Unbounded by the constraints of genre and labels, Rasstokyo’s sound is fluid and unpredictable - an ever evolving picture of movement which the south London artist describes as water music.
What is water music you ask? It encompasses Rasstokyo’s ability to adapt and grow artistically without losing the very essence that makes him standout as an artist. The element regardless of whether it’s liquid or frozen is always identifiable. This is something the rapper mirrors with his music as he experiments with a variety vocal techniques and melodies.
His current discography includes a joint-release with his friends from House Of Pharaohs and Lash Vanegro, in addition to a number of noteworthy singles ‘Swim’, ‘Stolen’, and the particularly melodic flute-laced song Finer Things’. Citing an eclectic collection of influences Rasstokyo continues to be inspired numerous artists including Kid Cudi, Travis Scott, Coldplay, and Adele. Formerly known as Tokyo the Producer, Rasstokyo has spent the last few years developing his craft, working with the likes Octavian’s Essie Gang along the way. The London artist now turns his attention to the release of his new EP, “DARK WHITE” which features YSNREMI, Kid Bracer, Lash Vanegro and Mekah. The 6 track project tackles the state of the worlds politics, speaking on white privilege and more.
The rapper sat down with new wave to discuss his the “DARK WHITE” EP and his musical journey so far.
Interviewer Ray Sang
Creative Direction Derrick Odafi
Photography Charles Owusu
"I just say what the fuck I want to say. People just don’t do that anymore. Everyone is just scared about tweets that are going to be brought up 5 years from now"
Firstly, we would like to congratulate you on your new project Dark White, why was it important for you to release this project at this time?
It’s the perfect time. Also, I designed the cover with my boy Jack Harper back in September, this was around the voting period and I thought this is the right time to take the piss out of everything. Be light-hearted in such as serious time.
As an artist you’re very expressive, but not always political, why did you choose to do so this time around?
I just say what the fuck I want to say. People just don’t do that anymore. Everyone is just scared about tweets that are going to be brought up 5 years from now and someone’s going to be offended. Like, shut up man…That’s the whole point of me. I do what I want, I say what I want. I don’t care who I’m around. I don’t need anybody to try and put me on.
Speaking of doing what you want, there are many musical Lanes in the UK scene at the moment, what about you brings forth the type of music you make?
I’m in my own lane, I’ve always been my own person. I’ve got songs that have the African swing vibe to it but it’s not necessarily Afro swing. I just represent who I am, I didn’t really listen to much UK music growing up either, it was only when I got older, I started to appreciate it.
I grew up listening to T-Pain and Old Kanye. The Dream and Pharrell, all their music. The songs could sound different, but all sounded like them. I want to be able to make different types of songs but still, be Tokyo. That’s what makes me just follow my thing, I don’t want to just make Afro Beats and put it on a platform then start popping bottles at Liberty [Laughs]. I want my cult following.
"My beliefs. I wouldn’t sacrifice that for anything."
What was the song that was your entry point into music?
There is not THE song, but when I started music I wanted to produce only because I didn’t like the idea of fame. I just to be the guy that makes mad bread and people actually don’t care about him.
Timberland was a great inspiration when I first started but what made me want to start writing was listening to 808s and Heartbreak. I remember this one song Kanye did with Mr. Hudson called Supernova, I was like - Kanye has no business being on this pop song, but it bangs! And he’s not giving up the qualities of being Kanye, he’ll still say a mad ting.
Is there a particular sound or instrument that signifies who you are?
I go through phases, for example, I use the same types of percussion. If you listen to the Dark White tape, you’ll realise that a lot of hi-hat sounds, claps, and little percussions are all almost the same, not the pattern but the actual sound. Also, my thing is piano because I grew up learning the piano. For example, if there is a melody, I’ll play the piano and then figure out what kind of song I want to make.
Just to touch a little bit more on your growth from a producer to an artist yourself. What made you take that step?
I’m not going to lie; I think going to BRIT school had a big part in that. BRIT school is like High School Musical, everyone is tapped [Laughs]. If it’s your birthday, people jump up on tables and sing you happy birthday and don’t even know you.
When you come from ends and you’re in that kind of environment where being yourself is glorified, being like other people is not lit, just be yourself. When you try to be like other people that’s how you find more fake friends and people you don’t trust because the people around you don’t even know you. My people know me inside and out, they fuck with me. The ones that don’t aren’t around anymore.
What is one thing about yourself that you would never sacrifice in the industry?
My beliefs. I wouldn’t sacrifice that for anything.
What is one that you hold dear to you?
I come from a Christian background, I believe in God, I don’t think it’s a joke. You can make jokes, but my thing is Heaven and Hell is a real thing. It’s scary and all that.
In my music, you’ll never ever hear me disrespect God. There’s nothing nobody could pay me to do that. I don’t think anyone should be who they’re not, you won’t hear me talk about shooting guns because I’ve never had to shoot a gun, but I might talk about something else to do with guns. I’m from the ends so I see and hear things.
So, it’s like reporting on your environment?
Yeah man, how can you truly tell me about something you’ve never been in. Just like in certain drill songs when they say certain things, one of the maddest bars was Dig Dat when he said “ What do you know about sitting in a cell and the pillow’s giving you spots”- for me, that’s one of the hardest bars that came out last year, just because if you don’t know that setting you would never write that bar.
[Tokyo recites a few more memorable lyrics from Dig Dat’s Airforce 1]
Stuff like that inspires me to keep being me and living my life.
What is one of the lines in your music that expresses who you are?
You Know what? I think of the most recent project, Hatton. Road has the most about me because in the end I tell a very honest story. But if it’s just bars that bounce off things that have happened…[Tokyo mumbles some lyrics as he thinks], Ohh – “Always had a little soft side, like I love these ballads”- That one was cool.
I feel like the beginning of that song went over a lot of people’s heads, I said “ I look deep into the future, see some man same coat like Luther”, Luther [Tv character] wears the same coat in every episode in every season. I like bars like that where if you don’t know you won’t get it, you kind of have to research it. But then, there are the fun things that are so me like “TTP just step in, everyone about to be tipsy”- That’s just me bro, when I pull up everyone is about to get drunk, I don’t care. If I’ve got bread to splash, most times people in the room have helped me get to a point where I just live off my thing. I share my thing with everyone, soon as you fuck with me, I fuck with you. I’m genuine though. Everyone is blessed to bless.
Yes, we can tell, even us doing this shoot in your house, it shows how welcoming you are.
Yeah man, obviously I can judge anyone else’s way of thinking, that’s just not in my motto, everyone is entitled to how they think. I don’t believe in right or wrong…obviously don’t kill anyone’s mum [Laughs]
“TTP just step in, everyone about to be tipsy”- That’s just me bro, when I pull up everyone is about to get drunk, I don’t care.
So, whatever you do, you don’t expect anything back?
Nah man, as soon as you do, you start getting pissed at people. When I first started going out, let’s say you make £500, that weekend you spend £450 and you wake up mad! [Laughs]. Like rah. No one told me to stop, no one bought me drinks, no one backed me, no one got me a cab. I’m thinking wow, everyone is fake! [Laughs]
But you need to realise, that spending 90% of your account balance is not the smart thing to do, you’ve got to learn things the hard way.
How have your experiences growing up in South London, what has that taught you?
It’s the jungle, south is a jungle. It definitely taught me to keep my head out of other people’s business. It also taught me the benefits of being funny. I’ve never been robbed my entire life. Obviously, coming from south I stayed in south. I didn’t go to different ends. It taught me how to be rough and not to be flashy as well.
Back in school days, I used to sell cookies and I had £15. Back in the day, that’s bread! [Laughs] I remember walking down my road, flashing 3 £5 notes, some guys jumped off the bus and asked me what I’ve got. I’m on my road but these guys are older than me, I said I haven’t got anything for me. They said, “What do you mean you don’t have nothing for me”. I was said to them, it’s Mother’s Day and you think I’m going to give you the money I’ve got to give my mum?!
They were like “…alight cool” [Laughs]. Shit like that had to happen, just like in primary school, I still remember this guy Julius. He just came in and banged me in the chest bro [Laughs] You know how black people punch with the knuckle-right in my chest. I was like bro WTF! Why did you do that?
He said to toughen you up…it worked, so man is tough now [Laughs]. South molded me to not take shit from no one, but it also made me a little hot-headed.
That’s real, how has it influenced your sound though?
It’s definitely influenced me with rapping and embracing the rawness of my own voice. Listening to Drill more than Grime helped me do that. Because when drill was on the rise, the music was horribly mixed. But you recognised a few guys that know how to carry their voice, those are the ones that blow. Their voice just gasses you, it’s just a thing you’ve got on your chest – Like, I am this person, so certain things just roll off.
Also, the content of my music, I come from a life of drug dealers and fraudsters. Catty bro…man’s from Catford.
"From 2012 I always knew that come 2020, my name would be about. Not like it is now where a couple people have heard of me, I mean really out there."
With the growth of artists you’ve been around that make a similar genre of music to you, are you more confident about the success you can attain compared to a few years ago?
I feel exactly the same way. I know one of us would blow up first, then we’ll all come and push in. I was on my producer wave when House of Pharaohs were pushing. I don’t look at anything as a race, we all make good music, we’re not crazy. Theirs no way that in this subculture were all tapped and this is shit. It doesn’t make sense.
That’s how things become pop culture. So, as we were all doing the same shows, people pull up and go crazy - It’s like fam, we’re all going to blow, it’s only a matter of time. I think where Octavian is right now, it has definitely made it easier for the subculture to push into the more mainstream. But more so in terms of breaking America, not necessarily the UK- that too, but there’s fans in the US that fuck with Octavian but don’t fuck with Stormzy. It’s because our subculture sound gels the US and the UK way more than anything that’s at the top now.
You hit it on the head, it doesn’t just stop with the music either, it’s the full package
They feel it, man. It’s cool because, for example, J Hus had to Blow up after Kojo Funds etc. Obviously when Stormzy had gone clear, then you found the other Grime rappers going through [to the mainstream] then from when 67 were banging on the radio then you had all these youngers who were all gangsters coming through. That’s literally what is about to happen with our subculture, especially throughout this year, I think it’s going to blow up a lot more than anyone can anticipate. From 2012 I always knew that come 2020, my name would be about. Not like it is now where a couple of people have heard of me, I mean really out there.
When you were a producer, how long did it take you to make that change to a full artist also?
I started with writing and singing my own stuff. I was singing before any rap. I was doing that from around 2015, then from 2018/19 that’s when I realised that I know my sound. I’ve clocked it. I realised that I’ve clocked my sound when I made a song called Finer Things. I realised I knew how to sing and rap on a song and come across how I wanted to.
That’s why it took so long for me to perfect Hatton because when I had the idea for the song, it just wasn’t coming out how I wanted it. I didn’t know how to use my rap voice yet…I’ve got patience when I was figuring out all of that shit I was just working my normal job. It’s not hard to look lit, just go thrift stores [Laughs].
What are some of the things you have done that you wish you could do differently?
I’ve made silly decisions, like buying Jewellery when I should have had a car, taking cabs etc. But you’ve got to go through that shit. Now is the time to fuck up and make mistakes, and it creates more content for the music.
What are some of the best investments you have made?
When I dropped the money for my laptop, Logic was paid for. I started buying sound packs etc. you can’t make it if you haven’t got it. The next thing was investing in my studio, things that can make bread. I only started renting out my own studio last February, almost a year now. Stuff like that.
"The whole point of the Dark White movement was to highlight that black and white people aren’t that different. It’s the culture of financial structure."
When I first saw the name, I immediately thought okay Japanese + Caribbean culture but I’m sure there’s more of a story behind that?
Tokyo is actually my middle name.
Oh really? sick
No, it’s not [Laughs]. Basically, growing up, I just loved Japanese culture, I just thought they were effortlessly cool. They just look lit. They just wear black and they look cold! It’s like – My black doesn’t look like that, WTF [Laughs]. I don’t know, I just like the culture of the city, the colours – It’s bright, it’s bold. They don’t give a fuck about the outside view, to them they look wavy. I think that mindset rubbed off on me.
So, they influence your style as well?
People ask me where I get my clothes from - These are normal pants from topman, these are fucking Kicker Loafers and I bought this for like - This Sean Jean – Actually, this is a good piece [Laughs]. I don’t go out shopping for outfits, I just buy shit that I like.
On a personal note, where are your origins?
I’m mixed actually. My mum is Jamaican/Scottish, and my Dad is Ghanaian/Irish. That’s why I find it funny to take the piss out of white people, like - man is actually white [Laughs]. So, it's just funny to me. I’ve seen the culture up close; I’ve seen poor white people compared to rich white people, they’re so different. The whole point of the Dark White movement was to highlight that black and white people aren’t that different. It’s the culture of financial structure.
If you’re broke – black or white, you do the broke things that a black or white person does. Poor white people aren’t out here eating crumpets and tea. They haven’t got money for crumpets and tea… I like to take the piss out of the rich white culture because that’s the elitist culture. Megan Markel isn’t meant to be the princess, you feel me?
Stuff like that just inspires my whole idea of “I’m not racist I have white friends”.
That’s an interesting way to challenge culture, many people are very sensitive these days
Everyone is jarring man. Everything is so long, why can’t people just be calm? Of course, you can’t eradicate any mindsets in the world, it doesn’t work that way because people are going to be stuck in their ways. For example, I don’t necessarily believe in changing their gender but that doesn’t mean I have a problem with changing their gender, that’s just my belief.
I think the problem is people have beliefs and they want it to be superimposed onto everyone for them to now believe it. That’s why there’s so much problems, it’s not going to work that way until you realise, just shut up – do what you want.
Going back to where you're from and the music, you speak on major topics such as white privilege and more on Dark White. Why did you choose to address those themes?
I think music is a platform to get conversations going, I don’t think it should all be “ I fucked your bitch” – those songs are cool but…I feel like me touching on these topics within society is demonstrating that I want to create discussions, that doesn’t mean I want to be the prime minister because I just don’t care enough right now, I’m still trying to make songs, I can’t do both [laughs]
When I talk about white privilege and things like that it’s just me addressing it and having fun with it, I’m not angry at anyone. It’s a thing that’s not going to change for time.
It’s important because maybe a 12-year-old is listening for the first time and that’s their first encounter with the concept, do you feel like its important for not just you but other artists in your lane to do?
Yeah definitely, people are listening to us. Young people are listening to us. I don’t think we should be telling kids to pop molly and sip lean at 15/16. Kids are dying from that. You have to be honest in the music, if you’ve fucked around with it before, you have to be honest about the effect it’s had on you. Some people smoke weed, and it’s fucking lit all day, It’s lovely. But weed wasn’t like that for me - I loved it for like a year, then I had a panic attack and I realised I didn’t need it. You need to be honest about these things with people. Everyone needs to bring some honestly, tell people your struggles, life isn’t perfect. Music can’t be how social media is, where everyone just posts their best pose where they were the slimmest or their jawline was the tightest.
Music is the truth- Fucking got Tupac turning in his grave, people talking about I’ll fuck your bitch all day long and he was trying to give a message [Laughs] Fuucking hell man.
R.I.P Nipsey Hussle as well
R.I P fam, guys like that.
"I’m just experiencing new shit. This is like a new chapter for me, not being with my baby’s mother and just being a single man. Just purely focusing on myself and my Kids. Yeah man, I’m looking forward to that."
In terms of your career Is chart success something you have your mindset on achieving.
Not really, I don’t really care to go #1 etc. Obviously, it would be sick, whoever says they don’t want to is lying. It would be an amazing achievement but that’s not my goal. My goal is to be financially well off to the point where I can just keep doing what I love, also to have a genuine cult following. Kind of like how Frank ocean does his thing, he doesn’t have to be about but when he does come back, the people are still there.
The turn of the new decade is a very big year, a lot of people are looking forward to what is to come. What is one thing you’re looking forward to most?
The next video is coming out that I’m going to be shooting over the year. Maybe an album, I don’t know, but the next body of work there’s going to be less ‘Turn Up’. Obviously, there will be elements of that but I’m looking forward to more honestly and experiences for 2020, because I’m just experiencing new shit. This is like a new chapter for me, not being with my baby’s mother and just being a single man. Just purely focusing on myself and my Kids. Yeah man, I’m looking forward to that.
That’s a big journey ahead, who are some of the people that have helped you get to where you are at?
Jack Harper 100%. He’s a genuine friend. When I was at Central Saint Martins he was at UAL Chelsea, and he also when BRIT so we always had that mutual respect for each other’s eye and taste. And when I decided to pursue my music, he decided to pursue the graphics, then he moved into fashion – and he’s an amazing photographer. The way he moves between different design cultures is the way I like to move within different genres of music. He’s definitely a big inspiration for me and he probably doesn’t even know it.
Seshie from IAMNEXT has done a lot for the subculture scene, he definitely helped to bring more content and vibe to the subculture with the lit parties and shows.
I know there is a lot more, but I can’t think right now.
We appreciate you for the interview and best of luck moving forward and we will be listening to the Dark White project for a while.
Listen to Dark White Below.