my imprint on the world.”

In dancehall there’s a lot of overt sexiness – how do you feel about that kind of hypersexuality? 

“It’s one of those genres where people are very forward with sex and I think it’s always been like that. You love it or you hate it. Personally, I feel that people should be able to express themselves. If you want to sing about that – great.”

How would you describe your sound?

“I think it’s sultry. It can be different vibes. I’d tell anyone who wants to listen to me to just tune in, and you won’t regret it. My ability to think outside the box, a lot of people don’t really do that. They like to stay in a comfort zone and be safe for everything. I just want to do music in an unconventional way and not stick to the rules. Every time I go into the studio, I go with the intention of creating something different.

“There’s a lot of things that I want to try, but I’m still focusing on working on my what I call ‘project’ right now. I plan to do a whole lot more soon. I don’t know if I can say too much right now, but it’s definitely a mixture of R&B fusion and dancehall, which is my vibe right now. I’m really excited to share that with the world.”

What was it like working with west London’s WSTRN on ‘Deserted’?

“We worked on it actually before the pandemic. I came to England and it was cool. I was already in the studio with [R&B producer] Progression. I had a verse that he thought was dope and WSTRN would love. They came through to the studio the same night and hopped on it right away. It was a really cool experience working with them. It was a link-up. An international Jamaican vibe.”

Who’s your dream collaboration?

“Jacob Collier [26-year-old Grammy award-winning contemporary artist]. I’d really, really love to work with him. He’s a genius! I am just fascinated. I will watch him make music for just hours and hours because he’s so talented. Anyone who loves music should fuck with him heavy, because he knows what he’s doing.

“I did do a song with Alkaline. It was really cool. He’s an artist that I kind of grew up with, so to meet him in person and actually work on something was just really cool and he’s really nice.”

What are your aspirations for the years ahead?

“I don’t think we can ever predict what’s going to happen, but in five years I really want to be in a different place. I would really hope that my music reaches its potential. I’m just looking forward to expanding and bettering myself. I feel like I could be an actor as well. I’ve always been interested in the arts. I feel like there’s a lot of things that I could do but the focus is music, totally. That’s my priority.”