Hailing from the streets of Toxteth and Wavertree, Liverpool rapper Aystar has gone from local legend in the Scouse underground rap scene to one of the biggest names in the game.
Myspace carried artists over to a cyber age and Aystar is one of them. In early 2010 the rapper, known as Twigdog at the time, was already constructing a solid fanbase through the platform and racking up the numbers from day dot. As YouTube began to establish itself as the centre stage for artists Aystar followed and his success accelerated from there. Soon enough he was getting noticed by the likes of Wiley and London MC K Koke while freestyling on channels such as Charlie Sloth’s Fire in The Booth and Tim Westwood’s Crib Sessions. By 2016 he debuted his first edition in the Scousematic trilogy and later that year he appeared on Giggs’ tune ‘The Best’ alongside Youngs Teflon.
From the beginning of his career, it has been clear Aystar holds a place in his heart for hip hop – his relaxed flow reminiscent of West Coast rap and his beat selection an ode to the illustrious years of the 90s era of hip hop. Aystar’s latest mixtape Scousematic 3 pays homage to this adoration and it can be found in the details. Through his laid-back attitude and chilling delivery, the melodious yet raw Scouse accent effortlessly infuses with the rap style which Aystar has adopted.
While he acknowledges his fame, there is a sense of humility in the rapper. As we talk about his come up he adds “I just like proper music so that’s all I do it for – getting paid is a bonus.”. He goes on to lay bare a few of his insights on making music and emphasises the importance of quality over quantity. Aystar further divulges how he ended up working with Ay Em after playing one of his songs to their mutual manager in the back of a taxi and how Digga D came to be one of the features on his latest mixtape.
As we spoke over the phone Aystar earnestly admits to feeling like he is 'one of the last ones left' when it comes to commemorating old school styles in rap and the legends that made it, “I think that’s why people like my music, because it has that 90s style of rap that’s almost lost at this point. There’s only a few left, and we’re the last ones left” – loosely quoting one of his bars from ‘The Best’. Perhaps a fair remark to make when you consider the ever-changing industry we have grown accustomed to these days, dense with vacuous lyrics and vapid content, Aystar could well be one of the last one's left.
New Wave: Last month you released the third and latest album on the Scousematic series. Looking back on the tracks you were making at the beginning of your career compared to what you’re doing now how would you perceive your growth or change in technique?
I'm in an older space now - and I think the music is reflecting that. The music growth overall is just better, and my beat selection has improved. My mind frame is also changing. I guess content-wise I’ve learned different things from what you’d have heard back in the day. Now there’s a lot more variety if that makes sense.
Music isn’t the kind of job you can just clock out of at 5 pm, do you find yourself waking up and feeling this constant pressure to create?
Yeah, I do. but that’s just part of the game innit, [laughing] definitely though, you can’t just clock off at 5, it can be a 24hr job if you know what I mean? You can wake up and there’ll be music all day and then you go to bed, it’s not like a 9-5.
What’s your work ethic like, is it more ‘grind hard, don’t stop’ or ‘take things at your own pace’?
I think it changes depending on what’s playing on my mind and how I'm feeling at the time, sometimes it’s ‘grind hard’ and sometimes it’s ‘take it as it comes’. But when I haven’t dropped music for a long time I get the urge that I need to drop something, then I can ease off the pedal a bit. But I just like to enjoy it, I don’t want to overwork myself... I don’t feel any necessary pressure. I just feel pressure when I haven’t dropped anything in a while, and I know that I need to drop something, but other than that it’s just taking it as it comes.
There is an increasingly prevalent rhetoric about people who are making it in the industry realising that they have to be careful who they keep around them, is this something you’ve had to pay attention to in your career?
100%. I can give you one example of what I’ve seen happen to a lot of artists, including artists that I’ve worked with and been around. When you first start doing you and getting places a lot of your mates want to jump on the bandwagon and come with you to shows etc. The thing is, a lot of people might not be your mates. You might have a group of friends who have a group of friends, who have a group of friends and they might all end up coming – but they’re the ones that you should watch out for. They haven’t got the loyalty or they don’t see the vision; so they might be the ones who end up starting a fight in shows and things like that, and that will reflect on me.
Everybody who I choose to have around me will reflect on me. You have to handle who you’ve got around you in that sense, and who will have your back. The story at the end of the day is people will speak about what my people are doing. On top of that, some people see you’re in a certain position and they might try and move with you when in reality they’ve got ulterior motives themselves. So just the little things like that you’ve gotta be aware of. There will be people who haven’t got your back and do stuff for clout but you’re there thinking that they’re your mates and take them everywhere, to every show, to studio sessions and things like that, they could be the ones; you just gotta have a tight circle.
You gotta keep your day ones close.
“Everybody who I choose to have around me will reflect on me. You have to handle who you’ve got around you in that sense, and who will have your back.”
What other artists are you listening to right now, who are you feeling?
Do you know what it is with me? I just follow the music, so if a tune’s good I’ll listen to it. I don’t really have set artists that I’ll listen to if that makes sense. But I could give you loads of names really, obviously, I’ve been listening to drill so Unknown T, Digga D and people like that. I like rap and trap, so Blade Brown, Giggs... But I like old school rap more than a lot of the new stuff that’s coming out. I like listening to more of the classic rappers from back in the day.
It’s important, a lot of this new stuff can sometimes feel a bit temporary.
Working with Giggs has expanded your recognition somewhat, but in your opinion what’s the first tracks that saw you gain traction?
Maybe not consecutively, but I feel like each time I drop new music my stuff goes bigger. Definitely when I linked Giggs, but before that would have been the stuff I’ve done with K Koke, like the cypher we did back in the day. That was an important stage where I got more exposure, he was signed to Roc Nation – the first rapper from England to be signed to a Jay Z label and that so that was a big thing at the time. Then obviously I was with them doing music as well, and being managed by them; so when I was dropping music with K Koke and we dropped our tune together, I’d say that was the point where my sound was really expanding outside of Liverpool.
How would you say growing up in Liverpool compares to the experience of growing up in London?
I think It’s the same, but I’d say people didn’t realise growing up in Liverpool was like that. I think we all go through the same stuff and live the same life, but everybody just thought that it was all happening in London. So when people listened to my music in London they liked it because it’s what they’re living, but it’s coming from somewhere else and somebody else so it’s just better to hear. Also the different slang, and things like that… Even though they know it’s the same thing as what they’re talking about, I might say it with a different word or something. It just makes it that little bit better for them to listen to.
You use slang from Liverpool in a clever way... like ‘plod’ for example. Could you give us some examples and explain the meaning for those that don’t know?
Haha yeah, ‘plod’ just means police in Liverpool basically. I don’t know where it comes from, I think it is from a cartoon or something where there’s a policeman and his name is PC Plod maybe, I think it had already come from that. But that’s just a word that’s stuck. And it’s a short word you know, scousers love shortening words and stuff so even though police is a long word it's still shortened.
I love that ability to play around with words...
Do you think the rap scene in Liverpool is kicking off right now?
Honestly, I don’t think it is. But it’s definitely in a better place if that makes sense? But it’s still not where it needs to be. People still aren’t really getting it, there’s not really a scene here in my eyes, do you know what I mean? Even though there are loads of people here doing music there’s not really a scene.
You’ve said in one of your previous answers that you’re not in a rush with creativity, which is something a lot of artists struggle with, what tips would you have for those artists?
Quality over quantity. There’s no point doing 10 filler tracks to release purely because you feel like you need to keep up your work rate or your appearance. I’d rather wait. If it’s gonna take a year I’d rather wait a year and your mixtape comes out 15 straight bangers rather than you dropping a mixtape and I only like one or two tunes on there. But again, people are all at different places. I’ve got mad loyal fans so I could go away for two years and then come back and it would just be the same. Others don’t have that, where they might come back to find that their fans aren’t digging it anymore. That’s what I mean about every artist being different. Some of these artists follow the wave – they only drop music that’s popping in the moment. They’re the ones that can’t go away for a long time. If you’ve got the core of what you do, that will stay with you forever.
“Quality over quantity. There’s no point doing 10 filler tracks to release purely because you feel like you need to keep up your work rate or your appearance.”
You definitely have a solid fan base. What you say is true as well, it’s down to the quality of what you do. Some of the best albums are the ones you have to give a bit more time to. Maybe at first, you don’t even like it, but you can come back to it and suddenly you start hearing the level of detail and the amount of work that the artist has put into it.
Exactly, whereas you could listen to some others and you can end up skipping the whole tape and just not feel it at all, you can just see that the work hasn’t been put into it, it’s been rushed.
Going back to your solid fan base, Raheem Sterling dubbed himself as a day one fan, is this something that you reciprocate as a Liverpool fan?
Definitely. Sterling is my boy. He’s been supporting the thing from day dot. He’s been listening to my music from way back. And there’s a lot of people like him, it’s not just him. That’s why I don’t worry too much as well. I have intuitions and a lot of the time they’re right; a lot of people can put pressure and say you need to do this or that, but for me, it’s not what I need to do. Granted sometimes you might think they could be right, but really if you just stick to your guns it works – you’ll know you’re right. So that’s where I’m at now. I just do what I’m doing and people like the result. And that’s not just the fans like you’re saying it could be footballers or other big rappers… Everyone fucks with my shit, and it’s not for no reason.
It’s real and it’s authentic. You’re just saying your truths – that’s definitely key.
Yeah and each time I get more exposure, just because this audience or whoever starts listening, I don’t think ‘oh I’ve gotta stop swearing’ or whatever. I just do me, if you like it, you like it and if you don’t, you don’t.
Who’s your go-to producer?
Jxmie, he’s from Leicester. You’ll have heard a lot of his beats on my Scousematic tape, he’s my go-to producer. He just makes sick hip hop/rap beats. Something that I feel like can be neglected in the UK. At the moment no one really makes hard hip hop beats, I have to ask them to do it specifically for me. Whereas Jxmie actually just does it, I don’t know if he’s born around the same era, like in the 90s or something, but he just got that 90s rap mind frame. But yeah he’s my guy, he’s my go-to still.
I suppose in some ways the UK has tried so hard to build a different image to the rest of the hip hop/ rap world, it has kind of neglected the origins, even going back to the 70s. So it is important that you’ve got someone behind you that has that knowledge.
100%. I think that’s why people like my music as well because it has that 90s style of rap that’s almost lost at this point. There’s only a few left, and we’re the last one’s left… That's why I say that in the tune with Giggs on his album – where the phrase “The last one’s left” comes from, because after this era, after me I don’t believe anyone who’s born in the 2000s is going to rapping like me, and in that style – I feel like I’m one of the last one’s left.
“I think that’s why people like my music because it has that 90s style of rap that’s almost lost at this point. There’s only a few left, and we’re the last one’s left”
Do you feel like that’s because there’s just so many people trying to make it that it has come to a point where people are producing anything to stay on top of trends?
I think it’s partly because each year is obviously a year further away from the 90s. For instance, all the kids going to school now, they’re listening to drill. That’s all they’re listening to. If you played them a tune from that era… let’s not say Biggie or Tupac because they’re the only one’s they do know… but if you played them a classic hip hop tune, say ‘Shook Ones’ from Mobb Deep or something they probably don’t even know who wrote that tune.
Exactly who I was thinking of! Those beats that come from 20-30 years ago like Marley Marl or J Dilla, they've been an integral part in creating what they’re listening to now...
100%. And then people nowadays, like all of the new kids, they probably listen to my stuff and they just don’t even know why it’s so different. They like it, they know it’s different but they just don’t know why. They’re thinking “how’s he come up with that” “what is that”, simply because they’re born after the era so all they know is the drill stuff or whatever. So like I said, I think each year that goes by it’s going to get more and more like that. In five years or 10 years, I don’t think there’s going to be anyone spitting over classic hip hop and rap, it’s all gonna be lost to this new wave, like drill and stuff like that or even newer ones.
It’s constantly changing. Do you remember when you first decided to get into music?
When I was a little boy. I don’t know the exact moment but I was about 13 I decided I wanted to make music.
Is that when you started to see the potential to make a living out of it in the future?
Not really… that wasn’t ever really the plan, I just loved rap that much. When it came to making money I didn’t consider that side of it, it was all just for the fun of doing it. Then it got to the point where I was getting loads of views, that’s when I realised, actually, something could pop off here – but I don’t know when the initial thought was when I realised I could make money off it. It’s never been about that for me. I have never thought ‘I’m going to start rapping to make money’. I always rapped just for the fun of rapping, and I still do it now. I don’t think ‘I need to get to number one’ or need to do this or that, I just like proper music so that’s all I do it for – getting paid is a bonus.
“I just like proper music so that’s all I do it for – getting paid is a bonus.”
I’ve seen videos of you back in 2011 as Twigdog, is that when you first started putting your music out?
I’ve been doing music since Myspace days. I used to put music on Myspace and I would get a lot of views. So when YouTube came about, I thought if I do it on YouTube too I’m guaranteed to get some views, especially seeing as I got so many on Myspace. That’s what happened really. But I’d say that was early 2010… I think 2010 was the year when I first came out with music.
Where does the name Twigdog actually come from?
That was just a nickname that I had, it was one of my friends who had a similar name, so that was what he ended up calling me. It was what you could say was my little rap name. But then as I got older a lot of people were starting to call me Aystar, which was a better brand name so I just went with that.
What have been your top three freestyle moments?
You and Tremz... People have been saying you two ‘have beef’ but is that really true or is it because you’re both somewhat the biggest rappers to come out of your area so it’s just expected or presumed?
[laughs] I don’t know what it is. It’s a long story, but no, we haven’t got any beef.
You’re both just on your own wave
Would you ever collab?
Probably not. And to explain, I don’t really collab with people I don’t really fuck with or listen to their music. I’ll only do a tune with someone if I listen to their music or like it. I’ll listen to Digga D’s tunes. That’s why me and Digga D have got a tune together. I wouldn’t have done a tune with him if I didn't like his music, even if he had 50 million followers.
What was the creative process working with Digga D like? How did you two end up linking?
On both of our tracks, we didn’t actually link up and do it… It was one of those where I recorded and sent him what I'd done and he did the same. So it was just one of those, it wasn’t like we were both in the studio at the time or anything like that; he had a mixtape dropping and he wanted that Liverpool crud on it so he hollered me. He’s my mate’s mate. My mate from Liverpool, he used to live in London as well, and when he used to be there, that’s who he used to roll with, Digga. So that’s how the actual link-up came about in the first place.
It’s interesting how some of these things come together really. Can you give me a little background on your recent vid with Ay Em and Diztortion?
With Diztortion he just makes heavy beats. Anytime you’re in the studio with Diz he always makes sick beats. So it started from being in the studio with Diz and we had come in with a banger and we needed a hook. I needed hooks for the other tracks anyway and I’d said to my manager “we need some singer on the hook” and he just said “what about Ay Em” and I replied “who’s Ay Em?”, I hadn’t heard of him at the time, so I was thinking nah fuck that. Like I said before – If I don’t fuck with them or know them, I can’t get excited about working with them unless I proper like the music, so I responded with “nah fuck that, who else have we got?”. Then one day we were on our way to London and I was playing this tune and I turned to Mo, my manager, and said “yo check this tune out”, played it, and he said “hold on a minute… That’s Ay Em…” [laughs].
I didn’t know his name because the tune was C Montana – featuring Ay Em – and I thought the whole tune was just C Montana, I didn’t even notice the feature. So I ended up saying to my manager “let’s get him in the studio” and he told me that he already works with Diztortion, so it was basically already sorted because Diztortion’s manager is also Mo.
So that link was already there...
Yeah, from there it was a wrap, that’s how we got Ay Em on the hook. He just came down to the studio. We’ve actually done a few tunes, me and Ay Em. And we’ve both been trying to link up again for ages just to get new music done. Of course, Scousematic 3 dropped and we had that banger, it was too good not to do a visual too. It was one of the main tracks on there; obviously, the Digga D one as well but ‘In and Out’ with Ay Em was the second most-streamed tune so definitely had to get a video done too.
You can listen to Aystar's latest mixtape Scousematic 3 below.