An interview with ATO, the UK rapper representing the north

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.

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