Born in Tripoli to ethnic Albanian parents from Kosovo, Labinot Gashi (GASHI) personifies the millennial diaspora. Travelling through an astonishing 24 countries as a refugee before settling in the United States, it was music that helped ease the burden of learning the English language through school. It’s now nearly a decade since the Brooklyn based talent first appeared on the radar as a young rapper under the guide of Nipsey Hussle and French Montana, and while many others would have played it safe and repeated the formula that won them attention, GASHI is not one afraid of change or evolution.
Having established a reputation for lush low-fi raps, and crunching 808 dancefloor fillers, the 29 year old has come out of left field on new album ‘1984’. A project he describes as a ‘time travel’ full of echoing harmonies, vapourware synths and a mercurial Sting feature.
We linked up with GASHI following the album’s release for a deep chat about his inspirations, his phenomenal journey to this point, and what to expect into the future. ????
AUD’$: “Yo! Mr Trap Phil Collins! How you doing my brother?”
GASHI: “Really well thanks man. How you doing?”
Good bro. Seems like a hectic time for you right now. Obviously you got the documentary, the live stream, the new album; How’s it all feel?
I mean, it’s a crazy time in general. And I’m just blessed and I’m grateful to even have anything going on. I planned this rollout on a total different vibe. And you know, luckily I have a strong team and great manager and they thought real quick, we put the album out… and you know got a greater response than if there was no pandemic! So yeah, grateful for it.
Incredible. I guess a lot of people will be talking about the sonic change in the album, however I’ve seen little easter eggs along the way. How long has this album been in you bro? How long has a project like this been on your heart or in your mind?
It was never supposed to come out! It was meant to be something just for me, you know. And my managers convinced me to put it out and I think it was the greatest move I’ve ever made in my career. I’m super, super happy about it. Some of the greatest musicians that I respect are DMing me and telling me how much they love the album. I’m just simply thankful for it and I’m just trying to stay positive because sometimes I get weirded out when things go too right. 2020 is terrible though, so I deserve this.
You’re a 90’s baby as am I. Where does that 80’s love come from? Is it the fashion, is it the music? Is it the movies? Where’s your love for that aesthetic come from?
I think it’s the movies, man. Also the music because there’s no movies without music. But the John Hughes movies. Some of the greatest moments that changed the world forever were in 1984. Michael Jordan got drafted. The first Mac computer was made. I just fell in love with the American dream. The first Tetris games. Footloose was poppin’ on TV. Madonna with Like A Virgin was like porn on MTV in 1984. I just love that era that changed things. You also have the book 1984 which is kind of creepy that 2020 is like that now.
Yeah, I was going to ask, how much of the Orwell or dystopian influences were at play for you?
Yeah I think the reason why I’m in love with it, even though I didn’t grow up in that era is because of me being a child that was less fortunate and didn’t come from a background of parents with money. All I had was a TV which showed the American Dream in Hollywood, and so I decided that’s what I fell in love with and I had to find my way. It’s just that this attitude of being in love with the movies and being in love with this fairytale land that was was shown to me on TV, which is not real, but to me as a kid, it felt real. I wanted to make an album to make adults feel like kids again. For the adults that are really going through it mentally. I wanted to make a project to get out of this shit that we’re in right now. Get out of 2020, go to 1984 for a while, feel like a kid.
It’s easy to get lost in the 80s aesthetic and sonics of the album. But there’s so much meaning and narrative in there. On ‘Mama’ for example; what is it that you know now that you wish you knew back then? And how would that have changed things for you?
So many things. In order for you to become successful you need to think ahead. The people that are successful in life are the people that thought ahead instead of thinking now. I’ve made so many mistakes in my life, and even though I’ve learned from them, sometimes I wish I never made those mistakes. And that’s why that song is important. So many people face things and they lose the life that was given to them that was great. They chase. They want more. And then realise more money, more problems. Every time I meet someone they always talk about things they should have done and could have done. So I wanted to make a song that talks about me and talks about someone else that’s gone through that situation.
Do you have a particular record that’s a favourite or most important to you on the project?
I think ‘Mama’. And I love ‘Lies’. Most important to me is probably ‘So Many Love Me’ – the outro.
How important was was the sequencing of the album? Because I feel like both sonically and thematically it just grows and crescendos.
Well, I kind of wanted to go from 1984 to it getting darker and darker and darker. The kid’s journey, while stuck in a time machine, is meant to learn a lesson; that social media doesn’t do shit. That’s the whole point. If you listen to the end, it’s about a kid who travels time, goes back to 1984, works with his favourite artists. Then as he finds his way back, he goes to the future and sees himself as a superficial dude in LA. Sees all these people at his funeral that pretend to be best friends with him. And then realises at the end of the day that social media doesn’t mean anything. None of this means anything. It’s all bullshit.
How much of that that story is moulded by your own journey? What’s your message to people of a similar background chasing that same dream? Either as a refugee or living in the diaspora…
Have the right intentions. Know what you want. And understand that in life, everything isn’t what it seems. You should be grateful for the things you do have instead of always wanting more and more. People are so caught up with trying to make it that they forget they have everything they want right in front of them.
Your messages is so much more than beyond the music. You’re quite outspoken about human rights. What’s the legacy look like into the future outside of music?
I want to have my own foundation. I want to give back as much as I can to refugees and give back to kids and to people with my background. I want to go back to my country in Kosovo and open up schools. I want to make it a place where kids can feel safe to be who they are and do what they want. I feel like a lot of kids in my country are afraid to be themselves. And I want to change that. My country is a beautiful country, my people are amazing for our history. We’ve been through a lot and every time you read about us it’s never, ever as a positive. And I kind of want to change that. I’m the only American-Albanian male artist on the Billboard charts. You have Dua Lipa, you have Rita Ora and Bebe Rehxa. And some other girls… but I’m the only male!
Wow, I never knew that…
Yeh they always try to make us seem like we have to be aggressive to be successful. We have to be gangster, stuff like that. So me coming up with a 1984 album and expressing myself, dancing the way I do, wearing makeup and wearing eyeliner and just being myself….and feeling super comfortable about my sexuality and who I am and what I want. I think that is me teaching the next kid that they can do whatever they want. They don’t have to be a rapper. If you listen to 1984, that’s not rap at all, you know what I mean?
There’s nothing wrong with being a rapper. But stop trying to tell me I have to be one thing. Cos I’m not! The future is just me trying to help every kid out that comes from a similar background to me. I’m also trying to sign other artists. I’m trying to do film. I’m trying to do fashion. The sky’s the limit! Nobody in this world knows what they’re doing. They wake up, and they just try their best at their job. Everyone’s pretending to know their jobs. No offence… you probably do your job very well. But at one point, you didn’t know what you’re doing, but you just kept doing it until you learned it
I got here by accident bro, so I totally understand what you’re saying!
Exactly! So you just end up there and that’s how the universe works! The universe takes you where you’re supposed to be, and you end up there like… holy shit, I got here! And that’s how the world needs to understand. I think once we wake everybody up and they’re no longer sheep, I think we’d have everyone become successful. But, you know, some people don’t want that. Because some people don’t like to share money. That’s not how I roll. So the future is me going to help people, help myself, help my family and continue to make amazing music that I’m remembered for.
That’s cool man. Thank you for your time today, and appreciate you getting so real with us. Hopefully we can link up when you eventually come to Australia when all this shit is over bro, and we can kick it.
Yeah I can’t wait, I’ve never been, and I look forward to it. Thanks brother, peace.
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