YouTuber KSI (real name Olajide Olayinka Williams Olatunji) stars on the cover this week, as his debut album Dissimulation does battle with The 1975’s Notes On A Conditional Form at the top of the albums chart.
The rapper made his name – and generated a fanbase that includes almost 30 million followers across two YouTube channels – online, and is now making his way into music. One day, says the artist who is signed to BMG in the UK and managed by Premier League Entertainment’s Mams Taylor, he wants to start a music empire, Def Jam for YouTubers.
But first, KSI is focusing on establishing himself in music. His single Houdini, featuring Swarmz and Tion Wayne hit the UK Top 10 last month. It currently has 95,124 sales, according to the Official Charts Company. Down Like That, which was launched when KSI fought fellow YouTuber Logan Paul in a high profile boxing match last year, also hit the Top 10. It has 246,453 sales.
“I’ve definitely had to work twice as hard as the normal person in the music industry, that’s just because I’m a YouTuber,” said KSI, speaking to Music Week from lockdown in his London flat.
“A lot of people don’t respect YouTubers, they don’t see it as a real job. A YouTuber wanting to do music is like the ultimate disrespect. It’s one of those things, but now I’ve really proved that I am at that level.”
KSI believes that his activity in several different areas of popular culture means that he has an advantage.
“I’m an entertainer. I don’t put myself in one category, I’m an anomaly. No one else does what I do, there’s no musician who is a YouTuber and a boxer,” he said.
Looking back on his music career to date, he said he’s “made a lot of stinkers” but pointed to his work with JME, P Money and Sway, as well as his collaborative album with YouTuber Randolph as evidence of his upwards curve.
No one else does what I do, there’s no musician who is a YouTuber and a boxer
“I was making tracks, tracks about FIFA, about YouTubing, I would do rap battles with me and Randolph being either Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, or Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger,” he said. “I rapped about my Lamborghini, that took off. That was just me gassed about having a Lamborghini. I’ve been always doing music.”
KSI said he’s “surprised himself” with Dissimulation, which features a host of rap talent including Offset and Jeremih.
“I’ve surprised myself by what I could do with certain tunes and bringing certain emotions,” he said. “Domain is more of a YouTube song, I wanted to make a song to show that I’m on a different level when it comes to wordplay. What You Been On is a braggadocious track to let people know that I am doing bits. I’m turning the question back on the haters and the people that were doubting me.”
Of his collaborators, he said: “It definitely helped that I am who I am. In the music industry, a lot of people want to work with you, especially if you’re hot. If nothing’s really going for you, chances are that people aren’t going to really want to work with you. I’m getting to a point and getting to a level where people are seeing me as an artist and going, ‘OK, so he can actually do this music thing’ so they’re taking it seriously.”
KSI said that he wants to “break the mould” and make successful music as a YouTuber. “There are certain YouTubers who make tracks that are absolutely awful, but they do well because they have a fanbase and all of that. I’ve taken this opportunity to showcase that I can make music with the top artists.”
People welcome me with open arms, they respect everything I’ve done
KSI believes his large online following is an asset. He has promised to shave his head if he hits No.1, a move that prompted the #baldski hashtag on Twitter.
“The beautiful thing with me is, if you can have a large audience and you can make good music, then obviously you’re going to do well,” he said. “If you make a good song, you have a large audience on social media and you can combine that, well, the sky’s the limit, you can go ham with that. It’s all about finding the right connection.”
KSI told us he doesn’t have any idols in music. “I want to be like myself,” he said. The rapper also explained that he feels the music industry is catching on.
“It’s half-and-half. People welcome me with open arms, they respect everything I’ve done, whether they’re fans or not,” he said. “They’ve seen the progress and they’ve seen that I haven’t just jumped on the hype. There are obviously people who, no matter what, are just like, ‘No, he’s a YouTuber, no, no! Not accepting it’. Those are the people who’ll get left behind eventually, with their backwards thinking.”
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PHOTO: Zoobs Ansari