As the first person to have appeared as both a character on FIFA and have his music soundtrack the series, Kamakaze is the footballer and rapper making his own rules in the game.
We’ve all given ambitious answers to the classic question: what do you want to be when you grow up? Leicester born Matt Robinson would have told you he wanted to be a pro footballer or a music artist — two dreams shared by so many — and he had what it takes to make both happen at the same time.
Under moniker Kamakaze, Matt has made his name as an experimental rap artist spanning grime, garage, drum and bass, lo-fi and boom bap hip-hop. Whether he’s drawing from local collaborators or working with artists he grew up admiring, his eclectic output is tied together by a commitment to raw honesty and self-expression in his lyrics — something he’s taken unapologetic pride in from the start.
Having been selected as one of Virgin Money’s Emerging Stars at the end of 2020, Kamakaze is getting ready for his biggest year yet with three new EPs showcasing both his range as an artist and the work ethic to which he credits his success. Following the release of the first of those projects, Wavey Shirt Wednesday 2, he sets out his plans for building a legacy from his music and achieving longevity no one can question.
- Jumper Stefan Cooke
- Jeans Liam Hodges
- Black Top John Smedley
How did you first get into music?
The first time I ever wrote anything was about 11, but that wasn’t with any intention of being a rapper. That was just because we were copying kids who were older than us from our area. We would go to the park, get a beat off LimeWire, and everyone would spit whatever they wrote. Then we’d send it to each other on MSN or whatever… When I say music I mean I wasn’t just writing nonsense, I was writing songs about girls that I liked, about losing family members, stuff like that. I had a tape called Nocturnal Sunshine which I dropped when I was 14, and then it just continued from there.
You’re now doing two of the biggest things people dream of doing when they’re that age — what qualities have made you successful in both music and football?
I don’t think anyone has natural talent. If you look scientifically it’s muscle memory, which is something that you can train yourself to be good at. You can train yourself to be good at anything — obviously some people scientifically have an advantage because of the genes they might have, but in terms of honing a skill to a place you can make a profession from it, I think everyone has the tools to do it. Maybe not the opportunity, that’s where the difference lies. But I’d just say being hardworking; I can’t maintain these two careers without working hard. You have to have a certain level of self-belief, self-worth, determination. They all have to be within you. If you’re ready to believe what one person tells you about yourself then you might as well pack it in, because at some point someone’s going to tell you you’re not good enough. I’ve been told many times I wasn’t good enough for both of them, so to be here now, maybe it’s a testament to my resolute mindset.
Would you say that your music falls into a specific genre, or do you not like to label yourself?
I’ve been labelled as a grime artist, but that’s purely because that’s the first thing people recognised me for on a larger scale than just my city. When I hit a nationwide audience it was with grime, so automatically you’re a grime artist from then on. But if you listen to my back catalogue I’ve always made other genres and I’ve always tried to maintain the philosophy that if you feel it, you should make it. I’ve never tried to put myself in a box. Once you’re in a box it’s hard to get out, so I’ve always tried to provide different moods, different feels, different tempos, different styles throughout my career.
- Jumper Stefan Cooke
- Jeans Liam Hodges
- Black Top John Smedley
Is performing live a big part of what you enjoy about being an artist?
Definitely. Some of my best memories are not only performing the show, but because I’m not doing huge venues, after the show you might go outside with your friends and people are waiting, people want to speak to you. There’s someone that you looked in the face 20 minutes before and they were going mad speaking your words back to you. That feeling is second to none, people connecting with it in a deeper way where they’ve memorised it the same way I used to memorise my favourite rappers’ songs.
Are you going to any festivals this year?
Nah, I’ve just had a baby. My daughter is four months old now! We’ve been super cautious with the whole social distancing regime.
How has that changed your perspective on your work and career?
It definitely has made me think about it as a future career, but not necessarily in a positive way. It’s made me think if this doesn’t work I can’t afford to put so much time into it, because if I’m never going to be able to support firstly my child, and also my girlfriend if she’s not working, what is the point? Someone asked me about it today and it was the first time I thought about it from an actual adult perspective. Being a musician is a profession, so if it doesn’t earn you money then it’s not in my best interest to pursue as a long term thing. That sounds quite morbid, but that’s just factual. On the other hand it has given me great inspiration, just an overwhelming feeling of love I’ve been consumed with since I had my daughter. That’s a feeling I’ve never felt before. It has given me new horizons to write to, it’s so hard to explain. There’s a song on a new release where I’ve tried to articulate the feeling, but it’s incredibly difficult to do. The hardest thing is to explain something simple in a poetic way.
You’ve been working on a few EPs at the same time — why are you releasing multiple projects and how do they differ?
The first one is Wavey Shirt Wednesday 2, which is a sequel to a tape I dropped in 2017 called Wavey Shirt Wednesday. It was about enjoying the moment and having fun and the music reflected that. It just became a cult classic. People mention it as a tape, songs that I don’t even really pay that much attention to now, but someone will hit me up and say ‘I still listen to this every day’. After a while I thought to myself that is a sound people enjoy from me, so why would I not try to emulate it again or at least try to capture that feeling?
It’s stepping away from grime and it’s stepping sideways from boom bap hip-hop. It’s wavey sounding stuff — that’s quite a loose term to use, but I’m sure people reading will know what I mean. The features, producers, all that kind of stuff is centred around Leicester, which is something I felt was quite important.
The second release I have planned I don’t really want to say too much about, because I want it to be a surprise. All I will say is that it’s going to be called This Is What You Asked For. Then the third one is pretty much finished, it’s a collaborative project with a producer called Swick who I worked with on some songs on Memories Over Money. And the reason for so many is because it’s now or never for me, really. In my head I think I’ve put in good work, and I’ve built myself up and it’s time I give people a year that they can’t question, they can’t forget.
- Shirt Toga Virilis
You were chosen as a Virgin Money Emerging Star last year, how is that helping you get to where you want to be?
They’ve tried to propel me further forward in a sense, in terms of professionalism and pointing me in directions. They have a PR team and they have avenues that I might not consider myself, so they’ve been much more than someone who offers you money to go and do what you want with. They’re willing to formulate plans around what you want. It’s been great to be a part of so far, and hopefully it continues throughout the year.
What are your goals for the rest of the year?
I just look for progression, but not in the sense that I want my numbers to be high. More than anything I want the music to get better; that’s the end goal. I’ve never been the person who’s been at the forefront of hype, I’m not that guy. But I do believe my music will be a thing that’s more of a legacy. I firmly believe that you can listen to the music that I made five years ago and it makes sense today. It’s not just something that was a fad, that you’ll listen to it in five years and because that’s not the popular sound you say ‘This is whack’. My personal thing is I just want to make things that will stand the test of time. This is something that I’m very conscious of when I write, it doesn’t necessarily have to have a moral message behind it but it has to be my truth that I can look back on and say that’s not a lie, that’s how I felt at the time. So I want more of that.
Talking about legacy, what do you want people to remember you for as an artist?
That I lived a good life, that I was happy, that I was loved. That I was one of the best rappers ever to come out of the UK… I mean integrity is the right word that I would like to use. I’m true to myself, whether that means I’m vulnerable in certain songs, whether that means that I show parts of me that you wouldn’t know about. That’s my truth, that’s the honesty within my music.