Ato Alexander, the UK rap artist better known as ATO, first realised he had an affinity for music at just 9‑years-old, as the bar-setting sounds of Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP and 50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’ filled his childhood bedroom.
“I also liked to draw pictures, but I was quite frustrated when I was young,” the 28-year-old says, Zooming in from his home in North London. “Music was a very obvious form of release for me that felt cathartic. I gravitated towards it as a way to process my feelings.”
Over the years, British-Ghanaian-Danish ATO has collaborated with the likes of rapper Vic Mensa on his 2019 album EP3, before the release of Side A last year, a critically-acclaimed EP which helped establish ATO as one of his genre’s key voices. After spending most of his childhood between Leeds and Yorkshire, one thing became abundantly clear: the UK’s perspective of the Black British experience was limited, tending to focus too much on places like inner-city London or Birmingham. ATO sought to change that.
“I think there are many experiences of people of colour up and down the country that aren’t represented in the media,” he continues. “The only way I can really deal with that is to be myself and tell my story.”
“I’m just getting flown in, put that service to the source/Couldn’t save my rage, save my number just in case/Catch me by the bus stop on Garrowby Way,” ATO raps on moody, distorted track Garrowby Way (named after a street in York) from Side A. On 29th July, ATO will release Side B, the anticipated follow-up EP whose first single, Courts, features Ghanaian drill artist Jay Bahd – a compulsive tune capturing the vibrant energy of Accra.
As for how ATO’s evolved over the last couple of years, “I’ve been a lot more willing to try new things,” he says. “My meticulous approach to songwriting started to become more of a routine rather than a therapeutic process, so I started freestyling ideas on my phone as a new approach. It was an eye-opening experience and I wanted to translate that into my music.” In the lead-up to Side B, get your 100% fill on ATO below.