KSI is a man of many talents, but after storming the charts with his debut album ‘Dissimulation’ he’s ready to talk album number two, working with Craig David and what he wants his legacy to be in his cover story interview for Notion.

In the midst of the global pandemic, it has increasingly become the norm to take meetings and conduct interviews through video calls. We’ve all seen the memes of people only getting dressed from their waist upwards or heard about embarrassing situations involving a mute button that wasn’t actually on. But what is less common is a conversation with a multimillionaire whose career highlights include: film actor, chart-topping rapper, professional boxer, best-selling author and award-winning YouTuber. That’s impressive for anybody, let alone a 26-year-old, but that is what Olajide Olatunji – better known as KSI to the world and JJ to his friends – has managed to achieve since he created his YouTube account in 2008 at the tender age of 15, dropping out of school the year after.

 

Starting out as a FIFA YouTuber, his content has since grown along with his fanbase that boasts a following of over 40 million across all his social media. I ask KSI if he finds that level of scrutiny on his every move overwhelming, but he shrugs it off saying that he’s used to it after over a decade in the spotlight and that, “I am a role model, so I try to be the best role model possible but I’m human. I’m going to make mistakes, but still I’m going to try and do as much as I can to help the youth and change their view on things. To show them that you can become whatever you want to become. You can do whatever you put your mind to. You just have to work hard, and I always say that. You have to work hard”.

KSI
  • Shirt Uniform Bridge & CO
KSI
  • Jacket Patta
  • Trousers Alpha Industries
  • Shoes

It’s this same work ethic that he speaks of, that saw him construct his debut album ‘Dissimulation’ with it peaking at number 2 in the charts in its first week of release. Growing up his musical influences ranged from the R&B melodies of Usher and Mario, the emphatic rap lyricism of Lil Wayne and Rick Ross and the heavy rock anthems of Breaking Benjamin and Red to name a few. This isn’t surprising considering his whole brand is not linear. KSI does what he wants, what he thinks is fun and what he feels is best for him. So the eclectic mix of his influences match the nature of the man. It could also be attributed to what makes up the sounds of his album, something which he himself admits to as he tells me, “I’m quite all over the place. I hate being in a box. I hate having the same sound…even when it comes to shows no one just wants it to be a slow progression. I want it to have its ups and downs and for it to be a journey and for it to be a rollercoaster. And by the end of the ride I want you to be going ‘fucking hell this is insane’”. The thought of live shows is something that brings a gleam to his eye, enthusiasm to his voice and something he has clearly thought a lot about. It is also something that seems far in the distant future due to the ongoing COVID pandemic.

 

That hasn’t stopped him from working on his next album though. “I’m trying to make sure my next album is exactly how I want it, perfectly, with no COVID around to disrupt it or any other outside influences”. With a few songs already in the chamber and waiting for release, his next one is a garage cut featuring none other than the ever-enduring Craig David. KSI considers Craig David to be a “legend” and is someone he listened to growing up saying, “We all listened to his songs back in the day…He’s been in the game for 20 plus years man which is incredible for an artist to be in the game for that long. It’s hard to maintain success for that long, so for me to be doing a song with him is incredible”. Also featuring Digital Farm Animals, the track is a sure-fire mainstream radio hit, if my music journalism ears are worth their salt.

KSI
  • Jacket Alpha Industries
  • Shirt and trousers Liam Hodges
KSI
  • Jumper A. A. SPECTRUM

If the first album was a bit more divergent then his sophomore offering seems a lot more focused in comparison. “I want this next one to be about taking an opportunity,” he tells me, “Like having an opportunity being there in your face and taking it and making the most out of it. That’s pretty much what my next album is about. It still has personal elements but it’s definitely a lot more about me talking about how I’ve taken opportunities and made the most out of them”. One such opportunity was having a professional boxing fight last year, against American YouTuber Logan Paul, in front of a sold-out Staples Center crowd including famous names such as Justin Bieber and Mike Tyson. KSI won the fight via split decision. When I ask him if he has plans to get back in the ring he begins to talk about ways it could possibly happen, before pinning it all on the fact that “it needs to make sense”.

 

KSI’s business acumen is a topic of discussion that is rarely spoken about but is something that is perhaps his most understated achievement. When he puts his mind to something, he gets results, something we talk about later on. But even in regards to his first professional fight, the incredible focus he showed to the task at hand surprised me. It’s a very different mentality to the character that comes across in his online videos but is a grounded, more thoughtful side that we see more of through the content of some of his music. Fighting at the Staples Center, for most boxers at least, would be the stuff of dreams. Being trained by the uncle of the iconic Floyd Mayweather would be the stuff of dreams. Those that manage to get to a stage of that magnitude likely trained their whole lives for that moment. KSI had only two amateur fights previously, with one at least being against the same opponent. He could be forgiven for getting lost in the moment a little, but that was far from the case: “I didn’t really get to take in the sheer size of the event because I was so focused on just trying to beat Logan. That was the level of focus I was at. I didn’t even notice anything around me”. He has previously stated that his reason for taking the fight was purely to boost his profile in America, something that further attests to the astute nature of KSI the man, over the persona he portrays publicly.

KSI
  • Jacket and trousers Alpha Industries
  • T-Shirt Uniqlo
  • Shoes Nike
KSI
  • Jacket COTTWEILER
  • Roll Neck & Trousers MAHARISHI

If the first album was a bit more divergent then his sophomore offering seems a lot more focused in comparison. “I want this next one to be about taking an opportunity,” he tells me, “Like having an opportunity being there in your face and taking it and making the most out of it. That’s pretty much what my next album is about. It still has personal elements but it’s definitely a lot more about me talking about how I’ve taken opportunities and made the most out of them”. One such opportunity was having a professional boxing fight last year, against American YouTuber Logan Paul, in front of a sold-out Staples Center crowd including famous names such as Justin Bieber and Mike Tyson. KSI won the fight via split decision. When I ask him if he has plans to get back in the ring he begins to talk about ways it could possibly happen, before pinning it all on the fact that “it needs to make sense”.

 

KSI’s business acumen is a topic of discussion that is rarely spoken about but is something that is perhaps his most understated achievement. When he puts his mind to something, he gets results, something we talk about later on. But even in regards to his first professional fight, the incredible focus he showed to the task at hand surprised me. It’s a very different mentality to the character that comes across in his online videos but is a grounded, more thoughtful side that we see more of through the content of some of his music. Fighting at the Staples Center, for most boxers at least, would be the stuff of dreams. Being trained by the uncle of the iconic Floyd Mayweather would be the stuff of dreams. Those that manage to get to a stage of that magnitude likely trained their whole lives for that moment. KSI had only two amateur fights previously, with one at least being against the same opponent. He could be forgiven for getting lost in the moment a little, but that was far from the case: “I didn’t really get to take in the sheer size of the event because I was so focused on just trying to beat Logan. That was the level of focus I was at. I didn’t even notice anything around me”. He has previously stated that his reason for taking the fight was purely to boost his profile in America, something that further attests to the astute nature of KSI the man, over the persona he portrays publicly.

KSI
  • Shoes Nike
  • Roll neck & trousers MAHARISHI
  • Jacket COTTWEILER
KSI

Considering everything he has achieved in his life, it is no secret that with his origins rooted in YouTube he does not necessarily get the respect his accomplishments deserve, something he has spoken about before. I ask him if that’s changed at all considering the undeniable success of his album to which he replies, “I don’t think it’s where I want it to be but I think I’m slowly getting the respect for sure. Bro, you have to respect results. You have to respect that. If I keep getting results consistently, you can’t argue with that. It’s as simple as that”. This is a line of conversation that noticeably irks him, and understandably so. Everything he has done up to this point has been on his own terms, through hard work. This should arguably be a source of celebration, not a whipping stick to beat him with or look down on him for: “I worked hard to get a YouTube fanbase so why is that my fault? Any other musician can do the same. Any other musician can build a YouTube fanbase and then use that to help their music. Why is it because I have a large YouTube fanbase that’s the only reason my music is doing well? I’ve worked hard to build a YouTube fanbase that accepts my music and then for me to then be able to do music and do well and chart…that’s because I worked hard. If anyone says that I tell them, ‘you’re not working hard enough then’”.

 

To say that KSI’s musical prosperity is due to his YouTube fame is to assume that the two are mutually exclusive. Just because someone is a fan of KSI the YouTuber does not automatically mean that they are a fan of his music too. “With my fanbase, they’re very truthful so if I put out something trash they’ll clown me for it and if I put out something good, they’ll let me know because that’s just how it is. If the music is good then it’s good and it will do well”, he says impassioned. By the same notion, it’s hard to imagine that credible names in the industry like Rick Ross, Offset and Craig David would be so open to working with him if the music was terrible, just for the sake of a quick pay cheque. “There’s a reason why all these artists want to work with me. There’s a reason why Rick Ross and Lil Baby and Trippie Redd and all these artists wanted to work with me. They saw a hard-working person who in their eyes they see is talented, and I’m not just doing this for a quick money job. I’m doing this because I’m passionate about it”. KSI stands for Knowledge, Strength and Integrity and as we move further into the next phase of his life and career, it is clear that the synergy between the name and the man behind it is becoming increasingly more aligned.

KSI
  • Jacket NAPA BY MARTINE ROSE
  • Jumper A. A. Spectrum
  • Trainers Alexander McQueen
  • Trousers Patta

As we come to the end of our video call I ask him about the idea that somewhere around the world, the next KSI is setting up their camera in their bedroom, ready to start their own YouTube channel, inspired by him. He responds:

 

“It’s already happened man. It’s already happened and it’s already happening. And will continue to happen. It’s amazing. This is what I want my legacy to be about. I want people to look at me and go ‘he did it so I can do it’. That’s exactly it. Because there’s so many times people told me I can’t do something and this is me proving to them that you can. So do it. This is your time. We’re lucky and we’re blessed to be in a situation where we can make our own fortunes, so go ham. There are so many avenues to make a career in whatever you want, from social media to education. Just do it. You just have to work hard, that’s it man. I know it sounds so cliché but if you don’t work hard you don’t get anything in life man. Nothing is just going to happen for you. You have to put in that work to be able to get to that point. You have to put yourself in a place where you can get the best opportunities and then take advantage of those opportunities.”

I comment that that is what the next album is about, before he replies, with a smile and a laugh: “Exactly”.

 

 

 

Buy a copy of KSI’s Notion 88 print cover here.

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