Photo By Complex
How do you profile what is unknown? How do you report without any leads? How do you put a puzzle together with barely any pieces at your disposal?
CASisDEAD is one of the most gifted wordsmiths to come out of the UK. Quality, not quantity, is his game, and his limited catalogue contains truly imperious displays of lyricism. You can feel the tenacity in his voice through his graphic verses, where he wrestles with bleak topics and the challenging realities of his life, word for word, bar for bar. At a time where the machine churns out repetitive beats to accompany the same iterations of uninspired, social media driven, lazy and repetitive subject matters, CAS stands tall as an authentic, straight-from-the-source champion of real rap and a worthy commentator of everyday folks’ tough realities. One can’t help but feel a sense of warmth seeing him unfazed by the circus antics of the BBC’s go-to clown for all things “uRbAn” music.
In terms of stone cold facts, what we know about CAS is few and far between. The term “underground” is banded about a lot, but if it were to be used for anybody, CAS is front and centre. CAS was born in September 1986. He is of English and Ghanaian heritage. Regardless of the lack of concrete sources, CAS articulates his life growing up in the early days of his music, where he recorded under the name Castro Saint from 2005-2007. His lyrics covered his life growing up in Tottenham, selling drugs and dealing with the arduous circumstances of youths in London’s hazardous, inner-city surroundings.
Despite an ambiguous profile, his elevated level of artistry was visible from the moment his distinctive voice laced a track. His fans - who may either recall or have thoroughly dug through the archives - will point to early performances on “C from T” and “Drugs” as a strong base that CAS built his styles and lyrical prowess off. This was to be short and sweet, however. 2007 marked the year he would take a hiatus. Appearances on tracks were infrequent at best, before a stunning return in 2012. CAS was born and had arrived, before a full transition into CASisDEAD 18 months later.
If his come up story about life in the streets appears to be typical and similar to other artists in his domain, then to say this new lease of life was an act of levelling up would be quite the understatement. Reasons for his break are up for debate, with shaky sources at best. But it adds to CAS’s urban folklore no doubt. Whatever the explanation is, it’s hard to deny that it lead him to cook up a sensational concoction of quintessential British rap and Grime excellence. Songs such as “T.R.O.N.” and “Leon Best” displayed CAS’ versatility on the mic and in the studio. This would be the catalyst for CAS to release his mixtape “The Number 23”. A collection of songs that CAS seemingly just had in the vault and put out together, listeners can find themselves lost in the aura of electronic instrumentals inspired Synthpop, Grime and even a bit of Jazz. The high octave sounds, reminiscent of the 80s, are supplemented by CAS masterfully painting over the energetic beats with dark, harsh stories of addiction, womanising and sadistic tales present in the disparities of life for Britons, particularly Londoners. Bittersweet. Rummage around YouTube for these tracks and scroll through the comments; these are more than just a masterful array of songs. Fans’ appreciation tells you all you need to know about what the artistic endeavours and integrity of CASisDEAD means to the people. Just as the UK music scene was taking off on a more global, international front, CAS was the voice of those metaphorically left behind. The new, sexy and glamourised packaging of Grime seemed to leave its soul behind, whilst CAS continued to fight the good fight as a supremely equipped one-man army.
In the years since, CAS has picked and chosen when to put his mind to work. He not only writes his music, but creates and directs the accompanying videos too. CAS is a visionary in every sense of the word, describing his creative journey as starting with developing the videos’ visual stories in his mind, then proceeding to arrange the practical details of the video’s staging; props, lighting and anything else to accompany it. He perceives himself to be, in equal measure, both a visual artist and director as much as a rapper, and rightfully so. He captures the essence of juxtapositions and conflicts from his and our lives both sonically and optically, before beaming them into our conscience via his eclectic music.
A six track EP titled “Commercial 2” from 2015 might arguably be CAS’s magnum opus. He hand selected beats from Glass Candy, Kavinsky and Miami Vice’s soundtrack, all quite natural and brilliant choices once you familiarise yourself with his game. The EP would be released on cassette only - CAS himself had to intervene to address bootleggers - and re-released for extra clarity to fans that the versions they purchased were indeed legitimate - such was the demand and hype. At this point, CAS was in full control of his destiny and played the game on his terms exclusively. The scene and his contemporaries were enjoying the rewards of a more financially stable UK music ecosystem, but deep down they all wanted to have some of CAS’ action. Complete independence and an unmatched stratosphere of creativity.
Since then, we’ve been able to enjoy CAS’s work in a few singles spread out over the years, with some features cropping up too. His most notable works as far as the mainstream goes can be found on Giggs’s 2016 “Landlord” album, where CAS contributes his excellent verses on “501 Hollow & Heston” and “Lyrical Combat”, the latter being a notable highlight from the project. His 2017 single “Pat Earrings” would also feature on the Top Boy soundtrack as well. After all, CAS is as London as it gets. CAS was active as recently as last year, with his latest single, “Traction Control”, where he pushed his boundaries again with a more smooth, relaxed tone of delivery to convey his typically sharp wordplays and storytelling.
We now return to the puzzle, still with barely any leads. But for CASisDEAD, in spite of being a man with extraordinarily little documentation to trace, his art certainly speaks volumes in its absence. His disillusionment with society and the ins and outs of the world. His double edged, at times disturbing character that rears its head when he talks about womanising or substance abuse. His love-hate relationship with the drugs he both sells and indulges in. The upbeat music that accompanies the downbeat, sombre and troublesome subject matters. Even his stage name and the football team he supports - the black and white of Newcastle United - all point to the complex duality of the individual and his outlook on life. The Londoner has grown up within a vibrant, buzzing culture which is hosted by the greyest of skies and ruled by an uninspired state. Ultimately, we cannot decrypt the man behind the mask, perhaps intentional or a result of everything mentioned prior. Can we blame him?
- CASisDEAD verse from “Park Assist
It’s not lost on me that he was a go-to for somebody like Giggs, or Netflix, to seek his involvement on projects designed to display a multi-faceted London and UK to shores beyond our own. It’s also not lost on me that, CASisDEAD, an artist synonymous with the narration and critique of the street life, kicked the ball into action for many of the gimmicks that the Drill scene now calls standard. The mask, the narco-stories and every other trivialised characteristic are actually very real, symbolic things when it comes from CAS’s criticisms. But where one is made to sell with the accompaniment of corporate sponsorship, the other is meant to make you feel something in your gut. CAS’s eerie depictions of his reality can range from dystopian to Dickensian in a matter of syllables, but each word is meant to contribute to the masterpiece of a portrait he continuously develops and paints. His ferocity in his most recent works may not be as palpable as they were a few years ago; maybe now is the time that CAS brews the antidote against the corporate sponsored monsters that fail to bite half as hard he does.
Written by: @WhosAria
In collaboration with Insight.