Life has been somewhat of a whirlwind for Rak- Su since their win on The X Factor in 2017. The Watford group have since performed on stages nationwide, released their first autobiography and most recently dropped their impressive Rome EP.
CelebMix got a chance to speak to the 4 members – Jamaal, Myles, Mustafa and Ashley – ahead of the release of their new single ‘Yours Or Mine’ which comes out on the 12th of April.
The Noughties were literally dominated by Pop groups, and now it seems there’s a gap in the market, for boy bands especially. Why do you think it’s harder for boys to break through?
Jamaal: There’s a load of things! Obviously without physical copies now being a thing, that kinda takes away something from music in general. Even if you didn’t particularly connect with the boy band, if you’d like their music, you could still go out and get it without having to actively support the boy band. I feel like now that social media is present, you are so much more in the person’s life.
It’s very difficult now I find, in this day and age because of social media, for people to kind of just stick on one trend. Nobody sticks on a trend, or a boy band or whoever for a period of time. Whereas back in the day, it would have been a lot easier because you could have only got the music and see the artists and connect with them in a certain way. Whereas there’s so many ways to connect to music, the artists and things like that. It makes it a bit more difficult to have a core fan base, but then at the same time it does make it easier because you can connect to them without seeing them.
Myles: I think boy bands are automatically put on a pedestal because of the level of boy bands. Like for instance, the Beatles or the 1D boys, like they are giants of boy bands – they are beasts!
I think as a fan, I think you always relate to the biggest boy bands that there have almost ever been, so I think that’s why it’s harder for boy bands to break through. I know as a fan, that I would compare 1D to The Beatles and see if they were going to be as successful. There is that stigma that boy bands have to be absolute giants and I think that’s because the normal boy band has a demographic of screaming girls.
To me, boy bands are seen as the giants of the music industry and if you are a boy band you have to be as big as The Beatles or the 1D Boys. If not, you have fallen short.
On groups having a lack of chemistry:
Myles: From a Fan’s perspective, you’ve got to be able to put on the biggest shows possible, the best shows possible. It doesn’t mean that you’re selling out stadiums or arenas. I mean like visually you’ve got to put on a big performance, you’ve got to connect with the people that you’re on a stage with. I’m a strong believer in if you don’t connect with yourselves on stage, then the fans aren’t going to connect with you. If we can’t mess around on stage with each other or look in each other’s eyes and smile and see that each other is having fun, how’s that going to translate? How are the fans going to see that? How are people going to see that, when we’re on TV or when we’re on a stage? You’ve got to be real. If you are not real, you will be sussed out and it’s easy for bands to get sussed out. You can’t not get along with the people you’re on stage with, you have got to love it and then other people will start to jump on board.
You guys are one of the hardest working acts, in that you are always in the studio. What do Rak-Su do to relax?
Ashley: We’ve all got like different ways of doing it so I guess I’ll speak on behalf of myself. When I’m not in the studio, I’ll probably write everyday anyway, some a bit good, some a bit bad but I just do. Gym, Football, Basketball and Cinema, that’s me personally.
Jamaal: I’m less OTT with writing every day. I like the idea of just relaxing and doing nothing especially cause sometimes our days can be quite long, and quite hectic. However, I do like the idea of it and we do it without thinking about it anyway. If one of us has a song or has written something, we will send it into the group and that is often how we spark a song or spark a conversation so it’s not like we’re ever too far away from it. Myles will play Fortnite, I will lay down and watch Netflix or do something that just isn’t directly to do with music but it’s always in the background, because it’s quite hard to turn it off. But we do try and turn it off as much as we can, whether it’s playing basketball or going to the gym or going for a run, playing video games or whatever it is because it is necessary to help you maintain that level of hecticness.
On talking about music naturally with each other, without the pressure of making a hit record.
Jamaal: Oh 100 % yeah.
Ashley: I’m happier when it’s like that. I’m happier when we are busy, I am happier when we have to think about stuff like that.
Jamaal: If it’s prolonged, I get to where he is, if we’re there over weeks and I’m like “Oh, I’ve done the Netflix, I’ve played video games” I feel like I should be working. I get to that after a certain stage.
Myles: I get to it from the moment our Addison Lee is booked, I don’t want to hear about music. I will go home and produce. If I set my mind on something, I have to do it. But, if I go home on the weekend for instance, I have to be in the mood to produce or I won’t give it any time of the day. Gaming is my biggest thing.
How long was the recording process for the Rome EP, and how did you select the four tracks?
Mustafa: Obviously during The X Factor, you see one side of a genre, as per say, whereas before the show we were doing other kinds of music, and there’s a lot of different kinds of music we want to do as well. I think choosing those four songs showcases different sounds and there’s a lot more sounds that we will hopefully be doing as well.
Which sound do you gravitate to more? The emotional and heartfelt or the party banger?
Mustafa: I think both, they both do two different things, and give you different emotions. It’s amazing being up on the stage in the summer performing a very energetic song and putting a smile on people’s faces, but at the same time it’s also good to perform a song that’s in your feels.
Jamaal: That’s why the Rome EP is a good barometer for that because it encapsulates the moody element, a little bit low and in your feels then ‘Into It’ is a lot more upbeat, ‘Thunder’ is a bit of a vibe. I guess before The X Factor, if you left me and this guy (Ashley) in a room it’s emotions.com.
Ashley: We are all quite emotional. Most of the stuff we would make even when we were younger was all very emotionally driven.
Myles: Speak for yourself!
(The guys playfully bicker amongst themselves about which of their older songs were more emotional.)
Jamaal: One thing that this does highlight is as we grew and the music grew, we just noticed that obviously performing – we always have fun in the studio, it could be writing emotional stuff or writing fun stuff. It’s going to be fun and that was something we needed to make sure we put across in our tracks. Being on The X Factor and having the opportunity to be in front of that many people on a regular basis, we knew that was something we had to showcase, from ‘I’m Feeling You’ to ‘Mamacita’ to ‘Mona Lisa’ all of them had that element of fun. It was just something that made our performance, and the element of performance a lot higher. We are glad that the Rome EP encapsulates both of that and it shows that we can do in your feels stuff and obviously something that has a bit more of a party vibe.
A lot of your music is based on personal experiences. Is there’s a song you’ve made that’s most personal to you?
Ashley: ‘Blood Ties’ for me personally! In the lyrics we are talking about each other and the experiences we’ve had growing up, referencing actual conversations we have had and things we can remember.
Jamaal: For me it would be ‘Flights’ – this was on an EP that got released earlier and it was so what we were doing.
We had a job and we were making music and we were trying to better ourselves as well. There were two sides on one coin – one was we had to work, and we wanted to make music. That for me is the one.
Myles: Mine is anything without Jamaal on!
(The boys joke and tease each other as Ashley tells me Myles doesn’t appear on Jamaal’s chosen song.)
Myles: Mine would be ‘The Apology Song.’
(The other boys murmur in agreement.)
Ashley: That’s a good one, we are apologising to girls.
Mustafa: I have a favourite, but the most personal would be ‘I’m Feeling You’ because that is one that essentially got us to where we are. That was the start of the big journey.
How were you able to balance your full time jobs with your music, before you found success?
Jamaal: I think we just did it as cliched as that sounds. I think we worked because we had to and did music because we loved it and wanted to, so it was never a thing. We were always on WhatsApp, we had 60 million groups which Myles was always happy to be a part of and I guess, we knew that we wanted to do music and the work music balance changed and became more about the music. For me personally, I didn’t think about work at all, I thought I’m going into work then going into the studio – it’s just something I had to do to get to the studio.
Ashley: I’m a firm believer that when you’ve got 24 hours a day, you’re going to sleep for 8 which leaves you with 16, you are probably going to work for 8/9 which will then leave you with around 7/8 hours and then with that time you’ve got to eat, shower which will take you down to 6, you’re going to watch your favourite TV programme and that takes you down to about 5…
(The boys laugh and joke on Ashley’s time precision skills.)
On a serious note, even if you put in an hour’s worth of commuting and let’s just say you’ve got chores to work out, the bare minimum for a normal person – if there’s something you genuinely want to pursue with as a passion, you have at least 3-4 hours every single day to dedicate towards it. You’re talking about 28 hours in week. 28 hours of anything, and you can achieve so much.
On people not understanding each other’s passion and being money driven.
Myles: If that was the case for us, we would have been working many hours under the sun it’s ridiculous. We had good paid jobs, before music and decided to chase the dream. We both (referring to himself & Ashley) gave up football and we were earning money from football. It’s a dream, if you have a dream you have got to pursue it.
On being too scared to follow your passion.
Jamal: You just do. People find, whether it’s excuses or fear of failing or flat on your face. It’s thinking “Oh I’m never going to get back up for that so I’m never going to try” but you fall down flat on your face, and you get back up.
Ashley: I think it’s a fun phase as well. I miss it, I miss parts of it and parts of how we were. When I think back to those days of trying to do both things, we were so hungry. we were so dedicated. We were trying to achieve something which was so unlikely, trying to achieve something that nobody around us thought was realistically possible, but for some reason we just thought in our heads that we were going to make it happen no matter what. I feel like it’s a beautiful place and a beautiful mindset to be in. For anybody that is going through that at the moment, when you get to that.
On their success being an inspiration to people who are looking to break through.
Jamaal: Sometimes you can take this for granted as well, because you being in the space you want to be in, regardless of making music, starting your own business or whatever it is. It’s just about being comfortable and people take that as “I can’t be comfortable because I need to make money etc..” At the end of the day, it’s just that first step. Within all of us, in some way shape or form we have had to take a first step to do something whether it be music, or whether it just be everyday to knowing that we don’t just want to just make music now, we want to make music and get that music out further and there’s always a step. Anytime you put goals up so that you have something to work towards it allows that idea of not being comfortable until you feel comfortable. Until you feel like you are in a situation you want to be in, then you will continue to have a passion for what you want to do. That’s why I think people find themselves in situations where they are like “Oh I can’t.” In actual reality you haven’t set up what you want to do and where you are trying to get to.
What’s the inspiration behind your new single ‘Yours Or Mine?’
Ashley: The inspiration behind ‘Yours Or Mine’ was we were in the studio, weren’t sure about what we were going to write about that day. We spoke about what kind of conversations we have had recently and one of the boys said “I was out, and I was speaking to a girl, so I was like yours or mine?” He said it as a bit of a joke, like in tongue in cheek but the rest of us were like “Ooh that’s a pretty good idea, let’s turn it into a song!”
We started writing around the situation and things you would have to think about like who lives closest, who lives with their parents still?
Jamaal: Is it Uber? Do they drink? You know, these are the questions!
Ashley: We had a lot of fun writing it actually!
What’s your favourite song to perform?
Mustafa: So far, it’s ‘Dimelo’ for me.
Ashley: I felt kinda sexy performing ‘Thunder,’ I’m not going to lie.
(The boys laugh hysterically.)
Myles: I love what I do on your verse!
Ashley: Some of the fans filmed some videos from the shows, I watched it back and was like “WHAT IS THAT ME?”
Jamaal: For me, from a dancing perspective it’s either ‘Into It’… I have so much fun with ‘Into It.’
Ashley: It is not ‘Yours Or Mine’ because of the intro?
Jamaal: I was going to say as in dancing wise ‘Into It’ 100 percent. Overall I’d still say ‘Into It’ – I love it so much. “Into It” or the ending of ‘Freak’ where Mus goes “Let’s go!” and then we go.
Mustafa: Yeah, it’s that that energy, but then you get that on ‘Dimelo.’ Like every time!
Myles: Ashley told me to say one song, but I’m going to disagree. My favourite song to perform is definitely ‘Yours Or Mine.’ I just love performing it. I like the dancing because it’s not intense choreo but it’s intense enough that you’re taken back after a while. It’s nice and swaggy and there’s choreo throughout the entire song.
You’ve been on tour with Little Mix and are about to support Olly Murs on his upcoming UK Tour. If the tables were turned, and you could pick ANY artist (dead or alive) to support you on your own tour, who would it be and why?
Ashley: This is going to be very difficult across the four of us, you know.
(The boys ponder on who to individually choose and what the basis of their selection is.)
Mustafa : I’d have Bob Marley!
(The boys react enthusiastically to Mus’ decision and joke about how long he took to answer.)
Jamaal: I would have to say just because everything this guy does is theatrical. Michael Jackson!
(The guys lament over this decision with Ashley saying “I don’t think he’s right for Rak-Su!”)
Myles: Mine would be John Denver!
(Once again, the boys discuss the selections so far and how they’ve so far chosen their favourite performers as opposed to who would right for the correct audience.)
Ashley: For me personally, I ‘d choose Destiny’s Child. Destiny’s Child and Rak-Su, and then we’d do collaborations together. Imagine the stage – Ash, Jamaal, Myles, Mustafa in between Kelly, Beyoncé and Michelle!
Do you believe that social media is more of a help or a hindrance in the industry?
Myles: For me, I think it’s definitely a help within the music industry because I think it gives people a chance to find people that may not have necessarily been found in the first place. It gives people that haven’t got a public eye on them a voice. It allows them to show their musicality and artistry and get across their points of view so easily. Without social media I think it’s a lot harder. The same with streaming platforms, it’s a lot harder to find unknown artists without them. Nowadays you can find unknown artists quite easily and then you soon become their biggest fan. I think it’s a beautiful thing that it’s not just the big dogs like Drake getting pumped out or down your throat. You can quite easily go on your search on Instagram and find an artist from say Bristol. I think it’s good.
Jamaal: I think it depends on your outlook on it. You can find some really nasty things on the internet and they can last forever, that’s one of the bad things about social media. But at the same time as Myles said, for that reason it just allows whoever is unfound at this moment for their profile or whatever talent that they have, to be put across in front of so many people. Quite often, it’s just people doing something in their house or a personal setting. Personal outlook plays a big thing in it and how much time you spend on social media.
How would you describe your relationship with your fans also known as The Rak Pack?
Myles: It’s more of a friendship. It’s more of a community, we look after each other. No matter who we are, no matter who they are, we look after each other. It’s the main thing that we try and do and it’s an extra that they promote our music or ride or die for us. There’s people in The Rak Pack that have gone through some stuff. One girl, I won’t mention her name she was involved in the Manchester bombings and every time she breaks down and when she sees me she asks for a hug. For me, it’s nice to see her come to the shows.
Jamaal: She went back to the arena for us!
Myles: Yeah, do you know what I mean? There’s so many scenarios like that within our community and within our friendship. It doesn’t matter who we are, we just need to support each other and stick by them, like they stick by us. We wouldn’t be here without them, granted.
Ashley: I think on top of that, if Myles whipped out his phone and did an Instagram Story and in the background I looked sad, I would probably be bombarded with messages to people who were really concerned with how I was feeling. I feel it’s only natural if someone is going to show you that level of care, you give it back. I know people state a lot like “Oh you lot are so great with your fans” and the rest of it but on an everyday basis if someone cares about how I feel, I am going to care about how they feel.
Myles: We have always been like that before fans. We have been like that in life, we are like it with each other. If one of us is feeling down, you’re going to have to talk to us. For instance, he comes in the morning and you can tell he’s upset with something or if he’s thinking about something, all three of us can tell by the things he does with his face. We’ve been like that from Day 1. We keep it as a community from Day 1.