If you don’t recognise the name WSTRN then you’ll definitely know their sleeper hit “In2“, which was pretty much the nation’s soundtrack at the end of last year. It’s not hard to see why either, combining the boys’ street sensibilities and rhythmic bars with a banging and super-loveable hook, the song really is fiendishly addictive. Still, Haile Alexander, Akelle Charles, and Louis Rei are keen to prove they’ve got talent and staying power beyond that song. In fact, their goals are serious and ambitious: they’re out to put West London’s traditionally underrepresented rap scene on the map.
And, with the release of their latest single and video, “Come Down” – which cleverly samples Evelyn Champagne King’s delicious classic “Love Come Down” – as well as a strong remix of Bryson Tiller’s “Don’t” making waves online, they might be getting closer to making that dream a reality. Wonderland sat down with the collective to talk beginnings, spreading the word, and their upcoming summer album.
How did you guys end up making music together?
Haile: We’re all from West London. Because we’re cousins I’ve been doing music with him [Akelle] for a while. I was just doing producing and he was working on a project of his, and one of the songs was featured […] and that’s where I met him. At the time when we got in the studio and started making music, the first song that came together was “In2”.
So that was the first thing you made and it blew up a bit?
Haile: Yeah, that’s what we’ve been chasing ever since.
So you didn’t expect that when you were making it?
Louis: We didn’t know the magnitude. We knew it was a good song. I don’t think we’d put anything out that we’re not confident with, but yeah, didn’t think it would do what it’s done. It’s humbling. We actually put it aside when we made it. Put it aside and then came back to it.
Akelle: We gave it to a friend of ours, DJ Target. We played it and he was like, ‘Yo, this is sick, I’m playing it on my next show’. I was thinking, ‘Alright, cool, let’s see what happens.’ Played it on his next show and then all the other radios started clicking onto it. So then Morgan, our manager, acted on that and took it upon himself send it all to the DJs individually, and then yeah, they started playing it and getting love from the radio. And then we shot the video.
There are two videos, is that right?
Akelle: Yeah, there was the first one. There was the first video we did, and that was creating even more of a buzz, so then labels started coming, it started getting crazy. We ended up choosing to go with Atlantic, then reshot the video, so it could get on bigger platforms.
Louis: It’s been like a snowball effect. Every week we got a phone call, over 20 million views later, some kind of artist wants to get in the studio, or you’ve got a show here, you’re doing the Jingle Bell Ball, like, yeah. It’s like when you think it can’t get any better it gets better.
Is there an album in the works?
Louis: Summertime! We’ve got enough music for a body of work, easily. We’ve probably got about two albums, three albums, but it’s just kind of fine-tuning, deciding what lane we want to go down and how we want to present ourselves.
So how do you work together, how do you collaborate together?
Akelle: Either one of us will have a concept, and whatever that one says, we’ll write about that. We all do our own bits. Maybe Haile might start first, or I might start first, Louis might start first. Even when we’re on our own at home, in our little personal studios and stuff, say Louis will start a track, send it to the both of us and we’ll finish it, same with me, send it to them, they’ll finish it. We just share our own ideas as well, and then make it together.
So you call yourself a collective – is it always going to be you three or is there going to be an element of other people coming in?
Louis: I think we’re trying to build a platform to showcase – to be able to do that, to be able to showcase. We will always be WSTRN, but as what we bring to the table and what WSTRN stands for, we plan to bring a lot more to the table, definitely.
So you’ve just got the video out recently for “Come Down”.
Louis: Yeah. So that’s the new single, our little spin on Evelyn King’s “Love Come Down”, one of my favourite songs. I brought it to the guys…laid my bit down, sent it to the guys, asked them what they thought, then they just – magic happened! And yeah man, “Come Down” is the result.
So that’s the second single.
Louis: Yeah, that video was really fun to shoot as well. It was proper fun. That was a real vibe that was. Genuine, genuine vibe that was.
And then there’s that Bryson remix? How did that come about?
Louis: That was through – our label approached us, asked us if we wanted to get involved. It was doing very well, we liked the song, and yeah man, it felt right, we recorded it, it sounded good. It was a pleasure doing it.
So why do you guys make music? What do you hope people feel when you make it?
Louis: One key word I like to stand by is inspire. I like to feel like I can inspire people and be a voice for some people that don’t know how to express themselves. They might not be able to sing or rap, but everyone can relate to music, everyone can relate to music, so it’s nice to reach out and try and bring people together.
Akelle: Like Louis said, we’re doing it for the people and to inspire people, but it always comes down to: we’re doing it because this is what we love to do first and foremost, and it’s what we know, and it’s just an everyday thing for us. And then coming – getting to where we are now and being able to see that people are getting inspired by us and everything, Louis will tell you, people are coming up to us from the area like, literally, looking in our eyes so seriously and telling us that we’re inspiring them. That doesn’t happen where we’re from. You don’t get many people trying to better themselves. So the fact that we get a chance to now inspire people and spread that love even wider, yeah man, it’s sick
Do you think London is having a bit of a renaissance in hip hop culture right now – with big rappers from the US getting very passionate about Grime and UK hip hop?
Louis: I think that in London…the music scene’s in a healthy place right now. The gap’s being bridged, and I think they’re finally appreciating our culture. I think it helps that everyone’s working together and it’s kind of a unified front at the moment, so I think it always helps. We’re stronger in numbers.
Where would you like to be in five years?
Louis: It’s a good question! We try not to think too far ahead like that. We try not to plan. We like to appreciate the moment for what it is. Like I said, the past and the future, you can’t live in those places because they’re not going to change what’s going on right now, so just appreciate the moment and just take it for what it is, and take it day by day.
What can we expect from the album?
Louis: Feel-good music, that’s the key. Feel-good music, and a wide spectrum of different styles. It might surprise a few people, because we’re very versatile in music genres. Our influences are widespread, from soul music to the new hip-hop, trap music – deep, old school hip-hop, old school R&B, a crazy mix man.