If you’ve been plugged into the abundance of hip-hop that’s coming out of the city of Bristol at the moment, chances are you’ve come across Aristocrats. If you have, you should be familiar with the sound of Gus Stash. If you haven’t, stay tuned.
Hailing from the West Midlands but based in Bristol, Stash is an establishing member of the aforementioned Aristocrats. He’s also founder and director of DUBL Studios, a label come creative agency in Bristol, established in 2018 and run in the memory of the late Dubl $w£ggrz, the Aristocrats member who tragically passed away last year. While January saw the release of Answer, the group’s first project since the loss of their friend, fresh into March Stash came through with his debut solo project, Barely Soba.
As is becoming increasingly common within the rap scene, defining Stash within just one genre is a pretty pointless task. In a time when the qualities that had once been exclusive to genres such as trap are being increasingly incorporated into the sound of various sub-sections of UK hip hop, Stash has come through with a small yet diverse body of work that demonstrates exactly why the amalgamation of those genres works so well. In this six track EP, Stash has crafted a sound that is distinctly his own; embracing distinctive elements of trap and grime, while still harnessing itself within hip hop.
The EP opens with the first track, ‘Bisto’. While the title evokes thoughts of a certain brown, stodgy liquid that belongs poured generously onto a roast dinner, the visual connotations of the track itself are worlds apart from that. Using the same sample that runs beneath Jam Baxter’s ‘Altitude Sickness’, there’s a certain spaciousness to Circa’s production that allows seemingly endless layers to come together without creating a feeling of claustrophobia. Laid back in a way that demonstrates Stash’s musical diversity, this track might have you feeling like you’re floating around on clouds. Dreamy stuff.
On another level to the somewhat ethereal sounds of ‘Bisto’, Stash comes through on a harsh 140 beat with ‘Gutter Rats’. On a par with the EP’s final single release ‘Snowflakes’, Stash flows with an indisputable confidence. As he insists he won’t ever go “back to the race with gutter rats”, what could be perceived as aggy-ness is concealed beneath his ability to be so at ease over Sour Phree’s grime instrumental.
On a poignant note for the album, Stash teams up with VRBL Records resident and fellow Bristol inhabitant, Sylla B. ‘Drink Up’ sees producer Vern Akula sample the Elliot Smith classic ‘Between the Bars’, over a distinctively low tempo beat, unlike any other that features in the project. Stash and Sylla explore topics of love, addiction, and the experience of witnessing a loved one’s downward spiral. The track is as beautiful as it is heart-wrenching, and makes clear Stash’s skill for reflecting on, and in turn transforming, hardship.
The closing song, ‘Hockney’, pays tribute to the late Dubl $w£ggrz as Stash speaks on the loss of his friend. ‘Hockney’ is a lyrical journey that delves into the experience of dealing with the tragedy of death and healing through it; sharing the struggle with those around him and making the most of all that $w£ggrz had taught him. Harrowing, and with a beautiful instrumental produced by Circa, ‘Hockney’ will undoubtedly strike a chord with anyone who has lost a loved one at a young age.
There’s a feeling that this is a coming-of-age project for Stash. While he’s still got some of the front that seems inseparable from fresh faces on the scene, Barely Soba saw the artist turn his focus towards topics such as social commentary, substance abuse, and death. The EP grants room for Stash to explore himself as an emcee aside from his Aristocrat family, and while the group are onto something great, it’s clear he stands strong as a solo artist.
All profits from purchases of the EP throughout March were donated to PAPYRUS; a charitable organisation working to prevent suicide in young people. It can now be downloaded for free from Bandcamp.