Get 2 Know Rak-Su


Surrealism is a fitting word to describe the journey that X Factor winners Rak-Su have been on. Starting out as friends since the age of 11 years old, the Watford four piece consisting of members Myles Stephenson, Mustafa Rahimtulla, Jaamal Shurland and Ashley Fongho, went from playing football and basketball, to sharing a love for music which saw them actively creating material and attending open mic nights with small audiences.

It was in 2017 each of their lives changed when they entered the X Factor, resulting in them winning and becoming the only man band to ever win the competition.

From performing in front of 15 people in their prime to going on to indulging crowds of 40,000, Rak-Su have already reached signifiant milestones since becoming X Factor royalty, with their first single Dimelo going to number 1 in the iTunes Charts, and number 2 in the Official Charts.

After sharing stages with musical supremacy such as Wyclef Jean, Naughty Boy and Little Mix, the band slowed down in public appearance last year to absorb the shift in reality which came with winning the show and to concentrate on creating new music.

With releases such as  Pyro Ting, in which they joined forces with musical collaborative Banx and Ranx, and I Want You To Freak making a statement in the charts, the band are back with new single Into It.


Rae: Since winning the X factor what’s been the most memorable part of your journey so far?

Ash: So for me, I’d never been to a festival before and a few years ago when we were in the early stages, we kinda made a promise that we weren’t gonna go to a festival until we were booked for one. Obviously in our heads we thought that would be a little tiny stage somewhere whilst we were still progressing in our careers, but it actually turned out to be the biggest tent at the Isle Of Wight Festival in front of around 3000 people. So for us, we were kinda anxious… Nervous… Didn’t know how it was gonna go, but before we even got to the stage the crowd were chanting Rak-Su Rak-Su… We all just looked at each other and had a little moment because that was something that we wanted to get to for years. It had been a goal of ours, so to achieve that… That was a real thing for us.

Myles: Experience wise it would be performing, I like messing around on stage, so like… If he’s doing part of a song (pointing to Jamaal), I might poke him on his leg or just mess around, that to me would be something that’s memorable. I like the small things, there’s not kind of one memorable experience for me, just loads of little small things.

Jamaal: For me one of the most memorable experiences that I’ve ever had was when we were on tour with Little Mix. It was the first time we had ever been on a tour bus, we had our own space and I just remember the excitement of us just walking onto the tour bus and having a space to enjoy the journey, let alone going out and performing each night. It was kinda coming back off the stage and just chilling as friends and as a family and really taking in each day. So yeah… Every time we were on a tour bus, every night was amazing for me.

Mustafa: Most memorable experience was performing in front of between 30 and 40,000 people at Maidstone and during the tour in the summer. Going back to when we would perform in front of 10-20 people we’d still be buzzing performing in front of them. So going up on stage and seeing like a sea of people, it’s an amazing experience and hopefully we’ll carry on doing that.

Rae: You’ve toured with Little Mix and the X Factor and this year you’re going on tour again from May 1 to June 16. With three tours in under two years, are there any aspects of touring in particular that stand out for you and are you going to be doing your own?

Myles: From May we’re touring with Olly Murs, we’re doing an arena tour with him from May to June and then hopefully after that we’re going to do our own.

Ash: From my perspective, it’s my favourite part of this whole journey. The moment we’re up on stage, even when we’re performing on TV people ask how we control our nerves, but actually for me, that was the one point in time when it was just enjoyment. You work so hard writing the songs, making sure everything’s right, learning the choreography, learning the staging, once all the preparation is done and you actually step out on to the stage and it’s just you having fun with a group of people that have genuine love for you… That’s the best part of this whole experience. I think as Mus pointed out, the fact that we started off doing the open mics across London in front of 5, 10, 15 people and we’ve managed to build ourselves up to a point fortunately we were on a tour where there were 25,000, all be it with Little Mix, thank you to them for letting us come along, when we have our own one, and there’s people paying money to come and see us… That’s gonna be an experience that personally I’m never ever gonna forget.

Jaamal: I feel that the part that would really, really mean a lot, everything that Ashley just said but as well, to look across from myself and see Mus, see Ash, and see Myles just enjoying something that we’ve all put together in some way shape or form. To see that affect people in a positive way, is just one of the biggest things that I feel that I will always cherish, because it’s something that is so personal and it comes from inside of us, so to see it affect people and see them enjoying it and being in the same head space as us when we were creating it is honestly the best thing. So I can’t wait to put on our own show.

Ashley: It’s a deeper feeling, having people sing back lyrics you’ve written… I can understand why people tour until their 60, 70 years old because that is something you never get tired of.

Rae: Let’s talk about your new single ‘Into It’. With this one you’re taking it back to your authentic Rak Su sound, baring in mind two of you are in relationships… What was the inspiration behind your new single?

Jamaal: Well, the inspiration behind this track was… Whenever you are in a general space with a group of friends and that group of friends tends to involve your ex or an old flame you had in the past, and you kinda just click, whether its a smile from across the room or whether your eyes meet, when there’s that kinda spark, it’s what develops from that. Either you get talking or you start sending messages again, it’s about the stage when you’re trying to rekindle that old flame, so it’s like, if you’re into it.., I’m into it.

Myles: I agree with him! (Laughs)

Ashley: Jam summed it up perfectly, it’s when you’re in that place where you’re too apprehensive to say to somebody, look let’s get back together or come round mine tonight, so you’re just being tentative around it. So it’s like look… If you’re into it, then I’m into it… We should give it a go.

Rae: You put in a lot of groundwork for yourselves before winning the X Factor in 2017, but since winning you’ve been exposed to different creative environments. In terms of the structure in how you do things, has your creative process changed at all?

Myles: So before we were who we are now, we used to write separately. So before the X Factor, when we were fully independent and doing our own thing and funding it ourselves, we would rip songs from Soundcloud or Youtube, and then we would write and Ashley had a thing where he would start about 20-30 WhatsApp groups where you could voice note what we had written and we’d critique it that way. Now we’re in with big producers and top liners as well and stuff like that, we’d base it around the chorus. Jamaal comes up with melodies, he likes to find the melodies first, Ashley’s very good at taking his melodies… Stealing it we say (laughs) and putting words to it, yeah he’s very good with his words. So now it’s more as a community as opposed to before, when we’d find a little corner and write to ourselves, now we write together and come up with a concept. A lot of our songs are based on experiences that we’ve had, so for instance there would be a time when the boys would ask me, what did that girl make you feel? Or what did she do? What did you do? And stuff like that, we put it together as a story and have a beginning, middle and end… I prefer it now though.

Ashley: It took a minute to adapt to as well, as Myles said we’d spent so much time, and I know for me, most of the stuff I was doing beforehand came when I was walking around with my headphones in or on the train by myself, in my feelings and I’m just thinking about a scenario. Then suddenly that changed from being completely unrestricted and free to suddenly for example, all meeting up at 3pm on a Tuesday and having to be creative at that point in time. So at the start it definitely took us a while to get used to coz we were so used to doing things by ourselves. We’d write our parts separately and then come together, to now starting everything all together, so yeah it definitely took some getting used to.

Jamaal: As Ash and Myles rightly said, now we just do it as if, it’s kind of innate to us, before where we would have come up with ideas separately when we’re walking or in our bedrooms or wherever. On a day to day basis, we write stuff down so we always have experiences readily there to draw on for when we get into a session. So the idea of becoming creative isn’t so pressurised, so let’s say for instance we made a song called the interview… We’d just pull on different interviews that we’ve had, how we felt about them, the questions that were asked… Whatever it is, we would work around it that way. We have worked with some incredibly talented people as well so it’s only right, and it’s the only way we would end up pulling some of the things that people do. Beforehand we might not have focused on how we wanted the song to sound, now we would just be more focused on that and it’s definitely made us better songwriters, working the creative juices. I feel that that’s the difference in something being 80% and 100%, it’s just making sure that the focus and that drive is there to make the song as good as possible and to pull out as much emotion as we can so that when anybody is listening to it, their getting something out of it and how we want them to feel.

Ashley: A part of me does feel though that some stuff still needs to be written alone, I feel like on our new EP, there’s a song called Blood Ties and the verses on that, we’re basically speaking about the blood ties between ourselves and how we feel about each other having grown up being best friends since we were 11/12. When your diving that deep into a personal memory or experience, that’s a time when even if you are in the studio with people, you’ve just gotta walk into a corner and just kinda write how you feel about it, coz when it’s that personal nobody else is gonna get it. So I feel like you have to find a balance. If we’re writing something which is more a vibe to party to then I feel like definitely being communal is better, but when it’s something that’s proper deep, then I feel like its better to walk into a corner and write it yourself.

Mustafa: Jam touched on it, the amount of people that we’ve met after the show in terms of other producers and other top liners, you get to learn from them as well and its really interesting seeing how other people work. We’re still learning and growing, and hopefully we’re gonna continue learning and growing.

Rae: Starting off as friends and seeing each other grow from adolescence, throughout this process what have you learnt about each other? And how much has your friendship solidified throughout this journey?

Ashley: So for me personally, if I ever discover anything that I don’t know about these three I am shocked! As in that whole day is rocked… I feel like by this point we know each other inside out, habits, good parts, bad parts, annoying things, just everything. As far as consolidating the relationship I feel like that was done organically, because we were all with each other moving towards a destination that we’d all dreamt of for such a long time. Everything was just positive energy towards  each other, so in that sense it’s done nothing but consolidate it.

Myles: For me, imagine having four children… The best thing about it is that we argue, it’s the worst thing but the best thing. It’s entertaining for me, mainly because I don’t argue that much! But imagine having four children, they’re brothers… They argue like brothers, they do everything together, that’s what this experience has been like. We always argue…

Ashley: I feel like we don’t argue, we debate! The one thing we do really well, regardless of how passionate we get about the topic, we always stay on the topic. (Pointing to Jamaal) If me and him have a disagreement about something it’s never about them as a person, even if it gets to a point where we might be raising our voices, we’re raising our voices specifically about that subject and once that subject is solved that’s it… I never come away from it thinking… Ah Myles is a prick (laughs), you know what I mean?

Myles: My favourite thing about it, is that for years it’s always been like that, we might be talking about who’s better at football or basketball and it gets like that. We’ve known each other 16-17 years and nothing’s changed… (Pointing to Ashley) I used to turn up to his house and break in when he wasn’t there, it’s a true story I used to do it. (laughs) That’s what it’s been like from day one… Breaking into his house… (laughs) But yeah it’s an amazing feeling and I would not do this journey with anyone else, even my other friends, I wouldn’t do it with them because this is a journey that I know that I would only want to do with these guys, none of my other friends I’d do it with…

Jamaal: It’s been interesting for me to see, even from a culture perspective, I came here from Barbados when I was 14 and just to kind of just see how everything works here and at various phases. I’ve spent time with Mus, I used to spend time at Myles’ house and with Ash all day everyday. Literally there was one day, I think it was on my birthday, we had pizza and said today we’re not talking about music. That was one of the only days we hadn’t spoken about music in the last 3 or 4 years. It’s had to be like that because we’ve developed and across the music there’s life, there’s hardship, there’s the good times, any time and it’s amazing to be in a space with these guys and not only develop as an artist, musician and performer but to also develop as a person. It’s great to have people around you that inspire you to do better and I think that makes anything we do going forward so much better. ‘Cause if any of these guys see me upset or they see me doing well, their gonna push that to the hills or they’re gonna try and help me, it’s just that kinda core thing that we have. As Myles said, I wouldn’t change it for the world and do it with anyone else.

Mustafa: It’s a lot deeper than music, obviously, if you’re going to be around someone for such a long time you do grow a connection, but this isn’t a connection just from music or from just being around each other and doing music. We’ve grown up together, we wanna see each other happy, we wanna see each other grow as people and grow as artists, we want the best out of each other… It’s emotional!

Rae: Lastly who in the UK music scene would you like to work with, and who are you currently listening to?

Ashley: Let’s put it into categories, so on the female side, there’s Mahalia and the male side, I’ve got great respect and admiration for Dave and kind of on the up and coming side Jevon, you know I love him I think he’s sick as well.

Myles: Mine would be Mahalia or Ella Mai, Dave 100% that Black song, honestly… It took me back… Out of anybody I’d definitely like to work with Dave.

Jamaal: For me, definelty Mahalia, but one person I’ve been listening to on a consistent basis is Ray Blk. I think Ray Blk would be really cool to work with, I saw she was in the studio with Kelly Rowland the other day and was excited to see that. On the male side people like Kojey Radical, Che Lingo and  Jay Prince, if not from a production side, to being on one of his tracks too.

Mustafa: As much as I wanna repeat some of the names, obviously there’s other artists, Mabel, I think she’s dope, it would be really interesting to see what sort of vibe we would come with, with someone like Octavian.

Ashley: Final note on it, the one person that actually we had reached out to and were planning to do something with and was the first person from the UK scene to actually reach out to us and show us any real love and rest in peace to him, was Cadet. He was someone who as I said was the first person from that scene to show us any love and come down to one of our video shoots. We kinda had a conversation about it before, even because of content, he was a hugely important person as well.

Myles: We sent him one of our songs, I WhatsApped it to him, he was away in Sweden or Denmark, I can’t remember which one, and he replied saying: “Bruvvv ! Madness 1000% I’m on it”, we wanted him on it but he was away. Yeah man definitely he would have been one of the front runners to collaborate with. Good guy, good soul…