These days Ashley Walters is best known as the star of Drake‘s fave TV show Top Boy, but this wasn’t his first claim to fame. At the start of the millennium, Walters was part of garage supergroup So Solid Crew. At only 17, he was plunged into the spotlight as Asher D: the youngest member of the platinum-selling collective.
Now, after two decades, he’s reclaimed his old name, announcing in October 2019 that he’d again be releasing music as Asher D, starting with the fittingly named ‘Top Boy’. NME spoke to him about reviving his musical career after his phenomenal success on screen.
Last year saw you come back to music with your single ‘Top Boy’. How did it feel doing a track featuring some of the UK’s best spitters?
“If you’re asking if I enjoyed it, then yeah, 100 percent! It’s good to work with people who I respect – lyrically and as people. D Double E is obviously legendary. The way he’s blown and doing IKEA adverts – it’s mad. Big Tobz: I love as an artist. He does everything his own way. P Money’s got the same sort of attitude. As much as I’m older than them and been out a lot longer than them, I have huge admiration for their work and integrity.”
It’s been over a decade since your last studio album, ‘Ashley Walters’. How do you feel about how it left you in the music industry?
“I feel like most of my music over the last decade and my solo music has been wasted, if I’m honest. There was no real structure to it. I did it really independently with no distribution, nothing. I feel like my message didn’t get through to a lot of people, and my back catalogue has been slept on. But in saying that, it’s made me all the more determined. The other artists and producers I’ve been working with: I feel like my next album will be the one worth waiting for.”
When’s that coming out?
“Hopefully the end of 2020. I want to release probably about three more singles in the first half of the year, just to keep the momentum going. Then give them the project to coincide with the end of the year and maybe the next season of Top Boy – if there is one.”
How did you cope with being so young when So Solid Crew broke through in 2001?
“Just imagine you were in the biggest crew, or the biggest band, in the UK with a number one single, platinum album – life would be good, right? But for me, it wasn’t a whirlwind experience because we were building for a while before we’d blown. We weren’t an overnight success. When we got on top, it wasn’t long before the government shut us down. There were issues; a rise in gun crime, and knife crime at the same time and the things we wrote in our lyrics reflected what was going on, so we became the scapegoats. Just the same thing you see with drill music now.”
Do you think So Solid Crew paved the way for grime and drill?
“Without a doubt. We don’t go around waving a flag saying, “We started this!” but in order for what came after to happen, we had to happen. It’s as simple as that. Before us was maybe Soul II Soul if we tried to compare ourselves to a collective like that. The only other comparisons we could make, collective-wise, was to American groups because we were the first of its kind. We were the guinea pigs, and by default we opened the door.”
What was your favourite So Solid Crew line?
“Oh… probably in ‘21 Seconds’, when I say “Actor, MC, you know I’m rakin’”. It was me predicting what I was going to do; having an acting career that coincided with my music career. And all these years later, it’s happened.”
So you’re a believer in manifesting stuff…
“100 percent. You have to talk everything into existence. Everything that has happened for me, I’ve spoken into existence. You just have to be smart enough not to push against it and just embrace it.”
You’re older than most of the new talent out there. How are you going to stand out?
“I’m just going to make as much good music as I can and feed the people that want to follow my thing. I feel like I still have something to give, and something to put into what’s happening now. I’ve been doing this for a long time so it’s not like I’m a new artist. I know how to perform. I’ve performed all over the world, festivals – I’ve had all of the experiences. It’s just about putting it into action and into the right package, making sure people understand what I’m trying to do.”
Being in the public eye for twenty years is draining, how do you cope?
“I’m very barely phased by stuff and when I am, I try to find a way. But those obstacles and those things I had to solve have weathered me. They’ve made me the man that I am so I find it hard to regret any moments, even bad moments. Even being incarcerated [for a firearm charge] and things like that have played a big part in the person I’ve become and the lessons I have learnt.”
Can you share some simple advice about coping with stress?
“Talking to people, sharing problems. A lot of us suffer through not being open, especially men. I’ve always been quite open with my family and my closest. Otherwise I wouldn’t be able to cope with it.”
Your fans and their mothers love your work. You’re something of a multi-generational icon…
“That’s deep. I feel old! No, I’m joking. That just means I’ve been able to capture people’s attention in different ways. That’s a blessing because that’s a hard thing to do; to survive the test of time. I’ve been the game strong since 2001 really. It hasn’t been easy. There has been ups and downs and whatever, but to know that after all I’ve been through, I’ve still got that kind of that status. I appreciate it.”
How do you want the next generation to see you?
“At the end of the day, I hope that people can enjoy what I’ve provided for them. I want people to listen to my music and I want them to watch my shows, of which are all to a high quality. If I can keep that and maintain that, then I’ll get the attentions of the generations to come while I’m here.”