KSI Interview: "I'm like a cheat code"

Rowan Faife

Renaissance man KSI has mastered YouTube, boxing and music. As he prepares to release his second album, he talks surpassing expectations, working with Craig David and turning down I'm a Celeb…

Reader's Digest: So, how are you?

KSI: Good, man. Very good. Just been working on the music, on a new album. My last album, Dissimulation, came out in May.

RD: And how has the feedback on it been?

KSI: The feedback has been really good. I think people were very surprised that I was actually taking the music seriously and I wasn't just a joke.

Now I've got a fan base that actually decides to listen to my music. And with how well Lighter has done and Loose as well with S1mba... it's quite exciting and there's quite a lot of anticipation for this next single.

KSI headshot on pink backdrop
Photography by Stephanie Sian Smith

RD: Every time your name is mentioned, it's alongside big numbers—billions of views, millions in ad revenue etc. Have you become numb to those figures or do they still amaze you?

KSI: I think a bit of both. I have definitely become more numb to things like getting another million subscribers on a channel, for instance. But I do still have moments where I look back and I think, wow, I've done this.

There are definitely things that have wowed me and just made me in awe of things that I've done. 

RD: But I assume as you've been doing this for so long now, as time goes on it becomes normality?

KSI: Yeah, I have been doing it for like 10-plus years, so it is getting to a point where it's just how it is and I'm there like, OK, how can I improve it? That's how my mindset is, always just improving.

RD: Can you walk down the street without being recognised anymore or is it guaranteed that every day someone will stop you?

KSI: Oh, it's guaranteed. Guaranteed. A lot of times, if I go out in public, I wear a hat and cover my tattoos and everything to hide that it's me, but even then, people look into my eyes and go, I feel like I know you… or they look at my body shape and say, Oh, I think I've seen you.

It's crazy… it's kind of hard to stay hidden amongst people.

RD: I was watching a lot of the Sidemen videos yesterday. Do you feel more comfortable going out to film as part of that big group rather than by yourself? 

KSI: Of course. It's always better whenever I record with the boys together—it's more fun. It's easier because we can be ourselves and it just works. It's smooth and easy—I have a lot of fun working with the Sidemen.

RD: When you’re planning new content, what do you look to for inspiration, whether that's on YouTube or elsewhere?

KSI: Well, someone like Donald Glover, and how he moved from YouTube to music and then acting—he just did that so successfully. But you know, there isn't really anyone that does what I do, if that makes sense.

I know there's a lot of YouTubers that have gone into music and stopped doing YouTube and smashed it in music. But there's YouTuber doing music and YouTube at the same time. So it's quite a new thing.

 

"Performing live is a moment where nothing else matters"

 

RD: You’ve taken music completely as seriously as you take YouTube…

KSI: Of course. You have to. Just as seriously as I took the boxing, as seriously as I took YouTube, yeah, music is a passion.

I've been doing music for 10-plus years, I've been working hard at it. It’s not like I just decided, Oh, I want to do music now because it's the thing to do.

I've always been doing music and my fan base knows that. That's why they don't hate towards it or think it's weird or awkward. 

KSI giving his winning speech following Logan Paul boxing match
KSI being interviewed in the ring immediately after his fight with Logan Paul. Image via James Prime, 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0)

RD: Since you released your first single Lamborghini with P Money in 2015, your musical output has been fairly regular. Did you suddenly realise that it could be a viable pathway?

KSI: Once I released Lamborghini, looking at the numbers and the views I realised that people were actually interested in me rapping. That's my only video to get 100+ million views. So it made me think, You know what, there's something herelet me work hard in it and really just see what I can do.

So from then on, I really went ham. Obviously, the boxing has helped with promotion, and every time I've had a boxing match, I've had a single that's come out with it.

RD: And that was deliberate?

KSI: Yeah this is always deliberate. I'd always come out to that song whenever I did the ring walk too. I was always implementing music with everything that I've done, so now, it’s just part of me. It doesn't feel weird, it doesn't feel awkward, it doesn't feel forced. It is just what I do. It is me. 

If you think KSI you think, Yes, he does YouTube, yes he also does music, and yes he does boxing on the side

RD: So music gives you a different kind of satisfaction compared to what you've become accustomed to from YouTube?

KSI: Yeah, 100 per cent. There’s no better satisfaction than going to the studio, making a banger, and then performing that banger to hundreds of thousands of people. That’s insane. It's the best feeling.

Performing live is like nothing else. It's a moment where nothing else matters. You're just in there with the people and you're having the time of your life. It's literally a massive party for an hour-and-a-half or an hour—it’s just great. And then obviously after that, you can think about all your problems and worries but in that period of time… it's special.

RD: Do you have a favourite memory of performing so far?

KSI: If I'm being honest, no. I'm still looking into the future of where I want to be. Festivals were a huge thing that I wanted to do, and I wasn't able to do that this year. I feel like COVID kind of stole that from me.

I feel like the stuff I've done beforehand is practice for the real thing, and the real thing is doing festivals.

RD: I know you’ve said that one of your main reasons for doing those boxing matches [including the widely discussed match with YouTube star Logan Paul] was to increase your visibility in the States. So a couple of years on, do you feel like that has happened?

KSI: Oh, yeah, 100 per cent. That’s why it doesn't feel weird to do a song with Offset or Rick Ross or Lil Baby.

A lot of Americans watch. I have a huge American fan base and they always tell me, Yo, come through to the States to perform. And then I keep telling them, 'sort out your whole situation first' [laughs].

RD: Musically, you'll get shown more appreciation in America than in the UK…

KSI: Well, it's just because of how people are. Everyone there in America is a lot more positive. A lot more progressive. England is a lot more judgmental.

KSI photographed in bandana

RD: Since your last boxing match, have any aspects of the training routine remained in your day-to-day life?

KSI: I train every day, man. I'm always training. I still do runs, still do sprints, still do boxing training with my trainer, Leon. I'm still keeping fit. It's just my diet. That's just it.

I eat like s**t, so that’s why I’m not ripped but if I ate well, then yeah, I would be ripped instantly because I train like mad.

RD: So after the fights, you just never left that mentality behind?

KSI: No, because you feel great. I feel good about myself. Whenever I work out, I feel like I've accomplished something. I release the endorphins and just feel good about my body and feel healthy.

There are so many positives from working out—humans we were meant to work out anyway. Going back to the Stone Age where we were running and hunting, it's just naturally in us to be active. We can't be sitting down doing nothing, our bodies need to be active. It’s very important for me.  

 

"America is a lot more positive, a lot more progressive. England is more judgmental"

 

RD: Are there any other avenues you’ve considered going down but decided against at the last minute because they didn’t fit the KSI brand? 

KSI: I got asked to do I'm a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here! and I turned that down. I just didn't think it made sense.

It was actually really bad, I told the person that was interviewing me about I’m a Celebrity that I feel like it’s a show you do at the end of your career, where you're kind of like falling off. Obviously, she didn't take that too well, but yeah, it just didn’t make sense for me.

Also, I hate bugs or any you know, little, little things like that. Anything that's small.

RD: Where do you fit into the UK music scene right now? 

KSI: I think they see me as an outsider giant. I'm seen as someone that isn't part of the scene, that's just in their own lane. I'm like a cheat code, I don't really fit anywhere, I'm just there.

And the urban rap scene doesn't really want to rock with it. I mean they do, but they don't. It's kind of like they wouldn't congratulate my successes because I don't really count. 

RD: Everything you've just said, does that bother you?

KSI: No, no, no, no, no. I don't care. I don't need people's agreement; I just tell them I'm gonna do my thing. And I don't really care what anyone says or thinks.

I've always had that attitude and it's worked for me so I'm just going to continue. I've been doing this for too long to let it get to me. It is my career.

RD: Yeah, you must be very used to the trolls…

KSI: Yeah, bro. Come on. That's why whenever people try to make fun of me, I laugh with them because I don't mind, I don't take myself too seriously.

If someone wants to call me out on a fight, I'll bring it. I know how to fight. I'll be all right. Let's go then. And then I feel like a lot of people would be like, Oh, snap, I didn't think you'd be on smoke like that. I'm an anomaly and people don't really know what to do or say with me. They just have me there and they don't really want to attack me because it could be detrimental.

RD: You've got a powerful fan base behind you.

KSI: I've got a very hardcore fan base. Very, very hardcore.

 

"I got asked to do I'm a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here! and I turned it down"

 

RD: What is next on the list to make you a serious rapper? You've released the album, you collaborated with Offset, Rick Ross, etc. As a musician, have you got a list of things you want to cross off?

KSI: Oh yeah. Number one single, number one album, headlining a festival, doing huge shows… I feel like those are the things that will make people say, Yeah, alright, we're going to have to accept this. 

If I imagine in five, if not sooner, years, you're gonna see a lot of people having the similar format that I have where they have YouTube and make music and they coincide with each other.

There was the same thing with Drake. You remember when Drake would sing and rap and everyone was just like, What are you doingYou can't do that. And now everyone does it.

RD: Speaking of combining YouTube and music, you filmed a reaction video to a guy giving your album a bad review. To me, that’s the epitome of mixing the two scenes.

KSI: I love being truthful and straightforward. I don't want to be delusional. I don't want to have a delusional fan base. I want my fanbase to be as real as possible.

So, if I put something out, they tell me how it truly is and I feel like I have to replicate that with the content that I put out. I have to react to the good and I have to react to the bad. Sometimes I really try hard to look for bad. And sometimes there isn't any bad. And then sometimes there's a lot of bad and I think it's hilarious and I react to it. It’s good to just have that balance and be truthful.

RD: Why did you choose to take a more serious musical path? If you'd done comedy rap or parody songs like so many others do, you might have had a much easier ride.

KSI: Because it's a challenge to prove to people that I can do it and I can make music that people are happy to listen to on the radio and happy to have on their playlist. From Killa Killa to Down Like That to Lighter to Loose, I'm coming with hits and hits and hits.  

Doing the whole Lonely Island thing is cool and all, but I wanted to be competing with the big dogs and take it to another level. I had done comedy raps, I've done a lot of the comedy stuff, but now it's like, let's do this for real. It's a natural next step.

KSI being interviewed by MTV
Being interviewed by MTV in 2019. ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0)

RD: What are KSI live shows like? 

KSI: Oh, wild, man. I have a lot of energy. I bring it to shows and the production is insane. I make sure every show is phenomenal.

I have a good amount of money, so I can put a lot of it into the production on the stage and making sure it's a sick event. It's a fun time.

RD: And what do the crowds look like?  

KSI: My crowds are so random. It ranges from like 12-year olds to 26-year olds, black, white, Asian, all races, women and men.

Everything I do is random. I don't just do one genre of music. My latest song with Craig David, Really Loveis a garage tune. And I've got Down Like That which is a more rap, hip hop tune. So, it's kinda all over the place.

I listen to all types of music from rock to rap, to EDM, to dubstep. 

RD: I listened to Really Love about five times last night. I feel like having Craig David on a song turns it to a noughties garage track immediately.

KSI: Well, that's why it makes sense to have Craig David on it. I thought, surely Craig isn’t gonna want to do it. But he was like, Yo, yo, let me on this. I'm there. I'm ready. Let's go. 

And a shout out to MNEK. He helped to write the track and it was a match made in heaven. And his energy is amazing. He's the nicest guy ever.  

Making the music video was a lot of fun too. I'm going to record me reacting to it for the first time. I'm very excited for it to come out and I think again, people are going to be surprised. People are going to say, I didn't know you could do garage, like flipping heck, man. Okay, what's next?

RD: Were you trying to write a garage song, or did it just come together once you were sent the beat?

KSI: It’s all the beat. People send me beats and I think, OK, I know what would work for this. When people ask me, "What's your flow? What's your style?" I'd say I don't have one. I'm adaptable, it depends on the beat.

Someone like Headie One has a flow. There's a Headie One flow. Someone like M1llionz, there’s a M1llionz flow. With me, there is no KSI flow because I'm all over the place. I feel like that gives me longevity because it means I can hop on anything and be experimental and make it work. That's the most important thing, making sure it works because I've tried stuff and it hasn't worked and I just don't put it out there.  

RD: Did you listen to Craig David when you were younger?  

KSI: Oh, of course, he’s huge. It was impossible not to know about Craig David, so it was quite incredible to be able to work with him. I'm still in disbelief.

When I met him for the first time I was just in awe. I wish I kept it cool, but in my head, I was freaking out. He was such a cool guy, it was incredible to talk to him.

RD: How does it feel that you can't perform the track at a festival for nearly another year?

KSI: Well, I was thinking, Should I release this garage tune next year, because it would make more sense?, but that's why I wanted to change the music video and make it a winter thing. I did it on purpose because I want people to still vibe to this even during the winter, even when it's cold, I want people to think, During the winter, this is the tune to play.

That was my mindset when it came to doing this type of song—I just want to release music, man, and I don't want anything to stop me, I don't want anything to slow me down and I don't want to overthink things.  

KSI and Craig David

RD: If you had to pick right now, YouTube or music, which one would you pick?

KSI: It’s hard because YouTube is where I started from, but music is my passion. I think I'd say YouTube, but I wouldn't be happy. I'd be quite unhappy because there'll be part of me that really wants to do the music thing.

RD: What’s next after the latest single?

KSI: We have another single, bro. Another single for next year and then another single and then there could be another single or we could just drop the album. I already have 12, 13, 14 songs ready? I move fast. But it's not like there's not been thought put into it. There's a lot of thought put into it but I work fast and I've been in an environment that works fast. It’s not just Dissimulation 2. I want this to be its own new album.

Everything is just about improvement. And when I do another album, it will be even more improvement. That’s the mindset. That's where I'm at.  

 

KSI’s new single ‘Really Love’ ft. Craig David and Digital Farm Animals is out now.

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About the interviewer: Rowan Faife is a rapper, YouTuber and events promoter. He worked as a consultant and lyric writer for the BBC-backed film, VS. He tweets at @twitteurgh