As the seventh hour of our midterm study session hit in a grim, uncommonly cold Robarts Commons room that we miraculously weren’t kicked out of, we needed to somehow break up the monotony of Quizlet cards about foreign policy. A friend of ours eagerly made a suggestion: “Play that new Parzival,” prompting Sam to plug in his USB-C to HDMI adapter on his MacBook Air to use the speaker. As Parzival’s “Signs” — which was new at the time — started to play, the room melted like the scene in Arthur when Binky is transported to a new realm by in-world band Bang on a Can All-Stars. The triumphant beat, great writing, and fantastic singing and rapping swept us off our feet.
“Signs,” a love song for the ages, sports an earworm hook and deceptively intelligent wordplay that will make you feel the same way that rapper Parzival does about the woman he’s singing about. By day, Parzival is an undergraduate student at U of T named Jojo Ashun. From the way he speaks in class, it’s clear he commands prose like an artist. One glance at his Letterboxd account, and you’d know he’s passionate about all forms of art, so finding out he made music was a pretty natural discovery.
“I write everything. In fact, music was the thing I wrote the least throughout my adolescence,” he said in an interview with The Varsity. We believe him to be the Hannah Montana of U of T, but does he believe that of himself? In the interview, Ashun discussed his Ghanaian heritage, his studies at U of T, the benefits of having an artistic outlet, and the struggles in balancing life, artistry, and school.
The Varsity: What pushed you to start making music?
Jojo Ashun: This is always a funny question… it’s not like I haven’t been making music my whole life as well, just for fun. Take, for example, when I was six, when me and my brother made random songs because my brother is very musical. In middle school and high school, I freestyled. In grade 10, my friend told me he wanted to lock in and make an album. He would make random beats in FL studio, and since I was always a writer first and foremost, I just wrote. We didn’t love the beats so we went to YouTube and rapped to some YouTube-type beats. Me and my friend Agye would make bullshit trap in grade 10.
TV: Do you remember the first type beat you’ve ever written for?
JA: Yes. I can’t remember what the type beat was called, but the song is called “Black and Blue Boys.” It was about police brutality and Black people. That was in 2018, and I was in my Kendrick Lamar, political-activist era.
TV: You were talking about how you’re a writer first and foremost. Does your writing expand to anything else? Do you write short stories? Screenplays?
JA: I write everything. In fact, music was the thing I wrote the least throughout my adolescence. Up until I was 16, I barely wrote any music. When I was 14, I tried to write some. I never had FL studio or any musical tools when I was that age so I never thought to make any. All the music I made was just sounds in my head. I wrote movies, television, essays, critiques, and it extended to most things.
For most of my life, I primarily wrote novels and stories. I always heard it in my head but I didn’t know how to necessarily make it. I can play piano decently. I could play certain instruments decently, but not enough so that I can make beats out of them because the music I listen to wasn’t just like piano shit.
TV: Being a student at U of T, is there anything in your immediate surroundings that helps you put the music from your head into reality and that you draw from to make your music?
JA: Not really. I feel like most of the sounds in my head are influenced primarily by the music I listen to. My emotions and feelings based on experiences I’ve had also influence my music. Whenever I hear a beat, I just think, “Oh my god. This is perfect for this thing that’s going on in my life [right now] this thing that has happened to me.” My immediate surroundings don’t influence me as much as music in general.
TV: From the research we’ve done, we found out you spent some time in Ghana. Does any of your time in Ghana, your decision to go to U of T, your experiences at U of T on campus give you any sort of musical inspiration or add any type of influence into your artistic creation?
JA: Yeah. I’ve told a few people this but, one day, I really want to make this magnum opus that is very much influenced by Ghanaian historical music, throughout the ages. One day, I will have my To Pimp A Butterfly of Ghanaian music. I don’t see that anytime soon, though, as I want to have a strong foundation first before I do that.
As far as living in Ghana, it definitely influenced me so much in making music because of my peers. There was this huge wave in 2018–2019 of everybody just making these SoundCloud songs throughout the school circuit that I went to a bunch of different schools in my area. And so you listen to them and you think, “This is trash!” You’re like, “I can make something so much better.” So that’s also something that definitely influenced me.
I also love Drake. Drake is probably one of the most influential artists for me. And when you move to Canada, he kind of becomes like the Paragon for Canadianness in Toronto, because everyone asks you about it when you’re somewhere else, and so because of that you feel closer to the music scene in Toronto. In general, both places definitely influenced me a lot. But in the future, I would like for Ghanaian music to influence me even more.
TV: Where can we find your music?
TV: When are you releasing music next?
JA: My next song, “Ain’t Her” should be dropping on the 10th of March… As for my performances, I might have a couple in March and April, so look forward to those.