One man’s sublime photos of urban music’s biggest names

Ashley Verse on how he used the DIY nature of underground hip hop and grime to establish himself on the scene.

A$AP Rocky shot by Ashley Verse – Loaded
Well Versed Ashley Verse came from making DIY music videos to become one of the brightest lights in shooting urban music. Image Photos Ashley Verse

At a recent Skepta show at Hackney club Oslo, Ashley Verse ran into the Tottenham-born grime artist shortly before his set.

Primed to introduce himself, the 23-year-old south London photographer was shocked when he didn’t have to. Skepta already knew exactly who he was.

“I had no idea that he’d been paying attention to the photographers in the scene,” Verse explains. “But he had a knowledge of who we are and a real interest in what we were doing.”

Off the back of that chance meeting, Verse shot Skep at shows in Brixton and Ministry Of Sound at the end of last year. The creative flurry perfectly represents the DIY scene in underground hip hop and grime.

“It was great to be able to connect with somebody of Skepta’s stature,” Verse explains. “He’s somebody I’ve been listening to since I was in the playground.”

Born in Mitcham, Verse made a name for himself making low-budget videos for then-unknown artists like Stormzy. Now he’s pushing further, shooting the stars of the scene as well as gaining a name in the fashion world.

“Urban artists being involved in the fashion world is getting bigger and bigger,” he explains. “Skepta walked for Nasir Mazhar, Stormzy got shot for Mr Porter, Travis Scott was at Paris Fashion Week last month and A$AP Nast closed Virgil Abloh’s Off-White show there too. That presents a massive opportunity for me as a photographer, as it’s the two worlds I work in colliding.”

Verse began making inroads as a photographer by heading to shows as a fan and shooting them from the crowd. It’s resulted in a unique style of shooting.

“The shows are so intense and high energy,” he says. “That’s what I wanted to capture at first and have carried on doing now.”

Here, he picks out some of his personal favorite shots for Loaded.


 

A$AP Rocky
Paris, January 2016

A$AP Rocky shot by Ashley Verse – Loaded

 

I was shooting the J.W. Anderson fashion show and A$AP walked in about two minutes from the start. I managed to introduce myself and his energy was good. I think he could tell I was into his sound from talking and that helped to get a really honest show. Because I’m able to connect with the artists in the UK.

Bryson Tiller
Shepherd’s Bush, January 2016

Bryson Tiller shot by Ashley Verse – Loaded

 

This was actually at a shoot I was doing for a Tiffany Calver interview. It was taken away from the shoot, so he looks pretty relaxed. You can see that with the connection with his eyes. I always try to get shots where I feel like an artist is looking into me, in order to show a connection between them and the picture.

Future
Brixton, January 2016

Future shot by Ashley Verse – Loaded

 

Future has a personal photographer, so he’s often more inclined towards their pictures rather than anyone else. So it felt good to get the connection that’s in this picture.

Skepta
Brixton, December 2015

Skepta shot by Ashley Verse – Loaded

 

This is one of the biggest shows I’ve ever shot Skepta at, and it’s good to see him take it to the level where he can sell-out somewhere like Brixton Academy. He gave the same performance he’s been giving in much smaller venue. The fact he’s able to do that shows you where grime has got to now.

Stormzy
Tottenham, December 2015

Stormzy and Chipmunk shot by Ashley Verse – Loaded

 

Stormzy is a person I’ve had a connection with for a long time. We both had that hunger to be seen and be heard and get out there when we started out. And we’ve always maintained that relationship since.

Action Bronson
Croatia, July 2015

Action Bronson shot by Ashley Verse – Loaded

 

Action Bronson’s a real man of the people so I wanted to capture that. He did the show with a wireless mic, so he left the stage to walk round round the whole venue, ending up perched on top of a bar. I managed to get a vantage point directly opposite and I think the shot sums up a Bronson live show pretty well.

Migos
Croatia, July 2015

Migos shot by Ashley Verse – Loaded

 

I’m a big fan. They were one of the headliners at Fresh Island festival and I don’t think people don’t realise how many songs that they love belong to Migos until they see them live. This is just after their record Yung Rich Nation dropped. The material off that, combined with older songs like Versace, showed what a wide span of hits they have now.

Joey Bada$$
Croatia, July 2015

Joey Bada$$ shot by Ashley Verse – Loaded

 

Joey’s a great performer and I wanted to capture that. For somebody who’s got a whole different side to the sound of his rap he maintains the same interaction you get from a trap or grime artist, and that’s really unique.

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Loaded reporter Robert McCallum has written for many leading culture magazines and websites about music, sport, science, politics, fashion and arts. Follow Robert at @therobmccallum

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