Written by Tyler Aleksandr
Slackgaze is a curatorial zine that promotes underrepresented artists, hosting regular shows at Chelsea’s Nola, Darling. Last January I attended their zine release party where I saw ASHA, a surprise guest who only performed three songs, but left a lasting impression due to her voice and aesthetic. The New Jersey rapper/producer presented her first project, Masterbait, a cohesive and bold declaration of her aspirations, struggles, and artistic journey. Sprinkled with soulful beats, potent rhymes, and narrative interludes, Masterbait invites the listener to walk a day in ASHA’s shoes, yet still leaves room for personal interpretation.
A soulful jazz loop induces a trance that introduces us to the ever so confident ASHA on “Sincerely Yours”, the first song on Masterbait. ASHA addresses her skeptics, guns ablaze, and encapsulates the album's narrative in the span of four minutes. . Her delivery is comfortable, as if effortlessly freestyling on a fresh beat, as she acknowledges the lesson learned on her artistic journey that brings us to her final destination: Masterbait.
ASHA starts off strong with “Savion” “Savion”, which she opens by spitting, “It’s been a slow simmer since the summer time, I’m tryna tap deeper into rap like I’m Savion,” paying respects to Savion Glover, an American tap dancer and choreographer. “Savion” has a 90’s hip-hop feel about it through ASHA’s delivery and the beat in juxtaposition with the spoken word feel of her introduction. A similar atmosphere seeps into the next song, “The Trap”, as she contemplates the value of a college degree and dismisses the very notion of unpaid internships. “The Trap” speaks to the financial and academic struggles of many college students and unites them in a rallying cry found in her simply-crafted chorus, “Spit your game. Talk your shit. Go to school. Study hard. Get your grades. Chase your dreams. Start your own money team."
ASHA deconstructs the cool, calm, and confident demeanor pervading the first three songs to give us a glimpse into her “Worst Day Ever,” the most compelling and brutally honest piece on Masterbait. From infidelity in her parents’ marriage to her own sexual assault, ASHA paints a vivid picture of that day, unafraid to highlight her most troubling experiences.
On “Figures,” ASHA’s quick delivery over a steady trap beat conveys her desire for a fairy godmother to grant her wishes. ASHA flaunts her lyrical versatility by straying from her more comfortable, slower jazz-infused beats and adapting to a speedy trap beat with ease. Similarly, her ability to take on the voice of a womanizer in “Addickted” proves that she can take on different characters while still remaining distinctly personal. .
Masterbait closes with three reflective songs that do not conclude the tape so much as they anticipate ASHA’s next musical moves. Whatever those may be, this album is a comprehensive, honest, and uplifting debut that leaves us with something to contemplate.
Listen to more ASHA on her Soundcloud