Picture the scene: One moment you’re a regular teenager living in North Carolina and the next thing you know, your family uproot 7500 kilometres east – first to Estonia and then to Latvia. Living in Riga, she stuck out like a sore thumb. Her parents gave her no other option other than to enrol in a public Latvian high school. She was the only American girl in the entire country to attend a Latvian public school, with her lessons taught entirely in Latvian.
So what do you do? For Ashnikko, the decision was simple: “I was like, fuck this, I’m going to rap. I’m going to pursue something I’m genuinely interested in instead of sitting in this classroom pretending like I know what the hell is going on.”
And so she’d spend her weekends flying to London via Ryanair to perform at open mic nights while couch surfing with strangers. All entirely under the radar of her parents, who believed she had an internship with a radio station.
Inspired by Nicki Minaj (“She’s very girl power, she talks about sex in a very genuine, powerful way, promoting a more positive, self-governing female sexuality, as opposed to the submissive one that is so often portrayed in music”), Björk and Lil’ Kim’s ‘Black Friday’ – a scathing insult to Minaj – Ashnikko recorded and released her own diss track ‘Cake Face’, about a frenemy in her class.
Ashnikko was an overnight sensation in Latvia and played the vast majority of the area’s venues in the space of two years. Yet being big in a place populated by a combined total of 6 million people, and where rap remains a niche interest, isn’t a huge platform from which to launch a wider international career.
Back in London, things moved quicker than anyone could’ve predicted when she met OddChild artist and producer Raf Riley. Immediately best friends, Ashnikko and Raf booked tickets to head to Japan together the day after they met. Raf got unexpectedly delayed, which meant that Ashnikko spent her birthday alone in Joypolis, a Sega-themed amusement park in Tokyo. “I’m not gonna lie – it was the best day of my life! I had a big birthday badge and everyone was giving me free ice cream and balloons and stickers. I was smile-crying for the entire day.”
It was a trip that has inspired the duo’s subsequent work together, with Ashnikko’s brash and provocative lyrics matched by a wild and vibrant energy informed by their love of Japanese anime, and surreal cartoons like Adventure Time and Over The Garden Wall. Her forthcoming debut EP ‘Sass Pancakes’ features a track specifically written about their adventure, ‘Fuck Me In Shibuya’.
“Raf was my wingman in a club, and he hooked me up with this male model – the most angular cheekbones I’ve ever seen in my life, but he fucked me over. We had a date at the Pokémon café in Shibuya and he stood me up, so the people in the restaurant put a life-size Pikachu in the chair in front of me so I wouldn’t be alone. The staff of the restaurant kept giving me really kind pity smiles. I was simultaneously heartbroken at the loss of his angular cheekbones and screaming with delight that I had new song material. I am definitely the type of person to do something specifically to write a song about it later.”
Ashnikko ended 2016 with the vehement anti-Trump track ‘Please Don’t Grab My Pussy’ which, depressingly, looks set to be relevant for the next four years. Quite how Captain Combover managed to avoid bashing out angry, borderline illiterate Tweets in response to rhymes like “I’d rather cut my arms off or catch something lumpy / Than vote for some misogynistic cunt to run this country” remains a mystery.
“Everything that old piece of shit [Trump] stands for grosses me out to the core,” she affirms. “There’s still so much work to be done for women’s rights, and human rights in general. I think the best way for me to make any sort of positive impact on people’s pink little brains is through my music. I just want women to be able to completely own their bodies, their sexuality, their minds, and freely express their multifaceted personalities without fear. In my music, I think it’s important that I talk about my sexuality and my personality in a very blatant, honest way. I want to give a bit more vulgarity and say what I’m actually feeling and experiencing. I don’t want to sweeten it up and sand down the rough bits for public consumption.”
It’s a stance repeated throughout the EP, with first single ‘Bubblegum’ playfully weaving sweet-toothed food references and sticky sexuality into a mash topped by a feature from Avelino – one of numerous OddChild artists that Ashnikko befriended during a year in which she effectively lived on the label’s studio couch.
Elsewhere, ‘Sass Pancakes’ is rich in imagery from two of her favourite things – attitude and food – while ‘Thrust’, written as a teenager, shows that the now 21-year-old possessed perhaps an even more caustic outlook just a short time ago.
There’s talk of the future: more focus on singing as well as rapping; aspiring to create an Action Bronson-style food show; planning a cartoon series; crocheting her own range of food-themed bikinis; and, she laughs almost embarrassed, “I’m singing slow songs about love which is very very weird for me.”