21 Dec Interview: Kamakaze is the footballer by day and MC by night putting Leicester on the map
Few, if anyone at all, can say they feature on both Football Manager and SBTV. An even smaller number will be familiar with both a non-league changing room and a recording studio, and there are virtually no similarities between playing winning promotion and dropping a Fire in the Booth. But those are the parallels in which Kamakaze finds himself in.
Midfielder by day and MC by night, Kamakaze, real name Matt Robinson, is both a centre midfielder at Dagenham & Redbridge and MC with millions of views. Both paths have provided fruitful returns so far; Kamakaze calls football his career, and musically, he’s made waves to, putting Leicester on the map in the process.
Relaxed and composed in his demeanour, Kamakaze exudes a sense of clarity, as if he’s found sense in the muddled path in which he finds himself in; balancing both football and music. But what came first?
“Football came first. From when I was young, my dad’s a big Leicester fan and we used to live next to the stadium and all that. We used to live on Filbert Street East, so I used to go all the games then began playing football from about five, so that came first. Then naturally, got better and further along with it, but my dad also showed me hip-hop and rap as well, so he kinda introduced me to both.”
Kamakaze has played youth football at Leicester alongside Premier League winners like Jeff Schlupp and later signed his first professional contract with Luton in 2012. Since then he has played for a few clubs, played in the FA Cup and is in his fifth year as a pro baller. How did the Grime a Side finalist venture into music?
“I’ve been spitting bars since I was 12 and just naturally progressed with it. A lot of my friends stopped doing it. I guess they thought they grew out of it, but I just carried on and they’ve run side by side ever since. The focus is still on football, because it’s my first love and it’s what is going to predominantly earn money, to be honest. That’s not to say that the focus within music hasn’t becoming stronger though. I definitely see a place for it in my life that’s bigger than it has ever been, and potential for it to be something in the future that is more than what it is now.”
The requirements of playing for a newly relegated club that occupied a position in the Football League last season comes with great responsibility. Training multiple times a week and having a game on the weekend are the things people see, but professional football is a 24/7 kind of grind. How does someone balance the two?
“It’s quite difficult [balancing both football and music]. There’s a lot of time where one of the two will take precedence over the other one. For instance, when I’m off, I try and do as much music as I can when I’m off from football. Try and go studio everyday and do shows and what not, but when it’s in-season, football takes priority. I have turned down many shows, sessions and opportunities because of the commitment to football. It is difficult, but I feel like I’m doing alright with it at the moment,” he explains.
Taking control of any AUX cable, be it in a car or dressing room, is of grave importance. Whoever is in charge either delivers quickly or gets blacklisted from any future sets with said cable. Be it a five-minute journey or five-hour, there’s simply no room for complacency with that AUX. In football terms, I imagine the pressure to select appropriate pre or post-game music in the dressing room is far greater, so I asked Kamakaze if his music gets played in the changing rooms.
“Sometimes. There are quite a few of the lads who listen to it, but when I’m at football, I make it about football. I don’t want the two to cross over that much. Outside of it, yeah some of the lads do listen to it, not all of them, but some do. They know I make music and they listen to it a fair amount,” he recalls.
It would also be safe to say that Kamakaze now has a ‘fair amount’ of music fans too. Things began taking off when he dropped his first Road Rage freestyle on JDZ Media two years ago. Whenever Plugsville interviews artists from outside of London, like Izzie Gibbs, you almost always hear a mention of JDZ Media. Put simply, outlets like JDZ Media and P110 often don’t get the praises they deserve. They help non-London artists get a foot in the door by showcasing the talents of those who London-based channels often won’t work with until they’re of a certain threshold or popularity level.
“Everything grew from that first Road Rage. The thing is, people have to remember, to us man in the Midlands who might not have the links to London channels like GRM Daily, Link Up TV or SBTV, channels like JDZ and P110 are the only people who will film you. It kinda becomes your own thing.
“If you look at the people who do well on JDZ, they’re from Leicester, they’re from Northampton, they’re from Derby, they’re from Nottingham, they’re from Brum, because it’s our thing. To the same extent, if I was to do a video on SB, it might not do as well as a video as someone from London, because that’s their channel. It is certainly true that he [JDZ] and P110 have launched a lot of people in the Midlands.
“Even if you look at people like Jaykae, Mist, they were doing Road Rage’s and Scene Smasher’s. They were all doing them. Bugzy Malone blew off a Spitfire freestyle which was on JDZ, because maybe man in London weren’t hearing him yet, but when they see people where you’re from reacting like that, they can’t help but notice.”
Once his first Road Rage freestyle gained traction, so too did his fan-base, which included an invite to Sir Spyro’s grime show on Rinse FM, for his first grime set.
“We don’t really have radio in the Midlands, the resources are scarce. Leicester don’t have a radio station like that, where you go and do sets. Nottingham I think does, called Kemet FM, Birmingham does, which is Silk City, but unless you’re going to those places, it’s a bit of a trek for one set.
“But when Spyro hollers you, you don’t turn your nose up. So then that happened, and everyone was like, ‘rah this guy can actually spit bars, it wasn’t just a one hit wonder kinda thing’. Then Jamal approached me, and I sent him a clip for the Warm Up Session, but then he was like, ‘na, I want you, I don’t want just bars, I’ve heard bars, but I want your story, because I don’t know that, and neither do they’. Then from then it’s kinda just snowballed.”
Part of that snowball effect resulted in what Kamakaze believes to be a landslide victory in Red Bull’s Grime a Side final in November 2016. For the unaware, Grime a Side involves teams of MCs going head-to-head. Whoever has the best bars advances to the next round until a winner is crowned. In its inaugural edition, Kam captained Leicester to the final, narrowly losing to an Eyez-lead Derby side, a result he doesn’t necessarily agree with.
“The first round against Sheffield… I can’t lie, Sheffield probably should’ve gone through, because they came harder than us, but it weren’t really a clashing ting it more of a bar-for-bar kinda ting. Then we saw in the Birmingham vs Derby clash, they were kinda going at each other a bit, so I decided to write for the next one. I had to write for three different teams, people that don’t know that.
“We were supposed to write for AJ Tracey and his original team, PK and Saint, so I wrote bars for them, then two days later they said AJ’s not doing it anymore. Then it was supposed to be PK who was supposed to do a team, so we thought ‘okay, it’ll probably be YGG’, we wrote bars again for YGG and London, then two days before they said that’s not happening, so then it was Merky Ace. So two days before we wrote the bars. I can’t lie, Eyez did go hard, but if I’m honest, I do think we won the final for obvious reasons, but they came out with the win, and that’s what it is.”
Grime a Side was viewed over 1.5m times on YouTube and shone a necessary light on non-London talent. The final alone has close to 600,000 views, so fans clearly enjoyed it, but how was that impact felt from an artist’s perspective?
“The whole idea was to give people exposure and I think it did that. This time around, I don’t think the standard of the teams has been as good, but it’s bringing light to new MCs. You might not have known there were sick MCs from Newport. People might not know there’s bare MCs from Scotland, but put them up against people from another city and it makes sense. So I think it is a good concept and the fact they did a round two shows how impactful the first one was.
“With the first Grime a Side final, more people watched that than Red Bull Sound Clash, live and overall. For more people to stream the clash live, when Red Bull Sound Clash is big men in the game, from every country, it kinda shows how much of an impact it had.”
Building off his efforts from 2016, Kamakaze has marked this year with many well-received online releases and a new EP. Some of those videos include the remix to ‘Pull Up’ from his Royal Blud EP with Massappeals, which featured Big Zuu, KDOT and Izzie Gibbs, adding to a third Road Rage freestyle and the visuals for ‘Back Now’. Among those, Kamakaze speaks most highly about his Fire in the Booth.
“That’s one of my proudest moments, still. I can’t lie, I think it’s the best one this year. If you want everything from a Fire in the Booth, content, flow, it’s there. I did the hip-hop ting as well, I’ve always done hip-hop and thought that was the right time to show people how well I can do it. If I’m honest, views wise, I’ve seen worse ones get more.”
Wavey Shirt Wednesday was the EP Kamakaze released in November, a six-track offering with an eye-catching title, but one that alludes to a slightly different direction sonically.
“It [the title] comes from a night out that I went on when I was 19, in Ayia Napa. We all went out wearing shirts like that and it was on a Wednesday. And we were like ‘yeah, wavey shirt Wednesday’. But it felt suitable for this style of music, music you can get wavey to or drink to, so that’s why I ran with it for the title of this one.”
The EP itself makes for easy listening with a versatile blend of lyrical hip-hop. On ‘Sour Grapes’, the bassy, venomous beat meshes well with Kamakaze’s slick punchlines, whilst on ‘Glo’d’, you hear a lighter but still punchy track. It was a strong release, but also one that departed somewhat from his usual shuddering grime flow.
“With this tape, I’ve showed people throughout the year that I can spit grime. It’s do-able and I’ve done it, so I wanted to branch out a bit more. This is what else I can do; I can sing, I can rap on different tempos, I can touch other subject matters, and also, I don’t think the quality of rap when a lot of people do that style, is particularly good. I think man just say anything, and it runs. I was trying to stay barring while I was doing it.
“I literally had no expectation. Every expectation that I had was kind of accomplished with Royal Blud. We made the hip-hop chart and the overall chart too. It was kinda just like, this is the music I’ve been making and I want people to hear it. There’ve been a few sceptics. People are like, ‘where’s the grime? When it’s coming?’ But honestly, it’s all been good man. I’ve been played on Radio 1, 1Xtra, it’s been playlisted on Reprezent, the videos doing well, the numbers are doing well, more people are following me on everything, so it kinda feels like the fan base is growing, and that’s all I really wanted.”
Kamakaze’s fan base is ever-growing and Wavey Shirt Wednesday is a project that allows this to continue by showcasing his versatility. We’ve seen a lot of lyrical grime and hard punchlines, but this EP served up a tidy hip-hop offering to go alongside that, whetting the appetite for what else is being cooked up. Football fan or not, Kamakaze continues to provide a reason to listen. So, if you haven’t heard him already, there’s a strong chance that changes in 2018.