Photos by William Coutts
While the furore around Chi-Town's drill scene feels neverending, the dimunitive Sasha Go Hard has been like the eye of storm, calmly building herself a modest empire and escaping the 2013 curse of the female rapper by managing not to lose her shit on social media/ have an album that bombs. Now, with a tour of the States lined up, a softer sound and a new project dropping in April, the grind doesn't seem to be slowing.
On her second stint in London, we escaped from the rain with her producer and tour DJ Tony Roche so I could ask them about Chicago and if she was sick of talking about Chicago, her skill for staying out of beefs and how, as an awkward Brit, I could "turn up".
Noisey: SO...are you sick of people asking about Chicago, tying you down to that one city and scene?
Sasha: I love Chicago to death. I like the fact that people are wanting to find out about Chicago and wanting to know the insides of it, so I don’t get tired of people asking me about Chicago at all. I just don’t like the fact that some people make it seem like the music is the reason for the violence. A lot of people have a lot to say about it when they don’t know the inside of the streets or inside of the music. They just wanna talk about what they’re hearing from a song.
How do you feel about the coverage of the drill scene and the violence? I mean, Chicago’s got a long history for gangs but it's really in the spotlight at the moment?
The violence has definitely been there for years, since I was a little girl. Everybody who writes stories about Chicago is so amazed and happy about the people getting killed, or drill, and you gotta be like “c’mon it’s not cool”. After my show in Berlin, people walked up to me and were like “We get to see the war through the music online, hooray!” and were all happy about it, and I was like “you have no idea how serious this is”.
Tony Roche: They pay attention to it like it’s wrestling or something, they watch it from their computer. For them it’s like, “ooooh these rivalries”, when kids really get killed over that shit.
Right. When the whole scene got big online and rappers like Chief did these videos of themselves cooped up in their houses with ankle tags on, for someone like me on the other side of the world, it does have that movie element. I'm disconnected from it...
Tony: I think to a lot of people who don’t live it and don’t experience it, yeah, it is like a movie. They don’t want to realise the implications for the people who are actually living that shit.
Sasha: I never understood why it amazes people, or why they get a kick out of hearing about guns and killing. I’m talking about people outside of Chicago who have never been there or lived on the streets of Chicago, I’ve just never understood why people would be so happy about it.
Have you seen our Noisey series Chiraq? Tons of people in the comments were asking why we excluded the more conscious rap from Chicago, like Chance The Rapper. Is it annoying that the drill scene gets discredited because of its bad associations?
I think some people actually know the difference between artists that are talking straight real life stuff and artists that are using their music to actually beef with somebody, and that makes a big difference. You see a lot of people on YouTube making their songs negative, “fuck this person I’m gonna kill this person, we runnin' this,” and then on the other hand you have people just talking about what they went through and the streets they live in and the experience they’ve been through. Some people take the spotlight off the right thing and focus on the wrong thing; the drill, the killing, the guns, it’s crazy.
So from now, do you think it’s just gonna keep getting bigger and bigger for Chicago or will the city hit a wall?
I think it’s gonna get bigger and bigger for some artists just because the circle is getting smaller. Ever since Chief Keef blew up everyone thinks they a driller, it’s been spread, but the spotlight is starting to be on certain people now instead of everybody. It’s a case of focusing in on certain artists.
Do you think the music industry is good at cherry picking people? I mean, with Chief Keef I haven't seen a rapper blow up like that in a long while...
Y'know, even before he was making music he was just a person in the local hood that everybody knew. He was already a character.
And what do you think about people saying drill is ignorant? Like, it's just noise, it’s unthinking, it's not lyrically conscious blah blah blah...is that fair?
Tony: People who say that have a very poor sense of music and a really narrow sense of what’s good. They’re just looking at Chief Keef as a rich, young black guy. They look at the newspaper and see he’s gotta pay child support or he got locked up with this much money on him and this much weed.
Sasha: They only look at the negative way the media portray him and that automatically makes him seem like a bad person. But I like his music, he’s decent, like, “Hate Being Sober”? Everybody had it on the whole summer.
Does people intellectualising drill frustrate you?
People are gonna say what they say regardless, and Keef’s gonna keep getting money. I just don’t pay attention to it, especially if it’s a nobody; not someone in my circle or someone important. Everybody just wanna have an opinion.
Fair. So why do you think people have taken to you? As much as you have the character of ‘go hard’, you've separated yourself from the beefs?
I don’t judge the violence and I’m not against people disliking other people, but personally I just don’t have the time. I probably have a lot of enemies but I don’t have time to make songs about killing and drilling. I used to do stuff like that and make drill songs but I guess as you write more you realise what’s important and you can see who’s serious and who’s not about the music. I mean, even when I was on that hardcore I still started getting endorsements. Urban Outfitters and people like that reached out to me, big people, it changed things.
Now your newer stuff is so different, like, talking about break ups and exes. How have people reacted to you talking about romance?
As far as my fans and people who rock with me, they support me because they relate to it or they see I’m talking about something positive, and they know that it’s real. You have to make music that people can relate to, that’s important.
Do you think that’s why you have a strong base of female fans as well? I remember you saying in another interview you really looked up to Lil Kim and Trina because they were so straight down the line when talking about relationships?
Some people don’t like sticking the emotional feelings in, it’s all about how you want to carry yourself and how you’re feeling, and some female rappers I know only talk about the hard stuff. I like switching it up, that's important to me, talking 'bout some hard stuff, some soft stuff.
I feel it’s the same with your image as well, you can be really girly or not wear a scrap of make-up...
I do not like make-up! I don’t like having all those different types of things on my face. For one I don’t feel like I need it, my face is not perfect but I’m comfortable with it. When I do get made up it will be for a special occasion like a photoshoot.
So what if you got the most amazing label offer in the world but they asked you to change your whole image; you had to wear makeup all the time and they chose what you wore, how would you feel?
If I had to do it I would. It’s just that I'd never go out in Chicago and actually put on a dress, it’d be ratchet anyway. In Chicago girls come to the club when it’s below zero outside and come in their miniskirts, it’s too cold to be tryna look that cute and have your body out!
That’s like Newcastle, nobody owns a coat. Have you felt any pressure from the industry to look like a girly girl?
Not really, no one pressured me to put on a dress or makeup. It’s not like I’m a tom-boy, but I do what I wanna do. This is who I am and if nobody likes it then I don’t give a shit.
I wanted to ask about how you pick producers too, do you put aside time to weed people out or do they come to you?
Most of them come to me, a lot of people hit me up, sending me beats. Most of the people I do work with are people I know, or they just got lucky and I listened to the beats they sent me and I start rocking with them after that.
Do you get bombarded on social media with people going “listen to my stuff!!!”
I don’t mean to sound rude but I don’t listen to people’s stuff when they send it to me unless I know the person. A lot of people try and hit me up but there are so many people tryna rap now it gets irritating, they come out the blue and expect you to listen to their song and share it when you really don’t have time.
Do you feel as you’ve got bigger people get angry that you don’t do every favour they ask of you?
It’s crazy, I get people hitting me up on Facebook saying, “I support you, why don’t you support me?” It’s irritating because in reality they don’t do anything. I try to ignore it but it pushes my buttons. If I've learnt one thing in music it's never depend on anybody to do nothing for you; a lot of people are depending on other artists to support them and share their music but you’ve got to work and stand on your own two feet. It’s nothing personal.
You’re also, compared to your stage persona anyway, pretty zen. How do you separate the two and stay out of drama?
I’m not perfect but you won’t see me getting caught up with people wanting to actually kill me. I’ve got haters but I’m not beefin' with nobody or in trouble with anyone.
Has anyone said anything that has really bothered you and you've wanted to tear them apart?
There’ve been times when people try to push my buttons real hard, but it’s not worth it. Why would I go that low to give somebody attention?
About your stage persona. I'm British, can you teach me how to go hard and "turn up", I think I'm shit at it...
It starts within myself first, before I even get on the stage I be ready to just turn up. Whether the crowd is weak or it's empty I’m gonna turn up regardless. Like, I know I’m happy with my songs, every track we put on that set list we know we gonna act a fool with it.
Like going into a boxing ring...
Yeah! I always be chill before a show, I’m not a loud type of person, and everybody around me will ask what's wrong. But then when I go on stage, I become a different person.
Have you ever had a really difficult crowd where they were like “what the fuck is this?”
Sasha: Yeah, the crowd when I performed at Rockie Fresh's mixtape release party in New York. The crowd was huge, it had to be about 500, but they was just weak as hell and at that time I was performing my old songs, I wasn’t like how I am now. I was still vybin but I let it get to me. Now, if I had a crowd like that and I had my DJ with me I would have turn up even more.
Tony: Even if the crowd is too pretentious we'll still turn up, we don’t give a fuck. They probably got it wrong in New York, some of the writers—and usually I hate to generalise—but rap writers with a fuckin pHd or a college education….tryna get too deep into this shit.
Sasha: It was real goofy to me, because when me and Rockie Fresh performed our song at the end I was happy to just be there. Then I saw Rick Ross coming in, it was crazy. But a month later I saw a writer had done a story about the show saying that me and Rockie Fresh were competing to see who could be more stage frightened, that fucking pissed me off.
Haaa, welp, NYC rap writers are a miserable breed. Was that picture with you and Rick Ross a big “fuck YOU guys" then?
Hell yeah! I was so happy to just meet him, everyone knows how I feel about Rick Ross, I got so much respect for him. I was thirsty to upload it to show everybody I got a picture with Rick Ross.
I'd be too. Finally, what's the ultimate for you then, the end goal?
I wanna be on Nicki Minaj’s level, I wanna be huge and all over the world and make a lot of money. I wanna make sure me and my people good. They one of the main reasons why I’m grinding, but it’s an easy job, no matter how hard it gets.
Follow Jo on Twitter @FUERTESKNIGHT