Exclusive: Interview with ATO, the Leeds rapper collaborating with Vic Mensa

Dropping his latest album EP3 last month which includes a feature from Vic Mensa, we asked Leeds Hip-Hop artist ATO some questions about his inspirations, rise and what he has planned for the future…

Alright ATO, so you hail from Leeds, explain to us a bit more about growing up and how you got into music?
I actually travelled around a lot for the first 10 years of my life and then settled in Yorkshire with my mum. I got into music, I think, because I’ve always been quite expressive and English was about the only thing I was interested in at school. I started writing poems and short books in after school clubs and stuff and it just naturally developed into songwriting

A Leeds United fan as well?
Nah. I’m an Arsenal fan but I see Leeds play quite a lot. It’s heartbreaking enough following Arsenal at the minute to be honest.

How did you come about the name ATO?
You’ll have to ask my mum or dad that question…haha. It’s a traditional name in Ghana for boys born on a Saturday. I was quite shy about my
name as a kid so I like to capitalise it now.

So new fans can get an idea of you as an artist and music how would you describe your sound to them? Who would you highlight as your musical influences?
People seem to like to label my music as Hip-Hop because of the obvious Hip Hop elements in it. I’d say the music I make is a real mix of sounds though. A lot of my music has electronic /string influence, EDEN (my producer) has an EDM / rock background. There’s a clear contrast between the lyrics and the style of production. Influence wise, I loved Eminem growing up. I learnt from listening to him, the power behind telling your own story. I was also really into Kano, Ghostpoet and The Streets. They were all musical influences closer to home. I admired how in their music they made their personal experience of Britain feel like Britain as a whole.

We recently did an interview with Anderson 100, from Birmingham and we briefly discussed the rise of rappers from other parts of the UK, other than London. Do you feel that musicians that are from other areas of the country are getting the recognition they deserve or not? Or does it not really bother you either way?
It’s a process. It’s still early days for the British rap scene and It’s just a matter of time before the scene becomes more accessible to artists from less obvious parts of the country. You only have to look at Manchester to see how things are slowly changing. 10 years ago artists from Manchester like Shifty were complete outsiders. Now there’s artists from Manchester like Aitch and Bugzy Malone right at the center of the scene.

Do you produce a lot of your music? If not, is producing something that you would like to get into in the future?
No. I’d like to learn to produce though because it obviously makes writing easier. I want to try and learn a few instruments too.

You recently dropped your latest project, EP3 and this is your first project since 2017. In those two years, has there been any change or reflection in how you’re making your music or was the two-year wait more of a strategic wait to make sure you were releasing a project you were fully happy with?
The wait was more down to finishing up with uni. Naturally in that time, my perspective on life changed a little. Writing EP3 I felt more of an urgency to write about what’s ahead of me. A lot of my previous music has been caught up in my past, so naturally the writing style changed as a result of that.

How did the collaboration with Vic Mensa come about? Was “falling” made in person with Vic and also, is Vic someone you look up too musically?
I’ve respected Vic for a while. As an artist, but also, I have admired his character, speaking out on structural violence affecting his community in Chicago. We could do with more figures like him in Hip-Hop to be honest. I had said early on that I could hear him on falling. I left the first verse free and we sent it over to him through a mutual friend. I wasn’t sure if it would work out, but he was feeling it and EDEN and Vic hooked up in LA and laid the verse a few weeks later.

Here at Integral Noise, we’re real fans of GoldLink and the sound he brings to the Hip-Hop scene. Whilst the UK Hip-Hop scene is arguably not as strong as the UK Rap/Drill sound right now, we feel you bring a similar sound that GoldLink brings (correct us if you feel we’re wrong). We can hear a fusion of genres and sounds in your joint tracks with EDEN back in 2014/2015 but do you anticipate fusing more sounds and genres, potentially Rap or even Drill within your music in the future?
I appreciate the comparison. I definitely don’t see myself doing drill. Having said that there are a few Drill artists that I really like and would be very down to collaborate with in the future.

In your 2018 track, “2005”, it is clear that the track touches on some deep subject areas. Are you aiming to be a rapper with more of a meaning behind your music rather than it just being a sound if that makes sense?
That’s not something I aim for no. Ever since I started writing songs as a kid, my relationship to music has always been a process for getting things off my chest. So I think naturally in the way I approach music there is a lot of meaning, for me at least. If that can translate as being meaningful for others that’s great.

You recently joined new American rapper D.O.P.E, on his track “Be Ya Man”, do you see yourself collaborating with more American artists in the future?
That actually isn’t my song. Spotify error.

Ok cool, are there any UK artists that you want to collaborate with on future work, whether it be theirs or yours?
Definitely Dev Hynes, I’d love to get in the studio with him for a few days. I’d also like to work with Dave and Little Simz. I think Sampha and Jorja Smith would make for nice collaborations too.

Lastly, what are your goals and aims for the new year musically?
To keep making music and connect with the supporters a little more. Live shows and Merch in the works!

Listen to ATO’s latest album, EP3 on Spotify below:

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