Asylem- A prophet most high

Alexander Shepherd goes by a few nicknames-Alex, Second Son of God and, the one he is most proud of, Asylem. In recent times, Asylem has become more than a nickname. It has become the name behind the rap music that Alex makes. It’s the name that defined him as a rap artist and the artist that he seeks to be. What’s in a name? Everything if you’re a rap artist.

The name came about when Alex was with a couple of friends at one of their houses. They were doing some basic recordings of songs and asked Alex to drop a verse, which they really liked. “One of them said ‘that was crazy’ and my response was ‘yeah man. Rhymes fresh out of the asylum,” Alex tells me. He then changed the spelling slightly to read Asylem to add a bit of hip-hop style to it.

Alex grew up in the suburbs of Newcastle, a place with a thriving music scene. He’d always had a passion for listening to good music and was brought up on a lot of classic artists such as ABBA, John Williamson and The Beatles. But it wasn’t until he was 15 that he really began to appreciate the art of rap music, and it’s all thanks to a video game. "I was playing Grand Theft Auto and I would listen to one particular radio station on there. It was a Hip-Hop station,” Alex tells me.

From there he started to study some of these artists that he had a new-found passion for. He read up on these artists and started to really listen to their music. It began with Ice Cube which ended up leading to NWA, Tupac and Snoop Dogg. These are people that Alex considers to be his musical influences, with a partialness to the late Tupac. “I started downloading and listening to their music all due to a video game. Soon my propensity for writing and music crossed.” The rest is history as Alex, now aged 19, began to craft his songs.

[caption id="attachment_497" align="alignnone" width="4608"]DSC_0428.JPG Photo: Aimee Dechellis[/caption]

Like any artist, Alex has a particular way in which he works to create his art. The process might surprise you. Alex writes to find a meaning, unlike a lot of artists who already have a preconceived idea of what they will write about. “I can write something and then go ‘Okay. That’s what this means,” Alex says before telling me why meaning is vital in his music.

Nowadays, it’s very common for meaning to be lost in songs but it’s something that is essential in order to connect with your fans through music. For Alex, the meaning is mostly on the surface. “It probably doesn’t sound like a whole lot of sense to listen to, they probably just sound like words being thrown together. But, a lot of the time there’s a deeper meaning behind it or it’s a reference to something that has a meaning to me. Sometimes it’s a metaphor”.

In some cases, Alex will explain the meaning straight away but other times it can be a bit more cryptic. “I have a meaning that I want to push but I still want my music to be able to relate to everyone. I might be talking about being alone, but people could relate it to other things.” Next time you listen to a song, try and think about what the song means to you. This is what Alex wants to achieve with his music.

Inspiration is something that is essential for music artists, which is why Alex’s songs often have a deeper meaning. Alex says that he is generally good at writing about the things in the world that he is unhappy about. He’s rapped about the marriage equality debate, the violence in the world and being a teenager in this current world to name a few. “I do very easily target things in society that I want to fix and change or inspire to change at some point in my life. I often will address emotions of sadness and being alone.” Alex tells me that he also feels that he especially expresses being different and an individual in his songs because he often feels that he is both these things, which is not a bad quality at all.

[caption id="attachment_498" align="alignnone" width="960"]Alex Shepherd 1 photo by Sam Gallimore.jpg Photo: Sam Gallimore[/caption]

Since finishing his schooling in 2016 through TAFE, Alex has really begun to focus on his music career. Not having the connections or funds to record music professionally, his bedroom quickly became his recording studio. He’d set up his laptop with an old school hip-hop beat he had downloaded, press play and record into his microphone. He’d then upload the songs, which he admits were of a low quality, to YouTube and share it amongst friends and family via Facebook. But it was because of this sharing with friends and family that they began to realise his dream. So when Alex’s 18th birthday was approaching, the family all put their money together to offer Alex an experience of a lifetime.

This opportunity was several recording sessions at Mayfield’s Shaggy Hatts studios, ran by Dan Kidston. The package would include the chance to record a single track that would be produced and released on both cd and mp3 formats. For Alex, this opportunity meant more than just a chance to make music. It was a chance to prove himself as a rap artist, test his abilities and find out what he was really capable of.

When Alex first walked into the studio, he was awestruck by the whole atmosphere. He met Dan on his first day there and the two sat down together along with Sam Gallimore, Alex’s cousin who organised the experience for him. Alex played some of his stuff for Dan. “He’s not an avid Hip-hop listener like I am so I played him some songs that influenced me a lot”. Once Dan had the vibe for the type of music that Alex wanted to create, he put down the first beat. “We got a drum pattern down then added in some guitars and put some of my lyrics to it,” Alex tells me of their initial recording session. After recording the lyrics to the song that would become the first track on his EP Prophets of the Most High, the pair continued to build from there.

“We would build the sound around the lyrics because that’s the main focus. We’d sit there and listen to it and pick up on any mistakes”. If a mistake was noticed, Dan would cut it out, re-record it if needed, fix it and loop it into the required section. This means that Alex has heard his songs hundreds of times from top to bottom, back to front to ensure that each track he was putting forward was perfect.

[caption id="attachment_499" align="alignnone" width="720"]Alex Shepherd 4 photo by Sam Gallimore.jpg Photo: Sam Gallimore[/caption]

Alex went into the recording studio with many different lyrics written but with no original music compositions. Previously it was put to whatever music Alex could find that would suit. So when he got to the recording studio, he was excited to hear his songs come to life as original pieces. Dan composed all the music for the songs and played all the instruments too, although Alex did contribute on the instrument front once or twice. In the most surprising way too. “At one point, I was banging a suitcase to make a bass drum. While Dan was doing his thing and fixing something, I was just tapping my fingers on the suitcase but Dan thought it was a good sound so we ended up using it,” Alex told me.

Going from recording in his bedroom to recording in a professional studio, Alex has seen the potential that his lyrics have to make great music. “The stuff I created on YouTube I just consider to be YouTube uploads because they aren’t that good. But the stuff we’ve made in the studio, I consider to be good music that we’ve created”.

Although the original deal was only for 3 recording sessions and one song released, Dan and Alex had a special musical connection which has now seen them spend countless hours together in the recording studios and 20 different recordings. "Some are just 8 bars but others are complete”.

Prophets of the Most High doesn’t have a release day yet, but Alex anticipates it will drop in a month or so across various music platforms. A full album is also on the cards. But Alex says he wouldn’t be in this position if it weren’t for Dan whose work and magic with music that Alex deeply respects which has lead him to a much greater musical knowledge. A musical knowledge that will take Alex and the music of Asylem far.

[caption id="attachment_500" align="alignnone" width="539"]Alex Shepherd3 photo by Sam Gallimore.jpg Photo: Sam Gallimore[/caption]

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