This article is an excerpt from the WSTRN feature from Issue 01 of GAFFER: ‘England’s Finest’. Available from our online shop now.
West London rap/R&B collective WSTRN are coming back strong, with their new album DOU3LE3AK out just a few months ago. The critics have been unanimous in this aspect: WSTRN, who only signed with the record label Atlantic in 2015, are the past, present, and future of West London.
We spoke to them about how West’s London musical scene — which does not seem to be us unified as in other parts of London — is now being shaped by artists like them. With various influences, from Lauryn Hill, to Brandy, Cassidy, and even Marvin Gaye, WSTRN have made very clear who they are aiming to be but, also, how there is always room for experimentation. In fact, their latest mixtape, that acts to show support for band member Akelle, is full of collaborations.
WSTRN spoke directly about their experiences growing up in their side of the capital, about the things that changed and affected them. They spoke to a country that is constantly changing and has become an obstacle race with an unpredictable ending since Brexit. They are the living proof that artists are no longer seen as mere singers, but communicators.
In the short time they have been around, they have made an exciting and extraordinary impact on the UK urban music scene. And it all happened so quickly. Rappers Akelle Charles and Louis Rei, and singer, songwriter and producer Haile made a few tracks together almost by chance. The instinctive chemistry between all three artists made them carry on and produced their first project, the catchy “in2”, an immediate success which earned them a platinum record.
Despite the incredible way the three connected and how music seems to run naturally in them, it wasn’t everyone’s first choice. In fact, Louis’ path was a much different one. He was the first seven-year-old in Britain to be signed to a professional football club, Arsenal. He played with them until he was 13 and then moved to Fulham. Sadly, the dream came to an end due to injury. It felt like a smack in the face at the time, but as it is said, when a door closes, a window opens. And that window was music.
On the other hand, both Akelle and Haile grow up with the support of families used to the music industry. In fact, Akelle’s bother is R&B star Angel. It is easy to see how WSTRN was simply meant to be.
Tell me about you guys as artists, how did it all start?
Haile: Me and Akelle were working on his solo mixtape back in 2014 and Louis featured on a track, and then I featured on a track with Louis too, but all three of us had never been on the same track until we made “In2”.
Louis Rei: I almost didn’t make it on the track, I left the studio to handle some business and the mandem called me and played me the chorus over the phone, so I had to drive back and lay my verse, and the rest is history.
H: We knew it was sick but we didn’t even think anything of it, we put it aside and carried on making music together but that was when WSTRN was born.
You have mentioned before that you are trying to put West London on the map, do you feel it has been underrepresented?
L: West London doesn’t have much unity like, say, South or East London. That’s what we came to change, WSTRN also means “West’s turn”. All three of us are from different areas of West London that haven’t always got on. So we’re making a change by even working together but lots of artists have come out of West and had major success since.
What advice can you give to young artists out there?
H: Patience & persistence. That was always Akelle’s favourite two words but we stick by that. We’re happy to take the stairs while everyone takes the lift if it means we’re around longer and the foundations are built properly.
How much of your personal experiences are a part of your lyrics? How much of West London is in there?
L: Everything we say on music comes from our personal experience. You gotta take the rough with the smooth when it comes to our music. We put our blood, sweat and tears into our mixtape and you can tell when you listen to it. It isn’t all just party vibes.
A few months ago your latest project, DOU3LE3AK, came out. How has it been received?
H: It’s been received really well. Nothing but great feedback.
L: I think we’ve opened up peoples ears to what we’re capable of. I don’t think people really knew what to expect from the project, and they were pleasantly surprised.
Which one is your personal favourite track in the mixtape?
L: It changes all the time depending on my mood, but I always come back to “Sharna”.
H: Mine is “Special”. I think it rounds the mixtape off nicely and gives an authentic vibe.
What is the future holding for you? Any more collaborations in the pipeline?
H: Just more music. Non-stop music in the new year.
L: Yep! And feel good vibes!