Interview: Yizzy on Hustling Hard, Taking Grime Global and Lighting up the FIFA 20 Soundtrack

Interview: Yizzy on Hustling Hard, Taking Grime Global and Lighting up the FIFA 20 Soundtrack

We linked up with the Lewisham MC as he filmed the video for new track "Hustle Hard" with Football Beyond Borders.

October 9th 2019

While it's not exactly the sort of day you’d want to be out kicking a ball about in, Yizzy has confidently strided out on to a skiddy astro turf outside Football Beyond Borders HQ while the clouds break temporarily. We’re here on the video shoot for his latest track “Hustle Hard”, and the location couldn't be more apt for a South London teenager whose life has revolved around football and music.

It’s just got to the end of the school day, and kids are immediately piling into the pitch and kicking a ball about while Yizzy is filming. At just 19-years-old, Yizzy is one of the flag-bearers for the new generation of fans, currently running around him as he raps along to his track, who love rap and football as much as him. With this track, the Brockley-born MC is aiming to inspire the kids – who are just a few years younger than him – to pursue their own dreams in either field.

Yizzy was an athlete from a young age. Moving from fleet-footed track sprinter to sharp-shooting striker and into the world of music only a few years ago at age 16 (Year 11 is when he started taking rap seriously) Yizzy took his competitive, sporting mentality and geared it towards making grime. Since then, the teenage trailblazer has built up a rep as one of the most promising MC’s in the scene.

After unleashing his explosive 'S.O.S’ EP in 2018, Yizzy continued to develop his sound on a ‘Welcome To Grime Street’ EP earlier this year, where he brought cold grime production and his trademark skippy flow while still delivering on tracks such as “3 Minutes To Live”, which looks at the societal issues concerning knife crime in the city. With an old head on young shoulders, Yizzy has now received his most global nod yet in getting his latest track “Hustle Hard” featured on the FIFA 20 soundtrack – the most dominant video game in the world right now.

While today is all about giving back to the community, Yizzy’s plans for the future are far more expansive than the borough he grew up in. While continuing to inspire his community and steadily turning his dreams into reality, we caught up with Yizzy to discover his roots into music and football, putting on for his borough and his plans to be the next artist to take grime’s reach even further globally.

Photography by Todd Duncan and Ben Walsh.

VERSUS: We’re here today with Football Beyond Borders and filming your new video for “Hustle Hard”. What’s today all about for you?

Yizzy: Coming from South London, I’ve always wanted to give back to the community I live in and have grown up a part of. I understand what it’s like growing up here. There aren’t many outlets other than just education at this age. I love what Football Beyond Borders are doing with young kids in the area. The kids come down here to try and better themselves. They train all the time, every single week. Mix that with my story, and what I’m doing with music, it was just natural for me to film it here. The idea of “hustling hard” and bettering yourself. I feel like this is going to be something special.

Before you were kicking ball and making music, you were sprinting at a really good level. When did you start doing track & field?

Year 8. So maybe 12, 13, I was training 5 days a week over at Ladywell. I was proper athletic growing up, so I was the fastest in my borough for my age when I was 15, and then from there I went to London Schools, where I would represent my area, and jus missed out on the next stage up, which was English Schools, to represent London against all the other cities. I was coming third there, when I needed to come first or second, but I was training proper hard for it there.

Around 16, Year 11, that’s around the same time that I discovered music. That’s when I was going to shows and the inspiration then was crazy. One of the first people I met was Skepta. I remember one of my friends was throwing a party at Old Blue Last, and Skepta comes on with this massive plaque, for Konnichiwa. After seeing that, going to school the next day was difficult! I was so inspired by that that I decided to switch my focus to music from then onwards.

What was the routine like for running? Did it require serious focus?

With running, it was always “hit this PB at this time” at frequent intervals. When I would leave school, I would go straight there with my kit in my bag. Every always used to make joke that there was always that one kid in the class in PE that took it too seriously… I was that kid. On the last day of school sports day, everyone turned up in their normal PE kit and trainers. I was there in full running gear, my spikes, fresh trim for the aerodynamics… everyone was looking at me like I was crazy.

After I finished school, I was working a 9-5 and then doing track in the evenings, but my love for music was getting bigger and bigger and I couldn’t fit everything I was doing into my schedule. Unfortunately, because of my work commitments, my running started to take the back seat. Music was a bit more flexible.

Were you playing a lot of football alongside your running commitments?

I was kicking ball at the same time too. South-Kent league. We used to train Tuesday and Saturdays and play on Sundays, at Powerleague in Catford. Originally I was a striker – I joined halfway through the season and bagged 19 in 10 games. Those kind of numbers were made easy as I was playing with a lot of people I went to school with.

Because of my sprinting, most of my goals were just my friends pinging the ball over the top for me to chase, and unless that defender was as fast as me – which was really rare – I’m gonna get there every time. Most of my goals are simple, Aubameyang-esque type finishes.

How much of your competitive, sporting mentality did you channel into your music?

I’m always trying to be the best at what I do and I’ve been lucky to learn from some great people in my area. From Koder and Novelist, Novelist learned from people like Skepta, Skepta learned from people before him. There’s a line you can follow, from the greats, and I’m always challenging myself to do better. I’ll always try and perfect my bars ’til they’re of a high, high calibre, as I won’t expect anything less than myself.

What do you think go the crossover between football and music that’s happening at the minute?

I think it’s amazing. They’re two things that have alway gone very hand in hand – as you know, a lot of rappers were footballers growing up before they took to music. It’s great bridging the gap between the two worlds and it works because it’s natural. There’s countless rappers that used to kick ball, and footballers are always listening to music in the gym, on game day and in their cars – so the synergy between the two worlds is organic.

I’ve seen Arsenal Fan TV compare you to Aubameyang… I imagine you’d compare yourself to him pace-wise as well?

I dunno about the look personally, but we can definitely say that about the pace! But yeah because of my pace and my height, my coaches thought I’d be better off as a defender. If you can clear the ball, head the ball and be quicker than most strikers, it’s kind of like a no brainer. So I started playing in defence… it got a little bit boring for me, but at the same time, I like the interaction I had between me and the opposing striker. I was always getting in their heads, “try and run past me”,

Going back to your roots, growing up in Lewisham, it’s clear throughout your work that your community is important to everything you do. Do you always keep them in mind when you’re working on your craft?

Absolutely. Any time I come on stage, the first thing I do is say “My name is Yizzy, I’m from Lewisham, South East London”. If I don’t say that, then I’m having an off day. Everyone always knows where I’m from, half of my lyrics reference Lewisham, and I always put on for where I came from. I went school in Lewisham, I was born in my house in Brockley, I grew up hanging around in Catford, Sydenham, Ladywell. When I’m out and about there, people are always showing me love, and I show love back.

You’re a diehard Arsenal fan. When did you first start supporting them?

From birth man. I was pretty much wrapped in an Arsenal towel. Both of my older brothers supported the club, and at the time it was our local team in the Premier League when they were Woolwich Arsenal before moving over to Highbury. It was a natural, family connection since I was young.

What’s it been like supporting the club over the years?

Ahhhh man, it’s been a love and hate relationship over the years. It’s probably more love / hate than any club in the entire world. I’m vocal, though. Whether it’s Arsenal Fan TV, leaving comments online, or spitting freestyle challenges for the BBC, I always show them love.

I need to start going to games more though for sure. For me, I just wanna get involved with the club as much as possible. I play FIFA religiously, I play Football Manager religiously – I get both games every year they come out – and I’m alway up to date with everything football. I just love it!

So FIFA has been a massive part of your upbringing then?

My Ultimate Team was disgusting in last years’ game. Back in the day even more so to be honest, back where you could buy coins on the dark web (laughs). I used to have some ridiculous German / Spain team hybrid. It was outrageous!

I’ve neglected FIFA 18 and 19 as I’ve just been focussing on my music for the last few years. But I’ll still take anyone now! FIFA 20 is a game that is gonna be a part of my life forever – it’s a game i’m actually a part of now, which is crazy. I’ll have to show my kids one day!

How does it feel to actually have your song on a game that you’ve spent your life growing up playing and loving?

It still hasn’t sunk in for me really! I just want to play FIFA 20 with my friends, and my brothers all the time. But now I can say to them “let’s have a game”, and then hear my song on it… it’s just crazy man. There’s now this personal touch to a game I grew up loving and playing with my family and friends.

The first thing my family asked were for copies, obviously! I’ll sort them out in due time. We always play Pro Clubs together as a family, so we’ve got to carry on that tradition. So to be immortalised in the game is truly, truly special.

“Hustle Hard” is the track that features on the soundtrack – what’s the idea and purpose behind the track?

It’s just telling everyone to work as hard as you can and achieve your goals. You’ve got to make sacrifices of time to get what you want out of life, and allocate your time properly to get to your goals. The main thing with the track and it’s purpose is to just motivate people to keep going. People don’t understand how close they can be to greatness.

You’re a grime artist through and through. Why did you choose to be so diligent to the genre?

Grime is one of the most authentic sounds in world music, to ever be made. And for a sound that has only been around for the past 20 years, give or take, to see it grow and hit the mainstream like it has done is ridiculous. It’s a part of UK culture, whether it’s slang words, pirate radio, raves getting shut down, people having a good time… it’s embedded in the culture of this country.

So it’s been a formative part – if not the most formative part – of your upbringing?

For me, when I first started hearing grime on radio, and hearing my favourite artists spit on grime, I just decided that this is who I am. It got to the point in school that the lyrics I was writing were naturally suited to grime beats. One of my older friends said, “that’s not even rap you know… that’s grime,” because that was all I ever knew. I wasn’t even writing lyrics to beats, but they just happened to suit grime instrumentals more than anything else, as that’s all I listened to growing up. The tempo was faster and skipper than usual, and it makes sense ‘cos it was all I knew growing up.

I obviously have songs and features that aren’t grime, but grime is always gonna be where my heart is. Until I’m where I wanna be with grime, I don’t need to look elsewhere. I’m trying to do a Wiley, Skepta, Dizzee, Stormzy thing, all combined, and worldwide.

So you want to take grime even further internationally?

The doorway is open to do that now from these guys. I’ve got songs with Australian grime artists, grime is popping out there. They love it out in Germany. I’ve been to Estonia recently, it was crazy out there. Ukraine was mad too, the energy there with a couple thousand people was insane. These guys don’t even speak English, but they were rapping every – I had the whole crowd screaming “Hustle Hard” at me.

Just taking it around the world like that is what I want to do. I always try and find the local artists there, and the closest thing they have to grime wherever I go. It’s not just there too – Brazil, Korea, Japan… it’s a global genre now. No one has really brought all of those worlds together, yet. And I feel like given my age and social media these days, I feel like I could be the person to link it all up. Wiley and Dizzee pioneered it, Stormzy’s taken it to another level recently… who’s to say Yizzy can’t take it to a proper, worldwide level and inspire those scenes and communities across the world. And while those guys have pioneered the genre to where it is today, I want to be the face of grime of the future.

What are your plans going forward with your music after this?

“Offside” is gonna be my next one after “Hustle Hard”. As you can tell, it’s got plenty of football bars throughout. We’re looking to get some football freestylers involved for the video for that one, so hopefully gonna be linking up with the F2 for that one and create a fun, football-focussed vibe for that one.

We’ve also got a special, special remix of one of my tracks, which is gonna feature two absolute legends of US and UK rap. Two major, major artists that I was blessed to link up with. That will be dropping next year – you’re not gonna want to miss that one!