Q&A with enigmatic artist Papa Aashi

Amsterdam-based artist Papa Aashi is once again breaking boundaries with his latest release, “boyz II men”. We got to chat with him about his artistry, musical journey, and aspirations.

– Hey Papa Aashi! Can you tell us a bit more about your multicultural upbringing and how it has influenced your music?

Essentially, I’ve found that being the mixed race that I currently am has gifted me the ability to mostly nail things I’ve done in life. Aside from chemistry or knitting or anything else that involves small objects and careful hand movements, there’s not many things that make me want to give up and cry.

Jokes aside, being raised in a fairly non-creative household and not being around music until I was like 13 probably allowed for a pretty massive build up in curiosity. My dad is Irish and mostly listens to World music (who knows what that means), ambience and trance. My mother was raised in the Soviet Union so obviously only knows traditional Kazakh music and old Italian pop hits. Not a lot of music was played at home, but if it was, it wasn’t incredibly inspiring.

I love my parents but I was basically raised in a metaphorical music cage. I’d say that curiosity bubble kind of burst when I first started discovering the various worlds of music in my formative years and it’s been nonstop ever since.

– How did your journey from DJing mainstream EDM to becoming a Rapper and Hip-Hop Producer unfold?

I forgot this was part of my bio. I think Kenny Beats has a more successful version of this backstory so I should probably make something up.

Basically, I heard Levels by Avicii when I was 13 or so in school and went on a little internet dive. I got the gist and decided to try out Virtual DJing on my laptop. Then I got some decks. Then I got some better decks. Then I started hanging out in the park and got introduced to underground trap music. So, believe it or not, my earliest influences would technically be Avicii and $uicideboy$.

– Can you share the inspiration behind your latest track, “boyz II men”?

It’s a tale as old as time. I have a woman in my life. I love her deeply. We were once together and ended up separating due to a problematic approach to relationships on my end and a lack of experience on hers. We were a little too excited during the good times and not mature enough in the bad.

We did split and ended up taking a year or so apart. Now that we’ve reconnected I don’t think that we were ever over each other. Anyways, I did some living, tried some new things, worked on my own anxieties and learnt to enjoy being myself. I also (surprise, surprise) got myself a Therapist. For those who have the privilege to afford one and look down on it or think it’s not for them, dummies.

This song is just something I wrote for her, to let her know I appreciate her and I worked hard for what we have. Too many love songs are all about some bullshit. Always talking about the ways they love their person or the things they like about them. The reality is, you’ve always got to check in with yourself first. This song is about my own growth and my dealings with the insecurities that were branded into my mind from past relations. This is about me maturing and working hard to have someone in my life that’s great for me, because I’ve earned it

– What elements or experiences from your life did you draw upon while creating this particular song?

I’d say my last answer covers this. If we’re talking details, it’s kind of the same for any song I write. It just kind of starts after I’ve finished an early demo of the instrumental. I don’t really sit around thinking of topics to write about. Whatever’s relevant in my life at that point probably just pops up to the surface. I will say, this is definitely one of the sexier sounding songs I’ve written. I think we can guess what kind of experiences inspire someone to make this type of sound.

– How do you feel your music has evolved from your debut album “ARIA” to this new release?

ARIA was a great time and hugely enjoyable to create. I was, unfortunately, inebriated for most of the creation of it. I’d say production wise, it was on point. I do cringe at some lyrics and song themes and am happy to say I put a lot more thought into what I say on every track I do these days. I’m also not a student anymore or a boy so I can’t really be saying the out of pocket shit I was saying on some of those tracks.

I’ll credit myself more on the writing and mix of boyz II men. The production is smooth and classic but the mix is fairly solid. My setup was a mess at the time of mixing this and I was traveling so this mix was 90% done on AirPods. Here’s another unwanted opinion, too many people think you need too much gear to achieve a release-worthy sound. I’m not saying you should mix on AirPods, I love high-end studios and systems. However, your ears and your taste are your main tool. Don’t be lazy.

– How do you balance staying true to your unique style while also incorporating diverse influences into your music?

You know, I’ve always had that missing for me when it comes to Hip-Hop. I don’t see it as weakness at all but I think it’s interesting. Almost all rappers begin by repping their city or their neighborhood. Sadly, I was never hugely present in either Ireland or Kazakhstan while growing up, I’d just visit both. I was raised in Brussels. For anyone who doesn’t know, Brussels and Belgium itself is too busy avoiding unity for there to be much of a culture to relate to. Especially when you’re raised on the expat side of things and not in the territory of French rap.

I’ve tried my best to pay attention to the culture of Hip-Hop so as not to misuse it or to pretend I’m a version of it that I’m not. One way of doing that has been to take extra care when it comes to the content of my lyrics. Another has been to open myself up to collaborating with musicians that are not at all in that space. My main collaborators are originally rock guitarists. Obviously that description doesn’t do them justice, but they’re definitely not in Hip-Hop.

I think Stephen King or someone said that to write well, you have to read and write a lot. I think the same goes for music, particularly when you’re aiming to contribute something new to the scene. A pet peeve of mine is when people have settled for the types of music they’re comfortable with and claim they don’t like other genres. I think it’s like coffee or wine when you’re a kid. You’ve got to try it a bunch of times before you like it. Then you’ve got to try a bunch of different ones to develop a taste for it. Or you still don’t like it, but at least you really tried.

Maybe all that weird shit my parents played at home when I was a kid prevented my mind from creating musical biases before I had a chance to develop my own preferences. I seriously sometimes listen to this ambient/temple/garden tone synth music and look out my window. Other times I’m going in on aggressive ass Russian techno while I’m walking through the grocery store. I love indie rock for road trips and I realised I don’t hate country music after spending time in Nashville. We need to do our reading. And that’s listening to everything. Then we can go write.

– What are your goals and aspirations for 2024, both in terms of your music career and personal growth?

Man I’ve got this slapper of an album on the way. 13 tracks and we’re in the re-recording/re-amping stage. Vocals are next and then mixing. I’m hoping for a summer or late summer release and maybe by then a label with some balls will develop someone with a solid album and not the Tik-Tokker (no beef, just saying).

Once that’s out then we’re going to have to spend a little while playing shows. Performance isn’t something I prioritise, so that’s probably the space I want to develop in most. Making music is a pure pleasure to me. Being on stage more often is another step I’d like to take.
Anyways, it’s been a pleasure to type at you.

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