Welcome to VERSUS Jerseys – a content series that celebrates the legacy of some of the beautiful game’s most iconic kits. We’re taking football culture’s biggest names down memory lane and revisiting the teams, players and moments that made them fall in love with the sport. Next up, we linked up with UK rap Registas NSG to select their waviest football fits from the 2020/21 season.
UK rap’s affinity for dropping a baller-inspired bar has taken on new levels in 2020. Almost every Friday, there’s a reference to a Premier League player by a UK rap act, with Raheem Sterling, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Gabriel Martinelli just a few of names featuring on some of the biggest rap tracks to have come out of the country this year.
But when we heard NSG’s latest track, “Kate Winslet”, there was a certain football-inspired bar that stood out. When Mojo comes in on the second verse of the UK Rap group’s latest heater with Unknown T, he raps, “I was writing down a 8 bar, breakin' down a nine bar I could see the signs / Imma ball like Pablo Aimar”. Safe to say, if you’re shouting out players like Valencia’s perennially-underrated Argentine playmaker, the chances are that you don’t just have a passing interest in the game. As we find out over the course of the interview, NSG most definitely know ball.
NSG, comprised of members Kruddz, Mojo, OGD, Dope, Abz and Mxjib, have been flexing their love for the game and the lifestyle attached to it for as long as they’ve been in the limelight. They had the whole of the UK screaming “Top striker, call me Costa” when “Options” exploded onto the airwaves back in 2018 before going certified Gold, donned pieces from Vigil’s Off-White Football collection in the “OT Bop” video and more recently shouted out Benjamin Mendy on “Airplane Mode” with Nines while donning 1FIGURES football shirts.
Choosing to pursue music allowed NSG the creativity and independence that a life and career in football couldn’t. For a group whose whole ethos and success is fuelled by “vibes”, the rigidness and rigours of football simply weren’t appealing to them, long term. Despite the undoubted talent of the Hackney hit-makers kicking ball in Shoreditch Park, Haggerston and Hackney Marshes growing up – with Abz even saying he was on the books at West Ham at one point – music was always the life for them of fully flourish in.
Working with one of the UK’s best producers in JAE5 to produce chart bangers, landing the top comment “9 out of 10 times” due to their expertise on social media through to releasing their debut tape ‘Roots’ this year, it’s been a steady and assured rise for one of the most effervescent groups to hit UK music in recent years.
Speaking to them in the studio and shooting them over FaceTime on KRK monitors while they donned some of their favourite football shirts that have dropped this year, we caught up with Abz, Kruddz, OGD and Dope from the group to talk growing up as Gunners and kicking ball in Hackney, UK rap's relationship with football and why football and fashion aligning has always made perfect sense.
Photography by Danika Magdelena
VERSUS: How are you guys doing? 2020 has been a madness of a year for everyone, but there have definitely been some positives to take from it from your side of things, by the look of it…
Kruddz: It’s been a bit of mad year for everyone, but we’re in the studio right now working for 2021, locked in. We’ve taken a few trips here and there to Dubai, Amsterdam and to Nigeria and Ghana but they’ve been strictly business, connecting dots and things like that.
Abz: There have definitely been some positives, too. You dropped your debut tape ‘Roots’ this year – how good did it feel to see that go out to the world?
Kruddz: With everything going on in 2020, releasing ‘Roots’ just made sense. Understanding where you’re from, your origin, your culture, the project was just a message to the diaspora – getting people to connect back to their beginnings, in a way.
It was sick to finally drop a project after being asked by the fans for one for so long. It was only right to bless them with it after ’18 and ’19, where we were just giving them purely singles, but nothing else. So we thank God for the longevity.
You’ve managed to head to Ghana and Nigeria this year. How important is it going there for you and influencing your music?
Kruddz: A big thing for us is obviously doing it for the UK, but ‘Roots’ really connected back home too. The streaming stats on sites in our native countries have been really good too, so it’s been sick to see the connection we’ve been having there.
Abz: It’s the best feeling ever going back there. They get us, and the music, on a deeper level. When you go there, and they’re signing your lyrics – it’s proper hitting home. It’s hitting the motherland. That’s the source, the original vibes – it’s what makes us, us. Our style is unique because we endorse our culture so much – and the way we then blend it with the UK style is what makes us so distinct.
Did you guys ever kick ball to a good level going up? What would you guys be like as a 6-a-side team now, and where would you all play?
Kruddz: No cap, I was actually a baller. I was just a bit too good at this – it was all a bit easy for me. When something’s too easy for me, I don’t really try at it. Which is why I had to try the music thing. Ball was just too easy for me.
Abz: Nah my story is a bit different though. I actually have photographic evidence of me playing at West Ham. I was a certi full back! I’ve got pics of me at West Ham! I had trials and that. I was a full back, reading the game like a veteran from a young age. I was the captain of my secondary school too. Proper Sergio Ramos vibes at the back. My CV is good!
OGD: Mxji used to kick ball, but he actually got injured out in Dubai, but not while playing…
Kruddz: Realistically, I’m the best, but because I don’t take it serious, it’s between Abz and Mojo in terms of who is actually the best now.
Whereabouts were you playing growing up in Hackney? Did you have decent ability back in the day?
Abz: We will still smoke bare artists now! Our chemistry is different. We will smack bare teams at 6-a-side, trust me! I think we would win the Santan Cup if we were to get an invite…
Kruddz: But growing up, we were playing all over, but mainly in Shoreditch Park. Big up Chunga! But growing up in Hackney, you had to play in Hackney Marshes too, obviously. Mabley too. Haggerston courts. Rosemary Gardens, too.
In games like that, what were you stepping out in? Were you wearing designer while playing or was it serious bits only?
OGD: Nah it was strictly business. I’d only step out wearing serious pieces.
We all know you guys are big into your designer drip. What do you make of the trend of football shirts now being seen as high fashion items? Are you digging it as a trend?
Abz: The football and fashion thing was always bound to happen. The amount of people that go to watch football on weekends, week-in, week-out that you see kitted out down the years, I think it was naturally going to happen.
OGD: The other thing is that kits are just getting nicer too. More effort and time is being put into making the kits bang…
Kruddz: PSG definitely cut through with the fashion thing first. They’ve had a few collabs from early. I think a lot of people saw the wave they were on and were really influenced by that.
Are you guys copping or dropping the Balenciaga football gear? Have you seen the new coat they’ve launched?
Abz: Nah we haven’t see the coat, but we’ve seen those boots. We were proper annoyed that you couldn’t wear them as actual boots, cos that would be saucy. They need to make ones that you can actually play in – then I’ll buy.
Which teams did you grow up supporting?
Kruddz: I grew up with two older brothers, and they both supported Arsenal, innit. So it was always a family thing – that’s why I supported Arsenal too. Them times as well, Henry was doing a mad ting, and that combined with the family love for them made me support them.
So have you got “Trust Issues” with Arsenal now?
Abz: Definitely! When I watched football growing up, it was all about Thierry Henry. Every time I watched him play, I always thought “this guy is cold”. And then players like Pires, Overmars, Vieira around him – that team was fucking sick. They also had heart!
Henry inspired everyone to wear socks rolled over the knees – he was a true visionary for the rest of the game. He was probably the most influential player, style-wise, to watch growing up. Just such a sick style of play.
We’ve also seen you don the 1FIGURES football jersey recently. How did that come about?
Abz: I feel like this is one of my favourite shirts ever produced. Figures, we’ve grown up in the same area in Hackney, so he’s been a long time friend of NSG. The creativity in Hackney is crazy! Chris Figures knows we’re the drip gods, so obviously he had to bless us with some pieces to flex.
What other club and brand collaborations would you want to see?
OGD: I’d love to see more Off-White football stuff you know. I wanna see more names in inverted commas. Virgil needs to shout us!
Abz: Some of the training kits we’ve seen this year are looking more and more fashion-forward which is sick, too. The Barca one this season was crazy – it looks proper designer!
You’ve linked up with Daily Paper before on a football shirt collaboration yourself. How did that come about?
Abz: Daily Paper are family, man. We’ve linked up with them a few times and they’re proper good people. That was sick. Big up Daily Paper – big up the mandem!
We’ve never seen a group of people in the UK utilise social media like you guys have in the last few years. You love getting involved in Football Twitter too!
Kruddz: Yeah we do. There was one tweet which was proper funny back when United played PSG, the first time, last year. It’s “rooting for PSG”… then when they lost, the guy said, “*Roots by NSG”, that was hilarious.
Abz: But yeah, sometimes with football Twitter you just gotta get in the mix with it. It’s so funny when there’s a game going on – especially when it’s against a big rival. So when Arsenal are losing, even though it’s our team, the TL is HOT.
You guys have loved dropping a football bar or two – with “Top striker call me Costa” definitely being one of your most iconic bars to date. What do you think about UK rap’s relationship with the game right now?
Abz: Everyone loved that one! But yeah, our new one, “Kate Winslet” has got a football bar in it too. We name drop Pablo Aimar in it – so you know we know ball! Mojo came up with that bar, and he proper, proper loves football – and football bars.
Kruddz: I think UK rap’s relationship is as natural than the US and basketball. They watch basketball, so they rap about it, we play football, so we do the same. It’s a proper mutual thing, so we relate to it the most.
What is it about music that made you want to pursue it more than football?
Abz: Back in the day yeah, I used to kick ball every single day but it started dropping every day as I got older, finding new vices in life and that. But the chances in life of making it as a baller compared to making it in music are so much slimmer.
Kruddz: With music, I just feel like you can be more in charge than you can be with football. You never know when you might blow.
OGD: In music, you can be your own CEO, your own label, your own business – your own team!
Moji: I saw Krept put a Tweet out saying that he knows footballers want to say “suck your mum” but they can’t, innit. I can say that on the track, fam! But when you’re a baller, your team will always be like “what you doing?” That level of restriction is proper tight for ballers, I think.
Are you rating what Rashford is doing by bucking that trend, in the way he’s spoken out and been a voice for activism recently?
Kruddz: 100% man. Marcus Rashford is God’s blessing. He’s another level. It’s about time someone did it too. He’ll motivate other players to do the same now too – it’s gonna have a multiplying effect for other ballers now too.
What does 2021 have in store for NSG?
Abz: More music! More football bars, more life, all of that. We’re in the studio now working on some bits now – so expect to hear a lot more from us next year. We’re praying it’s gonna be a better one than 2020.