The Chicago rap scene is in the midst of a moment. Established Chi-born artists like Kanye West and Lupe Fiasco have new albums out but, more interestingly, a new and very young scene is exploding on city's Southside. The best known of these young artists, commonly lumped together and considered part of a scene called called “drill,” is 17-year-old Chief Keef. Starting last spring, he's had a meteoric rise on the national rap scene, thanks in part to “I Don't Like,” a driving banger officially sanctioned and remixed by Kanye West on his GOOD Music compilation Cruel Summer. But the scene extends beyond Chief Keef.
There are several other notable artists – Lil Reese, Lil Durk and King L among them – but none have made more of an impact than 20-year-old Sasha Go Hard, who released her second mixtape Do You Know Who I Am?, this summer.
In person, Sasha Go Hard is charming and has a quiet, almost shy, presence. It's different than her stage and on-record persona, an energetic, brash, loud, and, as her name implies, hard style. Her show at Santos Party House in New York City several weeks ago, her first outside of her native Chicago, was a prime example.
“Oh my God,” she said enthusiastically. “We turned up. They was really feeling it.”
The show was the centerpiece of her recent trip to New York City, itself the cap of a rush of publicity for the 20-year-old rapper. In between sold-out shows and video shoots, Sasha sat down with Fuse to talk about her rise to fame, the violence in Chicago and what's next.
The Santos show was your first show in NYC?
Yeah. My first show outside of Chicago.
How was it compared to your shows in Chicago?
The crowd was interacting better. So I felt better. The shows in Chicago, they interact too but they turned up yesterday.
How'd you get into music and rapping? What was your introduction?
When I was young, I always liked to rap for some reason. I used to just put words together. And as I started growing, I started listening to music and I was like, "I want to start doing something more." Because I got tired of just rhyming with just like four sentences. So I started making more words and learning new styles and stuff. At 16, I started recording off my phone. My friends were with me and were like, "Man, you cold." Then they told me, "Keep going. You should get serious." But I ain't really know how.
One day, I saw Chief Keef posting his stuff on Facebook, so I asked him where he recorded and went to his studio and recorded my first song. After that, people in the studio were like, "You go hard!" Chief Keef and all them. I was like, "I know I got to keep going because everybody keeps telling me." After that, I started going to the studio every day.
How long was it between starting to rap seriously and your first visit to the studio?
I would say a few months. Last year was my first time getting into the studio. I didn't really know what to do to get in the studio because the music scene wasn't really popping then. So when I got on Facebook that's when I saw Chief Keef uploading his stuff, so I just asked him.
What do you think made the scene get so huge?
Grinding. Making good music and just doing stuff that people like. Not just being negative. And like the type of sound we bringing, like, Chicago is bringing a different sound. It's like a drill sound; like a drill and a sound that'll pop. So when you hear it, you get in the mood. I ain't necessarily going to say drill, because a lot of music I make is not drill but it's like that type of music you hear...it puts you in the zone.
Was it easier making Do You Know Who I Am? versus your debut mixtape Glory Girl?
My first mixtape was easier because I had the studio. [Producer] DJ Kenn, after they saw that I'm cold and I got the talent, they just put me in with them, then I started going to the studio with them every day. DJ Kenn was letting me record, so I had the free studio time to make the songs. But when I was working on Do You Know Who I Am?, it wasn't as easy because people think you owe them something and they expect for me to just mess with them or do this with them for me to get studio time. Money wasn't really good then. I ain't have the money to pay for studio time and a video and a beat of something. So it was kind of harder for the Do You Know Who I Am?
How has the reaction been to the new mixtape?
Man, like, as I was recording my songs, I was like, "Man, people are going to love it." And then I dropped “Why They Mad?” and everybody just got to it and fell in love with it. So I'm like, “Oh man, the mixtape going to pop.” So when I dropped it, I saw it on all types of blogs and stuff. I'm like, "Man, they rocking with it." I ain't expect it to be as hot as it is, but I knew it was...I knew people would love it, and rock with the songs. But I didn't see all this happening.
Are there other Chicago rappers with similar styles to yours?
Not really. I don't look up too much to nobody in Chicago because it's like, the stuff other female rappers talk about, I don't talk about that. I'm not saying it's bad for them, but I don't live a drill life. But they doing their thing, so I salute them for that.
What about older Chicago artists like Kanye?
Kanye West, he's doing his thing. I look up to him for that because he is from Chicago, and he just don't care what nobody has to say. He still do him and grind and that's something that I do too. Even though Rick Ross is not from Chicago, I love Rick Ross. I look up to him a lot.
What do you like about Rick Ross?
He just got a...like his flow is crazy. His music, his flow and he's got a boss mentality. I love that. Because I kind of got a boss mentality. I don't care what nobody say. He seem like he don't either.
Chief Keef has been in the news a lot recently about the murder of fellow rapper Lil JoJo in Chicago. There was some bragging on his part on Twitter. What do you think about that situation and the violence in Chicago in general?
It's sad what happened to the guy. I don't know what to say about it, about what Chief Keef said or did. I don't know what to say. I just shake my head at stuff. Like, to me it seems like people looking at Chicago and looking at stuff like that, they'll look at all of us like we're just some kids talking about violence or just, “They ain't really about their music,” and I don't like stuff like that. So I just shake my head and just pray that people really see that everybody's not with the violence even though people look at Chicago like the drill scene. I don't like it like that. Especially now after that Lil JoJo situation, they constantly make it seem like the violence is because of the music. It's not right because it's more than that. Music really don't have nothing to do with that. Music just the key that people using.
What's the most important part of your music to you?
I like to have a different sound. Sometimes I'll rap like hardcore or about something soft just because I have younger fans that look up to me. I just do something to keep them focused and not let them look up to me as... I want to be like I want to be. I don't want to be a driller or a killer or something like that, so I just keep my flow different from everybody else, and get on music to relate to or to learn from.
How'd you get the name Sasha Go Hard?
I got Sasha from my uncle because when Beyonce came out with Sasha Fierce, he always called me Sasha Fierce because how I acted and dressed or something. I would just go by my real name, but then when I started getting serious with the music I was like, "I'm going to make my name Sasha." Then when people like my friends kept telling me I go hard, and said "Sasha go hard," and that's where I got my name from.
You have a lot of tattoos, and you have a song called "Tatted." Do you have a favorite?
When I was younger, I got a seahorse on my hand. And I love it because I used to go to the museum and see the seahorses, and I would just look at them like, "It's a horse in the sea." Like, it's a fish horse. I was young, and I just got fantasized with it so I was like, I'm going to get a tattoo of it. I love seahorses.
Do you have a dream collaboration?
Rick Ross. I really want to work with Rick Ross and Roscoe Dash. Because they sound, the sound it pops. I love their sound. They creative, and they do them. You can tell that's them. They not doing no fake stuff or nothing. Especially Rick Ross.
What's your next goal? Where do you want to be a year from now?
I want to have at least two or three mixtapes. I want to be on TV. Like, I was on the MTV thing, but I want more people to see who I am and my music. I'd love to have Nicki Minaj's career. She got a lot going on. But it looks so fun. A lot of people love her and I could see that for myself too.
Sasha Go Hard will perform tonight in Brooklyn at 285 Kent as part of CMJ.