Like any typical 15-year-old, Ahsan Watts loves sports—namely basketball and football. He likes to play Xbox and to joke around. However, one thing isn’t typical: his voice.
It’s easy to dismiss that declaration as hype, given the incessant push to find the next teen hit-making heartthrob. But Ahsan is a natural. His exuberant, expressive tenor isn’t contrived. It commands immediate attention—something people are discovering as they listen to his fearless cover of the Smokey Robinson gem “Who’s Loving You” on YouTube. The unerring tonality of his vocals; the wellspring of emotion he draws from … both belie Ahsan’s young age—mirroring the jaw-dropping reactions a pre-teen Michael Jackson sparked with his own recording of the Robinson song in 1970.
For Ahsan, it’s simply a matter of doing something he truly loves. Listening to playbacks of songs he’s recorded thus far, the teen can’t sit still. He’s either tapping out rhythms on the surface of whatever’s handy, dancing in his seat or busy riffing along to his own vocals. “Music just triggers me,” he explains. “I just start grooving.”
Once inside a recording booth, it’s a whole different story. “When I’m in the booth, it’s like fantasy land,” says an earnest Ahsan. “I don’t know… I just space out. I don’t think about anything except riding along with the melodies, the rhythms.”
Ahsan’s musical ride started seven years ago. Growing up listening to his mother play Frankie Lymon, Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson, the teen remembers her catching him in the bathroom one day singing. “She opened the door and said, ‘Ahsan, sing that again.’ Then she called my grandma, who suggested I sing in church that Sunday.” The seven-year-old did just that, belting out Mary Mary’s “Shackles (Praise You).”
Four years later, he was auditioning for a local “American Idol”-type competition. The 11-year-old won $100 and a trophy for his cover of Michael Jackson’s “The Lady in My Life”. Hanging out a few years later in a studio located within a youth community center, Ahsan caught the ear of now-manager Donald Richardson. Reaching out to music attorney Evan Krauss, Richardson and Krauss brought Ahsan to New York for an audition with EP Entertainment/Starcyde Entertainment. The encounter prompted a long week of rehearsals and by month’s end the young teen secured a deal with Interscope Records.
Flattered by the inevitable comparisons to Michael Jackson, Ahsan says “It’s definitely an honor” and politely dismisses any concerns about entering the crowded teen field. “I’m not worried about competition; there’s room for me,” he explains. “I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do.”
A drummer and trumpet player in school, Ahsan is also learning to play keyboards. His church background and R&B influences are a distinct presence in the songs being crafted for his debut album. Addressing the angst of young love, the gospel piano-driven “Say It” and the Motown pop-veined “Breaking Me Down” are two prime examples of Ahsan’s self-described mission to help “bring soul back” to today’s over-polished sound and shallow lyrics. “I want to make music that can relate to young and older people.”
Ahsan’s most recent offering, the soul stirring track “Under”, has the teen tackling the inner city problems that plague his neighborhood in Newark, NJ. Desperate not to fall victim, Ahsan pleads “Don’t let this hood take me under”. Kuya and Harold Lilly produced the track while Clarence Fuller directed the powerful visual.
Ahsan is currently recording his debut album with songwriting/production industry veterans Allstar (Gym Glass Heroes), Kuya (Nelly) and Harold Lilly (Trey Songz).