So imagine if Bhad Bhabie and Chun-Li from Street Fighter had a cyborg baby that made music – that’s Ashnikko. The London-based American singer/rapper recently burst into the scene with the brash but incredibly catchy Hi It’s Me – the title track from her latest EP – and her unique rap/pop sound and anime aesthetic immediately piqued our interest.
She’s fiercely feminist, sex-positive and loud, and the 23-year-old takes no prisoners when it comes to her brash style of rap and bombastic beats. Songs like Special are so bold that you just have to stop and listen to its lyrics, while viral TikTok hit STUPID featuring Yung Baby Tate calls to mind the punk-rap sounds of Rico Nasty and Kenny Beats and Working Bitch is a power anthem about being a #bossbitch.
We caught Ashnikko – real name Ashton Casey – as she woke up one morning in London to find out what makes her tick creatively, where the inspiration behind her stimulating sound comes from and her sick sense of style.
When did you start making music? Were you always singing in your youth?
I was a pretty shit singer as a kid, to be honest. I’ve always been writing, I started doing poetry because I was really into that from the age of 10. So I was always writing poems, then I started rapping at like, 15? When I was like 18, I wanted to try singing. See what happens. Now I prefer singing. I enjoy a bit of melody. I really like songwriting – I like pop structure, that really gets me going. I try to structure my new songs that way.
You grew up listening to country music in North Carolina and then you moved to Estonia/Latvia during your teen years! That must’ve been a huge cultural shock. How did you cope?
How did I cope… I lived there with my family, I was there with my brothers. I used to write loads and read loads. But I’m a very extroverted person so I managed to assimilate.
My dad was going back to school – my parents had me quite young. My dad dropped out of school when I was born, and he went back to school when I was like, 12. He did a year abroad and he wanted to do his year abroad in Estonia! And he really liked the Baltics. He absolutely loved it – I don’t know why, but he does. He still lives there now. So Estonia was a year, then I lived in Latvia like four years. From 13 to 18 was in Latvia, then I moved to London.
How do you think living in London has influenced your sound, if at all?
I think London’s just really cool! I think it’s great being an artist in London. I’ve met some really really talented people and kind of gone through my own education, self-education, with these people. Working with really, really talented people has really helped me. I definitely wouldn’t be the artist I am without living in London. It’s influenced my music in quite subtle ways.
All my friends are pretty much in music because [laughs] that’s all I do, really. They’re the only people I see on a daily basis, so they’re my only friends! They’re really amazing people to work with.
Would you ever move home to the United States?
Maaaybe. I dunno. I do really like London. But we’ll see! Maybe LA. It’s a weird one because I haven’t lived in the US in 10 years? It’s almost half my life that I haven’t lived there, so I don’t feel super… American. I don’t feel super connected. Identity crisis!
Tell me about the artists you grew up listening to – I know you’re hugely inspired by MIA and Bjork and Nicki Minaj, obviously all strong feminists, why do you think you gravitated towards them?
Only recently have I started listening to more soulful, calmer music. Basically I only listened to women for like, 6 years? When I was little, I only wanted to listen to powerful women. I only just wanted power anthems! Songs that gave me a confidence boost. That’s what I wanted to hear – I didn’t wanna hear anything slow, anything remotely vulnerable. I just wanted to hear bangers [chuckles]. Music is so emotional. It’s really important what you DO listen to.
So what do you listen to on a day you're feeling down?
This is the thing. I get the whole listening-to-sad-music-when-you’re-sad thing, to make yourself sadder and validate your feelings? It’s a weird one, isn’t it? That feels like self-harm to me! I find it really strange. But I do like, listening to Bon Iver and Francis & The Lights and BANKS, I really love BANKS. Frank Ocean obviously.
Your sound isn’t one you hear too often. It’s got that punk energy like Bishop Briggs but it’s also hard rap like Cardi B or Nicki. I feel like our generation is very multi-genre focused, but why do you think your style has such varied influences?
Yeah, definitely. I think I wouldn’t be happy unless I melted all of my favourite genres together. Also I have the attention span of a goldfish. I need to be constantly stimulated and doing something different. Yesterday, I wrote this EDM thing... with intense guitar on it? It was all very genre-agnostic. I want the freedom to do what I want, so I’m trying to fuse everything together so I have that freedom.
I’m a big brat and I have the most talented producer friends, so no [I don’t produce myself]. I should learn. I think I’m really good at backseat producing, like I have some really cool ideas, and I’m good with arrangements and stuff. But I do not produce.
Your look is very fantasy/anime-influenced, are you into video games? Your outfits remind me a lot of games like Final Fantasy.
Yeah, that’s the vibe. That truly is the vibe. I play a lot of video games, but not recently, actually.
I always think I look like a mess, but then people are like, ‘I love your clothes baaabe!’ and I’m like ‘WHAT?’ Some fucking kids pulled up some really horrendous pics of me the other day and were like, ‘haha you’ve really grown’ and I was like, ‘shut up.’ I had a really intense glow-up. I’ve had social media since I was like, 10 so I think they were out there. But I don’t trust these kids with good fashion sense from a young age – I don’t trust ‘em. You have to go through your awkward phase. You have to wear the ugly belts over your t-shirts and the knee-high Converses and the Twilight shirt. That was me. I was very awkward and uncomfortable in my own skin. Even when I look back at pictures of my face, I hadn’t grown into my face properly. It was a weird time, so I’m definitely happy to be an adult!
I work with really sick stylists to be frank, I sound like a dick saying, ‘oh yeah my STYLIST gets it for me’. Though I do loads and loads of charity shopping. I really enjoy that. I go to Latvia where my dad lives and fill my suitcase when I come back. Really really really good charity shops there – next level.
What video games were you playing?
I was in the middle of playing Horizon Zero Dawn. I was playing all the Tomb Raider games, Uncharted, Street Fighter, Final Fantasy… what else? I like to take fashion inspiration from cartoons and anime.
When you have long braids, they look like they could be used to wrap around someone's neck!
Exactly! That’s the vibe. That’s what I said for my cover art – I wanted the hair to be like a weapon.
Where did the cooked idea for the Hi It’s Me video come from?
Actually the director of Hi It’s Me, Lucrecia Taormina came to me with the idea because in the song… the song is pretty self-explanatory, it’s me talking to and begging myself to get over my ex. There’s one line and it’s like, ‘I need a babysitter, someone to come and get me; 'Cause I forget crazy shit, the littlest things impress me’, and she took that line as literally I need to be kidnapped by myself. I saw her idea and I thought, ‘that’s the one!’ It was executed really well, the choreography, everything was really smooth.
The other visuals, I just knew I wanted them to be like an avatar, basically. I wanted to turn myself into an avatar, make it really video game-based.
Have you ever visited Australia or do you love any Aussie artists?
I have not been to Australia unfortunately. I’m really shit at discovering new music? I’m like in a cave. I never ever listen to anyone outside of like, MIA! I have a friend, an Australian friend Ecca Vandal, she’s really cool, I really like her. Me and her went to the MIA documentary premiere. It was a very lovely moment; she’s very heavily influenced by MIA too and I was there and we were both so excited. She’s cute. We were supposed to work together but it didn’t really come together! We had one session but I really appreciate her from afar. She’s doing well.
I really, really wanna go, I wanna play festivals and stuff!