Ashley Walters is a busy man. To say that his career in the entertainment industry has had its ups and downs is gross understatement. His solo music career alone extends further than many of his peers in the ever fickle world of hip-hop/R&B, with two LPs prior to this self-titled offering. Then there was that spell in So Solid Crew � does the name Asher D ring any bells?
Despite scoring a UK number one single with 21 Seconds in August 2001, as well as being a collective that were damn near inescapable for a spell of that same year, So Solid Crew‘s hedonistic, bad-boy existence ultimately combusted on itself, leading to the collective’s demise and a spell in the clink for Walters after he was convicted of possession of a loaded firearm.
Since then, Walters has upped the pursuit on an acting career that began when he was 14 with parts in Grange Hill and The Bill. A professionally trained actor, Walters has since worked on major films such as Get Rich or Die Tryin’, Stormbreaker, and the critically acclaimed Life and Lyrics, and currently has a lead role in the BBC’s new series of Hustle. He has also set up his own imprint, AD82, which is dedicated to finding and mentoring emerging talent.
Is Walters too busy to make a credible, decent album? Is this just ruthless flogging of a cash cow, or a chance to develop the Ashley Walters brand? On first evidence, the answer is a resounding no.
The album opens with the soulful fanfare of This Is… an attention-stealing call to arms delivered in the form of a pristine brass sample and chunky, almost clumsy beats. It’s an opener that promises much, promise that is delivered and raised ten-fold with the arrival of forthcoming single M.O. Part 2, built around a dovetailing strings riff that relentlessly scythes through fidgeting beats and a heavily fortified bassline. Addictive, and bolstered by guest performances from Durrty Goodz and Sway, M.O. Part 2 is by far this albums strongest, and most exhilarating point.
That’s not to say that Own Two Feet, with its chorus of raw, gutsy guitar serenading a rasping female vocal, isn’t to be enjoyed. But from this point on, Ashley Walters descends into a somewhat featureless, tiring limp to the end of the album. By the time Mutya Buena has concluded her guest performance on the flaccid R&B of With You the album already feels as if it’s losing direction, and gets caught between toothless R&B, and overly rambunctious hip-hop (best evidenced on Woah!). While the aforementioned Sway fares better at mixing hip-hop with R&B, Walters falters.
Generations provides some degree of respite, and hears Walters romancing about his children, Shayon, China, and Paniro. Adding samples of the children introducing themselves and pledging their allegiance to AD82 is an endearing and playful (if a little dubious) touch, and refreshingly dissevered from the hackneyed clich�s of guns and violence that have come to dominate this genre. Ultimately, however, Generations is hampered by a lack of structure, and synth sounds that would be better suited to a twee, low-budget, bad 80s film.
Despite this, Walters’ style is refreshing. At the core of his deep, gravelly delivery lies something humble and warming. His songs, whatever their pitfalls, are imbued with an optimism and humanity that is seldom seen in genres such as this. And while the album is far from musically innovative, to cite it as an entirely unrewarding and joyless listen would be hyper-critical and plain wrong. And with songs such as This Is… and M.O. Part 2, both screaming the potential of Ashley Walters, to ignore the man would be criminal.