Since being crowned winners of the 2017 X Factor almost a year ago today, it has been a hugely exciting and non-stop year for the four British boys that make up Rak-Su. Yet, are they exhausted? I don’t think so! Even meeting with them on a drizzly Monday afternoon in north-west London couldn’t dampen their spirits. Their fun-loving personalities and energetic charm made for a super enjoyable and lively day out. After wrapping up a seven hour shoot, I asked childhood friends Ashley, Jamaal, Mustafa and Myles what they thought of the day, to which they agreed “It has been a really fun day, the clothes were sick man.” In terms of fashion, the boys have spent their adult life mixing between smart office wear and a more relaxed street style. This makes sense seeing as the band’s name is a shortening of “Tracks vs. Suits”, i.e. “music and fun vs. adult life.”
“I just want to show people that we are not a manufactured thing that appeared from TV. In fact we are perfecting the crafts that we began as kids, and that we are here for a reason.”
Jamaal: “Street style is probably what we have paid more attention to. We have put a lot more attention into our street style than what necessarily might be ‘fashion’”.
Ashley: “I’ve probably spent more time in my adult life wearing a suit, so I hadn’t known anything but that before we became Rak-Su. We had office jobs before this, so suits were our everyday attire. So, in a way, this shoot was perfect, because it showed both sides of what our adult lives have been.”
Myles: “We have done a fair few shoots this year, probably about seven or eight so far.”
Jamaal: “This shoot is the first time we have done something both sides of fashion, street style and high-end.”
Since the day they performed an original song “I’m Feeling You” at the X Factor auditions and received four excited votes from the judges, Rak-Su have been swept into a whirlwind of live performances, book-signings and endless days in the studio. Their self-titled debut extended play, Rak-Su, was released on 16 February 2018 and features four songs performed on The X Factor, “I’m Feeling You”, “Mamacita”, “Mona Lisa” and “Dimelo”. Since then, the boys have been on the X Factor Tour and also supported Little Mix on their Summer Hits Tour.
Ashley: “So, this year we had the X Factor Tour in February. Then, we had the Little Mix tour in July. We released two new tracks, and we filmed a music video in the Caribbean. We also did a writing camp in London and a writing camp in LA. We went and performed in Denmark as well. It has just been non-stop. We played Isle of Wight Festival. That was the biggest one we did this year. We also played Big Festival, which was actually pretty big you know. It is a dream-come-true for us. Festivals have always been something we wanted to work towards. We actually all agreed that we never would go to a festival, until we got booked for one. We imagined that our first booking would be at one of the little side-stages *laughs*, something really small! Yet actually it was at Isle of Wight in front of seven thousand people. Then, at Big Feastival we played the main stage which was sick.”
Jamaal: “I think the Little Mix show was probably the biggest crowd of people. But, I still do prefer festivals because you can literally just work off the crowd and, the more people there are the more of a vibe you can catch. We played Meadowhall the other day and that was outside, and it was the first show in a while that we had played outside. The energy there was just electric.”
Myles: “Live performances are obviously much more energetic because you get a response straight away.”
Ashley: “Anything outside with lots of people standing up… we are there!”
Myles: “Coachella has got to be everyone’s goal festival.”
Ashley: “Even things like Radio 1s Big Weekend would be amazing to do. And of course Glastonbury! We have got a lot of work to do but we are coming for all of them!”
“Dimelo”, which featured Naughty Boy and Wyclef Jean, was released as their winner’s single and entered the UK Singles Chart at number two behind Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect.” But more recently, Rak-Su brought it back with their latest track “I Want You To Freak”, a summer dance track with old school RnB melodies. The boys wanted to mix up their sound on this latest track, showing off their diversity and musical talent.
Ashley: “We recorded in LA. It was the first time in LA for everyone. Except these guys have played so much GTA that they’ve basically been there before *laughs*.”
Mustafa: “LA is exactly the same. We were walking around like ‘I’ve been here before… I know where to go’ *laughs*.”
Yet despite working in LA for the first time this year, the boys might be back very soon to work on all the new music they’ve got planned for this year and the next.
Miles: “We don’t know if we’re going to drop an album, or it will just be a montage of songs. Music has changed so much due to streaming so albums don’t have the same impact as they used to. All we know for sure is that we are going to be releasing a lot of new music in quick succession; we are just going to be down your throat with it really!”
Ashley: “Before Christmas, we are looking to get a lot more music out. We are not sure whether that is just going to be another single, or whether that it is going to be an EP.”
Rak-Su’s winners single “Dimelo” went down in X Factor history as the first winners track ever to be both performed and written by the artist’s. Even before the show, the boys would write music together. Rak-Su are definitely a band that like to do things their own way.
Jamaal: “Inspiration just comes from experiences that we have had or some of the things we have done recently. It comes from lots of different places, and we all write different ideas down and stuff like that. When it comes to the studio, we could literally just start writing about something that we had experienced that day or that week. A lot of it comes from being in the room. Whatever we are feeling, we tend to just vibe off. Our main aim is to just make the best song possible.”
Jamaal: “We have a little notes page on our phones…”
Ashley: “A ‘little’ notes page?! *laughs*”
Jamaal: “OK, we have hundreds of ideas written in notes pages on our phones.”
Ashley: “When we get into a session and we are wondering what to write, we can just open up our notes *laughs*.”
With one crazy year down since being crowned 2017 winners of the X Factor, it looks like we have got plenty more years of Rak-Su music dominance to come. Even before the year is up the boys have lots more performances in the pipeline.
Myles: “We have got the Jingle Bell Ball coming up soon, as well as Hits Radio Live. We have also got a few Christmas lights events, which will all be fun.”
Ashley: “We have also got a big surprise coming up to do with TV. But we can only say that much. Everything that we did before the show was completely independent, and now there are so many more people involved, and so many more people to go through. So, because of that, I can’t even say what exactly is going to happen between now and the end of the year. All I can say is that there will be a TV surprise, a lot of new music and a lot of performances. We are basically going to be really active.”
And on the anniversary of their X Factor win, I asked the boys where they see themselves this time next year.
Myles: “I couldn’t even tell you where I see myself tomorrow, to be honest… *laughs*”
Jamaal: “I just hope that we have released as much music as possible. I think that is very key for us. We want to give people as much stuff to remember us by as possible because by next year the show would have been two years past.”
Ashley: “I hope by next year we have just finished our first sold-out theatre tour!”
Myles: “I hope we get a lot more music into the charts.”
Ashley: “Yeah, screw it! In 2019 we will release three Top 40 tracks, have a sold-out theatre tour, a Top 10 album! That is what we doing! I mean it *laughs*”
Jamaal: “By next year, I would just love to have something that has been birthed through Miles’ production.”
Ashley: “So, to give context to that, Miles has just started producing. That was the last piece of the puzzle. So, eventually maybe we can be completely self-contained.”
Jamaal: “Obviously the book is out now which is amazing. It was weird, because we were on the X Factor Tour and we got a ghost-writer in, and it was really the first time we had the chance to sit back and recall events and recall the X Factor process and the stuff leading up to that. So, that was a whirlwind and it was pretty mad. We did a book tour as well, which was probably the most unexpected thing because a book tour has nothing to do with us performing. It was literally just people turning up because they wanted to see us. We had like 200 people turn up to each place we went. It was mad.”
Ashley: “I think in a way, we might be slightly more talented than people give us credit for. I think for people who watch the show, they know what we’re about and they know we do things differently and they know we write our music and all the rest of it. But, for people who don’t watch the show, they just hear the name ‘Rak-Su’ and here about X Factor, and then they will just presume that we are like everybody else. So, over the next year, whether it’s from videos on our Instagram or from other things, I want people to realise that Jamaal is an amazing singer even just when acapella and that Mustafa is an amazing dancer and actually he has competed at international championships. I don’t think everybody knows these things. I just want to show people that we are not a manufactured thing that appeared from TV, but in fact, we are perfecting the crafts that we began as kids, and that we are here for a reason. We just want to prove ourselves.”
“I think we are sick, and obviously I am going to think that, but I want other people to see that too.”
Photographer: Abeiku Arthur
Stylist: Jordon Kelsey
Groomer: Josh Knight