4 January 2008
As part of the notorious Peckham based hip-hop collective, So Solid Crew, Ashley Walters AKA Asher D, won two MOBOs and a Brit, writes Alison Patel...
Now a solo artist, the 25-year-old is working on his third album, The Appetiser, whilst building on his acting career with three new films coming out in 2008.
When I met up with him at his production company in Borough I wasn't sure what to expect from the former bad boy of hip-hop, but was disarmed by his friendly, open manner, honesty and obvious charm.
A talented lyricist, rapper and actor, Ashley won a BIFTA (British Independent Film Award) for best newcomer in 2005, for his portrayal of Ricky in Bullet Boy, a film that deals with the devastating affects of gun crime in London.
I asked him what he thought of the gun problem in the capital.
"Ninety percent of these boys out there with guns are scared little boys and they’re scared of the other ten percent that are crazy nutters. It's got to the point now where no one knows who's who.
"Kids will say, can I step on your shoe and we're just gonna have a fight today or are you gonna have a knife on you and stab me? So rather than take that risk, they would prefer to be armed themselves. The sad thing is a lot of these shootings really are over that. And it's gonna take someone saying let's throw the gun away - like in Bullet Boy - to just stop it and say one life is enough."
Ashley has clearly achieved a lot in a short time, especially when you look at his background growing up in Peckham, or Peck 'nam as he jokingly calls it, surrounded by poverty and a culture of violence.
"Growing up in Peckham definitely influenced my sound. I think that most artists have a lot of pain and a lot of negative experiences, which enables them to draw on a lot when it comes to their work. It gives them that edge, that X Factor, which I think is kind of what happened to me.
"There were a lot of negative influences around me but I think with me, even though I did get myself into trouble later on, initially I was just observing it. When I got into So Solid, I began to experience it for myself."
The trouble he is talking about no doubt relates to when Ashley was caught carrying a loaded gun, following an argument with a traffic warden in July 2001. He was arrested and, in 2002, jailed for 18 months.
He hints that the pressure to uphold an image as part of So Solid Crew was what led ultimately to his arrest.
"As soon as I came out with So Solid, there was an image. To the rest of the world we were terrorists and people were waiting for us to make mistakes. People were helping us to make mistakes, so it was pretty crazy and we became a victim of our own success really."
I asked Ashley if he thought he could still describe himself as a positive role model after his problems with the law.
"If I can make mistakes like I did and go to jail and then come back and own up to my mistakes and say, ‘listen I'm not gonna lie, I messed up and this is why I did it and I'm sorry and I wouldn't encourage anyone to follow me’, I think that makes me a man and a role model just like someone who's starting some positive crap in your face."
On his release, Ashley set up his production company, AD82 Productions.
In 2005, he appeared alongside 50 Cent in the film Get Rich or Die Tryin' and it was this experience, he says, that taught him that he really needed to have more control over his career.
"I had this huge record contract with So Solid and came out not knowing anything. When I met 50 Cent, the workload I saw him take on was incredible. I realised how much control he's got over everything. That made me realise that I wasn't in control of my own destiny and I couldn't keep complaining about things going wrong if I wasn't holding the reigns."
Now, he says, he wants to use his production company to boost his record sales.
"I've had a lot of critical acclaim but I haven't sold a lot of units as a solo artist. Right now for us as a business it's about trying to take all that critical acclaim and turn it into units and market the albums in the right way and push me."
Hi latest album, The Appetiser, is a move away from rap and into the more aggressive, faster rapping sound of GRIME.
"The last album was In memory of a Street Fighter and that was rap, UK style and obviously there's a distinct change because this album is predominantly GRIME. That's not to say I've put down my hip-hop head and that I'm jumping on the bandwagon, it's just that the tracks are basically boasting what I've been doing this for a while and UK Garage was the scene, the music of the time that kind of set up what's going on now."
Ashley's acting career is going from strength to strength. He's recently finished filming a pilot of W10, adapted from a book by Courtia Newland and directed by Noel Clarke, the Director of Kidulthood, about an estate in London. He's also done a film, Tuesday, about different groups of people all trying to rob a bank on the same day.
He plays a police informant in a thriller, Waz, to be released next year and his latest project, Speed Racer, is a big budget film, based on a Manga cartoon.
Away from his career, Ashley has three children, whom he describes as his inspiration. "For a long time I didn't care about myself and my kids gave me my life back really."
I asked Ashley what he thought the secret to his success was.
"You can do exactly what I've done, but you've just got to have that focus, you've got to have a plan."
I think his determination, talent and charm probably have something to do with it as well.
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