Bashy - The bus driver who found a ticket to hip-hop fame

When fans mobbed Bashy in his cab, the rapper knew it was time to get off the 183 to Golders Green and plan a route to stardom. Charlotte Cripps goes a few stops with him
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The Independent Culture

Up until three years ago Bashy was a London bus driver. This month he is on a world tour with Gorillaz, with whom he performed at Glastonbury this summer, and next year he co-stars in a feature film called The Veteran. It's no wonder he's seen as Britain's answer to the American rapper-turned-actor Will Smith. How did he get so far in such a short time?

Bashy, 25, aka Ashley Thomas, grew up in London's Westbourne Park, near Notting Hill Gate. It comes as no surprise that, when we meet, he is wearing a loud T-shirt from his own range with the words "Bish Bash Bosh", which is also the title of the new album that he is working on.

It's clear that he feels the world is at his feet all of a sudden: "I'm in a happier place because my dreams are coming true. I'm acting in feature films and I'm travelling the world. Before I was just broke," he says. "I haven't let anybody take me off my path or deter me in any way. It's about seeing an opportunity and taking it."

Bashy was encouraged by his mother to start acting classes at the age of eight, and had soon added rapping to his repertoire by 14. He attended the Brit School for Performing Arts at 16 – after a brief spell in Dominica,in the Caribbean, where he was sent to live with his disciplinarian grandmother, after he was expelled from his primary school. At 17, while still at the Brit School, he had a chance meeting at a rave with Pay As U Go Cartel's Major Ace, later of grime crew East Connection, and joined the pirate radio station Deja Vu, broadcasting along with Wiley, Dizzee Rascal and Kano.

He put out the Ur Mum Volume One mix tape in 2004, before his next self-release in 2005, The Chupa Chups Mixtape, attaching free Chupa Chup lollies to each mixtape. Known for songs including "How To Pick a Wifey", "4 o'clock", and "Prying", the Chupa Chups Mixtape set him up as an outspoken commentator on life.

"I'd buy boxes of Chupa Chups off eBay and then attach them to 500 CDs at a time," he recalls.

Before resigning from his job as a bus driver he got mobbed by his female fans after he released the song "Black Boys" in 2007. Routes such as the 183 from Pinner to Golders Green experienced delays as "people started to take pictures of me driving the bus". The track sings the praises of everybody from Dizzee Rascal to former newsreader Trevor McDonald, and Bashy became a spokesperson for the Stop the Knife campaign.

Then luck struck as film director/actor Noel Clarke noticed Bashy after hearing the Chupa Chups mixtape in 2006. It was full of samples from Clarke's film Kidulthood. He asked Bashy to record Adulthood's theme tune, "Kidulthood to Adulthood" in 2007 before re-employing him as music supervisor for this year's film,, as well as giving him a part in the film and also getting him to voice the film's title track "Keep On Moving".

Bashy soon set to work on his debut album, Catch Me if You Can, which was promoted with a mini drama, The Ransom, in which he plays somebody who gets kidnapped. This video introduced the world to his acting talents. The album was Mobo-nominated in 2007, and full of potential hits, including "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" and "Your Wish is My Command", which consolidated his popularity on the underground scene. He released the album on his own independent label Ragz2Richez. He says: "Starting my own label was more out of necessity. I'm not going to sit around and wait for labels to come screaming."

"I'm going to get up and do it myself with my team. It's about taking ownership. If I hadn't done that, I don't think I'd be here. It might take me longer than it has for my peers, but I don't mind putting in the hard work. I'm prepared to keep plugging away."

Damon Albarn noticed his talents when Bashy was invited to perform with him on his Africa Express tour in 2009, before Bashy teamed up more recently with Kano and the Lebanese National Orchestra for Oriental Arabic Music on the Gorillaz Plastic Beach track "White Flag".

While his music career has been taking off, Bashy also got the lead in 2009 as Markus in Jonzi D's hip-hop theatre production of Markus the Sadist, playing a rapper who is corrupted by money. He also stared in Mo Ali's futuristic teenage-gang thriller Shank this year.

"Shank was my first feature film," he says. "I play Rager, a big-brother role model who is full of wisdom and a protector of his younger brother. You have to pick your roles. Being typecast is not my thing. In I only had a small comedic part; I was a bit of a Jack-the-lad character called Smoothy."

His co-stars next year in Brit-flick thriller The Veteran, directed by Matthew Hope, with British actor Toby Kebbell of RocknRolla and Prince of Persia fame. Bashy plays Tyrone Jones, a smooth and calculating local businessman who tries to get one over Kebbell's character, Miller, a young soldier returning from Afghanistan to a conspiracy involving the intelligence services and a gang of drug-dealers.

The film has already caused a stir. Hundreds of blank rounds were fired during filming at the disused Heygate Estate in Elephant and Castle, south London and this led to police investigation after a member of the public found discarded bullet casings on the housing estate.

To juggle a career in music and film is not always easy. The still-unsigned rapper's recently released debut pop single, "Fantasy", was a reinvention of Baby D's club classic "Let Me Be Your Fantasy". For the video he flew to Mexico's Cancun for one day, dashing back to London to continue filming The Veteran.

As an up-and-coming British face of hip-hop he hopes to cross-over into the mainstream to join the chart-topping rappers Tinie Tempah and Tinchy Stryder. But it's hard to know whether Bashy's real success will be as an actor.

""Fantasy" and the new album is more uplifting than anything I've done before. It's about wanting to live life to the fullest," he says. In the "Fantasy" video Bashy wakes up in a dinghy, wearing black tie, before jumping into the azure-blue sea to sing, "Living life fast/ living life large/ let me be your fantasy/ got my feet on the ground but I reach for the stars".

Bashy is signed to leading acting agency Independent. "Acting was my first dream, but music is therapeutic because I get to connect with people, especially at my shows," he says. "I think the music I make is true to my life. A lot of people can relate to it. It is real. I'm just saying it how it is – I don't sugar-coat it. If you are an ambitious person you want to strive for more. I want to do it all."

"Fantasy" is out now. The film 'The Veteran' is out next year