This is ‘Fire in the Boots’ – a new content series in partnership with adidas Football – where VERSUS takes the UK’s most talented artists out of the studio and onto the pitch, exploring their passion for football and how it inspired them to be the MCs, producers, or DJs they are today. Football and music own the streets, and this series will find out how and why the two fields share so much in common by talking to the creatives who represent this cultural crossover. In this edition, we link up with prolific UK rap producer Nyge as he steps to the pitch in the cold new adidas Predator.
Since linking up with Smoke Boys for instant classic “Lock Arff” in his debut release, Nyge has crafted a catalogue of beats that has seen him become one of the most important producers in UK rap. The South London hitmaker can be credited with cooking up heat for some of the scene’s biggest artists, including Skepta, Headie One, AJ Tracey, House of Pharaohs, Not3s and more – but it could have been different.
As recently as two years ago – way after “Lock Arff” cemented him as a leading light in a new wave of UK beatmakers – Nyge was still playing football as a semi pro for Cobham FC in the ninth tier of the English league system, with aspirations of earning a living from the game that shaped so much of his early life in Balham. Nyge was a talented baller who breezily compares his skills on the pitch to Dimitar Berbatov, “easy going but tekky and delivering goals when it mattered most”. Whether he was on the pitch or in the studio, Nyge always made sure creativity was at the heart of his approach.
Ultimately, Nyge was faced with a career choice that so many young creatives dream of: football or music? In 2019, with a long list of bangers to his name and a new solo career on the horizon, it’s easy to deduce that music won out – and while the streets are thankful for the music Nyge has blessed us with, football is still a huge part of Nyge’s – and UK rap’s – identity.
We took Nyge back to the pitch for a kickabout in the new adidas Predator ‘Hardwired’ boots, where we also talked about his secret career as a semi-pro baller and why playing FIFA is the secret ingredient creating magic in the studio.
Nyge is wearing the new adidas Predator boot, part of adidas Football's new Hardwired pack, which is available now at adidas.com.
VERSUS: Everyone’s got their own unique story of how football came into their lives. How did you first fall in love with football?
Nyge: It was probably my dad, he’s super passionate about Arsenal, and I reckon I’ve followed the game as a result of seeing how it made him feel. I’ve always been playing from primary school days in the playground and whatever, but I only really started supporting a club when I was 7 or 8. I used to play as much as I could as a kid.
Are you still kicking ball a lot now?
Not as much as I did when I was a kid, when my music started to take off I had to make a decision between football or music – I found it difficult to dedicate my time to both. I was playing semi pro up until two seasons ago but it got to a point where I probably wasn’t going to be able to make it as a pro player – I was self-aware enough to see that – so I went all in on music and it’s paying off right now. I still play every Saturday for fitness and to see mates, so I still love the feeling of getting a ball at my feet.
What is it about playing football that you’ve always got a buzz from?
I always saw it as a place where I could be as creative as possible, no matter what level you play at, and there aren’t many places where you’re free to be creative as a kid. I’m also very competitive and like the pressure of finding a way to win, whether that’s on the pitch or even playing FIFA – I like testing myself.
“If we weren’t playing football we were listening to music or talking about music!”
FIFA is such a big way for fans to experience football now, is it a big social thing for you?
Yeah, definitely. It’s a great place to get some bragging rights over your mates and anytime someone comes over to the studio, it’s a rule that you’ve got play FIFA with me before we go to work! It’s a really good ice breaker.
You spoke about having to choose between football and music at one point and I feel like that’s something we hear a lot. Why are young people drawn to those two fields so often?
I just feel like football is so accessible. And it’s easy to play – I don’t mean it’s easy to be the best – but in just needing a ball and some jumpers, you can get a game going in minutes. You can’t do that with athletics, you can’t go pole vaulting around the street as a kid…football was always the thing that we did when we were young. And if we weren’t playing football we were listening to music or talking about music! I think those two things are the foundations of childhood in this country.
Is playing football and working out important to your overall balance and mental health?
It’s very important – especially with me as a producer, I sit down day after day and don’t really get the chance to be as active as I should be! Lots of people might walk to work or cycle to work, whereas football is my outlet. It’s good for my physical fitness and mental fitness definitely, it’s actually therapeutic in a sense.
Do you ever feel more creative after finishing a game? As if you’ve cleared your head a bit…
I can definitely see how that might be the case. Football uses so many emotions and I do think by the time you step off the pitch your mind is a bit of a clean slate.
“I think the rise in our scene means that we’re on a similar level to lots of athletes now.”
Has football also been a big thing you in your friendship group?
I think growing up it definitely broadens your outlook as a kid, because with all the youth teams in the area you end up playing with or against so many kids…and then you grow up and it’s always like ‘ah yeah I used to play football with him’. Not much else brings young people together so easily, and football crosses boundaries in that way – it doesn’t matter what part of London you’re from or what country you’re in, football is usually something that people share.
And even right now with my friends today, I’ve got about four group chats that’s just filled with talk about the game!
You’ve worked with lots of artists who have had a pretty big influence in the music x football crossover lately, people like Headie One and AJ Tracey. Why do you think there’s such a vibe between UK rap and football right now?
I think the rise in our scene means that we’re on a similar level to lots of athletes now, definitely in terms of the influence we have, and as a result lots of football players have recognised what we do and shown love. I don’t think that was happening a few years ago, there weren’t as many artists from this country who were on a level to be shouted out by Premier League players. We’re both fans of each other now.
I reckon players are probably listening to our tracks while they’re in the gym or in the dressing room, and we’re likely watching football or playing FIFA while we’re in the studio. I think we exist in a bit of a loop together.
As the guy behind the desk and on the buttons, what are you thinking when you work with an artist and they drop a lyric about a baller?
I like it! As long as the wordplay is good, I vibe with it. So many people understand football and know the references, if you include Messi or someone in a bar it’s obviously gonna get attention because he’s a guy that almost everyone in the world knows. It’s like a reflex for a lot of people, if you hear something about football you listen a little bit harder!
“People only see the highlights of what we do, rather than the hard work it took to get us here.”
As someone who played at a semi pro level, you’ll know how important training and preparation is to being the best version of yourself. Is the same true for music and producing?
Oh definitely, I’ve put in an unbelievable amount of time to be where I am right now. I think in either field, you need to absolutely love it with all your heart – or you need to be insane – to get good, because the energy it takes is just huge. People only see the highlights of what we do, rather than the hard work it took to get us here. I think if you want to be a producer of a musician, you need to be putting stuff towards your craft every single day – there are no days off in this game!
Have you seen any players listening to your stuff? Maybe they’ve shared something to their Instagram Story or stuff like that…
Yeah, quite a few you know! Some Arsenal players – like Bellerin – have been supportive, and Joleon Lescott is another one who I know quite well. Ryan Sessegnon is a player who’s shown some love…
Is it a buzz to see people you admire showing you that kind of respect?
Yeah it’s nice. The world makes these guys out to be such big stars but they’re just human at the end of the day, and I feel I can have a chat with these guys about music just like I can with anyone else.
When you play football, how important is it to you to step out on the pitch looking good and feeling good?
I think you’ve always got to be wearing stuff that fits right and your kit has to look the part – you never know when the cameras are going to be out! But I think it makes you feel more confident if you’re wearing stuff that looks cold, so you’re gonna play that bit better.
“I think confidence and composure are some of the biggest factors to be a success in music or football.”
So you think swagger is important?
Very important. I think people can see when you’re not confident, like if you’re going on stage to do a show and you’re not looking like you feel yourself, people won’t listen! I think it’s the same on the pitch – if you’re not confident, your first touch might not be as sharp as it could be, the fans won’t be as supportive, your team mates might not rate you…I think confidence and composure are some of the biggest factors to be a success in creative lines of work.
You’re wearing the new adidas Predator 19 Hardwired boots today. How are you rating them?
I like them a lot. Predators have always been sick over the years and I think this latest pair is no different, they fit very securely too. And the colourway is nice, definitely one to bring out that inner confidence we just spoke about.
Kit culture is huge right now. Are you someone that likes to wear football jerseys on the streets too?
I like the Juventus kits right now, their stuff for the new season looks so sick. I’m an Arsenal fan but I told myself I’m not buying one until we next win a trophy! I like the new adidas kits for Arsenal though, the whole collection is really nice.
And finally, what’s around the corner for you? Either on the pitch or in the studio…
So we’re dropping a few singles this year that will be hitting the streets quite soon, some of my own stuff. I’m tryna be a little bit like DJ Khaled! I’ll be around.
Nyge is wearing the new adidas Predator boot, part of adidas Football’s new Hardwired pack, which is available now at adidas.com.
Photography by Elliot Simpson.