Albanian rapper Gashi catapulted himself to success through his uniquely wide sonic palette and worldly lens, broadened by experiencing the culture, music and life of 24 different countries before settling into late ‘90s Brooklyn. His sound stirs various eras of pop, hip-hop and rap into a smooth electronic cocktail, garnished with the dogma of pursuing an immigrant’s dream. The dancey energy emphasized in Gashi’s music stems from being the only family in his Brooklyn building that wasn’t Haitian or Jamaican, but his larger mission is to break genre for good.

Photos by Evan Kaucher

Photos by Evan Kaucher

Continually growing in both musical approach and fan base, Gashi will always stick to his roots. The mask Gashi wears on stage transports him and his audience to a time when he would help his father with the city’s garbage.“I would put the mask on because people would take pictures of me throwing in the garbage and I didn’t want people to see me,” Gashi told Inked. “Now, I wear the ski mask to remind the people how I started. I take it off after the first song to let them know I am no longer in hiding.”While his stage presence gives insight to Gashi’s beginnings, his tattoos give insight to his personal priorities. Coming from a strict background, Gashi’s parents were hurt by his plunge into the tattooed community, thinking they were losing him. But really, he was finding himself.

Photos by Evan Kaucher

Photos by Evan Kaucher

“Tattoos express me,” Gashi continued. “I feel like as soon as I got my tattoos I took the chains off my body.”“These face tattoos changed me,” Gashi sings in the opening track of his self-titled album. In that one line he encompasses his journey from doing theater in high school to dropping out of college on a football scholarship. Gashi placed his first tattoo on his face so that he wouldn’t placate himself in finding a “regular job.” The numeral four on his face represents the fourth quarter of life. “I look at life like football. Everything is the fourth quarter as long as I’m in the game,” Gashi explained. “I have a four on my face to remind me to finish strong.”Gashi also sports “NYC” on his belly, with “Kosovo” across, where his parents were born. He also has a spoon next to his belly button because, as he says, “I earned my silver spoon. I was not born with it.” On his heart he wears his mother’s name with a butterfly on top, as he explains that he was once a caterpillar, while the light bulb in the middle of his chest is to bring in and emit positive energy. Gashi also highlights the Keith Haring “Best Buddies” painting on his tattooed canvas, representing the pursuit of his dream to make music.

“When my friend Dave showed me that painting, it was the first time I saw that you really could be paid for your art,” Gashi said. “It went for millions. He told me I could do this through music.Music is forever here, even when I’m gone.”Now signed to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation label, coupled with his flood of upcoming projects and a promise of a more monstrous Gashi to come, the Albanian behemoth is determined to leave a footprint larger than Brooklyn can handle.How have your life’s travels shaped your music? My parents traveled a lot to get to America. I am super cultured, I don’t experience culture shock. Musically, I can make all types because I’ve been influenced by so many types of sounds from around the world. I don’t like making the same sound over and over. My music is global music in that it can be played anywhere around the world.And music helped you learn English. Who were you listening to most? The greats. Michael Jackson, Prince, Eminem, DMX, NSYNC, U2, Phil Collins… the list goes on. I was all over the place. It helped me understand English because I started to enunciate and pronounce words better.Speaking of, you’ve called yourself the Trap Phil Collins. Why?People won’t understand that until the next album. I’m making an ‘80s-influenced album. I built a time machine through this project, because I hate this era.What do you hate most about it? Everything’s so fast. I’ll put out this album friday, and some kids going to tweet me asking when my next album’s going to drop. People should appreciate music more. I love the world, I just feel like, don’t forget to be a good person.

Photos by Evan Kaucher

Photos by Evan Kaucher

When I work hard on something and people don’t appreciate it and try to play me like I didn’t work hard on it, I feel disrespected. I think people should respect artists and stop waiting for them to die to appreciate them. My music is my child. I make it, I named it, I ship it off to the world. The way people accept it is on them. I think we’re just getting started. The world has yet to see the real Gashi.In this era, things are becoming super weak and nothing’s solid anymore. This includes bonds and friendships. Everything is all about clout and money, but that’s not what life’s about.What is life about to you? Life’s about love. It’s about making a difference, it’s about making people move and making people do something. This ‘80s music isn’t just to make people dance, it’s to make people feel something again. I want it to make them feel like a child. A child in that when you’re a kid, you have no problems. I want all my fans to feel like they can unleash that carefree hour.What was the mission of your self-titled album? This album was made for me to break genre. The word genre does not exist anymore. There is no such thing. It’s either good music or not, that’s all you have. That is what this album is about. I didn’t go into it trying to make one sound, I went into it trying to flex my sound and flex my ability. Because a lot of people get lucky having one hit and then getting to disappear. They don’t stick around. But people with real talent are here to stay.You started your career by ghostwriting, seeing your music succeed without the credit. Has this influenced your thoughts on collaborations? It’s funny, the minute you get successful people think they made you, and the minute they think they made you they think they can make another you. But you can’t make another Gashi.I enjoyed working with Cheb Khaled, whose song [“Alech TaadiI”] was behind the car chase scene in the movie Fifth Element. I recently worked with him on a song for his album, and being in the studio with him and sharing energy was one of the most incredible experiences of my life.

Photos by Evan Kaucher

Photos by Evan Kaucher

But in general, I actually hate doing collabs. Unless it’s an artist I really love, I don’t care about collaborations. A lot of artists today make albums full of features to make their album sell and I think that’s so stupid. When you’re behind the scenes of music you see that the people you looked up to, that you thought were talented, were not really as talented as you thought they were. Then you kind of walk around like, especially that all my music is written by me, “Does anybody make real shit anymore?”I’m authentic to me. I came to this country with nothing, no connections. My parents barely speak English, and I made it somehow. I made it for my art. How does this dude, who came to this country with no rich family member, just me, my mom, my sister, my brother, make it somehow someway? English is my fifth language. That’s what’s incredible.Is there an artist you would make an exception for? Kanye West. He’s my favorite rapper. He is the only artist that every album got better and better. My Darkest Fantasy is one of the greatest albums about a generation. Yeezus and My Darkest Fantasy are my favorite albums of all time.I know he’s done a lot of stupid shit recently, but that’s because a lot of people have turned on him and made him feel the way he is, but Kanye West is Gashi’s favorite artist. He raised me. I love him to death and one day I am going to bring him out to Coachella, and I’m going to kiss him. We’re going to become best friends.