You might know Ashley Thomas from Top Boy where he played Sully’s cousin Jermaine, or the TV seasons Great Expectations (BBC One) and Them (Amazon). However, Ashely Thomas has links across arts and culture spanning over many years. What you may not know is that the actor is also known as UK rapper Bashy. 16 years ago, in 2007, Bashy produced the song Black Boys with the Label: Naughty Boy Recordings. Black Boys centralises around notions of identity exploring Bashy’s lived experience as a young black man growing up in London. This song arguably demonstrated the feelings of a group of black men who in the 2000s were inexcusably missed out on the narrative of British Life. Largely with heritage in The Caribbean and West Africa, the black population of Britain has been underrepresented in arts, culture, and media and it is art like this that shows us the crime that this truly is. As we see both the raw talent of Bashy and the stories that this community has to share with the world through artistic means as black British men. With lines about how happy it makes Bashy when he sees representation included in the lyrics, we see the power of representation within arts:
“I thought “Well done he’s a black boy who’s just like me”
So, like his respect is due certainly
And then 679 signed Kano, I don’t know him but I thought “Okay though”
That’s good for him, another black boy that’s gonna make dough through legal…”
These lyrics still sound so true today when the song is played and we see Kano a now household name. Bashy was ahead of his time with the prophecy that if you give young people opportunity you will only get unity. (Maybe I should leave the rhyming to Bashy but you get my point…) Ashely Thomas came from humble beginnings, was born in West London to Jamaican parents, and had jobs in his younger years that included working as a postman and bus driver in the capital. However, his talent enabled Thomas to gain a place at Brit School a Drama School in London that specialises in educating under-18s and providing affordable opportunities. I could spend this whole article talking about The Brit School, and how I think Brit is an incredible institution and model for creative education. That is responsible for launching the careers of Amy Winehouse, Pixy Lott, Adele and Rizzle Kicks and so many more household names. If you are reading this and live in the North East, the chance to attend a drama school for free is the stuff that dreams are made of. However, it would be a challenge for folk like us as only 10% of students outside of the catchment area of Greater London get in. I cannot wait until the day I am writing pieces and can celebrate the expansion of programs like this into northern regions! I dreamt of something like this as did many of my friends who spent hours in youth theatres instead of on the streets of Sunderland. It was these youth groups that kept many of us out of trouble up north and on the straight and narrow, and as arts and youth funding dwindles up north it is hard to think how regional art will ever get produced. What The Brit School has done as an institution for disadvantaged and talented young people in Greater London should be celebrated. As should the work that has been produced from powerful poetry to beautiful ballads. It is the lived experience element of the work that the artists of Brit seem to do so well that is worth discussing and Bashys rap Black Boys was and is no exception to the rule.
Ultimately, I would argue that looking at Ashley Thomas/ Bashy as one example of British success and working class, black artistry is a powerful one to inspire societal change. Across all the work he has produced, like so many others who have and will attend Brit in the future. This work is evidence of why young working-class people of all races and backgrounds need opportunities to tell the stories of who they are and what they have seen. They need to feel represented and inspired and if we want art that is true, and representative of our country as a collective we will provide opportunities for people to train in free and low-cost institutions that celebrate individuality and the importance of lived experiences.
As the chorus of Black Boys proclaims:
“Ooh child, things are gonna get easier
Ooh, child things will get brighter…”
We can all only hope that in the next sixteen years when the song is thirty-two things will be brighter yet again in relation to representation, working-class populations’ and arts opportunities.
By Rachel Elizabeth Otterson
Arts and Photography Editor The Bubble
Insta @Rachel_Elizabeth _Otterson