Meet Ashnikko, the Rapper Carving a Lane Of Her Own With 'Stupid'

Melanie Lehmann
Ashnikko

“I don’t need a costume ‘cause I’m already a freak,” 23-year-old rapper Ashnikko sings on her recent single, “Halloweenie II: Pumpkin Spice.” That line pretty much sums up the artisr (real name Ashton Casey) and her body of work so far.

“I say whatever I think, unfortunately,” Ashnikko tells Billboard. “Being very blunt about sexuality and the human experience is very important to me.”

Blending genres like rap, alternative, and pop, Ashnikko is on a different trajectory than most. As she reminds us with her songs, she’s a bit of a freak and she always has been. Born in North Carolina, she later moved to Estonia and Latvia before heading to London, where she is now based. It was when she would get in trouble -- sometimes even suspended -- for penning dirty poems about her teachers in school that she discovered her love for words.

Ashnikko exploded with viral success on TikTok thanks to her explicit alt-rap banger “Stupid” featuring Yung Baby Tate earlier this year. “Miley Cyrus just made a TikTok to ‘Stupid’ with Cody Simpson,” she says. “This song has been f--king insane. It’s opened a lot of doors for me. I’m nothing but grateful.”

The video for the viral hit was made with Lucrecia Taormina, who also directed the artist’s U.K. MVA-nominated video for “Hi, It’s Me,” a Quentin Tarantino-inspired visual that follows the two rappers as they roam around a posh neighborhood covered in blood, killing their ex-boyfriends with axes. “It’s not gruesome, though, it’s funny. It’s the juxtaposition of us being cute and covered in blood,” Ashnikko says. “I think it really suits the song.”

While the artist is just now getting a taste of stardom, she released her debut EP Sass Pancakes back in 2017 followed by 2018’s Unlikeable and most recently, this year’s Hi, It’s Me EP. The Halloween themed tracks seamlessly fit in with the rest of her discography, leaning into her love for gruesome cuteness and empowering freakiness.

Below, Billboard chats with the rapper about the success of “Stupid,” her inspirations growing up, and her current tour with Danny Brown.

Why do you think “Stupid” got the reaction that it did?

It’s quite a divisive song, isn’t it? The lyrics are straight-to-the-point and blunt and honest -- which is like most of my songs -- but this song especially is straight-to-the-point. I think the lyrics are also visual -- they feature me screaming or talking about porn video browsing, which I think makes it easier to make TikToks to.

Speaking of those graphic lyrics, was there ever a moment when you felt uncomfortable or not confident enough to write things like that?

If anything, this is me more toned down [laughs]. I just don’t care. I used to get in trouble a lot in school because I would write very naughty stories and poems in class. Now, it’s just very important to me that my message is aligned with my own personal values. But I think at the end of the day, we’re all just gross, sexual human beings and I would like to talk about that.

Is that how you got started with songwriting?

Yeah, definitely. I used to write these horrendous poems [laughs] but there’s one that stands out. I got suspended from school because I wrote a sexy poem about my teacher…but it wasn’t really sexy, there was a sasquatch involved and my teacher took a shit on the desk or something and I thought it was hilarious. Then my teacher picked it up and she was like, “You’re so suspended.” That’s kind of what sparked it all. That was just hilarious and now I’m glad that I still make hilarious songs. I’m glad that that’s my job.

How important is it for you to combine humor and music?

Very. I think the world is burning and humor is the only thing we have. I’d say the future seems really bleak for Gen Z and millennials and I find it interesting to see how humor evolves with that. Everyone needs an escape, whether that is through music or humor. My personal escape is through both of those things so I thought why not combine them? But not in a cringe way, I don’t want to make parody songs. I just want my music to have a humorous edge to it.

All of your songs and visuals have a bit of a spooky feel to them, like "Halloweenie II: Pumpkin Spice.”

I do a Halloween song every year and I think I will continue to put one out until I’m 87. I really like spooky s--t. Halloween is my favorite holiday, and I am just fascinated with blood and morbid things in general. I could never make a straight pop video -- there would have to be something slightly gross about it to fit my wants and needs. I like spooky shit which is funny because I don’t really like horror movies. I just make my own horror movies.

You have lived in many different places. Has that had an impact on your music?

Yeah, I’m from North Carolina, but grew up in Eastern Europe, and became a woman in London. Of course, they have definitely shaped my music and style in ways that I don’t even fully understand yet because I’m having a massive identity crisis. I don’t know if I’m more American or more European at this point in my life. My accent is all over the place. The people that I’ve met along the way have really helped shape my sound and I’ve worked with a lot of U.K. producers and songwriters and I have my team in London that I love working with. I feel like combined with my “American voice,” it’s a really nice marriage.

I also love to mix genres in my music. I think that is because I love so many different types of music and I feel like if I can’t commit to one country, I probably can’t commit to one genre of music.

Do you come from a musical family?

Absolutely not. I’m so jealous of my friends who came from these super musical households where they were learning piano at three years old. My parents didn’t really play loads of music around the house. We had the radio, but they weren’t teaching me about music. And then I remember my first “holy s--t, there’s so much music out there that my little ears haven’t heard” moment when I was about 11 years old. I got a pink iPod Nano for Christmas and I downloaded M.I.A.’s Arular album and “Bucky Done Gun” just blew my little brain away.

You're on tour with Danny Brown. What's that like? And what can fans expect from an Ashnikko set?

He’s hilarious. He is so funny, man. He’s so fun to tour with -- him and his whole team. I’m so happy that they’re having me on this tour. It’s a really lovely first U.S. tour and they’re just mad supportive. Danny Brown knows all the words to my songs. It’s a very supportive environment.

During my set, people are going to see a lot of laughing, apparently. I laugh loads on stage…I laugh loads in general! But somebody tweeted me the other day and they were like, “Stop f--king laughing on stage.” [Laughs.] They said that’s all I do. People can expect a lot of laughing, a lot of s--t-talking, and me doing a lot of sensual movement.

Is your relationship with social media completely different now?

It is now! I gained like 70,000 followers in two weeks or something like that [laughs]. It is now. I can’t keep up with the messages. I made group chats with my original fans so that we don’t lose each other. But I can’t. I don’t really read my Twitter mentions anymore and I don’t really read my Instagram direct messages anymore, simply because about a quarter of them are telling me to kill myself. So yeah, self-preservation now. I’ve realized that the Internet is kind of a pit of people who don’t want to see other people do well. I’m definitely readdressing my relationship with social media to make it a little bit healthier for my mind.

What else do you have in the pipeline?

I’m just going to be making a lot of cool music with a lot of really cool people. Next year I’m just going to be throwing so much music out into the world. My video for “Halloweenie” is out and it’s a spooky video of me wearing a mascot furry costume. The furries are going to love it. I didn’t intend for it to be furry-friendly but I guess it is. Loads and loads of music videos. It’s all happening.

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