I had a brief Q&A session with talented Grand Rapids, Michigan emcee, Ashim. In this session he shares his philosophies on independent artistry, his motivation and he drops some food for thought for fellow creative types.
Achickwitbeatz: Who is Ashim?
Ashim: Ashim is a psuedo hood almost smart weirdo who listened to too much rap and read one too many books [laugh]. I do not beez in any trap, I'm not extra political or conscious, I'm kind of a juxtaposition in motion. I AM ALL THINGS AND NOTHING [laugh]. I grew up poor, in Kalamazoo MI, grew up with Gutter and Anagram and those guys, so a lot of my musical philosophy, at least the foundation I credit to Gutter. The way I ingest music and interpret it and appreciate it was all kinda molded by the experience with those guys coming up listening to Wu and Ras Kass and Redman, having 3 hour cyphers or sitting on the block while people got they work off or whatever. Since then, obviously, I've evolved a bit reading one too many books and becoming a NPR supporter [laughs], but that was the basis of it, it all started on the West Side of Kalamazoo. Ashim is my father's last name, and that's a story for another time.
Achickwitbeatz: What do you love most about being an independent artist?
Ashim: What I love about being an independent artist is what I love about music today- there's no ceiling, there's no floor. You can make whatever music you want and someone, somewhere, will become an audience for it. I think for a long time mainstream artists and independent artists were still dependent on a medium to reach their audience, and it put them in kind of a box because the people controlling the conduit said "this is what you are or should be, and this is what your audience wants". Now you can be absolutely everything you want, throw that sh*t on the cloud and have a direct line to your audience - as great or as small as it may be. Also, there was a shift in hip hop, one where in terms of content in the golden era mainstream we focused on the struggle more than the victory, and now that's kind of flipped, and every rap song is about the victory - being rich off cocaine, having nice cars and bad b*tches and what not, but it opens up an avenue for indie guys, because a lot of us fans, like me, still relate to the struggle and we wanna hear the every man story more than we relate to waking up in new Bugattis, so we get to add our own voice to the fray and hope it finds it's audience.
Achickwitbeatz: What is the most valuable lesson you've learned since you became an independent artist?
Ashim: Two things: Direct feedback is invaluable and of no value at all. People listen with a different ear to a local guy or girl than they do to Drake. People listen to me with the ear of the seasoned critic every rap fan is in real life, on the inside... instead of just appreciating the music as the whole I thought I presented it to be, because you can't tell Drake "yo I think you should add a layer to the hook for rounding" or whatever. What you get from Drake is the product, no changes are possible, and is accepted and judged as such. For a guy like me though, the immediate feedback is a bit different, and sometimes it's useful but a lot of times you have to learn to ignore it or run the risk of trying to please everyone and disappointing yourself. I mean I love that anyone listens, anytime, and I'm completely willing to sit through the inception of any fan's career as the rap answer to Simon Cowell to my Big Boy Studdard if it gets you to listen. But at some point, I want people to accept the vision as presented, no changes pending. The second thing is to plan to plan again. Avenues dry up quickly - the thing that worked for Indie Rapper A or Indie Rapper B may not be available to you as a viable option. The mixtape markets are over saturated, you can't pay Facebook to connect you to your fans in any meaningful way, and the novelty of being a trap star or a white rapper, female rapper or psuedo political but grossly misinformed conscious rapper is as worn as Kat Stacks box. So you have to appreciate the idea that at some point your game plan from jump can't be your game plan going forward, and I think that's important to note for anyone in serious pursuit of a career in music, which I may or may not be depending on my mood and the lotto numbers. I think I should get points for the Kat Stacks reference. I make 2011 today.
Achickwitbeatz: What are 5 attributes that would put an artist on your top 10 list?
Ashim: Content is number one. I've spent most of my life breaking down lyrics like most hip hop kids and I've come to believe lyrical miracles aren't worth a tenth of substance. Song structure is important. Sometimes being overly lyrical can subtract from the whole of a song, or sometimes a beat is too dope, too imposing, or sometimes a message is heavy handed. You have to have not just all the ingredients but the right balance to make a dope song, and that's song structure in a nutshell. Social relevance, track record, and impact all figure pretty heavily in my top 10 too.
Achickwitbeatz: Conversely, what are 5 attributes that would put an artist at the very bottom of your list?
Ashim: Ummm... I'm not one of those guys. I know how hard it is to put together a project of 12-18 songs and kinda bare it all for mass consumption and critique so I'm not one of those guys who's gonna say this guy is trash or that guy or whatever. He did the work. At the end of the day, a huge part of success in any arena is doing the work. And having a great work ethic is a formidable talent all by itself from where I sit, because mine isn't that great [laughs]. That said, Snoop Dogg, Lion, Tiger whatever the f**k, the coonery needs to stop.
Achickwitbeatz: What can people expect from Ashim?
Ashim: I can't decide if I want people to expect anything from me [laughs]. I'm sort of working on a project I don't have a title for or a theme - that's backwards for me, I usually start with a title and theme and let it shape the body of work for cohesion - but it could come out this Sunday or in 10 months [laughs]. I'm 10 or 11 songs in, just counting songs I like, not ones I'll never let anyone hear, but I haven't even starting the process of reaching out for features so... It may go featureless, or I may decide I need this guy to drop a verse and the project may end up in 'waiting for 16's' purgatory like has happened so many times before. I don't know what anyone should expect, but either I'll impress or disappoint or worst case just deal with your indifference.
Achickwitbeatz: How can people stay current with what you have in the works?
Ashim: The soundcloud page is where I post a lot of stuff. Half finished stuff, finished stuff, and crazy ideas inspired by one alcoholic beverage too many. I also have a facebook music page but if any of you are fans of it I don't know because I currently can't spare a f*ck to give on it. Same for Twitter and IG and the like. Interwebs are wierd.