Ones To Watch #Croydon is a series created to showcase all the up and coming talents throughout the borough!
Love R&B? Love Hip Hop? Love smooth vocals and intricate wordplay? Meet A.O, South London rapper based in Croydon! We caught up with him to discuss his EP, new music and all the latest!
SDS: Hey A.O! How are you doing, how's things?
A.O: I'm great man. I'm great, just been out here, staying safe, Corona free, making music. That's it really, I'm good.
SDS: Tell us, where does A.O come from and what first got you into music?
A.O: In terms of heritage, I'm Nigerian (Igbo) and with regards to the area South East London born and raised. Born in Lewisham Hospital - "Boop boop boop!" currently living in Croydon.
Music yeah is a thing I've been doing, like subconsciously that all my life. When I was a kid in reception, primary School, I'll be the guy singing on the carpet for the class, singing for the school sometimes during the school choir. Then I got into year seven and singing was like "eww why you singing" so I started rapping because everyone was rapping. I think I properly tried to take it seriously when I was in like year 11 going into year 12 and I was like, nah, I can do this, I just saw myself performing on the stage, and I was like, I want to do that. And literally went from there. I went to perform at a local event and from there just got bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger and here I am trying to do music full time.
SDS: Where did you get the name A.O from, what does it stand for?
A.O: The name A.O, lemme not lie, when it comes to that, names and that, I'm very lazy. So literally, A.O is my initials. Ashley Obi. Literally I was like I'm not gonna call myself Ashley, that doesn't really sound like a rapper's name do you know what I mean? So I thought, cool. Ashley Obi..bun it, A.O. Initially it was AOA and I had to shorten it down to A.O because whenever you Google AOA, bare information on a Korean K-Pop group comes up. People couldn't find my music and they were searching and it was embarrassing, they were like "ah it's a bunch of girls." So I was like cool, A.O.
SDS: So you've recently released your EP 'Freshers Flu', talk to us about it.
A.O: 'Freshers Flu' is my first proper attempt at making a project that was conceptual and had a storyline. The whole EP is basically a reflection of my first year of uni, all the things that kind of happened and all the experiences that I went through; I feel like a lot of people could have related to it. The reason I called it 'Freshers Flu' was because a "fresher's flu" is like the repercussions after a crazy freshers week. The EP is about my whole first year and me reflecting over the repercussions of everything that's happened.
SDS: Talk us through your process of it.
AO: The process of making the EP was like organic, the oldest song on there is what I made when I was in first year,, it was just a gradual process. When I first made that I didn't even know what I was making, I was just making songs and I knew I wanted to make a project. Gradually as I started to make more and more songs, I started to see like a pattern, I was like nah this could be about uni. Iit starts off with me being bare excited and then it goes into, like, you know, not being able to trust people, missing your friends. Then going to your first rave and like rahhh this is so exciting, but then I tried to be real with it at the same time because it was like - alright cool, I wanna stunt.. but shit.. student finance hasn't dropped.. Can I really stunt? - kind of thing. Songs like 'Slow', meeting a girl tryna chat to her or feeling lonely, there's songs about that too. The whole point is that I hope people listen to the EP and if you've been to university, then you can relate to almost every song and every experience because I feel like these are things that everyone's gone through.
SDS: What's your favourite track from the EP?
A.O: That's a tough one you know... My favourite track changes all the time... It changes all the time because it depends on my mood and for what reason. So if I was to say right now, maybe 'The Man... because for me that's closer to where I am at now in life, the other songs are like different shades of my personality or aspects of where I've been or where I was at. 'The Man', is constant even now towards how I feel about everything and who I am even now in life, it’s about wanting to get past all the bullshit and just be a man for my family.
But then I love 'Mandem', I love Mandem! I love the song 'Mandem', because it's just energy!
SDS: So, are you saying then that 'Freshers Flu' is like an insight to the mind of A.O?
A.O: Haha yeah definitely. It was definitely an introspective project where I had to like, look deep into myself and everything that's spoken about is either something I saw or I experienced. Yeah, it's definitely an insight into the mind of A.O but it's not a current reflection, I'm no longer in that space anymore, I'm no longer a university student, I'm no longer experiencing those things. I like different things. All my tastes have grown so it's a preview.
SDS: We saw on your Instagram that you teased a track called 'Pills and Potions'. What are the responses like? Are we actually going to hear the finished version?
A.O: So the song 'Pills and Potions' I literally made that on a whim, I don't even know what I'm doing with that song really. A friend of mine who goes by Beats by Keyz, he's doing a little challenge on Instagram called #kheezyfreestyle. He was giving out a beat for free, he hit me up, I saw it and I was like, let me just jump on it. I didn't even like it when I first made it, but I played it to few people and then they gassed me up a little bit hahaha. I posted on Insta and the response.. I can't lie, I was quite surprised, I wasn't expecting it. In terms of releasing it now because people like it... I'm thinking of doing a quarantine tape. A bunch of songs that I've made over this quarantine period and just dropping it. So.. who knows in it! It might make it, it might not.
SDS: Would you rather have a one minute conversation with your past self, or would you rather have a one minute conversation with your future self?
A.O: I believe that the future is undetermined. I believe that there's multiple futures, hence why we have freewill and choices, the choices I make now could change the future I have tomorrow. So I wouldn't want to talk to my future self because that future self could be any version. And if it's a ****version, that could like... demoralise me.I'd rather talk to my past self because I could talk to him and be like "look, do this, do that but that could potentially change my present... hahahaha.
SDS: What's been your favourite venue or event to perform at so far?
A.O: First of all, I just have to shout you guys out SDS all the way because you guys have shown me so much love. I feel like it is more than an event when I perform with you guys, I feel part of a community, I feel part of a movement because I know you guys are trying to revitalise the whole Croydon scene. In terms of like the biggest thing that I've ever performed at, it has to be the O2 arena, by far. Performing there for the FIFA eWorld Cup performing in the O2 arena - not the O2 Indigo - The O2 Arena. Performing there.. on my life, it was like spine-chilling.. I don't even know if that's a word haha but I was in awe walking through the corridors. I don't know if it was the plaques and photographs of people that have performed there before but I was like, I'm currently in the hall of legends like...... The O2 by far. The stage is grand, it's an experience. I just thought "this is this is everything I've ever dreamed of". So remember when you asked what got me into music? I wanted to perform and that's what made me take music seriously. I just want to be able to make that regular for myself.
SDS: Can you sum up Croydon in three words?
A.O: Croydon is literally for me the definition of a diamond in the rough. Of all the places in London, I feel like I've never been to a place that's so developed and equally under developed at the same time. And because of that, it's got a uniqueness to it. The three words I would use would be: Diverse, Cultured and Vibrant. It's diverse because from one second, you're in the hotel area near East Croydon doing up Boxpark, next second you're on some slinky alleyway near the market in South Croydon haha. It's vibrant because so much stuff goes on in Croydon - negative and positive, there's always something happening. Cultured because man.. Croydon is so south and there're so many different types of people living there.